A stillbirth, or pregnancy loss that occurs after twenty weeks gestation, is a heartbreaking path that some fertility journeys take.
If you or someone you loved has experienced a stillbirth or is anticipating one, we’d like to offer our condolences. Amongst the grief and shock, you might also be wondering what your options are for commemorating the loss of your baby.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Should You Have a Memorial Service or Funeral After a Stillbirth?
- Burial Options for a Stillborn Baby
- How Much Does a Stillborn Baby’s Funeral and Burial Cost?
- Memorial Service or Funeral Ideas for a Stillborn Baby
- Graveside Service Ideas for a Stillborn Baby
- What to Say During a Speech at a Stillborn Baby’s Funeral
- Other Ways to Honor or Remember a Stillborn Baby
One of the most common ways that someone celebrates the life of a loved one, no matter how long the life was, is through a memorial service. It might be difficult to think of ways to adapt typical memorial service traditions and make them appropriate for a stillborn. But a memorial service for a stillborn baby can help bring healing to the parents and loved ones who were affected by the loss.
We’re here to help you plan with some memorial service ideas.
Should You Have a Memorial Service or Funeral After a Stillbirth?
You are by no means obligated to have a memorial service or funeral after a stillbirth. But having a memorial service for a stillborn can often give a sort of closure, and give families a chance to connect and offer support to each other. That being said, if planning one feels like extra stress or like a burden, then it might not be the right choice for you and your family.
Only the parent or parents can decide if having a memorial service is the right choice for them.
Burial Options for a Stillborn Baby
Depending on your cultural traditions and personal preferences, it may feel right for you to have a burial for your stillborn baby. Still, this can be a difficult process to organize. The last thing you want to do when you’re in the midst of grief.
It’s also important to keep in mind that requirements around burials for stillborns vary depending on what state you’re in, the size of the baby, and the length of gestation at birth. We’re here to offer some burial choices for a stillborn baby so that you know your options.
1. Traditional burial
A traditional burial coordinated through a funeral home can often be done for a reduced fee or free of charge. This may or may not entail a funeral, depending on the parent’s needs. A stillborn baby can be buried in an individual or a shared grave, the latter being a cheaper option.
For those that would like some sort of service, this can be as small or as big as the family would like. A funeral doesn’t have to be held right away either. The burial can occur, with a memorial service held sometime after when the family is ready.
If you practice a certain religion or have cultural traditions around burials, then this may be reflected in the service. Parents who don’t have specific traditions but would still like a meaningful service may choose to have an independent celebrant, funeral director, or friend or family member lead the service.
You may also wish to bypass working with a funeral director and instead coordinate directly with a cemetery or crematorium. This will be more work, but it could potentially cut back on some costs, especially if you’re not wanting a service at all or right away.
An alternative to a traditional burial is cremation. Again, the decision to do this depends on religious and cultural practices as well as the preferences of the parents. If you do choose cremation, keep in mind that depending on where you live, individual cremation may not be available if your baby was born before a certain length of gestation. In this case, they would be part of a shared cremation with other stillborn babies.
Choosing a cremation still gives you the option of having a funeral service or having a memorial at a later date. Another thing to consider when choosing cremation is whether or not to spread the ashes, and where.
Here are some options of what to do with the remains:
- Create keepsake jewelry with them for family members to wear
- Scatter them at home, but consider how long you’re planning on staying in your current house
- Keep them in an urn or decorative container in your home
- Bury them at a cemetery
- Spread them somewhere meaningful, but be sure to look at regulations in your area, as this is prohibited in certain spots
3. Hospital funeral
Finally, many hospitals offer non-denominational funerals that are led by a chaplain. These are usually shared funerals, so you may want to ask if they do individual ones if that’s what you would prefer. Keep in mind that you might not have as much if any input as to how the service goes, especially if it is a shared one.
Depending on the hospital, they may offer burial, cremation, or both. Again, you might have limited options as to what you’re able to do with your baby’s remains and any services held. A hospital funeral may be the better option for parents who don’t wish to be at the burial, in which case the hospital can make all the arrangements.
How Much Does a Stillborn Baby’s Funeral and Burial Cost?
