Sometimes we forget about this group of people who equally need support and attention following the death of an unborn child.
However, their reactions are largely dependent on the age of the child. The way a teenager handles grief following the death of the unborn child is not comparable to the way a preschooler would. This equally applies to what you will tell them. A teenager probably knows how to handle their emotions compared to a preschooler. Be very cautious how you break the news, and ensure you do it in a way that they understand and don’t blame themselves for what happened.
Perhaps because they may not have known about the pregnancy or maybe they knew. But one thing for sure, they will feel that things are not okay. They may be unable to ask why you are sad, or why you are behaving in a certain way.
How do you break the news to a child who had not yet known that they were expecting a new family member?
Well, preschoolers top this list because of their age, where they don’t know much about certain things in life. They might not have probably noticed the pregnancy, so it is not the best time for them to be told. But they will still feel your sadness, so it is best at this point to give assurance that they are not the reason behind it, that you are going through a rough patch but things will be better, and they are still loved.
Explain to them that there are moments in life when we feel pain just as there are happy moments too. Demonstrate your love through hugs and kisses, and being there to answer their questions as they trickle in.
Handling a grade school kid experiencing grief following the death of their unborn sibling is on another level. They may have noticed your sadness and failure to explain why may upset or confuse them. Telling them again might result in this upset or confusing state because they are not yet fully mature to understand what is going on.
Telling them that you are grieving is important, plus the true reason why or simply that you are indeed sad, at least to kill their curiosity. But finish up with the reassurance that it ain’t their fault, they are still loved, and it is a period and an emotion normal to live, which will come to an end.
Teenagers are much conversant with life and death. They might have probably noticed that the joy which was there in awaiting the arrival of a newborn has suddenly been replaced by a sombre mood. It is better to openly talk to or admit your grief to them, following the death of their unborn sibling.
They will require support in handling their emotions and reactions too, even though they are grown too. They are mini adults, and not only will they notice your sadness, but will also be willing to contribute to making things better.
What if your child already knew a new family member is coming?
It is important to share with them immediately this loss is experienced. If you don’t, they are likely to wonder what is happening to cause such sadness around them.
The preschoolers and some grade-schoolers may have difficulty understanding the death of a baby whom they have not actually seen.
Children will react differently to the news of the death of their unborn sibling. Some of the common reactions are listed below:
Regression- the death of an unborn sibling is likely to cause regression for some children out of shock or as a natural way of responding to this stressful situation. This can be observed in their progress in classwork, a favourite sports activity or even their behavioural display.
Acting out- this is a mechanism used by children to display their dissatisfaction, with hopes that it draws your attention and makes them centre the centre of your actions. It happens even when there is sadness in the family and they feel you have pulled away from them hence the need to draw you close back.
Disruption of their sleeping patterns- this will also happen to children as they try to process the death of their unborn children. There are some who will even ask you to be with them until they fall asleep, and others who will experience nightmares during sleep out of imagining what death is all about.
Becoming clingy- a kid is likely to portray this sort of behaviour out of the resulting fear or simply because they do not want to see you sad, hoping that their sticking by your side will make things better. It could also be because they don’t understand what is going on other than you not being happy and so they want to feel your love for them.
Being fearful- at this point, they are likely to imagine and picture death as a monster, who is very powerful and took away their sibling even when under the care of their strongest protector, their mother. They might find difficulty falling asleep, or would rather share rooms with you until they are able to get back to normal. In their eyes, anything that is able to pull down their parents should be quite gruesome.
Distancing themselves- sometimes children pull off as they try to understand exactly what is going on around them. They also tend to think that they owe some form of protection to their siblings which they failed to achieve leading to the whole turn of events.
Being self-centred- as a result of the death of the unborn child, a child is likely to imagine that the things you used to do together with them, or the things you were to do once the baby arrives are going to cease. Perhaps they were meant to vacate the baby cot and acquire a new bigger bed, and so they will start demanding that they still get the new bed since it is not their fault or as a result of not grasping what is going on.
