"Dad, why are we not having a baby brother?" his daughter asked.
The loss of a pregnancy is a heartbreaking, emotional experience for any family. While parents navigate their own grief, they often need to explain a loss they don't really understand to their living children.
Actor James Van Der Beek is opening up about his experience following his wife Kimberly's late miscarriage last year—how he grieved and how he started those difficult conversations with his five children.
The actor posted a series of videos to Instagram, writing, "One year ago today, I had to explain to my then 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 year-old a late-term #pregnancyloss while (Kimberly) was still in the hospital."
"I'm not sure there's any one way to do it, since every kid is so different - one bawled immediately, one had questions, one tried to make jokes, one tried to avoid by acting crazy."
The first video Van Der Beek posted shows the actor answering daughter Emilia's questions about the baby.
"Dad, why are we not having a baby brother?" she asks.
"Because the baby that was going to come went back to heaven, and that happens sometimes," he answered. "So instead of the baby coming into our family, the baby went to heaven."
"So that's why we're going to have a boy still big in Mom's stomach?" she then says.
"No, there's no boy in Mom's stomach anymore," he answers.
"It's OK to be sad," he later continues. "It's OK to have questions. Sometimes this happens, and nobody knows why, OK? But it means Mommy doesn't have a baby in her belly anymore."
"A girl?" Emilia asks, hopefully.
"We're not allowed to have another baby brother ever again," says one of Van Der Beek's older daughters, off screen.
"That's not true," says Van Der Beek.
In a second clip, Van Der Beek tells Emilia that it's ok to be sad and that no one really knows why these things happen.
"Did it disappear?" she asks.
"Yeah, it kind of disappeared," Van Der Beek answers.
"Oh my gosh," whispers Emilia.
A third video shows their son Joshua after he learned the news.
When Van Der Beek asks if he has any questions, Joshua changes the subject to their family dog, Rocky, and how he wagged his tail in his face.
After a moment, Joshua adds, "But the baby thing?" while sticking his lower lip out and nodding.
"Yeah," says Van Der Beek in agreement.
"I feel like all you can do when explaining the unimaginable is be present with them,
Van Der Beek's post continues. "And keep being present with them wherever they're at, for as long as they need. You can't process for them, you can't mitigate their pain, and you can't dictate their timeline. They all broke down at different times - and for different reasons. Some still talk about it. Some don't like to. But I encourage anyone going through this to be as open and honest as we encourage our kids to be about it. When life cracks you open... let your loved ones in. We're not made to go through this alone."
James and Kimberly lost their son when Kimberly was 17 weeks pregnant. She then experienced another miscarriage in June, marking her fifth pregnancy loss in nine years.
In her own post, Kimberly opened up about the two losses and encouraged her followers to donate blood.
"Nov 17th marks one year after I was taken to the hospital after a 17 week miscarriage put my life on the line. It took two hours to stabilize me. My life was saved by blood donors and hospital staff. Tomorrow, Nov. 17th also marks the due date of a baby I met far too early as I had another miscarriage at 17 weeks along, June 14th. Blood transfusions saved my life a second time. We are getting into the holidays and there's been a lot of distress in the world. If you're healthy and motivated, please consider donating blood tomorrow or sometime soon. Please share far and wide and let's fill those blood banks up for the holidays. THANK YOU DONORS!!! ❤️"
We admire the strength and grace Kimberly and James have shown in the face of tragedy. By sharing their experiences, they're working to destigmatize loss and to let others who've gone through it know that they're not alone.
Babies don't always come home. Children don't always understand. Parents don't always have the answers to hard questions.
We encourage anyone experiencing loss to take Van Der Beek's advice to heart. Let your loved ones in, mama. You'll get through it together.
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