Many couples resist telling their older children about the miscarriage, especially if they didn’t even know about the pregnancy. However, you will not be yourself and the children will pick up on the fact that something is not right. We need to tell them about the miscarriage because:
- They need to understand they are not responsible for what is wrong with us.
- The situation is not permanent, we will all get better.
- They need to know that it is a common and normal experience.
- They need to be prepared for the possibility of you spending time in hospital and convalescing later.
It will not be easy
Be honest, no half truths or phrases such as ‘I’ve lost the baby’, ‘the baby has gone to sleep’, ‘God took the baby to be with him’, ‘he has passed away’ or ‘our baby has gone to a better place’. These are confusing and may be misinterpreted and children can fill in the gaps and sometimes blame themselves. Perhaps they did not want the baby or did something naughty and feel it is their fault your baby has died. It is important to re-assure them that nothing they did caused this.
It is also important not to simply say ‘ the baby got sick and the doctor couldn’t fix her/him and they died’ as they may think they will too. If you need to explain what death means you can say that their body is not working any more, it cannot move or cry and cannot be fixed. When children ask why, perhaps you could say, ‘Sometimes this just happens and we don’t know why.’ If you do have a reason for your baby’s death explain it in simple terms that they will understand. If you have requested a post-mortem tell them the doctors are trying to find out but still may not know even then.
You may need to repeat this information as it takes time for them to understand. Keep them informed about what is happening (like having a goodbye ceremony and allowing them to participate) so they don’t feel left out or confused. Many women like to think of their lost baby as an angel and perhaps that could be a way to explain that their spirit has left their body.
If you are keeping a box of cards or mementos they may like to put something of their own in. For example, a poem or a toy or if you are going to plant a shrub in a garden or pot get them to help you do this. Always involve them so they will think of your lost baby as part of the family.
Let them know how you are feeling so that they know it’s okay to cry when you are sad and hurting or to smile and laugh and be happy too. Offer to cuddle them any time they feel sad to help them feel better. They could suffer from as many emotions as an adult. This may all be pretty difficult when you are grieving yourself and their lives go on as normal and you feel anything but. However it is also an opportunity to bring a closer relationship between you and your children. You may also feel overprotective for a while but this will fade as the grieving lessens.
Under three years old
Simply tell them that your baby has died and that’s why Mummy and Daddy are sad. It is not their fault. Although they have no concept of death they still could become irritable and have disturbed sleeping patterns because of how you are feeling.
Three to six year olds
Children of this age may have some understanding of death but see it as a temporary situation and not the finality of it so they could ask questions about when the baby is coming home. This is the age when they think they could be to blame.
Six to nine years old
These children do understand the finality of death and can obsess about dying, including losing their parents. They need re-assurances but be careful of how you word your promise of staying alive. They will need to know more detail including that the baby did not die a violent death (a supposition for some children).
Nine to 12 years old
Most of this age group will have an understanding of death’s finality, perhaps from when a pet has died or even a family member. They will probably express their own feelings and may also be able to offer you some comfort.
Not an easy age to have to deal with death as they want to retain their feeling of being bullet-proof which the baby’s death will challenge. They may be more comfortable talking to a family friend than your-selves and often also need time to come to terms with the situation. Their re-actions could be anything from loud music to staying out late or a comforting hug.
Explain to your family, friends, kindergarten or school if necessary what you have told your children so that no-one feels they have to make their own explanation. You understand best what your children are capable of dealing with. Ask that they support you or leave the subject alone.
A synopsis from “Life after baby loss” with the kind permission of Nicola Miller-Clendon, Author.
MISCARRIAGE AND CHILDREN
“When our third child died at 21 weeks, our daughter was 6 and our son 4 years old. They had been very interested, excited and loving towards the new baby.
We told both children the baby had died, that we didn’t know why and that I would have to go to hospital for him to be “born.”
The morning after the delivery our daughter brought us breakfast in bed (a cracker, a plum, a Xmas rum ball and a glass of juice each!) Over the next couple of weeks she expressed her grief by writing notes saying “ded baby” and leaving them around the house. There were dozens of them and they were quite something for a grieving mother to come across under cushions, in drawers, on chairs, falling out of picture books at story time…
She also made jokes and was very flippant, though the tears weren’t far away. “Poor baby” she said over and over. During this time she frequently wet her pants. She said some words at the memorial service about how happy she had been when told we were having another baby and then how sad she was when told the baby had died. She was very kind and capable at comforting me when I was sad. Looking at the photos, she took them away and drew pictures, putting one in a frame on my bedside table.
When our son heard the news he held his chin in his hands and cried, obviously distressed, occasionally wiping away tears. Finally he said, “But I wanted him to be alive.” We said we wanted that too and we all cried. One day soon after, while he and I were doing the dishes I received an upsetting phone call about the baby and I didn’t go back into the kitchen. He called me twice, asking why. When I explained I was too sad, he came out, solemnly drying his hands, saying “I have to dry my hands very carefully because you need a hug” and proceeded to hug and kiss me a hundred times.”