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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Saying goodbye to the baby – funerals and services

Decisions about whether to have a funeral

Parents were often offered a funeral for their baby, which for many came as a surprise. They were often unaware that it was a possibility and unsure whether it was the right thing for them. Many found it hard to make a decision quickly after their baby’s birth. They were often in shock and the early stages of grief, and felt they needed more time. 

While it was a distressing and very sad event, most parents did decide to attend a funeral for their baby. It was an opportunity to acknowledge their baby’s life. Emily and Mike felt their baby’s funeral offered them closure. Some parents said they were concerned what other people thought about them having a funeral for their baby. Courtney was worried people would think it wasn’t appropriate to have a funeral when her baby was “not counted as a stillbirth.” Other parents found it too distressing and did not want to attend. Kareena and Raj felt they had “sort of had our moment so we didn’t want to spoil it”.
 

Lindsay talked about how it never occurred to her that she could have a funeral for her baby but that planning it became very important to her.

Lindsay talked about how it never occurred to her that she could have a funeral for her baby but that planning it became very important to her.

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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And then the next morning I was woken up by the midwife that had delivered Henry also turned out to be one of the bereavement midwife teams. And as I opened my eyes, you know those few minutes before you - when you realise, you've kind of forgotten what you're doing there? Because also like your body still has those fake contractions, fake kicking sensations. So I woke up and I had those. And I was like, 'oh, great - oh, what am I doing here - oh'. You know? Just like when it hits you. And the midwife was sort of sitting there. She said, "I'm about to go off shift. Just to let you know, my supervisor is going to come and talk to you at some point today. So you need to think. Do you want us to do the funeral, or are you going to do the funeral? Do you want professional photos taken? And do you want him to be blessed?" And I'm like "Morning [laugh]. Can I have a cup of tea first? And what are you talking about? I have to have a funeral?" 

Like it had never occurred to me - I don't know why it would - that you have to have a funereal [sniff]. And it had never occurred to me that I would have to plan one. And I had no idea where to start, really. So I was like "Well, I don't know the answer to any of those." So, she went off. And they carried on sort of working on me. I mean, it was a lot less acute now. So it was just having various IVs and, you know, monitoring and stuff. So yeah, that was sort of all of Wednesday. And then the bereavement midwife did come round. And apparently you have to have a funeral. And, well to dispose of the body, really. And they would happily organise it for me. So I went with that option. And I said, "Yeah, that's fine, you do it. We'll just turn up and be there. Because I can't even imagine having to do that." I decided that I did want him blessed. So, they arranged for - so I was allowed to pick the times that I wanted Henry to come back up to the room. I could have the duration that I wanted. You know, it was very much on my terms. Which was lovely. 

But then at the same time I found out that they actually couldn't do the funeral before [my husband] went away. So, and that was then going to be another sort of four weeks from when I'd had that conversation. And I got to the stage where I was like 'well, what will we be burying?' You know. Like I cannot leave him, decomposing in a morgue, for four weeks. Like if they're saying I can't visit him anymore, then we need to do something quicker. So, luckily [my husband] then kind of sprang into action. And contacted the local funeral directors, who were lovely. And it was quite a handy project for me to have, really [laugh]. Because it was very much like, 'if that's all you can do, it's going to be the best damn funeral ever' [laugh]. So I spent a lot of time [sniff], you know, picking out music and poems, and flowers. You know, those sort of things were really important [struggling against tears]. And the funeral was lovely. It was, it was very, very small. We just had our very close immediate family, so there were only seven of us.
 

Matthew didn’t want to attend the cremation of his daughter as he thought it would be too painful.

Matthew didn’t want to attend the cremation of his daughter as he thought it would be too painful.

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They wanted to know if we wanted a little service, or if we wanted to be there. And we just said, "It's just too hard. We'll have the ashes back once it's done. We can't - we can't be there and turn it into a ceremony." Because you know, she didn't - it's more that I think when you have a ceremony, it's like a - you're celebrating a life, and there wasn't - there hadn't been any life. It was more a - it was more like you've lost your dreams about this little baby. It just seemed wrong to have a ceremony for that.

