and 21 sleeps
after Porter was gone,
we finally were able
to pick up his remains
I stared out the window on our drive to the hospital in silence. I wondered, “Why didn’t anyone prepare me for this part of loss? How do you navigate picking up your baby after they die?”
The answer, honestly, is not straight and easy. For me, I wish someone would have told me that my baby may be in a bag labeled biohazard. For me, I wish someone would have made sure I didn’t have to walk into the hospital to pick him up alone. For me, I wish someone would have given me resources on what my options were from there. I wasn’t mentally and emotionally prepared for this part of life after loss. No one gave me advice before hand.
Here are three steps you should do when picking up your baby.
Getting Your Right to Keep Your Baby
I did some research after Porter died, but before our D&C, and found that for miscarriages that are before 20 weeks gestation, hospitals are not required to report the baby as a death. They are also allowed to dispose of them at the medical facility. Depending on the facility, some have policies in place that allow you to keep your baby by signing a consent form to release “products of conception”, some allow you to request a death certificate and retain a permit to transport to a funeral home, some allow you to select the option of them cremating the remains and spreading them in their own lost baby garden, some have no policies for or against you being able to get your baby back, but they don’t typically offer an option either. Babies born after 20 weeks gestation do require a death certificate and the process is slightly more straight forward.
Google here is not your friend though. If you try to search “how to keep my baby after a miscarriage?” you get super vague answers. Definitely not helpful.
The best thing you can do is follow the chain of command. Start with asking your provider who will be taking care of you. See if they know the policy at the medical facility you will be at. Even just asking “Can we keep our baby after?” is a great way to initiate the conversation. If your doctor does not know the answer, see if they can call the director of their practice to ask. A lot of the time, these things are gray areas and providers are not too familiar with it. If your doctor is unsure, ask your nurses at the hospital or medical facility if there is anyway to keep your baby after. More often than not, a nurse will be able to pull strings by asking for you. Some nurses may not know the answer, if they don’t, ask if a patient advocate can talk to you about keeping your baby afterwards. These people are great at their job and making sure your needs are met. The patient advocate should be able to share options available; whether that is a release from pathology, a permit for transport to a funeral home, in house cremation, etc. If the patient advocate is unsure, straight up ask for a release of your baby’s remains. Think of it like this, someone had surgery to remove their gallbladder and they want to keep it. This route, I would suggest, as the last step because your emotions are high. Having to switch from sadness to assertive can often come off hostile and be counter productive to getting your baby home.
Preparing to Pick Up Your Baby
For us, we had a three week window of waiting before pathology would release Porter. From talking with friends, the time period of getting their baby back varied based on gestation, autopsy if applicable, hospital, and way of release (signed form, transport to funeral home etc.). Aside from the variation of how long to pick up your baby, the waiting period is a rollercoaster of emotion. I felt like I went through two waves of heavy grief in that three week period. I was everywhere from hysterical crying, to a glimmer of a smile, to being numb.
Preparing to pick up your dead baby, in whatever way you are, is challenging. There are a lot of moving parts (emotions, people, outside factors) and a lot of unknown parts (where do I go, who do I call, how much does it cost).
Emotions- your emotions will be everywhere in this time. You may feel uneasy knowing that there will be impending emotion on the horizon. This is not something that you can will away. It is super helpful to share your feelings with a 3rdparty other than your spouse or significant other. I say this because your “other” person is grieving too. And most likely they will be so thick in their emotional rollercoaster that they may not be able to listen and talk through your emotions the way you need them to. So, find a friend or better yet, a therapist! Lay your emotions out, all the raw, irrational, unfiltered emotions. Let them be voiced. They are valid and they are ok. Find someone who can hold that space for you.
People- first let’s address your household. The people living with you are often the closest emotionally and relationally to you. This include significant others and other children. These people are a moving part because they too are grieving. They also came home without a baby. They also lost a soul at the same time you did. Their grief may look different than yours. And that is ok. During this time of preparing to bring home your baby, try to acknowledge these people in your life that they are wrestling with emotions too. Empathy and grace are gems to others and will also help you accept it from yourself and others.
