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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Making memories after giving birth at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy

Memory making was very important in the short, precious time parents had with their baby. There were many ways that parents made memories with their baby including bathing and dressing them, spending time with them and creating mementoes of their baby’s life. Time was often limited. Parents knew it was their only chance to make memories with their baby. Joelle explained how she felt she and her husband only had “a few hours to make as many memories as we could”. 

Memory boxes

Memory boxes are often given to parents who have lost a baby. They provide a place for parents to keep memories of their baby. Memory boxes were a key part of memory making for many parents we spoke to. While many found walking out of the hospital with a memory box instead of their baby traumatic, in the long term many parents really valued them. Several parents talked about how they felt the memory box validated their baby’s life. Liz did not feel ready to accept one in hospital but created her own once she got home and was able to reflect more on her loss.

For others the memory box did not have such an important role. Helen explained how she wasn’t a very “memento-type person, so… the care that I got that day from everybody was more important to me than the things I got.” Although most parents we spoke to had received a memory box, a few didn’t. Sharon, who lost three babies, felt the use of memory boxes had changed over time. The hospital staff provided more memory making opportunities when she lost her second and third babies than her first baby.
 

Lindsay explained how without the memory box no one would ever have known her son existed.

Lindsay explained how without the memory box no one would ever have known her son existed.

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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And then, and I was sitting on my bed. And I was just thinking, what on earth do I do now? Am I supposed to just walk out of this hospital, and go back to work, and dance, and meals out with my friends? Like as if, you know - if you look at me, it would be as if he never happened. And that was something that really didn't sit well with me. The fact that actually I could just walk away, and that would be it. You know, like no one would ever know that he existed. And I was just sitting on my bed. And the midwife sort of came in, took one look at me, left again. And came back, and she brought a - she'd made up a Sands memory box. So in it were a little certificate to say that he had been born, the time and the date. Just one they'd made up, it wasn't anything official, it was just from [name of hospital]. His length. The handprints and footprints that they'd taken. The blanket that they had wrapped him in. Because obviously I didn't have anything with me to take. There were two teddies in there. One to stay with me, like a little one. And one that could go with Henry. A little card. It was really lovely. Really lovely. And then they also brought me a big bear, that's from a charity called Aching Arms. And on the back of the tag, it says something like 'this is from another bereaved family'. So I have a bear that is dedicated to the name of that, another child that has passed. And it says, you know, 'you're not alone in this'. And that was just such a [sniff] fundamental moment. You know, this feeling that this random person whose name is on the bear [laugh], they have also been through this. And that there might be other people that have been through this. And I'm not completely alone in this situation. So that was really helpful. And also that bear turned out to be really fundamental in my kind of mental recovery from it all. And the fact that it wasn't another leaflet - because I did leave the hospital with a carrier bag - literally a carrier bag - full of leaflets from another charity, that give you booklets on how to return to work, how to tell siblings, how to tell grandparents, how to [laugh] inform the tax man. You know, anyone you might - But it was literally a whole bag full of them, that if I'm honest, sat on my coffee table in the bag for weeks, until I binned them. It was just too much information. 
Some parents appreciated the thoughtfulness of items that were in the memory box such as having two teddy bears or two blankets, one to stay with their baby after they had died and an identical one to take home with them as a keepsake. For Sam the teddy bear she took home with her was one of her “prized possessions”. Others appreciated informal birth certificates recording their name, the date and time of their birth and information like their birth-weight although not everyone found this helpful. Some parents found memory boxes very helpful when staying in hospital, offering them things they may not have thought about in the difficult time before birth such as books to read or lullabies to sing to their baby. Joelle found the memory box “gave me something to do… a positive way of making memories”.
 

Helen Z explains how she and her husband spent their time while in hospital with their baby.

Helen Z explains how she and her husband spent their time while in hospital with their baby.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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And when he was born, he was born in his sac. I didn't see him in his sac, but my husband did. And then they took him behind a curtain, and my husband went to see him first. To make sure if, you know, if I'd want to see him, because I didn't know. Because you don't - all these things is brand new. And my husband said it was fine. So they brought him out to us, and we held him. We held him for a long time. He was just tiny. And they couldn't have been nicer. We had - they didn't - Nothing was rushed. We just sat there and held him for as long as we wanted to do. And a woman came in and took his handprints for us, and asked us if we wanted any clothes for him. And I didn't know that they even had clothes that were that small, but they said that they did. So they got him a little cardigan to wear. And a hat. And then they asked us what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to - We could go home, and come back and see him. Or we could stay, and. I think by this time it was like mid-afternoon, late afternoon. And we decided that we would just stay the night, and spend one night with him. And then we'd go home in the morning. We wouldn't keep coming back to see him. We just wanted to spend one night. I think one night just for us as well. 

