I am often asked for advice in the immediate hours and days after a baby has died: What should I do? What memories should I try to make? And again, this is incredibly personal, but I do look back and think of the things I am glad we did, whilst also mourning the opportunities we missed.
Whilst I will share a few suggestions here, what I will say is that you should do what feels right and manageable for you at this time. There is no correct or incorrect way to navigate these early hours and days and, although I appreciate that this is hard, try not to fall into the trap of self-criticism and regret. Follow your heart and gut.
So, I share these suggestions, not to add stress or pressure, but because I so desperately wish I knew of all these things when we were in hospital with Orla.
Spend as much time as you want to with your baby
We stayed in hospital for a few hours, but decided to leave the same day since there was no bereavement room or cold cot, which made it almost impossible to stay longer. I feel somewhat cheated of this time as a result of poor facilities, but I know that we did what was right for us at the time. But if you are happy with your surroundings, stay as long as you need to.
Invite who you want to visit
And don’t be afraid to say no to people. We decided not to invite anyone to hospital, and whilst I have some regret and guilt about this, I know that it was the right decision for us at that time.
Take more than you think you need to. Take ones of you and your family with your baby, no matter how you look. And if you can, try and get Remember My Baby, or another organization to come and take some beautiful professional photos for you.
Some of my most treasured photos are of Orla’s whole body (rather than just of her in clothes or all wrapped up). They help me to remember that she was a whole and perfectly formed tiny human. If you feel able to, try and capture every part of your baby – you never have to look at the photos if you don’t want to, but there will always be the opportunity of you change your mind.
Take hand and footprints
We have ink prints as well as clay moulds. The moulds are one of my most reassured possessions as I can explore every crease and line in Orla’s hands again and again. We also had silver jewellery made of Orla’s fingerprints, which again were taken from casts from her fingers.
Also remember that if you didn’t manage to do this in hospital, it is still possible when your baby is with the funeral directors, so don’t feel like it is too late to ask.
If possible, take some hair clippings
I have lots of Orla’s hair and I carry a lock of it with me every day. For me, having something tangible that is actually her helps me to remember that she was real.
Know that you can visit your baby at the funeral directors
Follow their advice, which will be dependent on the condition of your baby’s body, but if you can, do not be afraid to hold them. We visited multiple times, read Orla stories and held her. I did not think I would have the strength to do this, but it was actually an incredibly peaceful and special time.
Prepare for what you want to keep and what you want to leave with your baby
We bought an identical blanket and just before we left Orla for the final time, we gave her a clean outfit and blanket and we took home what she wore and was wrapped in at the hospital. Despite the fact that this outfit is covered in bodily fluids, we have never washed it and I am actually glad of this. Knowing that her little body touched that material somehow keeps her closer.