First and foremost, if you are here reading this, I am so so sorry. I hope to write this and nobody ever has a reason to happen upon it, but I know that's not how this world works. I am so very sorry for the loss of your baby.
Our own processing and grieving is necessary when we experience the loss of a baby. Our own processing comes in many forms. For some of us there is a small period of grappling and peace and healing comes eaily. For others there is a shattering and picking up of pieces... a long hard road. Then there is everywhere in between. Loss and mourning are different for each of us. However, when your loss comes after you already have a child, there is an extra dynamic: the loss of a sibling.
This, too, is unique to your situation. When I lost our baby, my children didn't yet know we were having a baby. I miscarried without them knowing too. I had 3 children at the time. They were 13 months, 2, and 4. This loss flew under their radar and to them life didn't change. For me, I needed to tell them and incorporate that baby into their dynamic at a the right time. A few months after our loss, a natural conversation came up about someone or something else and I was able to tell them that we had a baby that died in my belly and now lives in Heaven and watches over us. I told them our baby's name and answered any questions that came. I have had 2 children since then and they all know about Roch (our baby). They mention him fairly often, but it's not in sadness. They are to-the-point and factual and talk about him as if he's one of them. Because he is.
That was what my family needed. It would have been too confusing to tell them in the moment that I was 1. having a baby and 2. it was happening now (without a big belly or hospital trip), and that the baby had died. It was too much and they were too little to understand all of that right then. In my situation, for an early miscarriage that happened naturally without medical interventions, it made sense to tell them when the time was right.
However, waiting is not always possible or appropriate. If you have a loss further into your pregnancy, have older children, or it just feels right to involved them, then there is a more immediate need to share and to start healing their hearts as well.
I won't pretend to know exactly how that looks or what the perfect course to take is, but I will share my thoughts on sharing the loss of a sibling with your children.
1. Follow your heart. You know your children better than anyone else. You decide the when. You decide the how. There is no right time. There is no perfect time. When you feel the words come and the time approach, share with them.
2. Tell them the truth. The gut reaction is to shelter our kids, to shield them from the scary, and the sad. Don't. I don't mean this in a neglectful or mean way, but I have noticed something with kids. They are perceptive. They are creative. They are resilient.
Kids know when something is wrong with us (perceptive). We know our kids inside and out, but they know us very well too; we are their world. Facing a devastating loss, your children will likely piece together that something is wrong. If we try to shield them unnecessarily, their little minds will decide what is wrong or what they did, or what is changing, and likely it is a much scarier assumption than the facts (Thus, they are creative). However, if carefully and honestly told the situation, they will find their own peace and understanding (They are resilient). Depending on their age and understanding and circumstance, this will look different, but children can handle much more than we realize, and getting honest answers can create healing and their own level of understanding and acceptance.
When we had a death in the family, my husband and I decided that to tell them the facts: Grandpap Jack died and we won't get to see him anymore. We answered every question they asked with a short, but truthful answer. We attend the viewing and funeral as a family, but we didn't push. My boys were old enough to be very aware. My oldest, proceeded with caution. He wanted to see Grandpap, but after a short time, he asked to sit with an Aunt and he didn't seem to focus on Grandpap for the rest of the night, but didn't seem upset either. My second went up to the casket and I knelt with him. He asked question after question, from theological, to practical, to physical, to random-child-curious. He stood and looked and looked for what seemed like forever. That was how he processed and had we not taken him, he never would have been able to process in the way he needed.
Kids tend to ask questions in times like these. There are questions that you expect and those you don't. Answer them. Brutal answers aren't needed, but carefully worded honest ones are what I have found to bring them security. They are asking because it's something they wonder and something that don't know. In both the case of Grandpap and Roch, the children have processed and moved on while still keeping those two very much in their minds and hearts. Their questions were answered and their minds were set at ease. It's not hush hush or taboo to talk about either of them and, now that time has passed, it's a happy subject to talk about. There is a comfort, which I think is ultimately the goal: finding a place of peace after hard trials.
3. It's ok for them to see you hurting. Again, the instinct is to shield and protect them, but in shying away and shielding them, we can leave them feeling pushed aside or confused. This is another point where you have to know your kids and follow your mom instinct, but it's ok for them to see you cry. It's ok to tell them that you miss their baby sister or brother. It's ok to say that you are sad, but that you won't be sad forever but it's hard right now. It's ok to talk to them about how they are feeling too. Big emotions run inside of those tiny bodies.
4. Connect with them. Your child might lash out or turn inward. They might appear to easily move on, or hyper-focus. You might see big changes in behavior or no changes in behavior. Follow their lead and what they need... connect with them. If they need independent play and quiet time, allow that, but let them know you are there. If they need extra attention and love, give that too. It doesn't have to be a largely orchestrated event... read some extra books (wonderful books are linked below), talk, watch some shows or a movie together, sit by the tub while they take an extra long, extra bubbly bath, do a craft, just. connect. If they feel insecure, they need you to help get that grounded feeling back.
5. Breathe. There is no right or wrong way to handle hard situations and a losing a baby is a hard situation. Go at your own pace. Work as a team with your husband and lean on him when needed. Take your time, and guard your heart. If you child asks a question that is too painful, admit that that is a hard question to answer and maybe you have to answer it a bit later, or let daddy answer because your heart hurts right now. Do what you can, when you can, and lose the guilt over anything else. Go slow and breathe... take it moment by moment.
This is one of the most difficult roads to ever have to travel and I'm so sorry that you are travelling it. I hope that something here could maybe help, even just a little bit. Below are some book titles that can help children relate to losing a sibling and wonderful blog with even more useful ideas on how to help your children cope.
What To Do For Kids When Their Sibling Dies
As always, I'm just an email away as well.
From my heart to yours,
Baby Love Blog
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