And we just went through the memory box, and. The memory box was so, so - not - It's just so nice to have, because - things in it that you don't even think about. Like I would never even have thought that I'd want to read him a story, and there was a little book in there so we could read him a story. And two teddy bears, so we could have one for him and one for us. So we read him a story. And we spent the night with him. We just had on a loop, about sixty Disney songs, just softly in the background, just so it wasn't a quiet room. And we just held him, and we just laid on the bed together, and. And then in the morning, they asked us if we wanted him to be blessed. So they sent for a chaplain. And the chaplain came and blessed him. And, and then we just said our goodbye, and they took him away. And we decided that we didn't want to go back and see him. We'd already seen the change in him, from that - just overnight he'd changed.

So we just said our goodbyes, and - and then we didn't go back and see him again.
 

Nesta described how she found her memory box immensely helpful.

Nesta described how she found her memory box immensely helpful.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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It was immensely helpful. I was very touched, we were both really touched. We went on the website of the people who are making the boxes, and I think they're invariably made by people who've gone through a similar loss, haven't they. And it was - it was just so thoughtful. We still have it. We keep it upstairs. And we've added to it. You know, we've put the scan pictures in frames, and other photos that - the hospital took some professional photos of Daniel, which was great. Because they were very different to the ones we took. They, they did sort of close-up of features that, you know, can be family traits and things. Which didn't cross our minds to do that, and. So we've got - we've got that and we've added to it. There was a teddy bear - one to put with your baby, one to keep. A candle. And I remember we lit the candle on, on the 18th of February, when he was born, this year. Just remembered him. Some forget-me-not seeds. Yeah, a camera card as well. That was just very thoughtful, as you don't - you know - So you can - You can't take enough photos, can you, but. It was really nice.
The creation of the memory box and mementoes was often an ongoing process after leaving hospital. Many parents added their ultrasound photos or special things that physically touched their baby including teddy bears, blankets and wrist bands. Vikki, Carly and Elaine found the wristband particularly important to them as Carly explained it was “the only real medical documented proof that I have that she was here”. Several parents included mementoes of their baby’s funeral including the order of service, poems they had written, as well as cards they had been given or the post mortem report. Parents varied in how much they would look at the box after they went home. For some it was important to know it was there but they didn’t look through it. For others it was something that they looked at more frequently. Joelle and Adam spoke of how it was “something we can keep forever, and it's brought comfort to us”. The parents we spoke to rarely talked about sharing the box with others although occasionally close family had looked at them.
 

Carly talked about what her memory box contains and some of the things she wished she had done.

Carly talked about what her memory box contains and some of the things she wished she had done.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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You were saying about having hand and foot prints. Were there any other? Did you have photographs taken of Josephine?

Yes. We didn't take them, the midwife took them. And put them on a disc. I haven't been able to look at them. But I have them in her box ready for when I feel like I can look at them.

And we have a box - we got flowers, and we got cards, and I've kept every single - every single thing that anyone gave us around that time. You know, we put it all in her box. So we've got every card that anyone sent. We've got her ultrasound pictures. We've got her hand and foot prints. Most of her ashes we sprinkled at the remembrance garden. But I kept just a, a few, in a little heart necklace with like a little compartment. So we've got a few of her ashes. And her little wristband from the hospital. And then we've got a few things that were given to us at the hospital, like a remembrance candle. And a little seed to plant a flower, like a remembrance flower. But I haven't been able to do any of that yet. But eventually, I will. 

But I quite often get her box down. You know, I look at it. I've even got all the pregnancy tests. You know, from when I found out I was pregnant with her. And when we - when we found out we were pregnant, we bought a little babygro, that said like 'due in 2016'. And we sort of wrapped it up and gave it to our family, so they'd open it up, and - you know - that's how we like announced that we were having the baby, and. You know, we've kept that little babygro [sigh]. I really would have liked her little outfit. The little hat, and. And we had this blanket, and we - we gave it - you know, we wanted her wrapped in it. So she was cremated, with them things, but. I wish maybe we could have kept her hat or something. But you just don't think about it at the time.

And then I had this little teddy that I wanted to put in her coffin. So I wish I'd got a replica. You know? But I didn't, at the time. But obviously, hindsight. You know? 
Photographs and hand and foot prints

Most parents we spoke to had been asked by their midwife if they wanted to have photographs or hand and foot prints taken of their baby. Many parents were also able to take their own photographs if they preferred. Deciding whether to take photographs was a very individual choice. Some parents initially didn’t like the idea of taking photographs of their baby after they had died but they felt differently later on. Asun described how when the midwife offered to take photos “I thought what a horrible thing. You know? … But it’s not. It's your little treasure, after”. Helen appreciated her midwife’s support about whether to take photographs saying to her "Some people don't want photos, some people do - you do what you want. But we're here if you'd like us to take a photo." Midwives often encouraged parents who were unsure about having photographs, to have hospital photographs taken and stored with their medical notes in case they changed their minds. Lindsay and Carly both decided to have hospital photos taken and sent to them on a disc so they could choose if they wanted to look at them later on.
 

Despite being unsure about having photographs at the time, David Z described how much they mean to him now.

Despite being unsure about having photographs at the time, David Z described how much they mean to him now.

