Pregnancy Grief & Loss
Pregnancy Grief & Loss:
Why can’t I be happy now that I’m pregnant again after miscarrying?
Even though you’ve conceived again, it may be a while before you can enjoy this pregnancy. It’s normal for a woman who has had a miscarriage to worry that she might lose this baby, too. That can make it difficult to feel excited about a subsequent pregnancy and trust that it will last.
“A pregnancy after a loss can be the longest nine months of a woman’s life,” says Charlene Nelson, executive director of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center in Wayzata, Minnesota. “There are so many things going on emotionally that anxiety is bound to be prevalent throughout the pregnancy.”
Kim Kluger-Bell, a psychotherapist and author of Unspeakable Losses: Understanding the Experience of Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage, and Abortion, agrees: “It’s going to be stressful – especially up to the time when the pregnancy was lost the last time.”
Both Nelson and Kluger-Bell suggest not glossing over the anniversary of a pregnancy loss but rather recognizing and trying to accept it. You’ll probably feel more sad and anxious as the date approaches, and that’s normal.
Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling happy all the time. Allow yourself to feel your feelings: A good cry now and then relieves a lot of tension. And give yourself permission to share your feelings with trusted friends. Simply talking about fears can often alleviate them.
“Once a woman passes the point of the previous loss, attachment to the pregnancy usually forms, and she starts to feel more positive,” says Kluger-Bell. But don’t assume your anxiety will disappear at that point. You may find that being so aware of the unpredictability of pregnancy means your fear and worry persist through labor and delivery. On the other hand, you may find your anxiety fading as you get closer to labor and meeting your baby.
You may also still be grieving for the baby you lost, and that grief might dominate whatever joy you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t always make room for feeling happiness and sadness at the same time, so people often feel they have to choose one or the other. But you don’t have to choose – all your feelings are equally valid and real.
How can I cope with my anxiety?
There’s no one answer. Chances are you’ll feel anxious much of the time. But as you reach each milestone, such as hearing the heartbeat or feeling your baby move, you’ll be reassured that things are progressing well. Here are some things you can do to stay positive:
Focus on one day at a time. Easier said than done, but it really works. When you feel yourself worrying about the future, stop yourself and think only about today. “Affirm each day,” suggests Nelson. “Celebrate the completion of each week.”
Notice how this pregnancy is different from the pregnancy you lost, and especially consider how things are going better. Pay attention to what’s going well each day and how you and your baby are staying healthy.
Take good care of yourself. Do what you can to make this pregnancy a healthy one. Pay attention to your health and well-being. Sleep, good nutrition, breaks during the day, and regular physical activity will help you feel physically well and emotionally balanced. If possible, treat yourself to a prenatal massage now and then, and let the massage therapist know you’re dealing with a stressful pregnancy. Prenatal yoga and meditation may also help.
Find reasonable ways to manage stress and anxiety. You have enough to do just coping with the loss you’ve experienced. Don’t overschedule yourself, pile on additional responsibilities at home or work, or overcommit yourself to family and friends. Focus on taking good care of yourself, which is within your control.
Try relaxation exercises. Make up your own mantra, such as, “Be healthy for the baby.” Nelson suggests talking to your baby to enhance the bonding process.
Use relaxation techniques if your worries are keeping you from getting enough sleep at night. Talk to your healthcare provider if your worries keep you up at night for more than a week or two, or happen each night for a week.
Empower yourself with knowledge about your loss. For example, if a past loss was diagnosed as a blighted ovum or cervical insufficiency, you might want to research those conditions. You may feel more in control of your situation if you understand what happened before. (Stop if too much information makes you feel overwhelmed.)
Know you’re not alone. If you don’t know what caused your loss, recognize that many miscarriages and stillbirths don’t have explanations. Remember that having had one miscarriage doesn’t necessarily make you any more likely to have another one. Instead of worrying about something going wrong, try to focus on how well you and the baby are doing now. Chances are good that everything will be fine.