Any death is heartbreaking and difficult to plan, especially when it comes to practical costs. Funeral care providers understand just how delicate a stillbirth is, and make every effort to try to make this process as easy as possible for the parents and family.
Because of this, it’s not uncommon for funeral homes to offer free or discounted services for a stillborn baby. Most hospitals will provide free resources like chaplains and social workers to help facilitate the process and provide extra support.
That being said, not everyone is able to access free or low-cost services. If you’re paying out of pocket, you can expect to pay between $900 and $1,500 for a stillborn. If you’re planning on having a traditional funeral as well, the costs typically start at $3000.
There are quite a few factors that go into the cost of a stillborn’s funeral and burial. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Access to organizations that can offer support in the fees and planning
- Whether you would prefer an individual or shared grave
- What your insurance is able to cover
- Some hospitals offer hospital burials and cremations
If the fees of the funeral or burial of your stillborn are adding even more stress to a heartbreaking situation, it may be helpful to reach out to social services, and again ask your medical providers or hospital what services they can support with.
Memorial Service or Funeral Ideas for a Stillborn Baby
If you’ve decided you want to have a memorial service for a stillborn, or you’re wondering what that would even look like, we’re here to help.
This experience is totally up to you, and there’s no one right way to do it. What matters most is that you’re able to honor your needs and wishes.
Here are some ideas on how to plan a memorial service for a stillborn.
4. Pick a comfortable setting
It’s helpful to hold the memorial service in a place that feels comfortable and supportive for you.
For some people, this may mean graveside or at a church or house of worship. For others, it might be a park, beach, restaurant, or in the comfort of your home.
Pick the place that feels the most comfortable, meaningful, and least stressful for you.
5. Create an altar
Altars are a place for you and your family to create a visual dedication to your baby. All you need is a small table and things to add to it.
Some things you can add to a stillborn altar are:
- Ultrasounds, pregnancy photos, and other photos you’d like to share
- Newborn clothes or toys
- A hand or footprint if you were able to get one
- A lock of your baby’s hair
- Memories from during your pregnancy
- Poems or affirmations you find comforting
- Flowers and plants
- Other family memorabilia (it might be comforting to have your baby’s memory surrounded by pictures of other family members who have passed)
You can ask loved ones to bring things to add to the altar, as well.
6. Keep it simple
There’s no need to create an elaborate service or gathering. This is especially important to consider if you’re concerned about funeral costs for a baby.
Keep it as simple as you’d like. Ask your family and friends to help with decorations, or by bringing food. Focus on connecting with loved ones and give yourself a place to grieve and feel supported.
A simple service can give you the support you need, without the added stress of planning.
7. Music is therapeutic
Music has the incredible power to bring comfort and joy, help you feel stuck emotions, and bring people together.
Whether someone plays live music or you stream it from your cell phone, music can often put into words what you may not be able to articulate.
Some good funeral songs for an infant are “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland, “When the River Meets the Sea” by John Denver, and “Baby Mine” by Alison Krauss.
8. Plant a garden
If you’re having the memorial service at home, you can plant a garden in your backyard.
Putting your hands to the Earth helps in the healing process, and the collaborative efforts of gardening can bring family and friends together.
You can plant flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, or whatever else feels important to you.
You can decorate the garden with a memorial stone, plaque, or bench. You may want to tell your friends and family the symbolism of planting a garden in your baby’s memory and how much it means to you.
9. Start a memorial fund
Your memorial service is a time to tell your friends and family about any memorial funds you have set up in your baby’s honor.
Memorial funds are often linked to a charity of your choice or organizations that help other people experiencing pregnancy loss.
You may also ask for support to help with funeral costs, as well as living costs while you take time to heal.
Graveside Service Ideas for a Stillborn Baby
Some families choose to have a graveside service for their stillborn baby, if this is the right choice for you, here are some things to keep in mind.
10. Ask the funeral home for help
Most funeral homes are very accommodating, especially when it comes to the loss of an infant.
Often, they will even offer a free coffin and cremation or burial for stillborns.
If the stillbirth occurs at the hospital, there’s typically a social worker or chaplain who can be there to offer support and guidance, as well as logistical support on planning a memorial service.
