Updated on June 15, 2022
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FRIDAY, July 19, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Caleb Joseph Souers was born at 2:08 a.m. on July 3, 1998, weighing in at 1 pound, 13 ounces, and measuring 13 inches.
Like any new mother, Tricia Souers cradled him in her arms for the rest of the night and the next day, letting a nurse take him briefly to wash him, dress him in a miniature hospital gown and take a photo.
"He was the most beautiful baby," says Souers, 30, of Florissant, Mo. "Mom said he had my chin, and he seemed to have Daddy's eyes."
Tricia Souers gave up her child for the final time the evening after the birth. Caleb Joseph had actually been stillborn at 22 weeks.
For the past 25 years or so, most hospitals and clinics offer parents a chance to see and hold their stillborn infant, or even a child that has miscarried. Some even encourage it.
However, a study in last week's issue of The Lancet reported that the practice actually causes more harm than good, with higher rates of depression and anxiety in the mothers who had seen or held their babies. The study's lead author did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The controversial findings have prompted an outpouring from women who have had the experience of holding their stillborn or miscarried child, and who say they wouldn't trade it for the world.
"Had they whisked him away right after he was born, it would have really traumatized me," says Souers, who carries a photo of Caleb in her wallet. "You've carried this baby inside you all this time and not to even have the option, it seemed almost downright repulsive." Souers and her husband are now the proud parents of a daughter, Caitlin, born March 22, 2001.
Souers' sentiments are echoed over and over by women around the country.
"Holding him helped me realize that he was alive, that he was a real person. How could I grieve his loss if I didn't see him for real?" says Lisa Brown, 38, whose son, Jackson, died at 17 weeks in utero. "If my child had lived for a year, I wouldn't deny it."
Brown has a memory book that includes a picture of her son taken at his birth. And she signs all her letters, "Mommy to Taylor on earth; Mommy to Little One and Jackson in heaven." Taylor is the name of Brown's living daughter, and Little One is a child she miscarried.
Susanna Stromberg, 29, a freelance writer and photographer in San Rafael, Calif., lost her one-month-old daughter, Anna, about a year ago and is now four-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child.
"Any amount of time is never enough to spend with your child," Stromberg says. "So when you get a minute or a month, even though it's way too short, it's better than nothing, way better than nothing."
Thirty years ago, most women didn't even have the option of seeing or caressing their child. Jo Ann Taylor, 62, of Mountain Home, Ark., had her second miscarriage in 1963 in an army hospital and wasn't even allowed to see her husband. Later, the couple found that none of their friends, not even their pastor, would talk about the loss.
Taylor feels the silence prevented her from grieving for more than 30 years, until her own father died in 1996.
That was when she named the two children she had lost. Taylor now signs her correspondence, "In loving memory of Darrell, miscarried at 16 weeks on June 15, 1962, and Melody, miscarried at 16 weeks on June 23, 1963. Mommy will hold you in my heart till I can hold you in my arms in heaven."
"For a mother who's lost a child, it's not a matter of if, but when," Taylor says. "The longer a mother puts off grieving her child, the harder it's going to be."
For many, it's almost a matter of having proof that the pregnancy happened and that the child did exist.
"Some women wish they had some sense of closure. One woman said the thing for her was there was no real proof the baby existed, that there was no evidence except for a pregnancy test," says Stromberg, who belongs to a support group called SPALS (Subsequent Pregnancy After Loss Support). "She wished there was just some way to acknowledge the life for her personally."
Taylor also feels she missed out on the chance to say good-bye, likening her experience to that of mothers and wives who lose sons and husbands overseas and never get to see the body.
Many of the women who spoke out were also concerned the study implied that grief is something to avoid, or that all grief is the same. They also don't want the findings to change the way hospitals deal with such scenarios.
For many of these women, feelings are not something to shy away from.
"Am I more depressed or anxious in this pregnancy for having seen and held my daughter? I don't know," says Lisa Grenier of Tucson, Ariz. "I can tell you I'm more aware of my loss because I have truly embraced that. This is not a bad thing. Not all of life is about avoiding pain. It is also about depth of experience and authenticity."
Claire Baca did not want to see her daughter, Riley Simone, after she was stillborn almost two years ago, but she says her doctor basically insisted.
"I will tell you that those moments with her are the most precious moments of my life. I saw that she looked so much like my husband, that she had my mouth. I never would've known all these things," Baca, 26, of Chino, Calif., says.
"Those are the joyful things," she adds. "It was not unlike a mother holding her live baby. It was the same experience except ours was tempered with sorrow. It's just the other side of the coin. It's still beautiful."
What To Do
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics compiled in 2000, almost 1 million, or 16 percent, of the 6 million-plus U.S. pregnancies in 1996 ended in a miscarriage or stillbirth. The National Stillbirth Society says more than 26,000 pregnancies a year end up in stillbirths.
There are many sites dealing with the issue of infant loss: Remembering Our Babies is about October 15, which has been designated "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day"; WeHOPE, Lisa Brown's site; Operation Angel, Jo Ann Taylor's "miscarriage and child loss ministry"; Clair Baca's site, commemorating her daughter, Riley Simone; as well as the National Stillbirth Society.
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