Arranging a funeral

Arranging a funeral was not something expectant parents had thought about. Some parents were offered an individual service for their baby at the hospital while others were offered a group funeral where a service was given for several babies who had died. Some parents wanted a more personal approach and chose to organise their own ceremony through a funeral director.
 

Liz had decided not to have a funeral but changed her mind and was really pleased she had an opportunity to say goodbye.

Liz had decided not to have a funeral but changed her mind and was really pleased she had an opportunity to say goodbye.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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And I - the emotions then, then came through I think. And I said, "No, I want to do it properly. I want to say goodbye." We hadn't named them. And we deliberately - we'd given them silly names, but we hadn't decided on names they were going to have, and we deliberately didn't name them so that I could still use the names in subsequent times if that was appropriate. But [sigh] I think I rang the chaplaincy centre in the hospital, and they invited us back, and we went for a chat. And I said, "I've changed my mind." And actually the arrangements for that were superb. And the undertakers do it pro bono, so - the arrangements. And we had a very simple service. My parents, [husband’s name]'s parents I think. My sister. And us. It was very simple. Said goodbye. It would have been no more than twenty minutes, twenty five minutes, but beautiful coffins, beautifully done. I was able to stand up and say a few words, just my - you know - which a lot of people couldn't, but I did and I wanted to, and that's fine. Said goodbye. And actually it was the best - was right for me, and I - I'm really glad we did that. And really glad that I - came to my senses isn't right, but. Realised in time, to say, "Actually, I've changed my mind." And, you know, "That's what I would like to do now." 
 

Alison found a “terrible camaraderie” being with other parents who had also experienced a loss.

Alison found a “terrible camaraderie” being with other parents who had also experienced a loss.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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I think because you've kind of gone from you're pregnant and you're going to have a baby, to your baby has died. And you've not really had - We didn't really know anybody that - we do know people, but people don't talk about it. So we couldn't really kind of talk it through. And we could - he could still have had a private burial, which we didn't, we didn't go for. Because the idea of organising it ourselves was quite - not something that we were in the head space for. If we'd had a few months to think about it, then maybe. But not, not in the heat of the moment - the idea of organising the funeral was, wasn’t something we were interested in at the time. But. I've forgotten what your question was [laugh].

So did the hospital organise that for you?

The hospital organised it. It was the, it was - They have a cremation service. But because he'd had an autopsy, that's why it was a little bit later. So, yeah. The hospital organised it. It was, it was a group cremation service, so there was a few other people at the ceremony. Which I actually - I didn't, don't enjoy, and it was awful. But having other people there that had been through the same thing, rather than - rather than friends and family, like everybody there had experienced the same loss, so it was some kind of terrible camaraderie, I think.

But I don't think everybody would feel it that way, but. That's kind of the way we looked at it. Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah.

They organised that. And there wasn't - We didn't really have - There wasn't - We didn't have to do anything, we didn't have to go, and there was a funeral service programme that we've kept.
Many parents felt they didn’t know where to start and “didn’t have the head space” to organise a funeral so soon after their loss. They appreciated the help of hospital or funeral directors arranging everything so all they needed to do was to turn up. Others found planning the funeral gave them a helpful focus. Parents often made the service more personal by writing poems or letters to their child or choosing special music and songs. Some described placing special mementoes with the baby – blankets and soft toys they had kept with the baby. 

For some parents attending their baby’s funeral was a very private matter with only them present. Other parents wanted their older children to be present, and sometimes close family and friends were invited.
 

Kelly appreciated the help she received to organise her daughter’s funeral.

Kelly appreciated the help she received to organise her daughter’s funeral.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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They arranged a funeral as well [local hospital]. And I had a lot more say in that. The, like the vicar came round to my house and asked me how, what I - how I wanted it managed, whether I had any music I want playing. Arranged for a car to take me to like the little chapel they had in the crematorium. And also arranged like the little coffin and stuff, for the baby. And, so that - that happened, and then they asked us where we wanted the ashes scattered. Because there's - there's a baby garden at [local hospital]. Which again has been set up by Sands. Yeah. So I, I felt happier, because I had a place I could always go to, when I wanted to like see Grace. 

And what I done, I got a little plaque made, which I've got [first daughter’s name]'s name put on as well. So I've got like [first daughter’s name] and Grace on this statue of an angel. Which is, which is quite weird. Because the statue they had there was very much like a tattoo I'd got a couple of years earlier, when I'd lost Grace. And it's very similar.
 

