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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Saying goodbye to the baby - services & funerals

When faced with the decision about whether or not they wanted to have a funeral for the baby, many people felt unsure and unprepared. Most were still coming to terms with ending the pregnancy and found it difficult to think about the baby's burial. Some people decided not to have a funeral, cremation or any kind of service for the baby because they felt it would not be helpful, or because it seemed inappropriate to them. 

Most people we talked to had never arranged a funeral service before. Looking back on the experience however, most people felt the service had helped relieve their sadness as well as giving them something to remember the baby by. Many people talked about how helpful it was in the weeks following the funeral service to visit the baby's grave or the special place where they had put the baby's ashes. 

 

He was humbled by the special funeral service for babies and feels that the ritual of saying...

He was humbled by the special funeral service for babies and feels that the ritual of saying...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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We got all the parts back [from the post mortem] and there were, we had a little service in one of the churches, which I was very surprised about because there was quite a few people there. 

And it was very surreal because you go in there and there's all the little children there and there are tiny little boxes, lovely little white boxes, and they're all lined up you know. It takes you a while before they say like, 'If you want to hold your child through the service...' you know you, it's almost like, 'Well should we or shouldn't we?' And somebody will take the lead and then all of a sudden everybody goes there, and they, and they sit there, and you have this service.

And then the next day you have a funeral - a sort of mass grave - [at] an amazing little cemetery, and it's so colourful. And there's mobiles and bells and jangly things and you think crikey - you look at some of the children that have actually died you know, and it was very humbling I think.

And that was helpful?

Yeah, I think anything like that I mean... as you get older you can see the rituals in life mean things, and you might not agree with them, but they're very important to do, because you know obviously people have evolved and, and they do that, and you don't just sort of...'Well, there's a dead baby and we'll just throw it out in the rubbish', you have to say goodbye, you have to deal with it in that manner. At the time you think it's very difficult to do, but afterwards it's almost like closing the door, shutting the door you know, you can get on with your life, you can move forward. 

 

Says that she had never lost anyone really close to her before and that this was the first...

Says that she had never lost anyone really close to her before and that this was the first...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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So he was taken to the chapel. We didn't get to see him again until the funeral, and then he was just in his coffin. My husband took the coffin from the car to the graveside. Pouring day of rain, absolutely awful, but my husband's cousins were there, so there was only the 4 of us, plus the chaplain and the undertaker, and probably the gravedigger I think actually. And that was it. It was just a very small ceremony, and there's nothing - I think that was probably my first funeral ever. 

So again that was, for me, a huge step to being an adult I suppose. Up to that point I'd been young and na've, and yes I'm a Mum, yes I've been married, but I'd never gone through seeing someone die that I'd loved, and being there to be at a funeral. I've had relatives die but when I was living away, never got home for the funeral. And it was just 'this has to be done' and within that, we then flew home that very day, and I had to deal with everybody at home. 

So there's nothing that can make you deal with it any easier, you just have to come home and hug and talk to the children that were here and explain to them why this had happened, because they were just looking forward to a baby brother. He was just going to be the next addition to the family, and they'd ask if they could take him out for a walks when he was born, just silly things. 

Many parents found that once they had time to think, they instinctively knew what they wanted. One or two parents had been given the chance of taking the baby home and arranged their own funeral, others decided to ask a local priest to hold a funeral or cremation. Several people decided to leave all the arrangements to the hospital chaplain and said how helpful it had been to share a special memorial service with other families who had lost babies or young children.

 

Describes her baby's funeral and how the weather seemed to match her feelings and explains why...

Describes her baby's funeral and how the weather seemed to match her feelings and explains why...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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They asked if we wanted a post-mortem and we said, 'No'. And then the hospital said, 'Right well, we'll organise a burial. We've got funeral directors who we deal with and we'll pass on your details.' Which they did, and the funeral directors organised everything and they said, 'The burial will be on this day at this time.'

And it was really pouring down that morning, really badly, almost as if, it was like even God was mad. And my husband and I went - we decided that we didn't want anybody else there - and I think in a way that was a wrong decision. I wish maybe we'd have asked our parents to come. But my husband's mum was so upset that I think she would have been more of a burden than a support. 

And then I think we were worried we'd have to keep ourselves together for people which, we just wanted it to be us. So we went, and the funeral service came in a car, and we went into the little chapel in the cemetery, and they just did a few prayers. And I really can't even remember anything about it. I think some of the worst parts, I don't know, just some parts are just completely blank, I just can't remember. 

