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Bonding With Baby

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.

Journal

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.

Poetry

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 surprised!

Music

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.

Catch phrase

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.

Heartbeat

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.

Personality

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 formed?

For more on this question--and not philosophy, actual science--read this article by Dr. Shewmon. I highly recommend it.

Art

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.

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