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hands in the shape of a heart over pregnant belly

When A Baby Dies

I love to say her name, feeling the word on my tongue and hearing the sound. “Violet.”

Moving into the fifth month of pregnancy, I was keenly aware that something had changed. There was no butterfly kick. No life-sustaining appetite. No more stretching of seams. The doctor searched for a heartbeat until the batteries in the fetal doptone were drained and the silence confirmed my fears. Our baby had died.

The sad news caught my children completely by surprise. Feeling as though we were drowning in grief, we gathered in the family room and cried. The children named the baby Trust because we were learning to trust God when we didn’t understand.

An Early Birth

“It seems like you had to say good-bye
before you had the chance to say hello.”

Another woman who lost a baby at sixteen weeks asked about my plans for the baby’s arrival. That was when our family stopped waiting for a miscarriage and began preparation for an early birth.

My eight-year-old son wanted to build a casket as his gift to our baby. He spent a Saturday afternoon crafting a piece of California redwood into a small casket barely larger than a bread pan. To line the miniature box, Leilani (fourteen) stitched a doll-sized blanket from a piece of my wedding dress. Five-year-old Estee cut yellow-and-white-checked cotton to swaddle the baby. Holly (eleven) collected dried petals from the many floral arrangements friends had sent. AmyRose (sixteen) helped me gather birth supplies.

Grieving Differently When A Baby Dies

“Too often, tears are the only water in the dry desert of grief.”

Each family member dealt with his or her grief differently. My husband was emotionally distant. Leilani and Estee cried often. Holly was angry with God. AmyRose and I found comfort in a to-do list, doing what each day required. Praying daily for this baby, Josiah had planned to share with this new sibling his favorite things including locations of the birds’ nests, the best fishing spot, and his tree fort in the woods. My son was a loose end. I explained that having taken an early journey home, this tiny child now was waiting for my son’s future arrival in eternity, with plans to show him the wonders there and how vital it was that he keep the faith.

Information about how long a mother’s body takes to miscarry naturally when a baby dies in utero is sketchy, but indications are between six weeks to three months. Three-and-a-half months after the baby died, I was still pregnant. After several opinions, my doctor and I opted for the mildest form of intervention to induce labor. I wanted to birth my baby.

A Name For Our Baby

After I carried her seven months, on April 30, Violet Trust was born peacefully and miraculously at home. For each of us, receiving her into our family was an unparalleled wonder akin to opening our most precious Christmas gift. We hadn’t known she was a girl until we held her. The size of my hand, her body was perfect and lovely. The only part missing was life.

Each of my daughters have a flower in her name, and Violet was the unanimous choice, especially appropriate because in her perfect petiteness she resembled the spring violets in full bloom when she was born.

We buried Violet Trust on May 1. My favorite is the photo shows her next to my wedding ring. We tenderly swaddled her in the cloth Estee prepared and wrapped her in Leilani’s white satin blanket. After we placed her in the casket my son had made, the box was only half-full. Estee and three-year-old Hannah brought out a basket of gifts they had made for the coming baby. Lovingly created yarn dolls, bead necklaces, and carefully colored pictures filled the wooden box to the brim. Holly added dried flower petals. Violet was nestled in a box filled with gifts of love from her family and friends.

Nothing was left to do but nail the top on the casket. The ringing of the hammer sounded devastatingly final. We read aloud poems and Scripture friends had sent to encourage our hearts. We prayed and sang worship songs.

An Early Journey Home

“Time doesn’t really heal all wounds.
Time merely teaches us how to live
with this gaping hole in our heart.”

Everything within me protested as we laid Violet in her final resting place. I didn’t want my baby to be cold, wet, or alone.

On a homemade cross, painted white, the children wrote Violet Trust Wells. Over her grave we planted a Rose of Sharon and a multitude of purple and white woods violets. Each of us stops by that special spot often and wonders . . .

Friends did not know what to say to ease our pain. There was nothing to say. Yet we were comforted that they cared. We are thankful for the time we had with Violet. Heaven is more precious because we have an investment there.

On Violet’s one-year birthday, I walked to her grave with her brand new baby sister in my arms. I told Lilyanna Faith that she has an older sister named Violet Trust.

Violet’s birth announcement had these words:

We didn’t get to run with you, but you beat us to heaven.

