Over years of working with families that lost their baby suddenly we gathered a lot of information about feelings, thoughts, and questions families might have. The information here is based on the experience of other parents and was edited by professionals.
If you are the parents of a baby who died suddenly, you must be overwhelmed and feeling a very painful feeling of emptiness. The suddenness, the lack of control, and the fact there was no clue that something bad is about to happen is shared by many parents in your position. The feelings of pain, grief, and sadness are mixed with a sense of guilt and even accusations or retrospective clues, as if you could have avoided what had happened. The death of a baby or a child is always a traumatic event, but a sudden death leaves the parents and relatives in shock. You are probably going in your heads again and again over every detail of what happened. The loss causes deep pain and a sense you can not take the intensity of the sadness. It is highly important that you realize there are no specific symptoms preceding a death of this kind. Unfortunately it can happen to any one of us, the best, most loving, and caring families.
What is the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the medical name for a sudden death of infants until the age of one year, when the cause of death remains unexplained even after a thorough examination by doctors and investigation of the infant’s medical history. It usually happens when the baby is placed to sleep in his bed and a while later is found dead. The death is painless, without any suffering, sudden and quiet. SIDS is the main cause of death of infants until the age of one year.
One of every 1000 infants dies of SIDS every year. Even though the causes of SIDS are unknown, it is important to know the following:
SIDS is not caused as a result of a specific disease, suffocation, pneumonia or negligence
SIDS is not contagious
SIDS is not caused as a result of any vaccine given to the baby
SIDS does not testify to child abuse.
The reference to a sudden and unexpected event
The death is unexpected, it is sudden, it occurs without any advance notice and without the ability to prepare for it. It violates the natural order of life and affects the entire family from that day on. Thoughts that usually come up are “if we had only …”, or “why did it happen to us…”.
Know that you did not cause the death of your child and you could not have prevented it. This is not your fault.
Time to grieve
The minutes, hours and days are all mixed together. You probably feel confused, out of balance, sensitive and vulnerable. When the initial shock passes feelings of sorrow, emptiness and loneliness will appear. You will feel sadness mixed with anger, thoughts of injustice and, naturally, longing and hard feelings. All these are very common. Parents who experienced a death of a baby talk about physical pain in the heart, a feeling of pressure in the chest, and some say they often moan. All these reactions are common in situations of grief.
Many parents say that this is the strongest pain there is. Occasionally they ask themselves if they can take the intensity of the pain, if they can survive it at all, if they will ever find any meaning to their lives. Maybe you too find it hard to concentrate, to do simple activities, to make decisions. Some feel physical pain, such as headaches, lack of appetite, dizziness, a lump in the throat, insomnia and loneliness. Some say they feel like they are going mad, they keep hearing the baby crying at night, or they keep waking up to take care of a baby who is no longer there. Remember that all the symptoms are normal, and they do not indicate to a loss of your mental health.
Remember this too: you are not responsible for your baby’s death, there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.
Influence of the loss on the parents
The loss affects both parents at the same time, and the sorrow is so deep each one tries to deal with it in his own way and finds it difficult to relate to the other. It creates a situation in which the person who usually supports you through hard times is now busy dealing with his own pain and can not always react and respond to yours.
Sometimes, the death of the baby is the first loss the parents experience. You should know that every person grieves in his own way. You might find it hard to learn to accept your spouse’s way to grieve, but in order to overcome the difficulties you should try and talk about them and about your feelings openly, despite the difficulty. An atmosphere of openness and cooperation between the two of you will help you cope as a couple with the private grief of each of you.
Siblings’ response to the baby’s death
The brothers and sisters are also affected by what has happened. Children who are too young to understand the event require love and affection from their parents. They are also having scary thoughts which they are unable to express, such as “did I cause my brother’s death?”, “am I going to die too?”, “will mom and dad die too?” “am I still a big brother?” “who will protect me now?”
