You're doing this for the sake of your baby. You wouldn't
carry around an infected appendix for four more months, after
all. But it's very hard to build a relationship with someone
you can't see and who really doesn't respond much to you. Some
women get the diagnosis even before feeling the baby kick. Fathers
never get to feel their baby's kick from inside their own bodies.
So how can you bond? There are many ways. Not every suggestion
will be for everybody, of course, and you will probably find
ways I never mention. What's important is that you establish
the bond, not the specific way you do it.
I have kept a journal from time to time in the past. About
a month after the diagnosis, I dug out an old notebook and began
writing letters to Emily. This was a way of creating an image
of her in my head. I also found it therapeutic to express my
feelings on paper. I did it so often that my toddler, on finding
my notebook unattended one day, decided to do what I was doing.
There he was, scribbling all over a blank page near the back,
and he agreed that he was writing a letter to Emily too. My husband
also has a journal he writes in from time to time, but he used
it more to record the prominent events than to bond with Emily.
That's fine too. We'll appreciate having that in future years
as the memory gets fuzzy.
I didn't find poetry helpful, but there are scores of other
parents who told me they found it immensely helpful. I've seen
poems on many memorial web sites: poems to the baby, for the
baby, about the baby, poems by both father and mother, poems
from the baby's point of view. If you protest that you're not
a poet, remember that it doesn't have to be excellent poetry.
First and foremost, it's a tool for you to get in contact with
your baby. No one else ever has to see it, and if you find you're
truly embarrassed, you never have to admit you wrote it. But
don't sell yourself short. Try writing it and you might be pleasantly
This was a big area for me. I started learning guitar so Emily
would hear some music during her lifetime. Because the guitar
presses right up against the belly, I figured she was sure to
hear something. I taught myself for a couple of months, singing
along with the chords. Singing to her sometimes, to myself at
others. I'm afraid it might have backfired, though. See, the
best thing you can say about my guitar playing is that it drowns
out my singing. Between that and the children's choir Emily heard
at church every week, I'm sure that God made everyone keep it
a secret from her that there was music in Heaven, at least for
the first few weeks. (Poor kid.)
When I was pregnant with my first child, I imagined myself
singing to him whenever I sang. I was able to do this with Emily
as well, although I couldn't sing as often with her. My heart
just wasn't in it.
One way I used music, though, was to compile a tape of songs
that made me think about Emily. I listened to that tape several
times during the pregnancy, and again during labor, and a few
times after she died. Listening to those songs made me feel closer
to her, even though a few of them make me bawl. After her death,
at times when I felt I needed a good cry but just wasn't able
to, I'd pull out the tape and listen to that. It almost was a
means of giving myself permission to cry. Sometimes I hear some
of those songs on the radio, and they're a built-in trigger for
me to remember Emily at times when I might be thinking about
other things. They keep her memory vibrant for me.
I was told Emily would be deaf. But she got very still whenever
there were loud noises. She stilled for my voice; maybe that
was vibration and not sound? But she stilled when my husband
spoke or when my son yelled at my belly, and once when something
dropped with a loud bang, she jumped! So much for medical knowledge.
I've since learned of other anencephalics who were receptive
to auditory stimulation, even if it isn't hearing the way most
people understand it. So in my opinion, every parent ought to
consider using a "catch phrase" with the baby, even
if told the baby is deaf.
I wanted to make sure that Emily would recognize me if she
was born alive. So any time she stuck her feet up into my rib
cage, I'd rub on the lump of feet jutting out from my side and
say, "Silly feet!" I made sure to always say it the
same way and to do it while touching her feet, which she then
would withdraw. My toddler loved this. He used to rub my side
and say, "Emily has silly feet!" and sometimes he'd
rub his own side and say, "Silly feet!" I had no idea
if Emily had noticed, though. Even a normal newborn might not
make the connection, after all.
Then one night, I related to my husband how our son had said
"Silly feet!", and I used the right tone of voice,
and as soon as I said it, Emily stuck her feet up into my ribs.
I was sure she had heard and recognized the phrase, and I rubbed
her feet, which she quickly pulled away.
After her birth, holding her, I said, "Silly feet!"
and she opened one eye and moved her head. I'm sure she knew
it was me.
I bought a heartbeat monitor at Toys R Us for $20. It wasn't
a doppler monitor like the ones your doctor or midwife uses,
but an amplified stethoscope. Did it work? A bit. I was able
to locate Emily's heartbeat on one try out of four. When we did
find her heartbeat, we found it incredibly comforting to lie
back and listen. Toward the end of the pregnancy, when she engaged
and faced my right side, I couldn't detect her heartbeat any
longer. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get ahold of a tape recorder
until that point. Just before the end of the pregnancy, she turned
left-facing for one evening. I managed to set up the monitor
and the tape machine and capture her heartbeat on tape before
she turned back to face my right side again. I felt as though
that was a gift from Emily to me.
No one can convince me that babies are blank slates whom we
program with personalities as they grow up. Newborns can have
distinct personalities. Why not babies in utero too? The character
traits I guessed about my firstborn based on his pre-birth behavior
actually turned out to be fairly accurate. When I rolled over
in bed, he'd kick me until I rolled back to the position he preferred;
he's still stubborn and dislikes change.
I paid attention to the things Emily did in order to get a
sense of her personality. Amazingly to me, she did seem to have
a personality, and a rather strong one. She had preferences about
being touched, the kinds of sounds she wanted to hear, and what
position I should lie in to fall asleep. She seemed just as stubborn
as her brother. She was a fighter, and that was borne out by
how she struggled to hang on after her birth. I wondered then,
as I have frequently wondered since, if she had a personality
and the doctors say she had no brain, then where is the personality
For more on this question--and not philosophy, actual science--read
article by Dr. Shewmon. I highly recommend it.
If you have visual-arts talent (which I don't) you may want
to create some kind of artwork or craftwork for your baby. You
can draw or paint pictures to or for your baby. Some parents
can do embroidery or cross-stitch for their children. I know
some who have crocheted or knitted baby blankets for their children.
All of these are methods of spending time with the baby and thinking
about the baby. I've heard some parents say, though, that they
had to make two baby blankets--one to bury the baby in, and one
to keep for themselves as a memory of that time spent together.
Whatever your artistic bent--be it painting, drawing, sculpture,
basket- weaving--do try to channel it toward your unborn child.
If our creative selves truly are our highest nature, then your
child will appreciate your gift of that part of yourself.