So they did a little service and then we went to the cemetery. And they just had the baby in a tiny coffin, a little white coffin, and they just buried him. And then we went home. And then in the afternoon we took my husband's mum back to the cemetery. And it was nice because we went back and it was sunny by this time. Because it was only July so it was a, just strange that the weather was like it was in the morning. But it was sunny, and they'd put the grass over the top where the coffin was. And we took some more flowers. And it just seemed right then that we'd gone when it was all covered over with the grass and the flowers were there and it was sunny, rather than a big hole in the ground where it was pouring down and we just left. So I felt better for that. 

And then I think after that it was just a case of, we'd done everything, we'd done all the steps we needed to maybe try and get on with our lives. Not that we did a very good job for a while, but that was the end of the saga as it were.

 

Explains how her baby's funeral helped relieve her feelings, and that she valued the care taken...

Explains how her baby's funeral helped relieve her feelings, and that she valued the care taken...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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It was all done by the hospital. I mean, at that stage I had absolutely no ideas about what you do in terms of funeral arrangements. And the hospital asked, just asked us, you know, explained that they had something set up with the local funeral directors and would we be happy for that to go ahead? 

So, you know, we just said yes, and the hospital chaplain said she'd do the funeral for us. Where we were living there's a particular area within the town cemetery that's a baby memorial where the babies are buried. So they took care of that and we were able to go down to the funeral directors and we left a blanket and some photographs and I think, bought her a little toy that we wanted to go in with her. 

And then the funeral again, was another day where I felt really relieved and calm, but my husband found it was one of his difficult times, again because of the reality of it, I suppose. As funerals are, they sort of bring it home. 

But I mean I was really impressed, I mean, the, the funeral directors, it was a free service that they provided, which in these days, you know, these times was just, I thought it was wonderful that a business did it. And they brought her in a hearse driven slowly. She was in a wooden coffin with a name plaque. They'd put a little pink rose on the top. It was done really, really nicely and I just thought, as a free service that they were offering, it was really nice and I found it, the funeral quite, quite calming. 

Very strange, I mean a few friends came and [husband's] parents came but I didn't feel like it was an event to invite everybody - it's getting a balance between it being private and - but at the same time she was our daughter, sort of thing.  

So we just had a little, a little service by the grave and, and then Concorde went over, which I really liked, that she'd got a fly-past from Concorde. It came straight over us so that was quite noisy but that was, you know, it was that kind of...

And then we just went back to the pub and had a, had some lunch and a drink and it was nice because everyone had got the afternoon off work and I found that day really, really relieving, I suppose that, because of having that interim period of not knowing where she was, suddenly now it was, it literally was that feeling of, you know, she's at peace now, I know exactly where she is, I know that she's safe. 

A Muslim woman explained that it was traditional in her faith for the husband to organise the funeral. 

 

Describes how she felt about her baby's soul and why she was pleased that her husband took...

Describes how she felt about her baby's soul and why she was pleased that her husband took...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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With the second pregnancy we don't have a prayer if you terminate the pregnancy, or the baby dies inside you, or is stillborn, because as Muslims, what we believe is the baby goes straight to heaven, so, it's like a little angel, so you don't need a prayer for them, because they are pure little angels. Whereas like, adults, people who breathe, children who breathe, that's a different case, where we will say a prayer for them. But with a termination, we didn't need to read anything or pray or anything, because that baby was pure, and went straight to heaven.

In our tradition - it's tradition this time - when it comes to burial women don't go to bury their baby. So it was my husband, my dad, all like the male relations, they went to bury the baby, and really I stayed at home. And I was glad, really, I didn't go to bury the baby, because I don't think I could have bear to see the little baby, you know, being put down in the ground. And I felt, because I went through birth, I gave birth to it, this was something my husband could do on his own. So I felt giving birth was my part - him burying the baby was his part. 

Many parents saw a funeral or burial service as a way of commemorating the baby's life and wanted to treat him/her with as much respect and dignity as any other child or family member. 

Naming the baby was an important part of the funeral service for some parents, because it helped establish that the baby was part of the family and an important part of their lives. (See also 'Deciding whether to see, hold and name the baby').

Choosing readings, poems, music and songs also gave parents the chance to make the service more personal. Several women talked about the special mementoes - soft toys, photographs, letters - they had buried with the baby. 

 

Choosing songs for the funeral helped her feel more in control and that she was doing something...

Choosing songs for the funeral helped her feel more in control and that she was doing something...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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It was a hard day for everybody but, you know, it went as well as I expected - again we'd got special songs - we've got an [baby] disc as well, that we play her records - and we picked two particular songs that we wanted to play. 

I also read out, I didn't, I was going to read out but couldn't, a poem that I'd actually found in one of my ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices) newsletters, which was very touching, it was lovely. So again the funeral I organised, and it just made, at the time it just made me feel better that I was in control of something, because I wasn't in control of what was happening to the health of my baby. So I needed to be in control in another way and that, that just kept me going really, sort of making sure that everything was in place and how I wanted it. 
 