We didn’t get to teach you, but you taught us to trust.

We didn’t get to hear you, but you taught us to listen.

We didn’t get to bathe you, but you washed us with tears.

We didn’t get to comb your hair, but your beauty is beyond expectation.

We didn’t get to change your diaper, but you forever changed our hearts.

We didn’t get to sit on our porch together, but we see your place of rest.

We didn’t get to ride the horse with you, but you are now with the Creator of all.

We didn’t get to play music with you, but today you hear the heavenly choir.

We didn’t get to raise you, but you raised our heads towards Him whom we can trust.

We love you, Violet Trust.

What Do I Say?

“On the journey of grief we will meet fellow travelers.
Perhaps we can walk a while together.”

When someone loses a loved one, what do I say? How can I be the hands of comfort and grace to someone suffering loss?

In times of deep grief, I have found that hope is more important than advice. Job said it this way, “Is my strength the strength of stones, Or is my flesh bronze? Is it that my help is not within me, And that deliverance is driven from me? For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:12–14 NASB). During those dark hours, we are called not to be experts but to come alongside and provide encouragement.

“A friend sent flowers on that first sad Mother’s Day after my mom died,” my Sunday school teacher said. “I felt loved and understood.”

Thankfully I don’t have to have my life all together to help someone else. My sister’s children died in an auto accident. “Some people felt awkward when they saw me and turned away,” she shared. “I appreciated those who hugged me and said, ‘I’m praying for you.’”

Trusting God when we least understand is faith in action. Gentle comfort comes from those who put their arms around hurting people and say, “I don’t understand either. But I love you and I am here to go through this with you.” Romans 8:38–39 (NIV) promises, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Many Forms Of Comfort

After a long illness, a coworker’s husband died. She recalled, “I was comforted by those who walked with me in the church parking lot, who sat with me so I wouldn’t be alone in my regular pew, and who invited me to lunch on an otherwise lonely weekend afternoon.”

We can walk beside another through the journey of grief. Ecclesiastes 4:10 (NIV) says, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

The first year after the loss of someone special is especially difficult. Holidays mercilessly remind us that life is forever altered. I can comfort a grieving friend with flowers, a note, or a memorial gift in their loved one’s name on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s or Father’s Day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I can soothe the sorrow of the anniversary date that marks the loss with a phone call to say, “I’m remembering you today.”

The best consolation often comes from one who has been there. In God’s economy, our sufferings are not wasted. II Corinthians 1:3–4 (NIV) illustrates, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Saying Good-Bye

“Someone may be willing to help carry the burden.
Maybe then it won’t seem so heavy.”

My grandma placed a memorial rose at the front of the church the week after she buried her husband. Following the church service, a woman widowed the year before asked Grandma what she would do now.

“Go home, I guess,” Grandma answered.

“Let’s get a beer,” the widow teased.

The absurd idea made Grandma laugh for the first time in months. Actually, the two women went out for a milkshake because that widow remembered how unfair life felt going home alone the first Sunday after her own husband had died.

After his wife passed away, my neighbor felt completely lost. His wife had always done the shopping and now just seeing the variety in the detergent aisle was daunting. Widowed several years earlier, his friend remembered how terrified he had been navigating his way around the grocery aisles without his own wife. He offered to take my neighbor on his first trip to the market.

We can soothe those who are hurting. I help others by seeing and empathizing with their pain. God consoles us so we can be God’s hands of compassion to others.

I would never have wanted my friend to say good-bye to her baby at 16-weeks gestation. But from her experience she was able to say the words that changed how my family viewed our loss. We shifted from preparing for a funeral to preparing for a birth. Because of the empathy of a friend, I saw my opportunity to love abundantly even when it came with heartbreak. Because Violet took an early journey home, we barely said hello before saying good-bye. I’m thankful we said hello.

Reflection

Every relationship at some point will bring heartbreak. Am I willing to live and love full blast, full out, even when there will be moments of disappointment and sorrow?

For You

Grief Journal for Your Grief Journey

The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make

Should You Guide Your Child’s Spiritual Development?

Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries

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Meet PeggySue

We’ve heard of soccer moms and stage mothers. I’m a writer who trailers my kids and horses across the nation. My Apple computer, fondly christened MacBeth, is the essential I bring along.