Monday, April 27, 2009

Project Grief

I work with birthing families. I am privileged to be present with families at the happiest time of their lives. Is there any other joy greater than welcoming a new life into the world? As one can imagine, when things go well, the joy is immense. And when things don't go well, the grief is just as powerful. Sadly (and thankfully not often) I also must walk the path of grief with birthing families. The sadness can be unbearable at times and I typically end up just sitting and crying with families as they work through the shock of losing a baby. As difficult as this task is, I wouldn't trade it for the world because I believe that these moments are the ones that shape and mold us and give us the chance to examine who we are deep down. These are the moments that force us to see life through another's eyes. These are the moments that allow us to see how blessed we are.

I recently had the honor of walking this path with a very sweet family. I'll call them Jane and John. I'll call their baby Jack. Obviously, these are not their real names. My charge nurse asked me to take some things down to the emergency room so that they could do footprints and measurements on a baby. Jane had lost her baby at just 17 weeks gestation. I gathered up some reading material we have on grief and loss as well as a memory box, and some printing material. Unfortunately, it is impossible get hair on a 17-week baby. If there is any, it's just a very minute amount of fuzz that is unfortunately matted to the scalp in such a manner that it is impossible to remove. When I got down to the ER, I was directed to Jane's "room" (it was more like a cubicle with the curtains drawn). When I walked in and saw her, I introduced myself to her and then my heart just sank. I looked over and saw that she was holding baby Jack on her chest... on a chux pad. I excused myself to go and get a blanket from the nursery for the baby. I was beyond frustrated by our selection of blankets for micro preemies. You see, you can't just use a normal blanket for a baby of this age. They are so tiny they can fit in the palm of your hand, head to toe. It would be the equivalent of wrapping up a 5-year-old in a king sized blanket.

We have a nurse on our unit who has taken the time to cut some flannel baby blankets into smaller pieces. I grabbed one of those but I was frustrated because, well, it looked like it was cut... it had raw edges to it. I also found a tiny knitted cap for the baby. Thankfully, we have volunteers that make caps for micro preemies. And even though it was super tiny, I still had to roll the brim a few times for it not to cover the baby's entire head.

I took these back to the ER and then asked the ER staff if they wanted me to take care of the prints. They were all too happy to allow me to do that. So I gently picked Jack up and was able to get the most perfect foot prints from him. His little foot prints were no longer than the first third of my pinky (from the tip of my pinky to the first joint). I was then able to get some beautiful, tiny hand prints on him as well. We measured him... he was only 7 inches long and weighed about a third of a pound. Then I asked Jane if I could wrap him in a blanket and hat and she was grateful that I would do that. Finally, he looked like a peacefully sleeping little guy instead of a dead fetus on a chux pad.

This experience really threw me and I decided that I needed to do something about it. So I've looked into making REAL blankets for these babies. People often don't realize how real the grief is for someone who has miscarried a baby. These babies are real and even though they are the tiniest little things, their parents love them and hold them for a very long period of time before they are separated. They kiss their babies and stare at them and marvel at them just the same way parents marvel over their full term newborns. To see a baby laying on a chux pad broke my heart. And then to have difficulty finding a blanket to fit him was frustrating.

Having experienced a miscarriage myself, I am well aware of how difficult that grief is. Mine occurred early enough that I never had a baby to hold. But the grief was no less.

I love to knit and began looking for a blanket pattern. I found a pattern that I'm trying out. The directions include 3 different sizes and I'm making the smallest size because that's the size we will use most. It's a very fast project and I think it will look nice when I get done with it. I'm hoping to make several of these. I also have a bin full of flannel fabric that has gone unused for a few years. I have several baby prints. I think that I will cut it up and make micro preemie sized blankets with finished edges and leave them in the nursery for these babies. These won't have pockets in them like the knit buntings do, but they will be small enough to swaddle the tiniest of babies.

I have said over and over again (and will continue to say it as long as it needs to be said)... Mothers (and fathers) will remember these experiences forever. They may not remember our names but they will remember the way we treated them and more importantly, they will remember how we treated their babies. We have within us the power to make these experiences positive ones for them. Parents will take these experiences with them to the grave. I remember Mike's grandmother talking to me shortly before she died about her birth experiences. Despite the fact that those experiences were more than 60 years old, she could recount every detail.

If anyone has any good patterns or ideas, I'm open to any suggestions!


  1. What a beautiful heart-warming post. But you're right...somehow the best best moments and the very worst moments are engraved in our hearts forever, and what a blessing for you to recognize that with your job. I love the blanket idea -- wish I sewed, I do some too for you. You're quite a woman!

  2. Thank you, Christina. This would be such a great "Family Project" for us and a way to use left-over fabric. You may want to look at,, or for free patterns. There are knit and crocheted patterns for more than just blankets...also burial packets. I have long been interested, but haven't acted on it. Perhaps we should as a family.
    What were the demensions on the flannel blankets? Well, email me. This is getting too long.