Vikki described her daughter’s funeral. She appreciated candles being lit at the service for her older daughters who couldn’t be there.

Vikki described her daughter’s funeral. She appreciated candles being lit at the service for her older daughters who couldn’t be there.

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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Basically, the - We decided we didn't want the girls to go, it's a bit of a traumatic experience when they're only - they were four and two at the time. So we carried on like normal. The oldest one went to nursery, the youngest one we dropped at a friend's house early in the morning. We didn't want a big, big funeral. We just wanted our parents there. We've both got sisters, me and my partner - partner's got two sisters, one lives up in [city] and the other one in [county]. So it would have been a bit out of the way. They both offered to come, I believe. And my sister offered to come as well. But we said, "No, we'll just keep it just to our parents, we don't want a big affair." So, the funeral director had phoned me previously and said, "You can get in the car with Rosie, or you can meet us at the funeral place, crematorium." And I said I wanted to go with her, because it was her final journey, and I felt like it was my duty to kind of be there. But my partner said he wanted to drive there separately. And I was like "That's absolutely fine, you don't want to be in the car." So, yeah. The funeral director come and knocked on the door, and - I remember he was shaking. And he was quite young. And I was like "Don't worry, it's going to be fine." I was kind of reassuring him, rather than the other way around. And he took me out to see her, and I noticed they spelt her name wrong. On her coffin. Tiny little white coffin. And I put my little flower arrangement that I got on there as well. And I just pointed out the name was wrong [laugh]. And I remember being devastated. But they hyphenated her surname, and I didn't realise that that's what they do, because I'm not married to my partner. So they had to put both our surnames on there. But I didn't - I wasn't forewarned about that. So I was just sitting in the car thinking 'oh my god, this has gone really wrong already'. But yeah, that - that drive to the crematorium - it's quite a way, it's about twenty, twenty five minute drive anyway, so. 

Sat in the back, and think things over. And hope that no one's looking at you, and wondering what's going on in that car over there because it's a bit different. 

And you were on your own?

Yeah.

Okay.

Yeah. so, get there. And my partner followed the car anyway, so he was there as well. Got out. Met up with both our parents and said we were going in. So we did. We went in. And [sigh] it was a celebrant that done the ceremony. And the nicest thing was that he offered to light a candle for both of our two girls anyway, and said that they couldn't be here today, but they would be if they could. Lit candles for them. That was lovely. And then we just went through the service. And, and just walking out. And not having - not having like all the flowers and the pomp and ceremony that you get at a normal funeral. We asked for the curtains to stay open after the - before we left, anyway. So we walked out, and that was it, the last time we see her was there. I don't like the idea of the curtains closing anyway, because that's very final. So we walked out, and there were no flowers. Because we'd said to our friends and family we'd rather donations be given to Sands, because they'd been so helpful for me in the meantime. So there was just a little name plaque. And that was sad. It was sad. And I kind of regret that now, I wish there'd been more, but. You can't go back and do it again. So, yeah. And I remember we went out for lunch afterwards with my partner's parents, because they come over from [county], so it was quite a journey just to come for a funeral. So we took our youngest one out to lunch with us. And then carried on like a normal day. It was very strange. But I'll never forget it, it'll always be in my head. And we got a leaflet of the service from the celebrant as well, and that's gone in the memory box. And we can look back at that, and some of the poems he said, and the different songs that are always going to trigger in my head now, and yeah. That, that's really hard actually. You need to think hard about the songs. Because if you get anything too popular, you're always going to hear it, and it'll - it's a trigger, it really is a trigger. And I've been to memorial services from Sands before, for just a baby memorial service. And one of our funeral songs is the one that they play every time. And it breaks my heart hearing that song now, it - it just brings back the memory of the funeral, and what had happened. So I wish I'd chosen a bit more carefully, a bit of a different song. But I didn't think about that at the time. I just thought it was a lovely song.
 

Helen Z and her husband appreciated the help of the hospital in organising their baby’s funeral and creating some special memories.

