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Comfort for Parents Mourning a Stillborn Child

By Mary Beth Schweigert

stillbirth comfort lgh

Amy and Steven Lied never expected to leave Women & Babies Hospital without their baby.

The sudden, unexpected stillbirth of their first child, Asher, nearly 33 weeks into Amy’s uneventful pregnancy left the couple reeling. There had been no warning signs that anything was wrong — and adding to their pain, no apparent explanation for their loss.

When the Lieds left the hospital without Asher, they held onto a special gift from their nurses: a teddy bear. Even now, almost four years later, the Lieds still sleep with the teddy bear every night. In addition to providing comfort, the nurses’ gift led to an opportunity for the couple to help others, and to ensure that Asher is not forgotten.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s Women & Babies Hospital offers a wide array of supportive services to parents after a stillbirth, which is defined in Pennsylvania as the loss of a baby at 16 weeks or later in a pregnancy, or a newborn death. Sadly, between 50 and 100 of these losses occur at the hospital each year.

Perinatal bereavement care coordinator Sharon Kauffman said that most parents, like the Lieds, feel completely blindsided by their loss.

“Most people do not even consider that their pregnancy will result in anything other than a healthy baby,” she said. “They tell me that it’s like a bad dream they can’t wake up from.”

Some women report experiencing actual physical symptoms of their grief, including the sensation of “aching arms” without a baby to hold, Kauffman said. Soon after the Lieds’ loss, the hospital began offering special weighted therapeutic teddy bears to all bereaved parents.

The 4-pound Comfort Cub, which was created by a mother who lost her own son, is designed to simulate the feeling of cradling a newborn baby. The bear gives parents something to hold as they leave the hospital and continue to mourn their loss over time.

After they lost Asher, the Lieds wanted to honor their son by helping other bereaved parents. They remembered the comfort of the teddy bear they received from their nurses, which made donating Comfort Cubs to the hospital seem like the perfect fit. More than 200 parents have taken home a bear so far, most of which were donated by the Lieds.

“Nothing will fill the void of losing Asher,” Amy Lied said. “But it’s nice to know that our son is making a difference in so many families’ lives.”

Supporting a Loved one Through the Loss of a Baby

For parents who have lost a child, the magnitude of the loss can be difficult to comprehend, Kauffman said. The baby’s life has suddenly ended. All of their dreams for their child are gone. Parents describe being hit with waves of grief they aren’t certain they can survive.

It can be difficult to know how to best support a friend or family member who has suffered such a heartbreaking loss. Being there for your loved one is most important, Kauffman said. While there is no “right” thing to say, the most comforting words are often a simple, “I’m sorry.”

“Be present and listen to their story,” she said. “Try to resist the urge to put a lid on their tears. The more they can talk about it, the more it helps them to work through it.”

When the Lieds lost Asher, the thought of cooking or even caring about food seemed overwhelming. Generous family and friends dropped off enough meals to ensure that the couple could put aside that worry for six weeks.

While time tends to soften the sharpness of grief, the pain of losing a child never fades completely, Amy Lied said. Loved ones can help by continuing to check in with the bereaved parents. Ask specific questions, such as, “How are you doing around the holidays without your child? What can I do to help you?”

Above all, don’t be afraid to say the child’s name.

“It changes, but the grief still can knock you off your feet at times,” Lied said. “Like most parents, our biggest fear is that our child will be forgotten.”

Something to Hold Onto

Leaving the hospital without a baby is a particularly difficult time for bereaved parents, Kauffman said. While a teddy bear could never take the place of a child, having something to hold at that moment and in the difficult days to come can provide some measure of comfort.

Many parents find it comforting to sleep with their bears, she said. During follow-up home visits, she has seen Comfort Cubs displayed alongside other mementos, such as baby clothing, blankets or flowers. Later, the bear may appear in family photos to represent the memory of the child who was lost.  

Tayleen Taylor and Gerald Torres slept with their Comfort Cubs for several nights following the sudden, unexpected loss of their triplet daughters in October. The couple now keep the bears close by on a shelf in their bedroom.

While their grief remains raw, Taylor said she and Torres are especially grateful that they received three Comfort Cubs to remember each of their daughters as individuals.

“We got plenty of flowers, but flowers die,” she said. “The bears give you something to hold on to when you don’t have your baby. It was better to come home with something rather than complete emptiness.”

The Butterfly Fund provides supportive services to families who have experienced the loss of a child at Women & Babies Hospital. To make a contribution, visit Choose “Women & Babies Hospital” as the Fund Designation. In the Payment Details section, enter “The Butterfly Fund” in the “Indicate desired gift designation” box.

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