Pregnancy and infant loss are not often spoken about even though it can be a devastating experience for parents. Furthermore, the grief an expectant or new brother or sister experiences are often dismissed or unspoken of. The loss of an expected or new baby is a difficult subject to discuss with your child, especially when you are processing your own emotions and grief. Just like adults, all children process and express their grief uniquely. There are many factors that can affect a child’s understanding and response to the loss. To mitigate confusion, fear, and isolation, it is imperative that parents are honest with their child about the loss that has occurred. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the most important things to implement into the way you educate and support your child after infant and pregnancy loss.
1. Use simple, honest, and concise language. Do not use euphemisms.
Sayings like “we lost the baby” or “your brother is gone now” are confusing and scary for a child. They do not have the vocabulary and cognitive skills to understand that “losing” a baby means that the baby has died, and instead they will likely think the baby is physically lost and unable to be found.
Using words like “died”, “dead”, and “miscarriage” are best so your child builds an appropriate understanding of the experience and is able to process it accordingly. Older children may also blame themselves for the death of their sibling, so it is important that they are told honestly what happened and that they are not at fault.
2. Expect repeated questions.
If your pregnancy loss occurred at a later term or your infant died shortly after birth, your child may be confused and wonder if the baby is still in your belly since they can still see that your belly is larger. This can be painful for a parent to repeat to their child, however, it is important that a child’s questions are never dismissed. If your child did not get a chance to meet their baby brother or sister, they may have a difficult time grasping the physical loss that has happened which can lead to repeated questions in order to re-process their understanding. Younger children also have a difficult time grasping the finality of death and may wonder where their baby brother or sister is at.
3. Show your emotions and put words to your emotions.
Do not be afraid to express your emotions in front of your child. Communicate what you are feeling and why, so your child does not worry that they are the cause for the emotions. By showing your own emotions, it demonstrates to your child that it is safe and okay to show emotions and talk about them.
4. Maintain their connection.
If your child was really looking forward to becoming a big brother or sister, or they were very bonded with their baby sibling, it is important that we teach a child how they can maintain a connection with their sibling if they choose. See if they want to draw a picture of what they imagined their brother or sister looking like, write a letter to the baby, choose something of their sibling’s they would like to keep, or decorate a picture frame for the ultrasound photo. Many of these things can be therapeutic and supportive for a child, but difficult for the parent to see, so suggest ideas that are within your boundaries of comfort.
5. Allow yourself to receive support.
The best thing a parent can do while grieving or struggling, is allowing for others to step in and support you so you can have the capacity to support your children. You are not alone in this heart-breaking and difficult experience. Women have an incredible and special way of supporting each other through shared experiences. Call a friend, ask for help with the laundry, and say yes to a meal delivery.
It takes a village to walk through grief, especially with children involved. If you need help in explaining a pregnancy or infant loss to your child or need help in supporting them through their grief, know that we are here to help. To find out more about how we can support your family during this time, schedule a free consult here.