Communicate with your partner. Your partner suffered a loss too, and you may want to turn to each other for comfort. But men and women often deal with loss differently, and although talking about what happened may make youfeel better, it may make your partner feel worse. Respect each other’s ways of coping with the loss, and don’t take it personally if you deal with it differently.
Check in with your doctor or midwife often. Seeing your healthcare provider regularly for prenatal care can reassure you that your baby is doing well. This is especially important if you’re considered high risk. Although being labeled high risk sounds scary, it can actually be beneficial. “You’ll be monitored more closely, which can be a positive thing, especially if you’re nervous,” says Nelson.
Ask to come in between scheduled visits to listen to the heartbeat if it will make you feel better. And if your provider isn’t sensitive to your past loss, it might be time to find someone else.
Find a support group. Kluger-Bell suggests contacting Share, an organization that supports people who’ve experienced pregnancy and infant loss, to help you find a group in your area. Sharing intimate details with strangers might feel uncomfortable at first, but group members often become trusted friends who can truly understand your feelings.
If the particular group you’re attending doesn’t seem right for you, ask your provider for other options. You’ll also find ongoing support in the BabyCenter Community in our Pregnancy After Loss group.
Seek professional help if you need it. If you have symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety, get a referral to a therapist. The less emotional and physical stress to your system, the healthier you will be. And treating these problems during pregnancy will reduce your chances of postpartum depression or anxiety.
A therapist who specializes in perinatal mood disorders will be best equipped to support you during pregnancy and postpartum. Ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation, or search online directories, such as Psychology Today and GoodTherapy. Postpartum Support International can help you find local resources and offers free live phone chats with experts as well as online support groups.
Should we wait to tell friends and family we’re pregnant again?
This is a personal decision, and you should do what feels comfortable. Many people wait until they’ve passed the point of their previous miscarriage to share their news, but others find it helpful to tell family and close friends earlier so that they have a support system in place no matter what happens.
Take some time to think about this, and talk it over with your partner. Make certain you both agree on what to do before you start letting people know.
When sharing your news, keep in mind that your friends and family may expect you to be “okay” now that you’re pregnant again. Do your best to avoid well-meaning people who say things like, “See? The other one wasn’t meant to be,” or “Now you can relax and be happy.” You may need to explain that being pregnant again doesn’t mean you’re done grieving your loss.
No matter what, don’t let others’ expectations invalidate your experience. Remember – there are no “shoulds” when it comes to grieving, and it’s okay to not be okay.
Christine Duenas lost her baby when she was 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant. She went into labor, but then something went terribly wrong. Before her baby could take her first breath, she died. Her daughter, Olive Lucy, whom Christine and her partner call Lucy, was stillborn.
“When the doctor confirmed that her heart had stopped beating, time stopped for a moment. I realized that life would never be the same for our family,” Duenas says.
On Lucy’s first birthday, Duenas took flowers to the cemetery where her daughter is buried. Then she and her partner, Watson Kawecki, went out to dinner with good friends, ate special cupcakes, and lit a candle.
Every year since, Duenas has celebrated Lucy’s birthday this way. It’s a difficult time, but honoring and remembering her daughter makes Duenas feel connected to Lucy and helps her handle the feelings that arise.
“I dread the days leading up to her birthday,” says Duenas. “I stress that the cupcakes I want aren’t going to be available or that I’ll be running late to the cemetery. But it also gives me a new perspective on the year that has passed. I usually spend some part of her birthday reading my thoughts and journal entries from the past year.”
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day to honor and remember babies who die during pregnancy or as newborns. Participants around the world light a candle at 7 p.m. and keep it burning for at least an hour. Because of different time zones, the result is a wave of light that spans the globe.
The day also calls attention to the needs of grieving parents and creates awareness of pregnancy and infant loss. According to the official site, “Too many families grieve in silence, sometimes never coming to terms with their loss. Our goal is to help others relate to our loss … and to help families live with their loss, not ‘get over’ their loss.”
