At a recent conference, I had the good fortune to run into my friend and colleague (as well as fellow PALS Contributor), Dr. Deborah Simmons. We started a conversation about expectations after loss, and were very interested in some of the perceived rules that seem to follow. From this, we came upon the idea of a point/counterpoint column about some of these ideas. Recently, Dr. Simmons shared her column, “Why we Name our Babies with Tender Care,” about naming the baby that you have lost and what might go into that decision making.

Naming a baby is a very personal decision—and it’s not necessarily the right one for every couple that has experienced loss. As recently as twenty years ago a doctor’s advice about grieving a pregnancy consisted of “forgetting about it and trying again as soon as possible.” To a loss mom, the baby (regardless of whether or not he or she was formally named) is always real, no matter how much time has passed. Whereas naming can bring all of the comforts that Dr. Simmons writes about, as with everything loss related, mourning rituals are specific to each couple.

I have worked with couples that had a difficult time with the idea of naming their deceased child—no name seemed to fit, and the family name that they had thought of was one that was important to save for the hoped for living child that might arrive in the future. Other couples waited years before formally naming their child, as no name was suitable at the time of the loss. Still, with other couples, no name was chosen as the two could not agree on a name to confer or each partner had different thoughts about giving their child a name. Still, other couples agree, as a result of personal spiritual beliefs to not name their child. Or other couples might choose to use the gender and their last name as the identifying method.

The danger in having perceived rules about mourning rituals is that couples who don’t choose to participate in them might end up feeling as if they are “grieving incorrectly.” Keeping an open mind and not judging what a pair chooses to do (or not do) around their loss is important in terms of validating a person’s grief as legitimate. One couple’s story stands out as illustrative: they had chosen (for religious reasons) to not name their son who was born still. In the state they lived in, any birth post 20-weeks gestation required a birth certificate to be filled out. Where the name fields were, the couple chose to write in “Baby Boy” and their surname. The following day, the hospital registrar followed up with a phone call inquiring the name of their baby. After the wife repeatedly told the registrar that his name was indicated on the birth certificate, the registrar finally was able to figure out that the baby had died and quickly hung up. This interaction caused this couple additional (and unnecessary) insult to injury, and led the wife to feel that they had done something “wrong” by following their convictions.

Whether a baby has a name or not is not an indication of how desired or how loved the child was. Grief isn’t a linear path nor is it one that is identical for everyone.

Share this story!