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The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:
Some Questions and Answers

Q. What Is S.I.D.S. ("Crib Death")?

A. It is a leading killer illness of American Babies, usually between two weeks and one year of age but it can occur earlier or later in ababy's life. More than 2,500 babies die of SIDS each year in the U.S.

Q. How Does It Happen?

A. Usually the baby is put down for a nap or night's sleep. When the parent or caregiver returns, the baby has died. It is not predictable, not preventable, and is not anyone's fault. Most of the babies seem healthy at the time. They just "stop."

Q. Why Does It Happen?

A. No one is sure. Most theories focus on a failure of the "sleeping mechanism" that normally does not allow a person to go into too deep a sleep. In these babies, the mechanism seems to fail, allowing them to sleep right down into death. When an autopsy is performed, no definite cause for the death can be established.

Q. What Happens To The Family?

A. When a baby dies, the terrible pain of the loss can either draw families closer together, or split them apart. This is a choice that the family members themselves make, consciously or unconsciously. It is important that couples who have lost a baby not try to fix blame, but draw closer together, and draw strength from each other. While it is natural to feel bad, it is positive to draw together at this time, negative to blame any person for an unpreventable death. Good counseling can often help.

Q. HOW Do We Handle Our Grief?

A. Real life is not Hollywood, and grief is healed by time. It often takes a year or more to get back to fully functioning normally. Men and women handle grief differently. Men tend to seek facts, then "suffer in silence." Women tend to want to discuss their hurt and pain with those closest to them. They want to "talk it out." This does not mean your partner is insensitive, just different. Husbands hurt just as much as the wives.

Q. Should We Talk About It After Our Baby Has Died?

A. Husbands and wives mistakenly tend to avoid the subject "so as not to cause pain" to their partner. This is the worst way to handle it. The best way is to talk about your feelings fully and openly with your partner frequently. This speeds the healing process. It also helps to remember the good things about your baby,... how he smiled, or reacted,...not just the sadness of the loss. Your baby's life, however brief, brought you joy. It's important to remember that.

Q. How Do We Handle Babysitters?

A. Although they are not guilty, any caregiver who was caring for your baby when he died will naturally feel responsible. If you borrowed a friend's car and it developed mechanical trouble while in your care, even though it was not your fault, you would feel bad. How much worse, then, would a sitter feel if the baby died in the sitter's care? They need your support and understanding, and should consider grief counseling as well.

Q. How Will My Other Children React?

A. Children, even toddlers, know something terrible has happened, and are more aware than most adults imagine. They need to be reassured that it will not strike them, and they need to know it was not their fault either. It is important that they know their brother or sister has dies and will not be coming back. Never tell a child that the baby has "gone on a tip" or that "God took him away." It's much better to say "He died, and went to heaven, and will not be coming back" or however your personal spiritual beliefs direct. It will take the children about a year to adjust as well.

Q. How Will Others Respond To The Death Of Our Baby?

A. Most will be compassionate, and not know what to say. Some others will be cruel, stupid, insensitive and ignorant, and will say or do hurtful things intentionally and unintentionally. Be prepared for that, and know that there was nothing that you could have done to prevent it. Avoid and ignore the cruel, the ignorant and the obnoxious,.... Sometimes, even though they love you, well-meaning relatives and friends may say things to you that seem hurtful. They are hurting, too, but just may not understand. You as a couple, and your other children, if any, have to stick together and love each other now more than ever. People often have their own ideas about how others are "supposed to" grieve, and try to put their expectations on you. Ignore them. It's O.K. to feel sad, but you can and will have happy moments over other events during your grieving period, and don't let anyone try to make you feel guilty about them. The ONLY people who really "know how you feel" are other parents who have lost babies.

Q. I have strange thoughts, strange pains, bouts of crying or depression, or I get short-tempered with those around me, and have constant memories of my baby. Am I Losing My Mind?

A. No. Grief is one state that starts out bad, but gets better as time goes by. Time really does heal all wounds. One way of envisioning your journey through grief is that you are in a deep, dark jungle of pain and hurt when the event occurs, and you see a small light in the distance. As you walk towards it, the trees gradually get shorter, then become bushes, then just tall grass,... and eventually grass under your feet. The "walk" takes about a year, and there are odd clumps of high grass and trees along the way, as well as little patches of clearing...but you WILL get there to open ground where the grass is under your feet. Like the grass under you feet, the memory of your baby will always be with you, but like the grass, it will be the beautiful memories that remain. It is best if the couple make that walk from the jungle to the grass "hand-in-hand" one day at a time. The odd pains, the "broken record in your head,"... all things of this nature that you may feel are normal even though they are uncomfortable. Your mind is just trying to heal over the hurt spots.

Q. Is SIDS Contagious?

A. No. There is no danger from infection. An autopsy is recommended to rule out any infectious cause. Autopsies are required in some states.

Q. Are There Things We Should NOT Do?

A. Definitely. DON'T make any irreversibile decisions at this point. Don't get sterilized, or have your "tubes tied," or get a vasectomy. Many couples decided to have subsequent children after they have had time to heal. DON'T break up your home or "go home to mother,".... Stick together through this. If you are an unmarried mother when your baby died, and your man deserts you, be thankful he's gone, because he may have been a male, but he was never a man in the first place. IF your baby who died was a twin or a triplet, it is vitally important that you insist your doctor put your surviving baby on a home monitor, and that all caregivers, sitters, etc., be thoroughly trained in monitor usage and CPR. Subsequent babies may also have to be monitored. Discuss this with your doctor.

Q. What About My Religion? How Do I Handle What Has Happened?

A. The Bible says that babies who have died are the ones closest to the face of God. The death of your baby is not an act og God against you, but is a random event, such as a tree falling or a lighting strike. But God will help you overcome you pain, and ease your grief if you ask Him.

Q. Where Can We Get Counseling and Help?

A. CONTACT US: The American Guild for Infant Survival, Inc., works with families who have lost babies to SIDS and other causes. You can call (757) 463-3845, or write: The American Guild, 301 Eastwood Circle, Virginia Beach, VA 23454.

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