Why remembering helps
“Finding ways to remember helps people gradually come to terms with the loss of a baby. It helps you remember, but also let go,” says Helge Osterhold, a marriage and family therapist who coordinates bereavement services at the University of California, San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Grieving can be especially difficult for parents who lost their child in pregnancy or at birth, Osterhold says, because they had so little time with the child who passed away.
“You don’t have the memories of experiences together, but rather you have lost the hopes and dreams of what the future was supposed to hold. It’s a rupture in your own life path that was just unfolding.”
There’s often an outpouring of support immediately after the loss of a baby, but with time, it dwindles, says Osterhold. Family and friends seem to go on with their lives and grieving parents often feel pressure from the people around them to move on and let go.
For the grieving parents, however, “moving on” isn’t possible. Their lives have changed forever, touched by a child who lives on in their hearts. There’s a real fear of forgetting or dishonoring that child. To cope with this and keep the child close, Osterhold tells parents to keep talking about their baby and keep their memories alive.
Crystal Theresa Zapanta says her greatest fear was forgetting about her son Calvin, who died when she was 18 weeks pregnant. “My time with him was so short, it could seem trivial and insignificant,” she says.
“A lot of people may think I’m holding on too long,” she says. “But I think it’s important to understand that to women who have lost their baby, this is so much a part of who we are now, how we handle things, and how we see the world. You can’t ignore who we’ve become.”
Ways to honor a baby you lost
Create a blog or website
Besides celebrating Lucy’s birthday, Duenas started a blog to remember her daughter. It includes written entries, photos taken in the hospital, a playlist of songs that remind her of Lucy (including “You Are My Sunshine,” sung by Norman Blake, and “Seasons of Love,” from the musical Rent), and links to advocacy groups that support legislation on stillborn research and parents’ rights.
Zapanta also keeps a blog to honor her son Calvin.
Kara Jarrar lost her son Jordan when she was 22 weeks pregnant. It has been 15 months since Jordan died, and Jarrar says while family and friends around her often expect her to be done grieving, she isn’t. On Jordan’s first birthday she released blue and white balloons. “It made me feel good to celebrate his birthday, even in such a simple way,” she says. “I plan on doing that every year.”
Hold on to physical mementos
Because Jordan’s birth was sudden, Jarrar didn’t have time to prepare. She only has a few photos of her son and treasures the footprints taken at the hospital after she delivered. Not all parents get pictures, footprints, or other remembrances of their baby who passed away, but having something tangible can be a huge comfort.
As a way to support other moms like her, Jarrar plans to work with hospitals in her community to provide disposable cameras to parents who have just lost their baby. “Even if they aren’t ready to look at the pictures right away, I know it can be a nice way to remember your baby,” she says.
Create a virtual keepsake
Zapanta founded the site Calvin’s Cupcakes, where she creates virtual remembrances for parents who have lost a baby.
Parents provide their baby’s name, date of birth, and any special notes, and Zapanta creates a virtual cupcake that appears on the Calvin’s Cupcakes site on the baby’s birthday. There’s no charge, and parents are welcome to copy the cupcake and put it on their own website or blog.
“It’s my way of giving babies attention that they wouldn’t normally get,” says Zapanta. “That’s what’s hard in the baby-loss community. Some people seem afraid to mention our baby – they don’t want to make us feel sad or upset. Our babies are always going to be in our lives and we are always going to be sad. But we want to talk about it.”
She said the biggest reaction she gets from parents who visit her website is that they like to see their baby’s name on the screen. One Mother’s Day, Zapanta wrote in the sand the names of babies she knew had died and emailed photos to their moms. “One mom said, ‘I haven’t seen my son’s name in seven years. It’s so nice to see it,'” says Zapanta.
Find support online
BabyCenter’s Community has many groups where grieving parents support each other, including Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Infant Loss Support; Bereaved Parents; Multiple MCs; and Multiple 2nd or 3rd Trimester Losses.
Parents also share photos and memorials in these two BabyCenter groups: Pregnancy & Infant Loss Memorials and In Memory.
You’ll find more online communities and resources for grieving parents listed in the “More resources” section below.
