Losing a child is a devastating experience, capable of shattering our very faith in the world. This sort of grief takes time to heal, though it never truly goes away. And while it’s understandable that bereaved parents would want to spend their time lamenting their losses, you might be surprised at how many of us have worked hard to create something positive out of it. The ways moms honor the memory of the babies they lost are often both personal and public, but they're almost always with the goal of finding a way to cope with the pain while simultaneously trying to spread as much joy into the world as possible.
Since I lost my daughter back in 2012, I've made several plans as to how I hope to someday honor her memory. There’s a tattoo of a mermaid that I have been meaning to get (she “watched” The Little Mermaid in utero and seemed to like it with all her excited kicking, so it’s become a reminder symbol of her for me). I would also love to start up a non-profit, seeking to help eradicate prematurity and the factors that can often lead up to it. For now, though, I participate in the March for Babies every year with my family and write about child loss, and about her, quite a bit. I also work hard to spread awareness of pregnancy and infant loss, because I recall how isolating it was for me at first, especially as an atheist seeking non-religious support.
I spoke with several fellow loss mamas on how they continue to honor the babies they lost too soon. Here are some of their responses:
“On what was supposed to be my daughter's due date (spontaneous delivery caused by placental abruption brought her early) we had flowers sent to seniors at a nursing home.”
“When we lost our baby I had a very difficult time with it and through my healing process I got a tattoo on my inner wrist of a star to honor her. I also started volunteering on the pediatric floor of our hospital, we got a dog (he truly saved me), and each Christmas we sponsor a child whose family cannot afford gifts.”
“My husband and I host an annual softball tournament and raffle in honor of Londyn. Our proceeds go to congenital heart defect (CHD) and pulmonary hypertension (PH) research. CHD affects 1 in 100 babies born every year. Londyn was born with a complex CHD which led to her PH. These two things ultimately killed her in April 2016 due to heart failure. PH is considered a rare disease, but once diagnosed there's no FDA approved treatment for kids/babies... just adult medication dosed down for kids. It's also progressive and has no cure. PH often can lead to double lung transplant which even that isn't a cure. Next year, the money we raise will go towards starting a nonprofit in her name.”
“My husband and I started a lending library of owlet monitors in memory of our son, for parents expecting children after the loss of an infant.”
“I trained for a year to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon for her fourth birthday. I am continuing to train, and will run another half in November and the Princess again in 2018 for her fifth birthday. I will probably always run that race because it's usually near her birthday weekend and I need to make that day meaningful. To me, every step I run keeps me connected to her. I hate running. I really do. But I love her and I love to be able to feel connected to her and to do something in her honor. I also kept a blog and I use my ‘A Letter to My Doctor’ post and video to train medical staff on how to handle the delivery of a child who is stillborn.”
“I went into preterm labor at 21 weeks and six days. My twin boy and girl died in my arms on their due date. Four months later, I donated blankets to three hospitals. The day still came with tears and sadness, but it holds so much more than the day they should have joined me. I attached a tag with their name to each one.”
“I'm still new to bereavement, it's only been a year and a few days since we lost her heartbeat and not quite a year since she was born. It was a twin pregnancy and her blood flow just never caught up enough to keep her growing. She stopped growing at 19 weeks, no heartbeat at 29 weeks to the day, then they were born at 33 weeks.
I crocheted a blanket with daisies and her name for her brother. I'm putting the finishing touches on it to give it to him for his first birthday. I'm also planning to get a memorial tattoo that says, ‘In a field of roses, she is a wildflower.’ And I bought a star map of the sky over our city the day we lost her.”
“I honor my stillborn daughter Ellie by going to a local bakery and purchasing a child's birthday cake on the anniversary of the day I delivered her. So, when the parents get there to pick up their child's cake, it's already paid for. I leave a birthday card with the cake explaining that I'm doing this for my daughter and initial it.”
“My husband and I planted a tree on my first Mother's Day without our son.”
“I lost my son, Ryan, in August 2005, at just 54 hours old. He had severe heart defects that hadn't been discovered prenatally.
Over the last 12 years, I have woven my son's memory into my everyday living. I wear a heart pendant that bears his name, began a memorial garden, planted a tree in his memory, make memorial ornaments for others, and did a StoryCorps interview about him in 2011. I've written some short loss articles, wrote a post-loss blog for a while, and the most healing thing I have been involved with the longest is helping to plan an annual butterfly release with other loss parents and staff from the hospital. I attended the very first one just seven weeks after my loss, but it made a powerful impact, and we have attended every year since (October 14 will be the 13th year).”
“For Elliot's first birthday, I crafted two gift baskets full of items for parents with stillborn babies. We donated these baskets to the hospital where he was born.”
“My mom made these [Random Acts of Kindness cards] for his first birthday. I live in Indonesia, my moms back home in Canada. I am so happy it’s meant Arlo could be all over the world. That we could spread love and carry him everywhere.”
“Each year, I pay for a birthday cake (anonymously) at the local grocery store or bakery on my son's birthday. I usually will write a card to go with it, and inform whoever ordered it that it has been paid for in memory of Cole William Shirk.”
"We ask friends and family to do a random act of kindness in memory of our twins on their 'birthday.' We use the hashtag #raysofkindness to organize everything into one place (Ray is our last name). We love to see all of the kindness spread in their memory.”
“We just celebrated our son's first birthday. Lyon, who died at 5 weeks old, is our impetus for doing a lot of charity work. I plan to start our own non-profit at some point and hold awareness for thyroid issues (he was born without one and I was diagnosed with hypothryoidism in the end of second trimester, after an MRI revealed his lack of thyroid as well as growth and other brain issues), and also raise money for our hospice, which specifically deals with sick/dying children. Our case was pretty unique to doctors, so we don't have one specific place to put our energy. We have done one March of Dimes walk, donated blankets and preemie clothes to Newborns in Need in his honor. For his first birthday (August 16th), we hosted a party that 40 adults and 21 children attended. We collected two giant bins of baby and kid items for baby2baby.org; and one giant box of art supplies, toys, and $150 in gift cards for Children's Hospital LA. And invitees had the chance to purchase gifts for children in need through daymaker.com, so we sponsored seven kids for their birthdays this August/early September.”
“Meyer died when he was 11 days old. The only places he ever got to see were the hospital, our home, and our neighborhood park. We had a tree dedicated to him in the park, right at the entrance, so we see it everytime we go past or into the park.”
“We have a growing list of things we do, but like many others, we picked ‘Obie's favorite charities’ and encourage people to donate. We also celebrate ‘Obie Xmas,’ which is the day we took him from NICU into home hospice. We also (my husband and I) make a large donation in his honor for his birthday every year. We pick a charity related to bees most of the time, because that's his little totem. On his birthday, we hike at the park where his ashes are.”
“Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of my twins premature birth and death at 22 weeks. Every year on their birthday, we choose a charity to donate to in their honor. This year we are collecting items for Homeless Angels — a charity that provides essential items and food for our local homeless community.
I also got these tattoos of their footprints.”
“I have tattoos symbolizing my losses: 11 cherry blossoms with floating away petals, and angel wings with my living children's names. (I've had 12 losses). They allow me to carry a piece of them with me and I love that my living children see them on me and talk about them. Unspoken Grief [online resource for parents experiencing pregnancy and infant loss] is also in honor of them.”