Telling Children and Others

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What do I tell my other children?

You know your children best, and what you may tell one child may be very different from another, depending on their ages and temperaments. Here is a great article on the way children react differently to grief based on their age.

For your children who are living when you have your miscarriage, studies have shown that children do better when death isn’t hidden from them. (If your children didn’t know you were pregnant or were born after the miscarriage occurred, please see below.) Be honest with them, avoid euphemisms (the baby “went away”), and encourage questions. Help them to understand that the baby will always be a part of your family, just in Heaven. You may have to tailor what you say to a child’s level; for instance, you may not want to go into every detail of the delivery, or the delivery at all, unless they ask. Some children may accept the news at first without any questions, but start asking in the weeks and months to come; just be sure that they know they can talk to you about it. Also, your children might be sad and worried that Mommy and Daddy are sad. Again, be honest with them and help them understand that with the sadness for us comes joy for the baby, who now gets to be with God.

While it is best not to force your children to do anything, there are a few ways you can help them feel more connected to the baby:

  • You may or may not want to offer your children the chance to see the baby’s body.
  • Encourage them to participate in all the prayers and services you decide to have.
  • Ask if they would like to do anything special, such as draw some pictures or pick flowers for the baby, and include those items in the burial or blessing.

If you have specific questions or worries about your children or their reactions, please talk to your parish priest or pastoral associate.

From R. and J., who lost baby S. in 2012:

Our children knew that we were pregnant, so they were told when we miscarried. Our five year old understood and cried. Our three year old cried, but we think it was more because everyone else was crying. We tried to answer any questions they had about our child. Now, when we say bedtime prayers and pray for our family, our lost child is a part of those prayers.  The (four- and six-year-old) girls know that the baby is in heaven with God and that some day they’ll get to meet him or her and find out if it was a him or a her.

Our 2 year old asks, “Who’s S.?” and we explain that was the baby that we didn’t get to meet because it died in Mommy’s belly.  He doesn’t understand yet, but we think it’s good that he knows. Our youngest (who was born after the miscarriage)  will probably go through the same thing.

There are many instances where your children will not be involved with everything going on around the time of your baby’s death. If your children were born after the miscarriage occurred, or if your living child was too young (less than two or three years old) to understand when the miscarriage happened, or they didn’t know you were pregnant at the time, this may be your situation. It is up to you to decide when and what to tell them, but here are a few ideas on how to start the conversation:

  • Tell them when you start to teach them about Heaven. When you talk about who gets to live in Heaven with God and Jesus, you can talk about your child’s brother or sister who is there.
  • Include the baby’s name in family prayers.
  • Visit the grave/attend a special Mass for the loss of a child/say some special prayers once a year with your whole family.
  • Create or buy a keepsake for your home that honors your baby, which young children might ask about as they get older, or which you can point out. This could be as simple as an ultrasound photo, a Bible quotation, or a small plaque with your baby’s name on the back. You could also have something set up for each of your children (like an icon of their patron saint) and include your baby, as it could spark a conversation when your older child realizes there are more plaques than just theirs or their living siblings’.

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What do I say when people ask how many children I have?

This is a very personal decision, and your answer may change over time, or even depending on the conversation. Here are a few examples:

If you’re speaking with someone close to you or your family, or someone who you know is involved in your local parish, then you might feel comfortable saying, “I have two small saints waiting for me in Heaven.” People have also said, “I have two girls I protect here, but there are two I have in Heaven protecting me.” From Lost Innocents:

But if it’s someone at the grocery store who stopped to admire your son’s big, blue eyes and then says, “Is he your only child?”, then what do you do? Say, “Yes,” because you don’t feel like going into the whole thing with someone who will be moving on to squeeze cantaloupe in thirty seconds, but feel like you denied the existence of your other child? Say, “No, but his older sister was born too soon at fifteen weeks so she’s in Heaven now,” and risk getting into a discussion you really didn’t want to get into? Is it worth it?

This situation can be even more difficult if you have no living children, as you might feel the sting a bit more keenly when you answer the question. (Please know that you ARE a mother or a father, and remember that, especially on those heartbreaking Mother’s and Father’s Days.)

There is no right or wrong answer to this – only what you feel comfortable with. What you decide to answer is entirely up to you. Please don’t feel bad for whatever you decide to say. As time passes, you may surprise yourself with how you answer in new situations. And you never know when a stranger might need someone to talk to about their own miscarriage, and your mention of your child was the door opening for a new conversation.

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