Wear a reminder of your baby
Zapanta and her husband each wear a resin pendant with their son’s ultrasound image on it. She made the pendants herself out of wooden tiles. Others make or order jewelry that features their child’s name or birthstone.
Lucy’s father, Watson Kawecki, wears a pin on his shirt or pocket every day in memory of his daughter.
A week after her son Jordan died, Kara Jarrar decided to get a tattoo on her arm of Jordan’s footprints.
“There are angel wings on the sides and a halo above his name,” says Jarrar. “I put it where everyone can see it. I like to talk about him. My tattoo has brought me the most comfort.”
Help other parents suffering a loss
After losing her son during pregnancy, Michelle Ramirez began Juanito’s Wish. The charitable group fills boxes with lotion, tissues, a book of quotes, and a teddy bear, and donates them to rural hospitals for parents who have suffered a loss. Other moms volunteer as grief counselors.
Get friends involved
Zapanta asks friends to take and post photos whenever they see Calvin’s name on a street sign or book cover. On Calvin’s birthday, friends of Zapanta and her husband made scrapbook pages. “We don’t have his first steps or first words, but we have the people who care about us and care about him,” Zapanta says.
Start a foundation or fundraiser
Tracey Deitzler lost her daughter, Kali, when she was 9 weeks old. She was born ten weeks premature with multiple birth defects. Deitzler honors her daughter’s life with a fundraiser called For the Love of Kali. The money raised goes to various organizations that have helped Tracey and her family, and to the funeral home that provided their services for free.
Send a message
Duenas and Kawecki’s daughter Lucy was born at 3:38 p.m. For the first year after she died, Kawecki sent Duenas a text message at 3:38 every day they were apart. “It would say, ‘I miss you,’ ‘I miss her,’ or just the word ‘love.’ Some days he sent a picture of the name ‘Lucy’ he’d seen out and about during his day,” says Duenas.
“Even now, I know that at 3:38, he’s looking at a clock,” Duenas adds. “And sometimes he still sends a text.”
Other ways parents remember and honor babies
- Holding a memorial service or gathering – large or small – at a place of worship, in a park, or at home
- Writing poetry or a story, published or unpublished
- Creating art for themselves or to share
- Creating music or a playlist
- Making a collage or memory box
- Planting a tree
- Releasing butterflies
- Putting statuary in a garden
- Etching the baby’s name on a stone and placing it outside
- Engraving the baby’s name on a brass plate and displaying it
- Wearing jewelry that contains a keepsake, like a lock of their baby’s hair
- Lighting a candle
- Celebrating Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15
- Putting up a picture in a dedicated space
- Making a donation to a charity in their child’s name
- Donating a book or some children’s clothing to a children’s charity in their community
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah L. Davis
Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies,by Alan D. Wolfelt
The M.I.S.S. Foundation
Crisis support and long-term aid for families after the death of a child
Information and counseling services for grieving families
Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope
A place for women to share their experience of losing their baby, with photographs to illustrate that miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss affect women from all walks of life
An Internet community for people dealing with grief, death, and major loss
More than 600 chapters that assist bereaved families and a variety of written and video resources
The Dougy Center
Support for children, teens, and their families grieving a death
Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support
Serves those whose lives are touched by the death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life
Bereaved Parents of the USA
Self-help group that offers support, understanding, compassion, and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings
A Place to Remember
Resources for those who have been touched by a crisis in pregnancy or the death of a baby
Grieve Out Loud
Support and resources for pregnancy and infant loss, including a pen-pal program that connects moms, dads, and grandparents who have lost babies to others with similar experiences
How to deal with grief over losing a pregnancy
It’s normal to feel shock, grief, depression, guilt, anger, and a sense of failure and vulnerability when you lose a pregnancy.
The days, weeks, and even months following a loss can be incredibly difficult and painful – even more so if this wasn’t your first pregnancy loss, or if you carefully planned this pregnancy and thought you’d done everything “right.” Or you may simply feel withdrawn and moody and unable to concentrate or sleep.
