sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Katie Stockdale
How do you begin writing about burying your child? It’s not a subject often discussed because it’s so hard and so personal, but it is necessary. Vulnerability allows us to help each other. So, here it goes.
My husband Calvin and I found out about our fifth child when our fourth was only seven months old. It was a shock. (Granted, we are not known for planned pregnancies.) Even though this wasn't how we thought life would go, we wanted this baby, but just like that, it was all over. We lost Anastasius at 10 weeks, found out at 12 weeks, and delivered him at 13 weeks. (I will be using “he” as we do not know the sex.) We buried him two weeks later.
The ordinariness of life and death was in stark relief because we had to preserve Anastasius’ body until burial. This required a sterile saline solution, as well as refrigeration, and so our baby ended up nestled in among the leftovers in the fridge. Just like preservation, burial arrangements forced us into a necessary and limited emotional planning process. Because a baby born before 20 weeks is not considered a stillbirth, most states will not issue a death certificate.
Parents choose many ways to handle their miscarried babies. Because traditional burial isn't common, this lack of death certificate will confuse both funeral home directors and those who run the cemetery. Check on the laws in your state, but know that when you call those who run the cemetery (in our case we had to call the county clerk) to arrange for burial, you may have to wait for them to confirm that you do have the right to bury your child.
I learned from a friend that funeral homes will provide a free casket for a baby. I called two funeral homes and asked what their policies were for burying a miscarried baby. The first one was very empathetic, and would provide a burial container for free. The second showed less empathy and would provide a burial container at a discounted price. The choice here was clear.
If you choose traditional burial, check with the funeral home about burial laws. We were required to use an airtight and watertight container. Thankfully this was provided. The funeral home can either place the baby in it for you, or you can take the container home and do it yourselves.
The burial day was a cold March day. I placed Anastasius in the burial container, safely nestled in a muslin swaddle blanket. To bury him in the blanket was a way for me to take care of him. We had our goodbyes, took our last pictures, Calvin sealed him in, and we left for the cemetery. The sexton met us there along with my parents and our pastor.
Irrationally, I expected a large hole in the ground, but instead a small, square hole awaited us. This was shocking. It made the unnaturalness of burying a child all the more real. After Pastor delivered a fitting and brief message, Calvin and I placed Anastasius in the grave. Our eldest son, Timmy, helped Calvin return the dirt to its rightful place. The sexton finished the process, and we left.
The burial process wasn't straightforward, but it certainly was worth the effort. For us it provided needed closure, and I felt that my child was protected and safe in a beautiful graveyard. If you must walk this path, do not be afraid or embarrassed to enlist the help of those around you to help do the planning. You are not meant to walk through this alone.