How to Navigate the Hospital

When you head to the hospital to deliver a baby you know has already died, it will be like no other birth you may have experienced. Your anxiety level will likely be very high, while all the excitement from a normal birth is gone and grief has taken its place. You may not be sure what to pack and you probably don’t know what to expect while at the hospital. In all honesty, you may not be thinking very clearly. We hope the information below can help you prepare yourself for what will is already an overwhelming experience.

*For a great example of someone who has experienced a miscarriage within a hospital, as well as helpful suggestions, see How to Bury Your Baby After a Miscarriage

What to Pack

  • Birth plan (see below)
  • Comfort items for labor (warm socks, pillows, lotion, etc.)
  • Clothes to wear home (taking into account your possibly different profile)
  • Camera, memory card, extra batteries
  • List of people to call if you plan on doing so
  • Items for the baby: gowns or pouches depending on gestation, stuffed animal, blankets, any special things you want to photograph with the baby
  • Music and the means to play it (CD player, MP3 player, IPod, etc.)
  • Snacks for the person going with you (and you, if allowed to eat)
  • Basket or other container to bring the baby home in (if you end up needing to put the baby in saline the hospital will probably be able to provide a container and saline)
  • Cross, icons, rosary, other spiritual items
  • Distractions: books, crosswords, needlework, etc.
  • Folder to keep paperwork in
  • The number to call for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (the hospital will probably have this but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared)

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The Birth Plan

Birth plans are very individual things, but here is a list of items for you to consider. Put on your plan what you do and don’t want to have happen. Obviously there may be some differences if you are delivering at 12 weeks versus 40; please let us know if you have any additions to make to this list.

Also, please keep in mind that things can change rapidly and you will have to keep an open mind when writing your birth plan. Making a copy for the hospital staff, as well as discussing it thoroughly with your significant other and the staff, can go a long way to making sure there aren’t any misunderstandings.

  • Who you want in the room with you (significant others, visitors, how many nurses, etc.)
  • What kind of pain relief you would like and when you would like it to be offered
  • Who you want to answer questions (if you don’t feel up to talking much)
  • What you want the atmosphere in the room to be (dark, quiet, light, music or no, etc.)
  • If you want the baby taken away to be tested for anything, or if you want him or her left with you at all times
  • If you would like to take photographs after the baby is born
  • Who will cut the umbilical cord
  • If you want to have the placenta tested for any reason
  • Saving keepsakes, such as hand and footprints; hospital bracelet with name, weight, date of birth; and bassinet card
  • How much you want the baby handled by others
  • If you have anything you plan to wrap the baby in when he/she is born, or at a certain time afterwards
  • What will happen to the baby following discharge (if before 20 weeks and sometimes later, you may be permitted to take the baby with you)
  • Your religion and how that plays a role (i.e., “As Catholics we believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception and we will care reverently for this baby’s body after death.”)

You may also want to note at the end of your plan that if there are any problems, you would like the staff to discuss it with you (or someone you designate) before acting. Then be sure to thank them for their understanding and cooperation in birthing your baby.

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Admission Process and Consent Forms

Some of your requests, such as asking to keep the baby with you at all times, may be more difficult to coordinate than others when you are working with the hospital staff. You should be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor ahead of time, and if possible, call ahead to the correct department in your hospital and ask for their policies regarding your requests.

Admission procedures vary, but you are typically asked to sign the basic care consents at this time. Read each of them carefully; there will be one for you and for your baby(ies). You will want to pay close attention to the wording involving disposal of tissue, fluids, organs, etc., that may be removed, as well as any mention of testing the baby or body parts. Cross out anything to which you do not give consent. In the margin next to this, write a short explanation (for example, “The baby will not go to pathology or the morgue, will stay with the parents at all times, and will be released to home with the parents upon discharge.”) and your initials. Point out the changes to the person completing your intake. These consents will then go on your chart, and once everyone has signed them they are legally binding. Request a copy for yourself. Keep all of these papers in a single folder with your birth plan.

When you arrive in the correct department, point these consent changes out to your nurse. Give her your birth plan, go over it, and answer any questions. Make sure you are happy with the arrangements BEFORE you allow any procedures to start. You may want to do all of this while you still have your street clothes on, as it can be a lot harder to be assertive in a hospital gown. Be prepared to leave the hospital if you cannot come to an agreement or compromise you are content with. Remember that you are an advocate for yourself and for your child.

As you discuss your plans with the hospital staff, try your best to be pleasant. It helps to assume they will cooperate with you, and to know that the staff really does want to help you during this painful time. Having patience, as hard as it may be, and being firm in what you want will go a long way towards cooperation and understanding. If someone says, “That’s not our policy,” then ask to see the policy or to speak to a nursing supervisor. You can also ask for a patient advocate, as your hospital should have one to help you in situations like these.

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What if things don’t go the way I planned?

When you are writing your birth plan, keep in mind that very few hospital stays will go exactly as planned. Try to think of worst-case scenarios and what your wishes would be in those situations, and discuss these with the person who will be at the hospital with you. You can also write them into your birth plan, with a heading such as “in case of unexpected circumstances.” Some things you may want to consider:

  • Can ultrasound photos be printed ahead of the induction so, if there is a necessary D&C, there are some photographs of my baby? What do I want done with the remains in this case?
  • What if decisions have to be made while I am unconscious?

If things don’t go as you planned, remember that you tried your best and be thankful for the things that did go well. Focus on the positives of the experience, as no matter what, there will be plenty of grief without rethinking every choice you made along the way.

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I was treated terribly. What do I do now?

You will probably be very angry, which is to be expected. Unfortunately, there are places where patients are simply not treated with compassion. If you find yourself in a negative situation, speak up. Write a letter to the hospital administration. Speak to the patient advocacy department. Speak to your doctor. Try to do something so that another person may not have to suffer the same fate. Recovery from this kind of experience is difficult. Whatever you do, do not blame yourself for someone else treating you badly.

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I was treated wonderfully. What do I do now?

Again, write a letter to the hospital administration. Commend them for the positive things they did. Mention staff by name (this goes in their files). And be grateful you were with people who helped you through such a difficult time. Matushka Anna has an example of such a letter here, including a lovely response from the hospital.


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