If you told people you were pregnant, you’ll probably worry about announcing this news and you may find even the most sincere expressions of sympathy difficult to take
A few things to keep in mind as you work through this troubled time:
Understand that it’s not your fault. Pregnancy loss or complications can strike anyone. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about what’s happened and how it’s affecting you. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief. Accept your feelings as they are and don’t judge yourself or your partner for how you respond.
Give yourself time to heal. Don’t pressure yourself to get past the sadness quickly. Your healing will be more complete if you deal with your grief as it comes. You may find yourself reliving the pain, especially around your due date or other milestones. Over time, things will change and you’ll feel better.
Take time off from work. Even if you feel physically fine, taking some time away from your job may be helpful. You need a chance to process what’s happened, and taking a break from your regular routine will help you acknowledge and accept all that you’re going through.
Don’t expect your partner to grieve in the same way. If your partner doesn’t seem to be affected by the loss as deeply as you are, understand that everyone grieves differently. Share your feelings and your needs with your partner but give each other the freedom to experience the loss in your own way.
If your partner is a man, know that men and women grieve differently. While women tend to express their feelings and look for support from others, men tend to hold their feelings inside and deal with loss on their own. Men often feel they need to take care of their partners by remaining strong. So don’t misread his stoicism as not caring about you or your loss, and don’t judge yourself for not coping as well as he does.
Don’t close yourself off from others. Although it may seem painful to talk about, sharing your story allows you to feel less alone and helps you heal. You may be surprised by how many of your co-workers, cousins, neighbors, and friends have their own stories of loss and healing. And you may find understanding and support from unexpected people – which can help make up for the fact that some people you expected to understand don’t seem to get how much you’re hurting.
Someone who hasn’t gone through what you’re going through really can’t know what it’s like. Most people want to say something comforting but don’t know what to say. Try not to take it personally if they say the wrong thing or nothing at all.
How to break the news to others
Of course, you may not be ready to talk about it for a while. If your loss came after you announced your pregnancy, you may be in for painful confrontations with well-meaning friends and relatives who want to know how the baby is doing. One way to avoid this is to have a close friend spread the word about your loss and let everyone know you’re not ready to talk about it.
If you’ve announced your pregnancy on a social media site, you may want to post again, explaining that you’ve had a loss.
If you’re wondering how to explain a pregnancy loss to your child, read about how to talk to your preschooler about pregnancy loss.
Where to get support
Visit the BabyCenter Community for comfort, advice, and understanding from others who have gone or are going through a loss:
Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Infant Loss Support group
Miscarriage Support group
Recurrent Pregnancy Loss group
For in-person help, ask your doctor or midwife about pregnancy-loss support groups near you.
It may take a while to find one that suits you, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t like the first one you try. Find out in advance about the people in the group to see if you’ll fit in. (Have most of them had early or late miscarriages? Is it a group coping primarily with stillbirths?)
You may also want to look for a professional counselor to help you grapple with the difficult emotions you’re experiencing right now and, ultimately, to come to terms with your grief.
What your child knows – and needs to know
If you or someone close to your family has just lost or terminated a pregnancy, you may be wondering what to tell your child.
Regardless of whether your child knew about the pregnancy, he’ll likely pick up on the fact that something’s wrong. Even if he doesn’t ask why you’re unhappy, your behavior affects him, so it’s important to acknowledge it. What you say depends on your child’s age and temperament, but no matter what, make sure he understands he’s not responsible for anything that has happened.
What to do if your child didn’t know about the pregnancy
If your child is a preschooler and you hadn’t yet told him about the pregnancy, don’t feel compelled to tell him now. Explain that you’re feeling sad right now, but it has nothing to do with him. Reassure him that you love him and that you’ll be all right again. Give him plenty of hugs to demonstrate that your bond is still strong.
With a grade-schooler, you’ll need to take several things into account before deciding whether it makes sense to tell him about it now. On the one hand, he may not be emotionally mature enough to understand what happened, and the news may just be confusing and upsetting. On the other hand, he may be confused and upset if he knows you’re sad, but you don’t tell him why.
