Talking to Toddlers about Miscarriage
Experiencing a miscarriage is heartbreaking. Devastating. It takes a toll on your body in ways you never thought was possible. And when you have living children as well, it makes the journey a whole lot different… at least it was to us.
We experienced a missed miscarriage in May 2019 (read my story here) and this was the first time I had experienced this. My boys were with me at my appointment (which I think I did subconsciously because I had a feeling something wasn’t right) which meant there was little to no time to decide how I was going to talk about this with them.
Our boys, ages 1.5 and 3, were SO excited about their baby brother. They would talk to him in my tummy, set toys aside for him for when he was born, and constantly told me how much they loved him. At this routine 14 week appointment they were able to see him on the screen during my ultrasound. It was truly heartbreaking that it was at a moment where he was no longer wiggling around.
In that moment, as my oldest looked at the screen asking if that was baby, I knew I wanted to be honest and to tell him what was going on. For a few weeks we had been listening to the baby on our home doppler. Every day he would beg to get to hear baby brothers heartbeat. When I started to be unable to find it form home, I grew worried. So as we say there in the ultrasound room, I knew what was coming.
My son may be only 3, but he is a smart cookie. He understands death more than I thought he would. (We had gone through the loss of our cat last year) So when I sat there and within the first second saw no movement, no heart beat, no blood flow, I knew. Nobody said anything. A look was exchanged and I said to the midwife, “there’s no heartbeat is there?”
She shook her head and said “I’m sorry.”
In effort to not completely break down, I turned to my 3 year old and told him, “baby brother doesn’t have a heart beat anymore, buddy. He is in heaven now.”
He got it. I could see it in his eyes right away. Moments later he hugged me as I sat there crying in the office chair and said “I’m so sorry mommy that your baby died…”
Since that day, we have made it a choice to talk to the boys about it…mostly Otto, our oldest. Here are a few things that have worked for us during the healing process:
1. BE HONEST
We told them the truth about what happened. (baby stopped growing, baby’s heart stopped, we don’t know why, etc) We felt that, even though they are young, I would rather give them all the facts and allow them to ask questions as they arise. My hope is that this leads to a more open relationship about difficult topics in the future or at least gives us all the sense of openness when it comes to our experience with this loss.
As we were grieving we also told the boys that it is okay to feel sad and that mommy and daddy might have days where they are sad, and that’s okay. Especially with raising boys we felt it was important to let them know that expressing emotions like this is acceptable.
2. Use His Name
In our case we chose not to name our son so we simply call him “baby brother.” In conversations with our boys or about the baby, we make sure to say “baby brother”. This gives him life. Makes him real. We want the entire family to remember that he was our little boy and will forever be their baby brother. Even if he is in heaven.
3. Open for questions
Like we mentioned earlier, we want our boys to feel like they can ask questions about what happened. Granted our boys are only (almost) 2 and 3, but we asked them if they had questions about where baby brother was or why my belly wasn’t getting bigger. Of course there was confusion but when explaining to our 3 year old that the baby had to be born because he couldn’t live inside mommy anymore, he reiterated it back to me with perfectly understanding.
You’ll be surprised what questions these little ones have. Many times my oldest would even randomly tell ME what happened, which was quite amazing to hear coming from his mouth. “Mommy, baby brother’s heart stopped working so he had to go to heaven.” (Insert melting with sweetness but heartbroken mama here) He has really taken time to process everything and understands how we got to where we are.
4. Stop Talking
If they don’t want to talk about it, we don’t make them. Every once in while Otto will bring up the baby (which I LOVE) but when he is done asking questions, we move on. We don’t sit and linger in a conversation just because mommy wants to. ;)
(Mama, if you want to talk about your experience, send me a message on IG or FB. I would love to hear about your little one and support you on this difficult journey.)
5. Do Something together in memory
One fun thing we did to remember our baby is we planted a tree in our sons honor. This was a gift from my mom and was a really amazing idea. I will always be SO thankful for this tree. (Now I just need to make sure I keep it alive….)
Our boys got really excited about planting this nectarine tree and we find they enjoy taking care of it daily by watering and turning on the little lantern that sits underneath. This was/is a great way to celebrate the life that was lost and even to talk about death with your little ones.
READ: If you need another way to talk about miscarriage with your child, try a book like this one: We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schwiebert.
The thing is, kids won’t remember this the way we do.
They don’t understand it the way we do. It doesn’t effect them the same way it does us. But to allow them the information and truth about it, no mater how young, was so important to us. Not only does it help us to feel like we are honoring our baby’s story, but it also allows us to give our kids the chance to understanding (to their ability) and grieve (to their ability) the situation.
All children are different so if you don’t feel like talking this openly with your child would be affective, don’t. Do what feels right for you and your family. If you are unsure, you can always reach out to a counselor or even your child’s pediatrician for advice.
One thing we did NOT do:
The one thing we felt strongly against not doing is we did not show them pictures of the baby after he was born. If either of our boys ask to see them someday of course we will show them to him, but even as an adult seeing photos of a baby at only 14 weeks is hard to understand and confusing to see. (And truthfully a little bit icky, in my opinion) I felt strongly that I didn’t want to force that on him without him asking.
Now that we are months passed the loss, we don’t talk about baby brother often and I’m okay with that. We have collectively moved forward from what happened, remembering our sweet boy, but focusing on growing the family we have. Loving them and cherishing our time together.