Outside Factors- this is basically the entire world. Maybe that seems too broad, but it’s true. These are things like work, exercise, appointments, responsibilities. It is so easy for some of us to throw ourselves into life things in order to disassociate from trauma. If you can, take time off of work or cut back hours. Be kind to your body. It just gave birth. Yes, even a natural miscarriage or a D&C is giving birth to your baby. Your body needs to be physically taken care of right now. Exercise should be tabled for a bit, yes even if it’s your “therapy.” If you have a planner full of appointments and responsibilities, ask someone close to you, not your spouse, if they can take your kid to the dentist or pick up your grocery order. Lightening your load is in your control and it is ok.
This next part is what overwhelmed me the most and in waiting for Porter it made my anxiety skyrocket.
Who: Who do I need to get a hold of at the hospital in order to confirm pick up or transport or XYZ? Look on your discharge papers. Start there. I was given a copy of our release form and called the number on that paper. If there is no number or you lost your discharge papers, just call the hospital and straight up say “Hi. My baby died and I am supposed to pick up their remains. I was told to call the hospital. Can you point me in the right direction?” You may play musical phone transfer until you land in the right hands. That’s ok. It’s worth it.
What: What are my options? Truthfully, there aren’t too many options in any death/loss situation. You can A) cremate or B) have a burial. Take some time to list out the pros and cons of each of these. Some people have a family plot at a cemetery and that is extremely important to them. Some people want to have their baby cremated to have in an urn at home. Others may want to spread their babies ashes. There are so many things to consider here. This list is for you and your significant other. Find what is important to you because it will be a part of your closure.
Where: Where do I find services? This was hard for me. I hated looking up funeral homes and cremation costs. I would suggest asking a friend or family member if they can call around to gather this information. If you don’t have anyone who can do this for you to ease the burden, chunk this task to make it more manageable. Make a list of 10 places nearby with the contact information. Take a break for a day or so if time permits and then call 2-3 places at a time to gather price quotes. Calling on the phone seemed to get me more accurate information and faster.
When: When do I call to get things in order? Sooner rather than later is the short answer. I waited two weeks after my D&C before I started researching places to bury or cremate Porter. I also waited until day 20 to call pathology. Starting your research earlier, although emotionally difficult, can help lessen the anxiety to find something asap. I also felt that solving this unknown sooner would have allowed me to check this box off and not have to use emotional energy towards this.
Why: Why are there so many unknowns?! To be honest… the life after loss world is unrepresented. When people lose a baby, there is not the same outpouring support like there would be an elderly relative. This needs to change! This post is here to help make the unknowns known.
Finally Picking Up Your Baby
It was 22 long days later when I got to hold Porter again. I had, mostly, figured out the above parts and I had this day circled on my calendar. We all got in the car (Matt, our four girls and I) and drove downtown to the hospital. Matt sat in the car with the girls and dropped me off at the front of the hospital. I had to pick him up alone. It was morning when we went. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how much of him was left. I didn’t know if I wanted to see him or not. I felt unprepared for meeting my baby again.
Things I wish I would have known:
- Do not take your kids with you. Get a babysitter.
- Do not go alone. Take someone in with you.
- Expect people to not be aware of your sensitive situation. It’s ok to guard yourself emotionally.
- Expect formalities like signing papers, providing ID and or permits. This is a part of their job they do everyday.
- Your baby may not look like a baby. But that doesn’t change your love.
- It’s ok to be protective and not want to let go.
- Spend time after reflecting and processing the new flood of emotions.
I wish Matt would have been able to walk into the hospital with me that day. I wish he was there with me to hold my hand while we walked down the busy hospital halls to pick up Porter. I wish I would have guarded myself emotionally when a hospital staff jokingly asked “What cool body part are you picking up? Anything good?” I wanted to die and crumble onto the floor right then thinking, “My dead baby. That’s what I am picking up.” I wish it wasn’t “awesome” when I finished signing more release papers for my baby. I wish I didn’t have to walk out of the hospital clenching a biohazard bag with my baby in it. I wish I didn’t look inside the bag because his body is only for this world and his spirit is with Jesus. I wish I knew that it was ok to white knuckle a plastic bag for hours just so I didn’t have to let him go again. I wish I took time that day to acknowledge where I was in my grief rather than try to resume my life now that it was “over.”
I hope that if you are reading this, you make a mental note of how to help someone through a loss as they prepare to pick up their baby. I hope that if you are reading this and you just lost your baby, that you take a moment to know you aren’t alone. The moving parts and the unknowns can all be addressed. And you will make it.