If you decide not to tell him what happened, it’s still important to acknowledge your grief. And be sure to give him the same reassurance you would give to a younger child.
What to do if your child did know about the pregnancy
Let her know what happened as soon as you can. She’ll realize that something has changed, but she may not have any idea what it was or how to ask about it.
“Suddenly, the grown-ups who were anticipating the arrival of a baby are sad and depressed, and the excited preparation for a baby has come to a halt,” says Michelle Barratt, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas.
But explanations can be tricky. Young children have a limited understanding of pregnancy and death, says Barratt. It can be difficult for them to comprehend the loss of a baby they’ve never seen.
Once you break the news to your child, she may not know how to react. She may mimic your behavior, regress, act out, have sleep disturbances, or become clingy, fearful, or distant. All of these reactions are normal.
Your child’s reaction may also seem alarmingly self-centered. She might react to the news by asking whether she’ll still get to go to the playground or to the movies with Grandma, who was arriving to take care of her after the baby’s birth. Or she might begin whining that she was supposed to get a big-girl bed when the baby came. For a young child, such responses are to be expected.
“Remember that children are generally egocentric and the question for them is, ‘What does this mean for me?'” says Barratt. Young children mostly want to know, “How is my world changed by what’s happening? Am I still safe and loved?”
It’s also possible that your child will show little or no reaction and even appear indifferent to others’ sadness. The reality is that for some children, the concept of losing a pregnancy may be too abstract to grasp or too confusing and scary to discuss. Respect your child’s reaction and don’t pressure her to talk about it if she doesn’t want to.
How to begin talking to your child about pregnancy loss
Keep it simple. Most children only need to know the basic facts – the baby won’t be born and that’s why you’re so sad. Unless your child presses for more information and you believe he’s mature enough to handle it, there’s no need to offer a detailed explanation about a miscarriage, terminated pregnancy, or stillborn baby.
Don’t hide your grief. “It’s a valuable lesson for children to learn that it’s okay to express emotions, even difficult ones,” says Susan Lipkins, a psychologist in Port Washington, New York. What’s essential, she says, is maintaining open communication with your child so he can ask any questions he has.
Be honest. Understandably, death is a tough topic to discuss with a young child. (For more on this topic, see our piece on how to talk to your child about death.) Parents often want to protect their child from this difficult reality. But he’ll be even more frightened and confused if you don’t tell him – in the simplest terms – why the baby is gone.
Be careful with language. Be as clear and concrete as possible. Euphemisms and vague language can confuse and scare young children, who can be very literal. If you say, “The baby fell asleep and will never wake up,” your child may develop fears about being alone or falling asleep. Similarly, saying, “We lost the baby” could lead him to worry that you’ll lose him, too.
Address your child’s ambivalence. Although most children will never articulate this, many engage in a form of magical thinking. If your child was ambivalent about the arrival of a sibling (as many children are), he may harbor guilt that he somehow helped bring on the pregnancy loss. Reassure him that no one caused this to happen.
Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that it’s okay for him to ask questions about what happened. Children often spin fantasies about things they don’t understand. Once you find out what he’s thinking, you can clarify his understanding and reassure him.
Be prepared to repeat your explanations. Very young children will often ask the same questions over and over again to make sure they understand clearly what happened. Although it can be painful to answer difficult questions repeatedly, do your best to be patient and answer consistently and calmly.
Don’t expect your child to understand how you feel. If your child reacts to a pregnancy loss in a way that seems selfish or heartless, know that his behavior is probably appropriate for his age. He doesn’t have the life experience or cognitive ability to understand loss and death the way an adult does. He may think, “This affects you, but it affects me more!”
For that reason, don’t admonish him if he seems mostly focused on himself. Ultimately, being empathetic yourself – and accepting whatever feelings he has – is the best way to help him learn empathy.
Ways to support your child – and yourself
Make your child feel safe, secure, and loved. When unpredictable events like pregnancy loss happen, and the dependable adults in her life are behaving in unexpected ways, your child needs reassurance that she is safe and loved. Also, she may interpret your sadness as rejection. In the midst of your grief, try to remind her how much you love her.