Helen Z and her husband appreciated the help of the hospital in organising their baby’s funeral and creating some special memories.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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Everything they did was so lovely for us. They kept us informed the whole way through. And phone calls all the way, "Oh, Beau has left the hospital now to go to the post-mortem." "He's arrived at the post-mortem." Now a week later, "He's back from the post-mortem, he's back here." And then they phoned us again that he'd arrived at the crematorium. And just - Everyone kept us informed, the whole way along, of where he was, and his movements, and. People - My husband did it all, because I couldn't bear to talk to anyone. But getting the music that you wanted to play at the funeral. They were really helpful.

And, yeah. You can't believe that they do all this for you. So yeah, my husband arranged it all, and. We only went to the funeral - just us two. And we - And the chaplain that blessed him was the one that did the service. So that was nice, to see her again, and have someone - even though we'd only met her once - familiar. 

And was it just for Beau, the funeral?

Yeah, just for Beau. It was very early in the morning. And it wasn't very long, obviously. But it was just - We got to say goodbye. 

And we played a song - we played some songs to him in that [bereavement] Room. We played the same couple of songs - sorry. The same couple of songs at the funeral. So now they're really special to us. And we listened to them, listened to them on the anniversary. So I think every year we'll listen to them on the anniversary. They're special to us now.

But yeah, they just arranged his funeral for us, and it was just - you don't know that these things happen. Yeah.
Collecting the ashes

Some parents chose a burial for their baby while others had a cremation. Collecting their baby’s ashes after the cremation was often very distressing for parents. Helen Z found herself physically unable to speak when she went to the crematorium to collect her son’s ashes.

Many people talked about how they found comfort in visiting the baby's grave or the special place where they had put the baby's ashes. Some parents chose a permanent memorial such as a cemetery, a Sands memorial garden, a woodland burial or their own garden as it offered a place to visit and reflect. Others kept their baby’s ashes in a special place in the home as they wanted them to be close by and they could move house with them. Carly felt “in hindsight, I would have had her buried, rather than cremated. Like I feel like I would have liked somewhere to visit, like a grave.”
 

Asun found it very upsetting collecting her baby’s ashes. She and her husband David have decided to make a special place for them in their new home.

Asun found it very upsetting collecting her baby’s ashes. She and her husband David have decided to make a special place for them in their new home.

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And I didn't want to go on my own. Because it was funny, but in my mind I would think how, how am I going to carry them? In the sense of he's my baby. 

Yeah.

So I didn't want to put him in a bag. I mean, the box. So we waited for a day that we could both go to collect him. I, - For me, it was difficult to go and get him, and for my husband it was difficult for him to be there and not with us. So we had, we met in between. So we went together to get him. And I remember, it's not significant, but his - it's a very little box. He had a - there was a piece of paper. I don't know, some sort of certificate. And there was a band around it, and it really upset me, because - It's your baby, and it's [sigh] - it's. I don't know, it's - it's - I didn't like it, having something - a piece of paper wrapped around him. It was, I didn't like it. It's - I mean, I didn't say anything or make a fuss. Minute we walk out, I just -

It didn't feel respectful?

No. It didn't. It didn't feel respectful. But I understand that for someone else, of course it's not what it means for you. So they might not see the same. 

And I, you know - that's why I didn't say anything or make a fuss, because I - you know, it's - For someone, it might be just a box. And a piece of paper. And a band. But it wasn't for me. It's not for me. Yeah, so we brought him home. Yeah. He's, oh - He's here with us at home. Because we, we're going to be moving house in a few months. We decided to- because you can scatter the ashes somewhere, or - But we don't have - There's not such a place where I would want him to be there forever, or. So we have decided that in the new house we will find him a place in the house, and that'll be his corner, or. And we'll probably put a picture of his hands, or - We don't want anything - Because if you're not ready, it's a bit shocking. The pictures are pretty shocking. So we will make, we will make a place for him at home. And at least he’ll be with us. I even joked, telling my husband we should take him on holiday with us. You know, I think that's taking it too far. But, yeah. 
 

Maxine and Steve had their baby cremated so that they could keep her ashes close to them.

Maxine and Steve had their baby cremated so that they could keep her ashes close to them.

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Maxine: We'd said, when they said about we could have buried her. But I said I don't - we didn't want - We couldn't see ourselves going every weekend and laying flowers. Because it's not - It's just not how we wanted it to be.

