“Ten years ago I stood in a temple in the Kamakura district of Tokyo, staring at hundreds upon hundreds of gray Buddha statues. Ranging in size from around 4 to 12 inches, they lined walkways, went up steps, and edged paths. Some were adorned with beads and flowers or wore little hand-knit caps; others had bibs with cartoons and white, ruffled baby hats. They stood silently amid the rock arrangements and soft bamboo trees. Their sheer numbers were breathtaking. Later I learned that this temple was a place specifically for women who had had pregnancy losses–some early, some late, even some whose losses where the result of intention to end a pregnancy.” (Wendy Ponte, “Solitary sadness” Mothering, July/August 2002).
Rituals are an important part of our life. They provide an important tool for working through feelings of grief and a way for families to come together and feel whole again. Yet, while some societies have developed elaborate rituals and behaviors for mourning pregnancy loss, the Western world has remained painfully devoid of such rituals. As a result, couples who want to acknowledge and grieve the loss of an unborn child frequently have to create their own ceremonies and traditions.
Couples choose different types of ceremonies depending upon their own belief system. Some find comfort in traditional religious services with clergy officiating, while others prefer quiet meditation, or the symbolism of one poignant act, such as planting a tree. Often, the anniversary of the miscarriage or the due date of the unborn child becomes the focus for remembrance rituals. Simple or elaborate, religious or secular, the point of all such rituals is to help bring the grief out into the open, allowing couples to share it with one another and, if they desire, with significant friends and family members. While sad and painful, these expressions of grief allow couples to honor the child that never was, to acknowledge the loss of their dream and to begin the journey toward healing. The following are some ideas:
• Conduct a remembrance ceremony. A remembrance ceremony includes a ritual and a time to reflect on what the pregnancy meant to you. For instance, plant a tree in your garden, a local park or an arboretum. Go to the beach and set some flowers or pine cones afloat in the water. Send balloons into the air (the biodegradable kind that doesn’t harm wildlife) maybe putting a message inside one, or writing on them. Bury a note along with flowers or mementos. Scatter seeds in the wind. Follow each of these acts with a short prayer, meditation, or quiet reflection.
• Even if you had a miscarriage, you may still place a headstoneat the cemetery. Depending on the cemetery, you need not bury a child to have a marker placed (called a memorial marker). If you have a family plot or crypt, your baby’s marker can be located with other family members. If you don’t have a plot or crypt, you can purchase one. You can bury anything meaningful to you such as a picture, toy, letter, etc. If calling a cemetery feels uncomfortable to you, know that they are frequently willing to work through the mail or e-mail. Alternatively, you might try contacting a headstone manufacturer for assistance or ask a friend or relative to help with the details. If you cannot or do not want to have a headstone consider the option of visiting a cemetery and placing flowers on any bare or untended grave belonging to a child.
• Name your baby and add his or her name to the family tree or the family bible. Many people feel that when an unborn child is left unnamed, that baby assumes the status of a non-person. When the child is named, he or she is recognized as a real being whose loss caused real pain.
• Make a donation in your baby’s memory to a charity that seems appropriate to you. Donate any items that you may have received or purchased for your baby. Give your time or money to a cause that helps children. Donate toys, books or money in your baby’s name to a local children’s hospital, children’s library, favorite charity or school. Make a memorial donation to a pregnancy loss support group.
• Select an item to keep as a special visual remembrance of your baby. This could be a stuffed animal, a baby toy, a figure of a baby, a music box, a small treasure chest, or a Christmas ornament.
• Wear a piece of jewelry for your child. A ring with the birthstone of when your child was due. A locket (couples who had a late loss sometimes include a photo of their baby or perhaps ashes if he/she was cremated). A charm on a necklace, bracelet or key chain, perhaps engraved with your baby’s name.
• Keep a journal. Write about anything. How you felt to learn you were pregnant, what your dreams were and what the loss meant to you. Write letters or poems to your baby in a journal to say the things you never got a chance to say
• Make a tape of the story of your baby’s brief existence and your experiences as a kind of oral history.
• Create a website commemorating and celebrating your baby. For ideas, visit http://dmoz.org/Home/Family/Pregnancy/Loss/Memorials/Miscarriages/.
• Make an album, scrapbook or box for keepsakes and mementos of your pregnancy such as pictures, home pregnancy test sticks, early sonogram pictures, or even lab results. Include special items you made or purchased for your baby. Add some of the items others sent you for your pregnancy and/or your loss: cards, gifts, or dried flowers.
• Stitch a cross-stitch or needlepoint with your child’s name and dates. If you had started a stitching or knitting project, or had begun a quilt or afghan but were unable to complete it before your miscarriage, finish them now or ask someone to finish them for you.
• Each year have an observance on the anniversary of your loss, or on the date you were due. For instance, send a flower arrangement to the hospital to be given to the next mom experiencing a loss; light a candle; bake a cake or cupcakes and share them with other bereaved parents.
Don’t feel that you have to perform any of these rituals now, if you are not ready. Most of these acts and ceremonies can be performed later, even years after the loss. Sometimes family, friends, and even support groups may imply that you should perform acts that may not feel comfortable to you or your partner (i.e. naming your baby, having a funeral, celebrating Christmas because your baby “would have wanted you to”). If rituals don’t feel right to you, please don’t do them to pacify others. Memorializing is an individual expression; it is meant to help you in finding peace within. Hopefully some of these suggestions will aid you in that goal.