Keep schedules and promises if possible. While a grieving period may be what you need now, young children do best when they have a sense of normalcy and a predictable routine. Try to maintain your child’s usual schedule for meals, school, activities, and sleep. If you promised her certain perks following the arrival of the baby (a big-girl bed or a different room, for example), follow through with those promises if you can.
Talk with other caretakers. Tell your child’s teachers, family members, and sitters about the situation, and let them know how you’d like them to answer her questions about the pregnancy loss.
Help your child by helping yourself. If you’re having trouble coping with a pregnancy loss, your depression may make it difficult for you to care for your child. “Being stoic doesn’t necessarily help your child,” says Lipkins, who urges depressed parents to seek professional help sooner rather than later. “Children learn from what we do,” she says. “We can use these situations to teach them how to cope.”
You could tell your child, “I’m very sad. I’m going to talk to a person who will help me feel better.” Also, enlist a family member, friend, or sitter to spend some carefree time with your child while you take time to care for yourself – whether that’s sharing your experience online with other women, spending time with trusted friends and family, exercising, or finding another healthy coping method that feels right to you.
Answers to common questions about pregnancy loss
Be truthful and concise: “You know that I was pregnant and you were going to have a baby brother or sister. Something happened and the baby died, so we’re not going to have that baby.”
Unless your child asks, you don’t need to go into an explanation about death right now. You can simply say, “You might not understand, but I’m going to be sad for a while. If I’m crying, it’s because I’m thinking about the baby.”
If your child has had some experience with death – perhaps a grandparent or a family pet has died – he may have some understanding of death. If he has more questions, answer them simply and honestly.
“When are you going to stop being sad?”
Again, be honest. Since you don’t know when you’ll stop openly grieving, it’s important not to make promises you can’t keep. But it’s also important to let your child know that you won’t be crying so much forever. Barratt recommends saying something like, “I don’t know. Right now, I’m sad. I’ll probably be a little less sad each day. I still love you and your hugs so much, but right now I need to be sad.”
“What happened to the baby?”
Even grown-ups don’t always know why a baby died. So honesty, in simple terms, is the best policy. It may be enough to say, “We don’t know what happened. Sometimes people get pregnant and have a nice healthy baby like you were when you were born. But sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we hoped, and the baby isn’t born.”
Or you might want to explain the loss within the framework of your family’s cultural or religious beliefs. “God (or ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘Mama’s body’) wants babies to be healthy and happy when they are born. Sometimes there is a problem, and the baby is not healthy enough to be born.”
“Will this happen to me?”
Your child may be concerned that something bad will happen to him as well. Answer with firm reassurance: “No, this definitely won’t happen to you. You were already born. You came out fine, and you are healthy.”
“Is this my fault?”
It’s unlikely a young child would speak about this fear, but it’s still important to address it. You can say to your child, “It’s nobody’s fault this happened. It’s not your fault. It’s not Mommy’s fault. It’s not Daddy’s fault. It’s just something very sad that happened.” Always end by validating the child: “And we’re so glad we have you.”
If your child does come out and ask if the loss is his fault, it may not help to blindly reassure him, says Barratt. Respond with a question instead, so you can get to the heart of his worries. “What do you think you could have done that would have caused it?”
Your child may say, for example, that after he yelled at you, the baby died. You can tell him, “When you yell at somebody, that’s not a good choice, but that’s not what made the baby die. It had nothing to do with what you or anybody did.”
If your child is feeling guilty because he was ambivalent about having a sibling, you can explain that everyone has good and bad thoughts, but thoughts and wishes don’t make things happen and had nothing to do with the baby dying.
“Do you still love me?”
It’s also unlikely your child will ask this question directly, but it’s essential to remind him that he is healthy and has a loving family: “We may be sad now, but we are still a happy and healthy family. We are together, and we love one another.”
Additional experts who contributed to this article: Kenneth J. Doka, professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of the College of New Rochelle, and Gerald P. Koocher, dean of the College of Science and Health at DePaul University.