Talking to your child about your pregnancy loss can be a difficult task, at a time when you are already struggling with grief and emotions.
Although very painful and difficult, it is important for parents to take the step of talking about it with their children, because even at a very young age they pick up on others’ emotions. Your child has probably already sensed that you are sad, or may have observed or overheard a conversation about your pregnancy loss.
Neurologically, children want to make logical sense of what is happening in their environment; so if their parents do not explain to them about miscarriage, they come up with their own explanation. Talking to your child about pregnancy loss or miscarriage helps them to understand the situation and the emotions attached to it.
Tips for Talking to Your Child about your Pregnancy Loss
Here are some strategies to help you with the difficult task of talking to your child about your loss:
Make sure you’re ready and prepare yourself – As the saying goes, you must put your own oxygen mask on before taking care of someone else’s. It’s okay to take some time to process your own feelings before talking to your child.
It’s best to start the conversation at a time when you feel calm and are available to talk for a long time in case they have lots of questions. It may be helpful if both parents are part of this discussion, to support each other. It is important to be emotionally available to your child during the conversation, and not so overcome with your own feelings that you are unable to attend to your child’s emotional needs – which is why it may be a good idea to wait til you feel ready.
Be honest and direct – When you explain your pregnancy loss to your child, you should keep the conversation honest and simple to make it easy for them to understand. Try to provide a small amount of information concisely, and then check in with your child to see if they have understood and have any questions. Do not discuss complete details or say unnecessary words; keep it to their level. Reading children’s books about loss and grief with your child may also be helpful.
Tailor the discussion to your child – When discussing your pregnancy loss with your child, consider your child’s age, development and temperament level.
With toddlers and pre-schoolers avoid terms they won’t understand, such as ‘passing away’ or ‘going to the great beyond’. Young children tend to take things more literally, so avoid saying things like, “We lost the baby” because they might start looking for the baby, or worrying that you will lose them, too.
Instead you could say, “We don’t know why this happened; sometimes babies are born healthy like you were, and sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, and the baby isn’t born”.
There is a possibility that your child may ask you the same question a number of times, so be prepared for this and don’t shut down the conversation if they bring it up again.
For an older child, you might tell them that “The baby was not strong enough to live outside mummy’s belly, and that means that the baby died”.
For even older kids, there may be an interest in the science of the human body and reproductive health. You can talk about the scientific details of reproduction, complications that can arise and chromosomal abnormalities.
Make it clear it’s no one’s fault – It is possible that your child may blame themselves for a pregnancy loss. This is due to your child’s stage of cognitive development; young children tend to only see things from their perspective. So, before you start a conversation gently remind your child that they are in no way responsible for any pregnancy outcome, especially one that ends in a loss.
Of course, let them know it’s not mum’s fault either. If your child asks why the loss happened, explain that “Miscarriage is rather common and often due to abnormalities out of our control, not the result of anything anyone did or didn’t do”.
Talk about your feelings – It is likely that after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, your emotional reactions will range anywhere from ambivalence to anger to complete despair. This may manifest in bouts of crying, wanting to be alone, or quiet moments – all of which may be witnessed by your child. Therefore, it is essential to help your child to understand that what they are seeing is because you are sad about the baby. Name your emotions and discuss the reasons behind them, so your child learns how to identify feelings and understands that it is normal to feel sad and cry sometimes. It is also important to let your child know that even though you feel sad sometimes, you will be okay.
Validate your child’s emotional response – Invite your child to talk about their emotions, and you do the same. You could ask your children what they’re thinking and feeling during the conversation; you can then check in a few days later to see if things change as they process the information. Give your children an opportunity to express their emotions through asking questions, drawing a picture or writing a letter.
Depending on your cultural background, you may engage in grief rituals following a pregnancy loss and invite your children to participate. For example, ask your child if they would like to help with making a card or drawing to say goodbye to the baby, or with planting a flower or tree honouring the baby. During this process, show acceptance of your child’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
Take care of yourself – While dealing with the grief of a pregnancy loss or miscarriage, remember to take care of yourself through taking a break from your usual daily routines and work. There are different ways to look after yourself – such as meditation and yoga, exercise that you enjoy, listening to your favourite music, watching your favourite movies, playing sports and spending quality time with your family members.
Finally, part of taking care of yourself may be seeking out professional support such as counselling, to help you through this difficult time.
Author: Vishal Patel, M Social Work, AASW, AMHSW.
Vishal Patel is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, with significant experience in working with victims of trauma, abuse and violence. His area of interest includes addressing significant complex and challenging behaviours in children under the age of 12 years. He is able to provide therapy in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
- Sands.org.uk. 2013. Supporting children when a baby has died. [online] Available at: https://www.sands.org.uk/sites/default/files/%E2%80%A2AW%20SUPPORTING%20CHILDREN%20211113%20LR%20SP%20LINKED.pdf [Accessed 11 May 2021].
- Williams, L., 2019. How To Talk To Children About Miscarriage and Stillbirth – Whats your Grief. [online] Whats your Grief. Available at: https://whatsyourgrief.com/how-to-talk-to-children-about-miscarriage-stillbirth [Accessed 12 May 2021].