Children's Series: Talking with Children About Miscarriage

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Today at lunch a girlfriend told me about me a really yucky story, one that involves having to tell her daughter (who happens to be Sweetly Six’s bestie) about a friend’s miscarriage. She asked me how she should tell her daughter.

Because anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, I thought I’d do a post on it with hopes that this information will not only help my girlfriend but will help other people as well.

So, here goes.

It is difficult for most adults to discuss death. Duh. To (potentially) complicate things, delivering news about death is influenced by our own history of death. However, you all know by now how I feel about talking with children. It MUST be done. Please-please-please do it!

Avoiding communication with children sends the message that either they are too unimportant to share the information or that it is so awful that it cannot be discussed. Either way, a child is left alone with the distressing information. How awful is that?!? This aloneness forces them to draw inaccurate conclusions or find maladaptive ways of dealing with the information. Furthermore, if children catch you in a lie of omission or deception (even though lovingly intended), then from that point forward, they will always wonder, “Are Mommy and Daddy not telling me something?” Avoidance feels better to parents in the short term, but has the potential to do long-term damage.

My philosophy is:

 Talk early. Talk often. Tell the truth.

Because we want to help children have a positive experience, without preconceptions acquired from our culture or personal histories, it helps to think through some basics when we talk with children about a miscarriage.

  • Give a clear, succinct explanation in simple language; tell the child the facts about what happened by explaining that “the baby inside of so-and-so’s tummy” has died. It is important not to overload a child with too much information. Be honest and do not use half truths or phrases such as “she lost the baby”, “the baby has gone to sleep”, “God took the baby to be with him”. These are all confusing and may be misinterpreted.
  • After you have delivered the news, encourage children to ask questions. After this encouragement, be silent to allow the children to think about their questions. If they don’t have any, encourage them to ask questions anytime they pop into their minds. Whatever their age and stage of development, children vary in terms of quantity and depth of questioning.

A common question is, “Why?” The truth of the matter is that most often a reason cannot be identified, so it is important to be honest and say, “I don’t know.” The Miscarriage Association suggests that some parents use the analogy of pregnancy being like planting seeds in a garden — not all of them grow into full plants.

  • It is important to reiterate that nothing that anyone did (or didn’t do) caused it. This is HUGE. Children between the ages of 3 and 8 have what’s called Magical Thinking in which they believe in their omnipotence and their ability to cause something (anything!) to happen just by thinking about it. For example, a young sibling could feel threatened by the upcoming addition to the family (no, not everyone is always excited about a new baby coming into a family) and wish that the baby wouldn’t be born. If a miscarriage then happens, a child may believe that s/he caused it. Often the guilt is so great that a child would never mention it and subsequently carry the feelings internally…which is all the more reason to discuss it!
  • Share emotions. I recommend sharing your emotions about the death of the baby. It’s a sad time and denying it does a disservice to your children. Being tearful is okay, but I would avoid a full-on snot fest. If you need a snot fest (I know I would!), I suggest trying (as best as you can) to do it when your child is out of the house.
  • After a miscarriage, having a family ritual for saying “goodbye,” can be very therapeutic. Some suggestions include releasing a helium balloon, planting a tree or flowers in honor of the baby.

Everyone reacts in his or her own way to miscarriage, children as well as adults. Children may carry on as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened or they may be quite upset. It’s important to be present for your child and know that you will be there to support him or her through this difficult time. Your support is the ultimate Silver Lining for a child.

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Comments

  1. says

    I had three before I gave birth to my oldest. They were, of course, confusing and very sad losses (understatements, but I'm not one for words). However, it had never occurred to me to tell my girls about them until two days ago when my husband started talking about one of the pregnancies in front of the girls and I panicked and spun around and gave him the "stop talking now" stare. So weird to think about-I thought I had put that time behind me-but it was such an immediate painful reaction and I wanted to protect them from feeling any kind of sadness or confusion. Ugh.
    Anyhoo-thanks for writing about it and sharing your thoughts—as usual—your words are always so helpful.

    • says

      Dear Danette, Thank you so much for sharing. I'm so sad to hear about your losses…please take care of yourself as you process the pain of them (even long after they have occurred).
      Thank you for your kind words and again for sharing!
      Best wishes to you!

  2. Kim C says

    I feel so fortunate to have this valuable and reliable information at my fingertips. You give to us all so openly and freely. Thank you so much, Hollye. All the very best to you're friend and her family.
    Kim