Preparing to welcome a new baby into your family is an exciting time for everyone, especially older siblings. Unfortunately, it's estimated that one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, leaving many parents wondering how to explain to their older children that there will no longer be a new baby joining their family. While they are struggling with their own pain and grief at their loss, they also have to help their other children understand that the pregnancy won't be progressing.
Adults deal with pregnancy loss in a variety of ways, as do children. Circumstances like how old your child is, whether your child knew about the pregnancy and how much they understood about the pregnancy can all affect how to speak to them if you sadly suffer a miscarriage.
When one reader asked the New York Times advice column Motherlode about how her friend can explain her pregnancy loss to her three-year-old who was so excited to be a big brother, readers explained that honesty was the best policy.
"We don’t and can’t go into all the details with a toddler about why a baby doesn’t come to term, but we can explain that there is a change and the baby isn’t going to come," wrote one commenter. "Any duplicity is unnecessary and can lead to resentment later – kids usually don’t forget, especially when we hope they will. In many difficult cases like this, it is more practical and more considerate to give the news early, allow the child to respond and release his emotions, and then all move on when possible."
Keep It Simple
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss can be hard for children to understand, so it's often best to keep your explanation simple. The Miscarriage Association explains that children are able to understand loss at different levels depending on their age. A very young child will not fully understand a pregnancy loss, but they will be able to pick up on the sadness around them. Children of preschool or kindergarten age may have some concept of death, especially if they have lost a relative or pet, while older children will be able to more fully grasp the meaning of the loss. Teens will be able to fully understand the loss of a pregnancy as an adult would.
If you have younger children they may not understand the term 'miscarriage' so you will need to use simpler and easier to understand terms. You may choose not to tell a child if you think they're too young, but it's important to understand they may sense that something is different, or that you are upset. They may become more clingy for a while or more dependent on you, which is totally normal.
Being open about your own feelings will not only help you heal but allow your children to heal as well. Everyday Family suggests that trying to mask your own feelings of sadness and hurt will only send your children mixed messages and make them feel as if they can't express their own feelings. "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," they suggest.
Acknowledge The Loss
It can be important not only for grieving parents but for children as well to acknowledge the pregnancy loss and commemorate the baby in some way. For some, it's to give the child a name and use that name when talking with other children in the family. Sometimes making a keepsake like a book or an ornament can help children talk about their feelings can help. You can also choose to do something more permanent, like planting a tree in your yard, the Miscarriage Association suggests, in honor of the baby. This helps younger children know that it's OK to talk about it and give them a way to remember the baby that was lost.
Trust Your Instincts
No one knows your child better than you do, which means no one knows what your child can handle as you do. While there will no doubt be an endless stream of advice given to you on how to tell children about a pregnancy loss, you will ultimately know just how much they can handle. You will also be able to judge how your child is affected by news of the loss and how to effectively help them grieve. All children are different, and while some may be incredibly sad and require more attention, for others it may not seem to affect them at all.
You know your child best so ultimately how and when you choose to tell them about a miscarriage is your decision. Trust your instincts and know that no one knows your children as well as you do.