The children will probably want to be near you, and may even try and do things to get your attention. It is important for them to know that they are loved and protected. Older brothers and sisters will experience feelings of grief according to their age and other experiences they have had in the past. They might often feel guilty because they might think, unjustly, that they caused the death of their brother or sister. Try and explain to your children all the facts according to their ability to understand. Try and express your thoughts and feelings openly. The openness will help the children express their feeling freely and to ask questions which bother them. It is very important to explain to the children that sudden death (SIDS) only happens to small babies and not to older children or to adults.
What will happen next?
You must be feeling exhausted, confused, and very sad while trying to get back to life without your baby. There will be many more hard days when your head will be bothered by questions, such as:
Why my baby?
What did I miss?
If it is not my fault, why do I still think “if I had only…”
“why didn’t I check on my baby one more time that night?
Why didn’t I take my baby to the doctor when he had a cold?
Why did I go back to work so soon?
If no one found out the cause of my baby’s death, maybe I caused it?
I am angry, frightened and exhausted, am I losing my mind?
There must be a reason for my baby’s death, why won’t anyone tell me what it is?
The process of grieving may last a long time and it continues even when the feelings of nervousness, restlessness, anxiety and depression subside. The first year is the hardest. Every parent goes through his own process in his own pace, but it is usually a cycle, initially triggered by guilt and an obsessive need to find the cause of the event and discover more details. Many parents feel unexplained fear of another disaster which they fear is about to happen soon. Losing sense of time and difficulty in performing the most simple tasks are common responses. The daily schedule changes in many aspects. Even shopping for groceries or visiting friends become tasks which are hard to do. After a while you will return to most of your daily activities, but you have the right to choose not to do things which are painful, or which require too much an effort on your part. It is your choice and it may be changed with time, according to the way you feel.
Important to remember
Grief and recovery are parts of a continuous process which resembles passing through a long and dark tunnel. You need strength to go through it and the agony is great. Most people agree that the process can not be completed quickly and in any way you can not control it, but close people to support you, and doing things which are good for you and your children will make it easier for you. In a certain sense people, memories, and being kind to yourselves are small candles in this dark tunnel. They will light your way and give you comfort. Grief is not an enemy, it is a friend. It is a natural process of walking through the pain and the sorrow, and it enables you to slowly overcome, merely by walking through it. Stop for a second and tell your relatives and yourselves: “please don’t take from me the need to grieve, I need to experience the pain and the sorrow, and I will overcome it together with you”. Try not to avoid the hard work in the process of grieving and prepare yourselves to the hard times that will come. They will be like waves in the ocean, sweeping you away, but you will manage to keep your head above the water. Let yourselves be carried away with the tide, don’t waste your energy fighting it, the ability to swim will return. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a long time to feel good. Eventually you will overcome. Gather hope. Grieving parents say that with time, they overcome, even though they don’t forget. Occasionally you might experience again the tunnel experience, but it will not happen every day, and not even very often.
Dealing with special dates or holidays
The first year after the death of your baby is the hardest. On its first birthday feel free to celebrate if it helps you. It is only natural to laugh and cry together.
Some grieving parents choose to celebrate and participate in festive events as before, but discover it is too hard for them. They might avoid talking about the deceased baby. Others choose to do things which are completely different than those they used to do in the past for special occasions or holidays and try to balance their participation in those events, while dealing with their pain, sadness and longing for their baby. All those are hard and personal choices.
The family usually gets together for happy or sad occasions. Relatives and friends usually accompany, support and listen when needed and help dealing with the loss. But even the closest friends will not understand the intensity of the pain you feel. They wish to distract you from the pain and sadness, to give you hope for better times, and see you get back to “ordinary” life, or help you forget what has happened.
But no one can take away the pain you feel. There will be better times for sure, but they will be different without your baby. Your life will not be “ordinary” again. Don’t ever forget your baby. Yet, it is all right to enjoy life. Your baby does not expect you to be sad all the time. Laughing and crying together will help you in the process of healing. Searching for fun things to do will help you find your way back to life. Your other children are entitled to the full attention of loving mother and father who are focused on them, on their development, their joys and difficulties.
Find it difficult to cope?
If you feel you can not cope with the disaster and with the grieving process on your own, or you feel the need for support or professional counseling, we invite you to contact us. Many people here would be happy to help you.