Talking with Toddlers About a Miscarriage
How to explain the loss of a pregnancy to young children
Miscarriage is a painful experience for any parent, and it’s unfortunately extremely common. About one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, so you’re not alone in your grief.
While you are healing both emotionally and physically, your toddler will be sensitive to your (and the whole family’s) grieving process. You should be the one to decide if it is important to talk with your toddler about the miscarriage; your decision will depend on how far along you were in your pregnancy, whether you had announced to your child that he or she would have a sibling, your child’s own cognitive abilities, and what your family’s values are. While there is no one right answer to how to support your little one, here are a few ideas to provide reassurance, if you so choose.
What They Understand
Toddlers are sensitive to changes in routine and the emotional changes in the caregivers around them. Your child will understand that something is wrong but will not know what. He may think that you are sick and so might feel confused and fearful, particularly if he had to spend time away from you if you were in the hospital. If you talked with your toddler about being pregnant, he will have understood the major ideas about a baby coming to live with him, but likely is confused about the idea of pregnancy and will not fully understand the concept that you are now not pregnant.
Between 12 and 24 months, your child is egocentric and may be concerned that he is the cause of your sadness. Therefore, he also might be fearful of losing your love and affection. Your job, then, along with your partner or other family members, is to assure your child that your feelings for him are as strong as ever, even if your emotions suggest otherwise.
What to Say
If your toddler did not know about the pregnancy, it may not be necessary to talk with him about the miscarriage. The information may make him confused and fearful, since he can’t fully understand the concept but can sense its gravity.
If you did share with your toddler that you were pregnant and that he could expect a brother or sister, you can provide a simple explanation: “Mommy is very sad because the baby that was growing in my belly couldn’t grow any more. The baby was very sick. Nobody made the baby stop growing.”
For all toddlers, regardless of whether they knew about the pregnancy, you should reiterate, “Mommy is very sad and doesn’t feel well, but I love you very much.”
What to Do
Feel free to grieve and recuperate in front of your child. You don’t need to hide your emotions or pretend you’re not hurting; your toddler can sense changes in the emotional climate (this starts as early as his 27th week). Reassure your toddler that it is not because of him that you are sad.
But keep this in mind: Toddlers can become overwhelmed by very strong emotions, so you may consider getting extra support and finding time when you can grieve openly without your toddler present.
Enlist day-to-day help. Following a miscarriage, both your body and your emotions need some healing time, so have a close relative or friend help with the caregiving of your toddler as needed. When people say, “If there’s anything I can do …” take them up on it: Delivering a couple of days’ worth of lunches, transferring your child to daycare, or taking him to the playground for even an hour are all simple deeds that might lighten your load. And while the helper’s relationship with your toddler isn’t of the same caliber as the one you have with him, caregiving from an adult your toddler knows well will be comforting—to both of you.
Try to maintain routines. It is likely that they will temporarily be thrown off, but as soon as possible (and with the help of others), try to get your child’s routine back to normal. Letting your toddler know that his needs will be met can soothe any frazzled nerves during this time.
Reach out to your support system. Talk with those close to you about your experience. Think about ways you would find it helpful to express your grief. Consider support groups or counseling, or join online chat boards to talk with other women going through similar experiences.
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