Many parents were appreciative of the support they got from hospital chaplains and bereavement counsellors. (See also 'Treatment, care and communication'.) Some were particularly grateful for the sensitive way that funeral directors handled everything about the baby's funeral and were surprised not to have been charged for the service. 

 

She thinks that everything about her baby's funeral and cremation was beautifully done.

She thinks that everything about her baby's funeral and cremation was beautifully done.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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The funeral was beautiful. I couldn't believe the trouble they went to. We didn't have to pay for anything, I still can't get over that. It was all done completely you know, free of charge. Because I just thought it was going to be a kind of... I don't know, I just thought it was going to sort of be, you know, not like a funeral per se, but like they were just going to kind of take care of things. And you know you'd maybe sort of have, you know, you could decide whether it was cremation or burial, and I just assumed that you'd either get the ashes to deal with or you know, there would be the little plaque for you to know exactly... but it was the whole thing. We got told like where the cemetery was, it was one not far from us, and the day and the time. 

And we get there, and there's a thing up on the wall that, saying, 'cos throughout we called her [name], I don't.. just 'the bump' became '[name]'. And it had like [name] on the, on the name, the schedule thing, along with some other people like you know... staggered times. And they... the big car came. Big car came, and this, the little teeny tiny coffin, the name tag with [name] on the top. And the little church, well its more like a chapel in the crematorium, it was just like, you could tell it was going to be children's stuff all day 'cos there was toys, flowers and everything. 

The priest did a whole ceremony. We hadn't, we hadn't asked anybody else to come, because we figured that really and truly we were the only ones that knew her. Like as we were leaving we saw another family arrive, and they had lots of people there but I didn't think I could have handled that having... so many people around. 
 

Feels pleased that the rabbi arranged to have his son's name and death called out in synagogue.

Feels pleased that the rabbi arranged to have his son's name and death called out in synagogue.

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
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Liberal synagogue, and this rabbi in particular was very well he was very supportive, in fact I don't think I've told too many other people of this synagogue, but  the other thing that happened was that the following week I went to the synagogue, and when, when you, when you have a death then they call the, the name out in the synagogue. And the rabbi asked how we'd feel about having the baby called out, and we gave the baby a name. We'd given the baby a name which is partly the name that we might have chosen anyway, which was partly named after my late father. And so we said yes okay. 

And I went to the synagogue and the rabbi called out the name and said, 'Death of...' and mentioned the baby's name, 'Son of...' and then mentioned both of our names. And so it was done, so he was reading it out as if that had been a child that had died. And, and it felt quite strange because obviously there wasn't a child who had been born who died, but yet, yes it did feel right to recognise it in that way. And then my wife and I then we subsequently made an album about the baby - bits and pieces we collected from the ceremony and things like that.

Seeing the baby's small coffin for the first time was often distressing - some people found they just couldn't carry the baby's coffin into the church or crematorium, whereas others had willingly done so. 

 

She and her partner chose to hold a memorial service for the baby followed by a private cremation.

She and her partner chose to hold a memorial service for the baby followed by a private cremation.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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We had the memorial in the hospital to say thank you for being able to have [baby] and to say thank you that she had been part of our family and we wanted to recognise that. 

But we also felt that it was quite important for my partner and I to say our own private goodbye. And the chaplain that did the hospital service very kindly did the service at the cemetery for us, because she was born before the legal date to have a, a proper burial - I think it's 24 or 26 weeks - if we also wanted we could attend the cremation which we did. 

And that wasn't as upsetting as having the, the service in the chapel. It was just my partner and I. The difficult bit was obviously seeing the shoebox-sized coffin and knowing that she was in there. But we both said our goodbye's at the hospital when we had her, and this just seemed to be carrying out what was expected and what was to be done. And then we collected the ashes I think a week later, which was when we also mentioned a possibility at the funeral directors about having a little memorial stone with her name which is in the garden. 

Some parents had found it difficult to make arrangements for burying or cremating babies who had been sent for post-mortems or who had been delivered surgically. People didn't know what the 'rules' were about the disposal of a baby's remains, and several wondered whether a baby of less than 24 weeks' gestation could be buried in a churchyard. 

Some women who had experienced surgical terminations at a relatively early stage of their pregnancies and who had wanted to bury the baby's remains talked about how upset they had been when planned arrangements went wrong. (See also 'Ending the pregnancy surgically'.)

Parents who gave permission for doctors to conduct a post mortem on the baby, did not realise that the procedure could delay the burial arrangements. When arrangements went wrong, several people had been very distressed. (See 'Deciding whether to have a post-mortem'). 
 

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated June 2014.

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