Recovering from Miscarriage

Dear Sharon,

I had a miscarriage 5 weeks ago. I was 6 months pregnant and our 4-year-old son knew and was excited to be a big brother. Now we are having a difficult time explaining to him what’s happened. Do you have any advice for us? It’s been a difficult time for us all.

Dear Parent,

I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

Many people believe that miscarriages take a relatively small toll on a family but I disagree, especially in the case of a late term miscarriage like you experienced.

I hope you are taking time to grieve and to take good care of yourself and continue to do so for as long as you need. I might be best to assume that your emotional recovery might take longer than you hoped, that is often the case. Making sure you do what is necessary to heal from your loss might help your son more than almost anything else you try.

Many four years olds are beginning to learn about birth, death and other complicated aspects of life. I do not know the details of your particular story but when I have spoken to families sorting through similar circumstances I have given the following general overview:

1. I suggest that they explain to their child that every once in a while some babies who grow inside their Mommy’s don’t grow quite right. Sometimes parents I know have discussed different kinds of growth by talking about plants that are planted in a garden. Children can often be shown that some plants grow big and strong and others for some reason just don’t seem as healthy. Some seeds also don’t germinate.

2. Parents have also explained that a Mommy’s body is smart and somehow it can tell when the baby is not growing right. It then knows what to do and has a miscarriage.

3. It can be good to tell children that they are not alone with this kind of loss and that lots of families go through miscarriages. Parents might also say that people don’t have to stop planting a garden just because some seeds don’t grow as well as others. They could mention they might have another baby (if they think they will try again) and that this baby will most probably be very strong just like the beautiful plants in the garden and just like their other wonderful, healthy children.

4. It can also be useful for parents to discuss with children (and to remember themselves) that it is OK and can be even a good idea to take time out to be sad. Moms and Dads, other grown ups and children usually get very sad when a baby they were looking forward to meeting doesn’t come. If everyone gets to be sad then when they are done they are likely to feel better and might know more about what they want to do next.

5. I often remind parents that listening to a child’s thoughts and emotions during difficult circumstance is sometimes more important than the words an adult uses in their explanations. At times such as these I usually tell parents to set up lots of one on one time with a child. During this time whenever possible the little one should choose what to do. Parent and child might play games, go to the playground, watch videos together, bake cookies, or have a picnic on the floor, etc. While spending relaxed, fun time together Mon and/or Dad might gently check in; asking for their thoughts about the sibling they never got to meet. Some children might make a sad face, others could say that everything is fine, while another child might share things that are in their head. Whatever a child does or says it is usually wise for the parent to be relaxed and respectful of their response. Times like these can make a big difference for parent and child.

6. I also usually suggest that grieving parents look at the materials available on the Compassionate Friends web site. Compassionate Friends is an organization formed by parents who have lost children. They have meetings that grieving parents can attend in several locations in New York. They also have excellent information for parents who have miscarried and understand the significance of this kind of loss.

I send you and your family all my best wishes and hope 2009 brings much health and happiness to all of you.