Depending on how far along you are at the time of your loss, you'll have several choices about what to do for your baby's final disposition.
In early miscarriage or after a D&C, it may be easiest to allow the hospital to take care of disposition for you. After 20 weeks in many states (check your local statues, or ask the hospital staff or social worker to be sure) you will be required to involve a funeral home. That doesn't mean you must have a funeral, only that the funeral home will pick the baby up from the hospital and arrange for burial or cremation.
However, at any stage of pregnancy, you can have -- and may want to have -- a funeral or memorial service.
Why a Funeral?Funerals are an ancient custom that dates back to the earliest records of human history. They are an important part of the grieving process for many people -- a way to say goodbye and to honor the memory of your loved one. A funeral gives your social network a chance to come together and show their support and love for you and for each other. It may sound overwhelming to have a room full of people to face, but you might also find it easier to face everyone in a short period of time.
Funerals can also be a wonderful way of involving your religious leaders and church community in your loss. This is an opportunity to get a blessing for your baby, if you desire. You may also find comfort in the prayers and rituals of your preferred religion.
A funeral can also help you find some closure. Although you may have said your goodbyes at the hospital, you might find the funeral to be a more final and satisfying goodbye. Depending on how far along you were at the time of your loss, and particularly for stillborn babies, you may have a chance to see your baby one last time.
The act of choosing all of your baby's final arrangements can be therapeutic for a number of reasons.
- It gives you the opportunity to make some decisions for your child when so many of those decisions were taken from you.
- Making personalized choices for your baby helps to honor your baby as a person.
- Since funeral planning is something we are used to after a death, it may help you come to terms with the sudden loss of your baby.
- It will, quite simply, give you something to do when your thoughts are likely to be unfocused.
What About the Cost?Some funeral homes offer low- or no-cost funerals for children. The social worker at your hospital should be able to help you locate one of these funeral homes. If there is no one in your area willing to do the services for free or at a discount, you may be able to arrange for a payment plan over time. You might also consider talking to your religious leader. The congregation may be able to collect donations for the cost of the funeral. If you find yourself struggling with a budget, be honest with your funeral director. You may discover a few cost-saving options that also enhance the personal aspects, such as using a bassinet instead of a casket for viewing.
Don't Feel RushedIt's not unusual to take as long as a week to complete all the funeral arrangements for your baby. It's okay to take as long as you need. Be sure to tell well-meaning family and friends that you want to make the choices, no matter how long it takes, or they may think you are overwhelmed and will try to take over the planning. Don't let anyone rush you into a service before you are satisfied with all your decisions -- especially since you, the mother, will be going through your own physical recovery. You should feel well enough to sit through a service and well-rested enough to face your family and friends.
Trust Your InstinctsMany funeral directors are very sensitive to parents' wants and needs. If you want to be involved in dressing your baby for the funeral, say so. If you'd rather not, don't feel forced. You can also request that the staff of the funeral home take extra footprints or collect locks of hair for you, if possible. If you want pictures of your baby at any point in the preparations or at the time of the funeral, speak up. You may want to designate a friend to operate the camera. Don't let other people tell you it's not appropriate or morbid. This is your baby, and you should be satisfied with your experience.
Where Should I Have the Funeral?Anywhere you feel comfortable. The funeral home will have viewing rooms, or you can make arrangements with your church. You can also have a short service at the grave site, if you are having your baby buried. Some families choose to have the service at their house or in a public place, like a beach or garden. Just be sure to clarify with your funeral director, who is responsible for obtaining any necessary permits, if you're planning to use public areas.
What Goes into a Funeral Service?Usually, a funeral service includes some selected readings from religious texts or other sources, prayers and blessings from a religious leader, one or more eulogies from family members or friends, and songs. There is a wide variety of ways to customize and personalize a memorial service. So really, the answer to the question "What goes into a funeral service?" is: whatever you would like to do to honor your baby.
You might choose religious readings, poetry, a favorite storybook or even letters written to your baby. Your music options are as varied as the music itself -- you can play recorded music, have a soloist, choir or live music played. Some other ideas include having family members present the baby with toys or flowers, releasing balloons at the grave site or any outdoor location that has meaning for you, or giving everyone who attends a flower bulb or sapling tree to keep your baby's memory alive for years to come. Check with your funeral director for any special services offered by the funeral home. For example, I know of at least one funeral home that has a grief therapy dog available to attend funerals.
A funeral can be a positive experience and a beneficial step on your path through grief. Whether you had a miscarriage or stillbirth, you can have a special ceremony to honor your baby's memory -- even if it's informal and at your own home. Remember: it's all about you and your family honoring the memory of your little one.