Dealing with Parental Grief – SWR Knowledge

Every year thousands of women lose their fetus during pregnancy. This topic is not talked about very often. How can parents deal with their grief?

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Miscarriage is hard for many couples to deal with, and very few people talk about it openly. About 12 to 24 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of which are in the first trimester. And even then, babies still die in their mother’s womb, at birth or shortly thereafter.

It is estimated that there are between 8000 and 9000 stillbirths in this country after the 12th week of pregnancy. Official figures are only available for stillbirths from the 24th week – and according to the Federal Statistics Office, there were about 3,400 babies last year. It has been proven that unresolved grief can permanently damage physical and mental health.

Alia’s story

Alyia D. is also one of the affected women. In January, at the fifteenth week of pregnancy, she gave birth to her baby at the University Hospital Freiburg. It was only the size of her hand.

His diagnosis was the so-called short umbilical cord syndrome. The abdominal wall was open, one leg and lower body were missing, and the gender was not clearly known. In a basket wrapped in a romper that hides the deformities – this is how Alia Dr. Her baby in her arms after giving birth.

“The ears were there. The little nose, even with a hint of nostrils. The lips that had grown but not yet pronounced…And the hands–well: perfectly normal hands with five fingers.”

Alia D will never forget all these details, because shortly after birth, her baby was photographed for free by a photographer from the Your Star Child initiative. In 2021, photographers were called to breastfeed 4,255 times across Germany – nearly thirteen times more than five years ago.

Pictures of star children can help parents better deal with their loss.


Oliver Wendlandt

Memories help deal with grief

Grief researcher Kirsten Lammer isn’t surprised by the increased demand. For orphaned parents, she says, it is very important to acknowledge and appreciate the life that happened and the loss of the child. And you can do that in different ways.

On the other hand with pictures of baby stars. But also through the hand and footprint of the deceased child. This helps parents understand and remember their children’s death, says Lammer, professor of practical theology with an emphasis on pastoral care, formerly at the Evangelical University of Freiburg, now at the University of Münster. Both – understanding and remembering – are essential tasks during the grieving process.

“Mourning is considered to have been overcome when one remembers the deceased fervently and without stabbing with pain. This is also what this work of remembrance and these reminders are about: one also preserves the beauty of this short but past life.”

Such a souvenir can also be a hat, blanket or bracelet from the hospital. Likewise, a funeral service – and of course a grave. Children of stars are usually buried in special mass burials. They were offered such a mass grave in Freiburg, says Alia D. It soon became clear to her that she would not do it this way and she takes her child with her and buries him in her community. The point is that they can always go there and that future siblings can also visit the grave.

Parents hand with child star (Photo: IMAGO, Oliver Wendlandt)

The picture can be a treasure trove of memories, just like a hat or a blanket.


Oliver Wendlandt

Communication with parents is important

Support from friends and relatives – this is also important for grieving parents. For people to be there and put up with the situation instead of walking away and being silent. However, often the social environment after a child’s death is completely overwhelmed, Lamir says, and then says well-meaning but hurtful things. Like “Okay, you have other kids” or “You can have more kids.”

“Maybe this is true. But this is trying to hide the fact that you have experienced a real loss or with false consolation. This loss wants to be appreciated. Parents’ pain wants to be appreciated, not repressed.”

Kristen Lammer recommends expressing her condolences – just as it is with deceased seniors. And if you could not find the right words, the expert recommends saying them out loud.

“It’s better to say: ‘Hey, I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry” than pretending nothing happened. Better say, ‘I’m speechless.’ What do you need now? “Then you just ask how you should behave.”

Silent birth?

Just a little stellar baby portraits of a tiny hand or a foot can build a bridge for orphaned parents into the social setting: Oliver Wendlandt, spokesperson for the Your Baby Star photographers initiative, notes this time and time again. Often friends, colleagues or relatives do not know what stillbirth means to the parents.

The abstract becomes understood by the image of this child. The environment then treats the parents differently, says Wendlandt, and then the environment also understands why the parents are sad.

Alia d. So grateful for the photos of her star baby. She says she looks at the pictures every day – even if it hurts every time. It takes time to process your child’s death. And sometime you want to show pictures to friends and relatives. Because her star child will always be her first child.

Berlin Reinickendorf, cemetery on Hollander Street, cemetery for children's graves and children's stars (Photo: IMAGO, IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter)

Berlin has an additional cemetery for star children only.


IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter

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