When I recently lost my twin in-vitro fertilization babies in a miscarriage, one of my greatest concerns was how I was going to communicate the loss to my toddler son.
Should I tell my young child about my miscarriage?
My son was very excited about being a “big brother” and having baby siblings to take care of. So for me and our family, I thought it was necessary he understood this was sadly no longer going to happen right now.
If you told your child about your pregnancy, they knew you had babies in your tummy or you’re visibly sad, you may consider telling them about your pregnancy loss.
Here are six things I learned about telling my toddler about my miscarriage
1. Make sure your young child knows it’s not their fault
They need to understand Mommy and Daddy are sad because the baby/babies are gone—not because of anything they did. They didn’t cause the babies to leave with their behavior, good or bad.
2. Normalize that it’s OK to be sad
You will be surprised how much your toddler understands—I certainly was. They are already picking up on your roller-coaster of emotions from sadness to anger, to your physical distance if you and your spouse were in the hospital. They need reassurance that you’re present for them, and there’s nothing anyone could have done to keep the babies with you. “Mommy and Daddy are crying now, but we won’t always feel this way, someday we’ll feel better, but it’s important to feel these emotions when they come.”
3. Memorialize your loss together as a family
We held a private memorial service on some rocks by the ocean and it was a healing experience to say our individual goodbyes. You can involve young children so they can have closure as well. Memorializing loss together can look like planting a remembrance plant in your garden or releasing flowers into water. Your toddler can choose something meaningful for them to let go of—a flower, a shell, toy or rock they are OK parting with. They can bury it or throw it into a lake or ocean as a way of grieving.
4. Understand your toddler has emotions but struggles to express them
Your toddler may laugh at times during this process, and this is developmentally normal. Their tiny nervous systems can often react with aggression, silliness because they don’t know how to deal with anxiety or uncomfortable emotions. It’s not a reflection of lack of care. In fact, they may be trying to make you feel better with joyful antics, especially if you have a highly sensitive child or empath.
5. Take care of you
Speaking from experience, the sad reality is, even with a goodbye ceremony, it may take a long time to heal. You may feel anger, resentment, pain, or sometimes joy when you least expect it. For many of us, grief isn’t linear. Your grief may look like moments where you feel good, and moments of sudden ache. To be present for my son meant I had to support myself in healing by small acts of self-care. For me, this looked like gardening, nutrition, exercise, time with my supportive girlfriends, asking for help, delegating tasks I don’t have energy for, seeking therapy and turning off my phone when I want to play cars with my son.
6. Give it time
Mourning the loss of a child, whether through miscarriage or infant loss can be the greatest suffering a human can bear. Be gentle with yourself, your spouse and your children as we all grieve differently, and your child may grieve in ways resembling “defiant” behavior in school. Recognizing they have witnessed a trauma—their parents either being not around (in my case, I was hospitalized for nine days) or seeing you grieve may be painful for them. I thought my son hadn’t fully absorbed our goodbye, until the following day I got a text from his teacher. “Atlas told us the babies died and you said goodbye and Mommy was sad. He was really feeling all the emotions from it.”
Recently, holding a yellow candle, my son looked up at me saying, “Mommy, I prayed God would send the babies back so you wouldn’t be sad anymore. Look they’re coming back,” he said with a smile, pointing up at the stars.
It broke my heart. But I responded, “You know what? We can see them in the stars, every time we look up, we can feel them. They are never fully gone from us, so we can wave hello or goodbye anytime we want until we’re together again.”
However you choose to go through this incredibly painful process, know you are not alone and there are resources to ensure you never feel alone in your pregnancy loss or familial grief.
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