Strategies for Survival: Dealing with Infant Loss
“Don’t be afraid to truly feel your grief. If you try to suppress it, it will be that much worse,” says Nancy Cozzens, of Towson, Maryland, whose son Tommy lived only six weeks. In October of 2005, Towson and her husband, Tom, gave birth to a second son, James Thomas. “I don’t know if you ever get over it. It’s more like you put it in a different place. It’s a progression. I journaled a great deal. That really helped me sort through my feelings, even at the rawest times.”
The Cozzens participated in a support group and counseling; Nancy was prescribed medication, turned to art therapy, and, like Mack, often wears special reminders of Tommy, such as angel earrings she bought for what would have been her first Mother’s Day with him.
Tom Cozzens, who since childhood planned to pass down his name to the fifth generation, emphasizes the importance of facing the grieving process. “If you don’t release the valve in a controlled way, a buckle on it is going to break.”
Johnston and Campbell, who stress everyone grieves differently, echo that need. For the first week, they say getting out of bed and getting dressed is a feat. As the days pass, they encourage parents to set small goals such as tackling one day at a time. If parents don’t find themselves moving forward after four to six weeks of acute grieving, they suggest calling a doctor or a counselor.
Creating memories, such as naming the child, journal writing, and other rituals, “validates that this baby existed,” says Johnston. She and Campbell present patients with a memory box, a set of the baby’s footprints, and, when possible, encourage them to hold their children and allow them to be photographed.
“We have never had a family come to us, and say, ‘I am so sorry you took those pictures,’” says Campbell. “What they have come and said is, ‘I wish I had seen the baby. I wish I had accepted the pictures.’” In case that happens, pictures are kept on file.
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