Much of what I write about has to do with getting through a pregnancy after a loss. Whenever any member of our community brings a healthy baby home we celebrate. But the PAL journey doesn’t end there. Pregnancy after loss then becomes parenting after loss. I have heard from many of my clients that the loss deeply affects their parenting, often in ways they could not have predicted.
What happens when your rainbow grows up? What happens when she becomes old enough to spend a night away from home or asks you to show her how to cook scrambled eggs? What happens when she can understand a situation like a pregnancy loss? For me, it means that she’s growing up but it also means that I am farther away from that terrible time in my first pregnancy that ended after we terminated for Trisomy 13 mosaicism.
My rainbow asks a lot of questions. These are not the incessant “why” questions of a 2 or 3 year old but complicated, thoughtful questions that have caught me off-guard. Her questions about G-d, the universe, the origin of life, and death have always surprised me (and always seem to happen at bedtime). At age 5, she and I had many difficult and tearful conversations about our dog’s death two years earlier. At that point in time, her reaction to this guided my decision to not tell her about the pregnancy loss.
There are many decision points in parenting after loss. One issue that many baby loss parents struggle with is how, when, and what to say to living children about the loss. Often, one conversation is not sufficient. When deciding when and what to tell a child, parents consider the age of the child, his or her cognitive capacity to understand, and his or her emotional development or maturity. When a baby dies under difficult or complicated circumstances, a parent may not wish to share all the details with a young child who might end up feeling scared or confused.
Many parents, in order to honor the baby who died choose to talk about the baby immediately in age-appropriate language. The baby is viewed as part of the family and the death as part of the family narrative. In this manner, there is no big revelation or moment when a living child learns a family secret.
At age 7, she learned about pregnancy loss, in general. At that time, she was starting to grasp more about my work as a therapist who helps others through perinatal losses. I told her that not all babies make it to term for a variety of medical reasons. She seemed to get it. Then, a few months ago at age 8 ½, I did tell her that “it happened to us.” We had been talking about babies and pregnancy and she expressed the mistaken belief that pregnancy losses were not very common. So I took that opportunity to educate her about how common pregnancy loss is. I didn’t mention to her what I consider to be the most essential part of our loss, the terrible, heartbreaking decision we had to make. I think that it’s a very nuanced situation and I didn’t feel that I could risk telling her at this point in time. I worried that she would not understand the complexity of it and decided to wait.
But that day will come when she will be able to understand our decision and I will need to be ready for it. Never in a million years did I think I’d be having a conversation like this with my child. Parenting after loss comes after pregnancy after loss, and for us this has meant waiting until the right time to share this information with her.
Many people choose to weave their losses into their family narrative from the beginning. There is no right or wrong. So far, our approach has worked well for our family, but other approaches are better for other families. If you have successfully navigated this aspect of parenting after loss, what has worked for you?