Failure to react to the news- some children will simply display no reaction out of fear to discuss what is going on or because of not understanding the gravity of the situation. Some will display minimal reactions while others do not even become sad, all of which need to be respected either way.
Imitating your reactions- have not developed their own mechanism for reacting to different scenarios, or lack of understanding what you are doing, the children are likely to imitate your behaviour with belief that it is how they are expected to behave after seeing you, and doing otherwise may mean they are not feeling the situation.
How to hold a talk with your child about the loss of an unborn child
Simplicity is key. A child probably only needs to know the basic fact that the baby is no longer going to be there, as the reason why you are now sad. They may not be able to digest complex details like the cause of the baby’s death be it stillbirth, miscarriage, or any other cause of the unborn baby’s death. Only provide the basic details unless they ask for more, and are grown enough to digest more details.
A child needs to understand the various aspects of life, and what better way to learn than through observing you who is close to them. Cry if you may, they will ask, and explain to them why you are crying, why we are happy at times, and that both are equally healthy. It is okay to be strong for them, but it is not okay to suppress your emotions. Let them know that there will be situations in life that can break even the strongest, and it is not a weakness to admit to such events.
Honesty is a virtue. Remember your child is growing. Not telling them the truth will come biting someday. Or maybe they have already heard about the death in school and you are here trying to sugar coat things which only adds to their confusion. Explain to them the reality of the situations in as simple terms as possible, but be honest.
Careful choice of words. Sometimes people tend to use such phrases as the baby has gone into a deep slumber, from which they will not wake up- sounds polite enough, but also likely to create fear of sleep in your child on the other hand, besides being false. A term like you losing a baby is likely to give him fear that there is a possibility o even him being lost someday.
Be as simple and as clear as it can get.
Talking about guilt. Most children become imaginative about the coming of a sibling. A sudden disruption to this makes them feel like they somehow contributed to the loss too by not acting or behaving appropriately. There is an uphill task here- of giving affirmative assurance that it was not their fault nor yours too and that both of you did the best you could even though this had to happen the way it did.
Well, as we both know, children take time to grasp complex mechanism s like the death of an unborn child. For that matter, they will always pop up questions regarding this whenever anything strikes their minds. Be ready to listen and answer even way after when you think the picture is clear in their minds.
Children also have a tendency of repeatedly asking about the same thing, until they clearly understand what it is, be ready for the same with the death of an unborn child. It might be irritating having to answer the same question over and over and again, exercise patience and consistency as they try to grasp what is going on.
Your child vs you.
It is not likely that your child will understand what you feel, they will instead tend to focus on what they themselves feel, don’t be hard on them for that. They are still too young to understand death and its effects on grown-ups, so they will only think that it’s them only who matters, and whose feelings ought to be respected.
How to support your child following the death of an unborn baby
Assure them of their safety, security, and your love- anything unusual will shake their security and make them feel they are less loved. This is the first thing that you need to address to help them cope.
Talking to others in your child’s environment- it is important to let others, like teachers, babysitters, and family members, how you wish for them to answer your kid’s questions about the death of the unborn child.
Adhering to your routines and promises. Remember the children need assurance that they are still loved in the same measure, and what better to do it than honour your promises and try to let them go on with their routine activities. It will help in walking the talk.
Taking care of them. The pregnancy loss may incapacitate you to properly take care of your children, like deny you a chance to spend quality time with them because you are in pain, disable you from cooking and cleaning them up, it is, therefore, better to request a close relative or friend to help you ensure that nothing is left to chance where the kids are of concern.
Where you notice that the child is displaying extreme behaviours, you can enrol them for professional counselling for them to be assisted in coping with the death of their unborn sibling. Let them know it is okay to talk to someone other than you regarding how they feel, and that it doesn’t mean they are any less loved.