11. Plant a memorial tree
Memorial trees are a way of making an offering to the Earth in honor of your baby’s life. Planting a tree gives you and your loved ones a space to go back to on anniversaries, difficult days, or when you just want to say hi.
You can ask loved ones to say a prayer or blessing for your baby as you plant the tree, and even have everyone take part in the process.
Many funeral homes give you the option of planting trees, and even give friends and family the ability to give one through online memorial platforms.
12. Have someone facilitate it
As the parents, you do not need to take control and lead the service. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends and family or the funeral home.
They are there to make your life easier so that you can grieve and heal.
Graveside services are often led by a religious or non-denominational leader who has experience in speaking during stillborn funerals.
What to Say During a Speech at a Stillborn Baby’s Funeral
It can be difficult to know what to say at any funeral, but especially at one for a stillborn. Unlike other funerals, unless you are the parents, you might not have a direct connection with the life that was lost.
Without memories and stories to fall back on, you might be at a loss for words. Here are some ideas on what to say during a speech at a stillborn’s memorial service.
13. Honor the parents’ journey
The grief that comes with having a stillborn isn’t often discussed or acknowledged. You can help the parents to feel less alone by doing just that. Honor the journey that they went through and acknowledge the grief and pain they’re feeling. Offer them your unconditional support and love.
If you are the parent, you can be as vulnerable as you’d like, and share dreams you may have had for your baby, how you’re feeling currently, and how your loved ones can support you.
14. Sing a lullaby
Lullabies have a way of comforting and soothing the soul. Maybe there’s a lullaby you sang while you or your partner were pregnant or ones that you loved as a child.
Lullabies hold memories, tell stories, and help people tap into a space of innocence and sweetness. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re a good singer, just put your heart into it.
15. Read a story or poem
Stories and poems, much like lullabies, offer comfort and support. Telling a story is a way of honoring the youthful spirit of the stillborn baby and bringing loved ones together.
It could be a poem you wrote yourself, a fairytale, a family story, or stories from during the pregnancy.
Some beautiful poems you may want to read are “So Go and Run Free” by Khalil Gibran and “Look for Me in Rainbows” by Conn Bernard.
Let the story come from the heart and offer healing.
Other Ways to Honor or Remember a Stillborn Baby
Every parent’s needs and wishes are different, and that is reflected in the ways that they choose to honor and remember their stillborn baby. These alternative options can be influenced by religious practices or cultural traditions, embracing the many ways that people from all walks of life honor death.
Like with any death, there is no one right way to honor a stillborn baby. What matters most is that it’s within the comfort levels of the parent’s needs, and feels appropriate and meaningful for their life. It can be incredibly difficult to come up with ideas while you’re in the midst of grieving, which is why we’re here to offer some for you to consider.
16. Create a tradition
Although you’ll never forget the day that you experience the loss of your baby, you can help move through the grief by creating a new tradition to commemorate your baby each year. This can be something personal for just you and your family, or that you bring more people into.
You may start this a few weeks after the initial loss as you won’t be physically ready the day of. Each year thereafter you may choose to do this on the day of your baby’s death.
What are some traditions you may want to start?
- Going to a special place in nature
- Cooking a cultural dish
- Planting a certain type of flower
- Volunteering with a meaningful organization
- Simply spending time with loved ones
17. Create an art piece
Art is one of the most healing ways to create meaning out of a difficult experience. You may want to create your own art piece – no worries if your skills are subpar, it’s about the process. Or it may feel right for you to commission an artist to create something. Either way, you’ll have a physical reminder of the love you have for your baby.
Here are some ideas of art pieces:
- Framed prints of the baby’s feet or hands if you were able to get them
- A portrait white birds and flowers with the baby’s name
- Another sort of portrait or mural that feels meaningful and comforting to you
- A tattoo of your baby’s name, birthday, or another symbol
Stillborn Memorial Service: Make it Work For You
Again, having a memorial service for a stillborn is a very personal decision that only the parents can make. There’s no one right way to do it. What matters most is that the parents are supported and loved and that people are given space to grieve in a way that feels meaningful.
If you’re attending a memorial service, here are some possible memorial gifts for a stillbirth you can give to the parents.