Pregnancy after loss brings up so many emotions for parents. While someone who’s never experienced loss might focus only on excitement, joy, and hope, those who know the pain of losing a baby often deal with fear, anxiety, and worry from the moment they get a positive pregnancy test.
When you have living children, that adds another dimension to navigating pregnancy after loss. Sometimes it’s hard to discuss a new pregnancy with youngsters even if they have no experience with loss. But when your children have lost a sibling, it can be even more difficult to know how and when to talk to them about a new pregnancy.
One thing’s for sure: There is no standard answer for how to talk to living children about being pregnant after a previous loss. With so many variables — ages, personalities, family dynamics — parents’ decisions on how to approach this ongoing conversation will be unique. However, we want to offer some tips that we think might help.
Communicate Openly and Honestly
One of your first questions might be, “When is the right time to tell my living children about this pregnancy?” Again, there’s not a clear answer that’s right for every family, but consider your living children’s ages and personalities. The younger the child, the more difficult it will be for them to understand how long gestation lasts, even if they remember your previous pregnancy that ended with loss. Plus, it’s often hard for young children to understand there’s a baby inside you when they can’t physically see it.
As children get older, they will be able to comprehend that the baby is living in your belly, but, like you, they may have fear and anxiety about losing another sibling. A nine-month wait can be hard on some children, so you might hold off on sharing your pregnancy news until the second trimester if you can.
No matter when you tell your living children about the pregnancy, open lines of communication are crucial. Keep your discussions age-appropriate, but always be honest. You might say something like, “Mommy is pregnant again. The baby and I are doing well, and we hope the baby will be born healthy this time.”
Of course, children may ask questions. Hearing, “Will this baby die, too?” will be difficult to hear. However, the key to answering questions is to listen carefully and identify exactly what the child is asking, even if they repeat the same questions. Sometimes, as parents, we get ahead of the conversation and take the discussion in the wrong direction. Of course, you can never guarantee the new baby will make it to full gestation or live after birth, but try to reassure your children what you know right now — that the baby is growing, and you have a healthcare team checking on you and the baby often.
Validate All Emotions
Just like you as the parent probably have mixed feelings about your pregnancy after loss, your living children are likely experiencing a range of emotions, too. Explain to your children that your grief still is present, and it’s OK if they also feel sadness.
Definitely let your children know that all emotions are valid, and feelings can change every minute, hour, or day. It’s OK to be excited or to worry, so normalize whatever emotions are popping up. Explain that you may cry, and crying is a normal response for them, too. Remind your child that they can always share what they are feeling with you.
You might say something like, “This baby does not replace the one we lost. You can love this baby and feel joy, while still feeling sad that your sibling died. The baby who died will always be part of the family.”
These hurtful feelings are tough, but try to help your children understand that big feelings should not be feared. This establishes a family culture where everyone can talk openly about their emotions.
It’s common for loss parents to experience a lot of anxiety before prenatal appointments and ultrasounds, so it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to take living children with you to these visits. (That’s typically not allowed during the pandemic anyway.) But, after your appointments when you are excited about good news, definitely share updates with your living children. If you have an ultrasound photo, show it to your kids and explain what’s in the image.
Here are a few other ways to update your children on the baby growing inside your body.
- Let them feel the baby move and kick.
- Take them shopping — or do online shopping — for diapers, clothes, and other baby items.
- Encourage them to call the new baby name if you’ve chosen one or to use nicknames if not.
- Read books about pregnancy and babies.
Remind your children that you are taking this pregnancy one day at a time. If they express concern about the baby, tell them that right now, at this moment, the baby is healthy. Finally, let them know that, no matter what happens, you will continue to take care of them and that you’ll always be there for them.