Steve: Yeah. And if we moved house, all of a sudden -
Maxine: We couldn't. And that sounds really selfish. But it isn't, it's kind of thinking about the future. We - It wasn't how it was meant to be.

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: And things haven't worked out how we wanted them. But we don't - We know in time it'll get easier. But we also know we didn't want to go to a grave every week, and –

Steve: Replace flowers, or whatever. And that, isn't it, you know what I mean? And if, if we moved house, you suddenly - oh, we don't live round this area any more, but Heidi's living here, you know what I mean? You know? So we didn't - you know - that's why we had her cremated, wasn't it. You know what I mean? 

Maxine: And I think part of that is the idea of keeping her close, and always knowing –

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: - always knowing where she is, and.

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: And not - Never wanting her very far. And I suppose that's because she should have come home with us. 

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: So she has come with us, and she is at home with us, isn't she?

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: And, you know, that's - that's how we want it.

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: And in time, it might change. But in the minute –

Steve: That's how we deal with it, isn't it?

Maxine: Silly things, like when we went - When we went away last week, she - she went to my sister. I couldn't - I couldn't leave her here. 

Steve: No.

Maxine: She had to go somewhere. And that sounds really stupid. But I couldn't. I know she's not a person, but I couldn't leave her.

Steve: Yeah. In the house on her own [laugh].

Maxine: No [laughing]. She couldn't just stay, she had to go somewhere. 

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: And I think you do what - We're doing what we need to do to get through. There's no - There's no textbook. Because if it was, I would have read it. And I'd be doing what it says. But there isn't. It's just doing what you need to do to get through.

Steve: That's our story [laugh]. 

Maxine: That's our story.
Delays

Many of the parents we talked to described waiting for several weeks or even months for the funeral to take place waiting for investigations to understand the cause of the death or because the number of slots kept free by the local crematorium for hospital funerals were sometimes very limited. David and Asun found this time offered an opportunity to reflect on the kind of funeral they wanted. For Vikki  the long waiting time delayed her grief. 

After the death of a baby, the baby’s body may need to be moved to different locations for investigations before burial or cremation. Parents often talked about how important it was to know where their baby was. Parents appreciated it when they were kept up to date about where their baby was. Both Asun and Camille found it upsetting not knowing where their baby was and thinking they were all alone. Vikki found it distressing when she couldn’t find out from the hospital where her baby was and had to ask the funeral director to find her baby.
 

Sarah really appreciated how the midwives at her local hospital would ring her and keep her up to date every time her baby was moved.

Sarah really appreciated how the midwives at her local hospital would ring her and keep her up to date every time her baby was moved.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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And then, then the bereavement midwife, she did come round. And she talked about funeral options. Because we were given, we were given the chance to have a funeral as well. So the [town] hospital organised it all with one of the local - I think it's [funeral director], or someone nearby, who do their ones. And we had a free funeral, a free cremation. They paid, they just organised it all. There's - We talked to the - Well we had to wait for the post-mortem to be done. And we knew - And like every time anything happened, they did phone us and let us know. Like they - Because I was always worried like where he was. And I knew he had to go to [2nd town], for the post-mortem. And so they - she said "Just to let you know he's gone to, he's at [2nd town] now. And I will let you know when he's come back now." 

And so then I was always told where he was. So it wasn't just a case of - he wasn't just a body being moved round, he was still very much treated like my baby. And then once the post-mortem had been completed, we were told that we could make it - given that options for dates, for the cremation. Because they do - at [town] crematorium, every - I think it's the first Wednesday of every month, they have three slots in the morning for stillborn babies. 

So, we chose one - actually, the only one that we could do, without having to then wait for a whole other month, because of my husband's birthday. But they said, "Well we can try and do - we'll see if we can get one - you know, we'll do the next month." But we thought well no, it's just - it's just making things longer and longer and longer. And as I said, we thought it was just good to get - hit these milestones. We felt like there was a certain amount of hurdles that we had to go through, in order to then start like healing afterwards. 

And this was the next hurdle. This was the next hurdle. And we didn't want to put it off for another four weeks. And we knew the kids needed it. We knew they needed to deal with it. And so my husband said, "I don't care, it's not like I'm going to be celebrating anyway." So it's, so we did. We had the funeral on, at the crematorium.
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