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The memories we have is like pictures that - You know when you're there, and the baby's born? And you see the staff at the hospital that come with a camera. And you, you - you think 'this is crazy'. And they encourage you, "Do you want me to take pictures? You will, you will appreciate these pictures. Not now, not tomorrow, but in the future you will appreciate that." And they're right. They're right. Because I look at the pictures few times at home. And, and I'm glad that they took the pictures of him. And, and also they done handprints and footprints. 

And yeah, few things that we - we actually can - somehow can - You can feel him, no? You can see him. And yeah, the thing is, [my son] has to - he will know about him. We will tell him, tell about him.

We will tell him that he had a brother, and that's what happened. And what we want to do is want to put like a kind of a - a little corner at home, you know? With, with something beautiful that has his, Pau's ashes in there. And, and for [my son] to, to be able to see it, and feel normal about it.

And the way - And at some point in the future, he will understand that well his brother, which is dead and that's what happened, it's unfortunate that happened. But for him to understand that, well, that that's it, he had a brother. Not any more, but that’s it, he had him for a few hours. But that's - that's, yeah. I’m glad, I’m glad that they took the pictures, they done the footprints. Yeah, it was very nice actually. Yeah. Yeah, yeah I'm glad that they really encouraged us to do it, yeah. To have them. Yeah. Yeah, the way they treat you is, is fantastic. Honestly. It was good. 
 

Camille didn’t want photographs but was pleased her midwife suggested taking some to keep in her medical notes for when she wanted to look at them.

Camille didn’t want photographs but was pleased her midwife suggested taking some to keep in her medical notes for when she wanted to look at them.

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
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We were offered to have photos taken, and we were given a memory box with the hands and foot prints.

At the time, I actually refused the photos. But then the midwife went away, and she came back saying "I've just spoken to somebody who said you really should have the photos, because they will stay in your notes, you never actually have to see them."

"But if at some point you want them, they're there. And if you don't have them, obviously you're not going to have that opportunity later on if you change your mind." And I'm so glad that she said that.

So glad. Because at the time, I just literally refused everything. And only I think maybe one or two weeks later I wanted to see the photos. So, again, the midwife went and got them for me. And she sat with me, and she looked at them, and she described them for me, to prepare me to see them. So that was really helpful, too. Yeah, she was very - very good support. 
Some parents talked about how difficult it was to have photographs taken in such a sad situation and not knowing what to do. Joelle felt the photographs they had taken by the hospital felt too medical and intense and she would have appreciated a different style of photograph. In retrospect she also wished that her midwife had suggested that she change out of her hospital gown into her normal clothes.
 

Lisa and Matt talked about how they found taking photographs difficult, not knowing whether to smile or not.

Lisa and Matt talked about how they found taking photographs difficult, not knowing whether to smile or not.

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Matt: One of the midwives who was trained in taking photographs, and so they did a number of photographs. And, and yeah, just some clothes for him, although we'd had some stuff from Lisa's Mum. Just the - yeah, some other things, and. And then doing the things like handprints and footprints, things that we wouldn't have thought about.

Lisa: Yeah, that was really good. 

Matt: We'd thought about getting a camera there, and. But yeah. Those things were nice to be able to just - you know - get some different memories, really.

Lisa: Mmm.

Matt: It was - yeah, think about things like a teddy bear - like the thing with two teddy bears. That one teddy goes with Emmanuel, and then you keep - keep the other one. And that was really - yeah, really kind of helpful to do that. And there was also various kind of leaflets and things. Again, I think from Sands, which said about - well, for various different people.

Lisa: Photographs are always difficult though, aren't they. Because you don't quite know what you're meant to do - do you smile, do you not smile?

Matt: Yeah [laugh].

Lisa: Do you look miserable, or? Yeah, it's quite awkward in a way.

Matt: Mmm.

Lisa: But you still want those, kind of you still want them, so. Yeah.

Matt: Mmm. 

Lisa: I find that I mainly look at the photos of him alive. And I don't know how many times I've looked at the ones that we have that were taken after.

Yeah. That's just - Maybe at some point I will. But I don't. 
 

Elaine lost the photos of her baby as the film got ruined. She was devastated.

Elaine lost the photos of her baby as the film got ruined. She was devastated.

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They did take photographs. And they did take little prints. But it's dreadful, because someone had accidentally opened the camera, and the photos were ruined. And, we do have a few. Which are not great. I was-. That really is a very awful thing. Because that - you know - You can't get that back, it's gone. 

They were polaroid prints. And you know, we'd been told that someone had opened the back of the camera by mistake. And, and we did end up with some photos, but - I mean, holding her. I wish I could have held her longer, I wish I had. That's a regret, but all these years later I can't really - well, there's nothing I can do. Got to sort of, yeah. Wish I had held her longer.
As well as mementoes such as memory boxes, photographs and hand and foot prints, some people created other ways to remember their baby over time. Parents talked about planting trees and plants in their gardens to remind them of the baby or kept their baby’s ashes somewhere special
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