During the pregnancy after loss journey, there is a lot of focus on what the pregnancy experience is like (and for good reason). This experience is often compared to the experience of the previous loss pregnancy, which can bring up both anxiety and comfort. Thoughts about making it past the “loss milestone” can dominate the pregnancy, and this milestone seems impossibly difficult with full-term or nearly full-term stillbirths. For some, passing the loss milestone brings comfort, as it marks new territory in pregnancy. For others, knowing of the variety of ways that loss can occur sets up individuals with fears of loss in new ways.

Given this predominant narrative during pregnancy, little, if any, is thought about what life will be like with a living child. A loss mom often feels a sense of responsibility to be two kinds of mothers: a mother to a child in arms, and one to a child in her heart. This requires two different kinds of parenting “maps” which are very individualized. There is no absolute “right” way to parent either kind of child (despite what the plethora of parenting books might suggest). Initial considerations begin with your home. What reminders or memorials might exist of the baby that has died? Perhaps there are pictures, stuffed animals or other mementos that are displayed in your living space. Not everyone chooses to have memorial objects, or they might not be out in the open. All of the above is fine. It starts to bring some awareness to how you are already parenting, and what role the baby that you lost will continue to play in the family.

For some families, it is a very uncomfortable thought to continue to talk about or remember a pregnancy loss when a living child arrives. Often times, I hear this from men that they want to focus on what they have in front of them, rather than what isn’t to be. This can bring a couple at odds in that their parenting philosophy of the child in their heart isn’t the same. This loss (or for some, series of losses) creates the context in which the anticipated living child will enter the family. If it was a loss that was experienced by one member of the couple as meaningful, then it will be important to have conversations about how to share this context with the anticipated child.

Certainly, having a child that enters into a family already with a context can potentially be a burden on both the parents as well as the child. Parents might feel like they stop remembering their baby that died in order to focus on the needs of their living baby. As children grow, and depending on how the context is presented, children might feel a responsibility to live up to a standard that is impossible: to live a life for two—themselves as well as the sibling that died. Both parents and child might wrestle with the reality that if the baby before hadn’t died, this child most likely wouldn’t exist. While this thought can be comforting, it can also make someone not feel as wanted. When talking about a child’s context, it is important to toe the line between the shared history and story of their birth as well as what makes this particular child so loved.

As with any type of parenting, there aren’t strict rules about how to go about creating a comfortable context. Most books suggest a parental mindfulness about difficult conversations (especially ones between parents) to occur outside of the earshot of a child. Even when you think a child isn’t listening, many times, they are more tuned in then we give them credit for.

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