How to Talk to Kids About Miscarriage
One thing I’ve learned a few times (four times, if we’re being exact) is that the pain of miscarriage never really goes away. It becomes a dull ache, like the pain in my Nana’s leg when rain was on the way, but it doesn’t ever stop. The what-ifs lurk in the back of the mind and take up space in the heart. You might think that a baby brought to term fills the empty space, but I’m not sure it does. It creates a new, wonderful space, but it doesn’t fill what might have been.
I never did have to tell my children that we lost another. I lost my last one, the one who would have made number three, when my kids were very young (too young to know that a baby was on the way). I grieved in silence by day and out loud by night. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore when my little ones slept and they were spared the pain of the loss they couldn’t understand.
Until they were old enough to ask questions. That changed everything. I can’t remember who asked first or why they both had a sudden interest in a sibling at the exact same time, but one day they decided to solve the mystery of why we stopped at two. One day, our explanation that our family is perfect just the way it is was no longer enough.
How do you look at two little faces and talk about four lost souls and a broken uterus? How do you say that life goes on even when it feels like maybe it won’t?
How do you talk about the overwhelming grief of losing a baby you never did get to hold in your arms?
The truth is that I don’t have a perfect answer for this. Explaining miscarriage to children is no easy task and it’s complicated by the grief of the parent living through the loss. In some ways, I had it easy. I had time to work through my grief before I had to tackle these questions. For many parents, the loss occurs while the child is paying attention. For many parents, grieving a miscarriage becomes a family process.
There are no right or wrong answers for this. You know your child best and you know what your child can handle. Take your time and provide answers in a way that your child can understand.
Keep it simple.
Miscarriage is complicated at best, but most young children struggle to process difficult medical terminology and information. Speak in age-appropriate terms and don’t be afraid to say one line on repeat. Often children ask the same question over and over again to gain mastery. If the answer remains the same, they can make sense of it.
It’s hard to give you the “best” answer without knowing your specific circumstances, but something like this is a good starting point: “Our baby was not able to keep growing enough to be born.” You are likely to get questions about death. Be honest, but brief.
Talk about feelings.
If you hide your feelings, your kid(s) will get mixed messages. Talk about your own feelings and how your child might feel. Normalize a range of emotions. It’s okay if your child giggles or changes the subject – these are common defense mechanisms used by young children. Let your child grieve in his or her own time.
Avoid words like “sick” or “sleep”.
Sometimes parents say, “the baby was too sick to live,” in an effort to simplify. Young children are notorious for taking one word and stretching it. The next time your or your child gets “sick,” your child might fear death. It’s the same with “the baby went to sleep and can’t wake up.” Kids go to sleep every night and catch a lot of germs. You don’t want them to fear those things.
Plant a tree.
Sometimes memorializing the lost baby helps the would-be siblings. I often recommend planting a bush or small tree in the yard so that the baby still holds a place in the home. This gives the living child a place to visit and think positive thoughts about the baby.
When my kids revisit my losses, we often wonder what the baby would have looked like or what the kids would have taught him. The questions stopped when they made peace with the loss, but for parents grieving a loss when children are older, it will be quite a while before the questions stop and they find closure. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings, even if that means having some sad conversations.
Have you had to talk to your kid(s) about miscarriage?