Helpingyourchildgrieve

Day 5: Helping Your Child Grieve

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month! This week leading up to October 15th, I am partnering with fellow loss mama and writer, Liz Mannegren, to help create discussion and raise awareness about this vitally important topic.

This Motherhood Story Day 5: How have you helped your child grieve the loss of his or her sibling(s)? If you have not yet entered this emotional space, what wishes do you have to help your child grieve the loss of his or her sibling(s)?

One aspect of pregnancy loss that I never considered was having to help my eldest through the loss of her siblings. M. was only two at the time of the first miscarriage. We wanted to wait until after the first ultrasound to confirm that everything was healthy with the pregnancy before announcing the news to our two-year-old. It was at that ultrasound that my life began to spiral. Everything was not healthy. There was no heartbeat for the baby I had carried for ten weeks. What do I tell my toddler now?

My husband and I contemplated whether or not we should tell M. at all. It would really make no difference to her if she learned of the miscarriage or not. She didn’t know the baby existed. We could protect her and just keep the news to ourselves, except she saw her parents falling apart. My spirit was crushed. I felt like I was lying to my daughter, withholding such an important piece of our family. My husband and I agreed that if an opportunity presented itself, we would tell her.

For a two-year-old, she had some mind-blowing intuition (she still has this gift today). M. definitely knew something was not right. One night she asked about heaven and I knew that this was the moment I was given to share about the baby. I told her, “Mommy has something to tell you. Mommy had a baby in my tummy, but the baby had to go to heaven. We won’t get to see the baby. The baby went to be with Jesus.” Without another thought, she started her long list of questions: What’s his name? What’s he doing? Does he have toys?

I knew she didn’t fully understand, but she accepted the loss matter of factly. Little did I know I’d have to have the same conversation with my daughter just seven months later. Again, she saw the devastation I entered. M. was then a three-year-old who had gained more empathy. She sat and cried with me, the quaking of my body against hers. My tears were silent and gut wrenching, while hers were an audible wail. We clung to each other.

M. is now five and has experienced much more grief than children her age. Her anxiety grew and she became hyper aware of where I was, particularly if I had to go to the bathroom. Separation anxiety also increased. We sought out support from our doctors who introduced the concept of play therapy. I had been seeing a counsellor to process my own grief. It would only make sense for us to provide our daughter with the same opportunity.

Children use play to process what is happening in their lives. This is often why we see a child play the same thing over, and over again. The repetitive nature indicates their processing, whether it be developmental, emotional, or situational.

One of M’s doctor suggested writing a social story. The ECE in me quickly thought, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?” The mother in me was so very hesitant. I’d have to enter that grief and sit in it long enough to write the story of the miscarriages for M. The doctor’s instructions were also to include “Mommy is now safe” be written in the story to help calm M’s anxieties.

You can easily create a social story on a piece of paper, divided into sections and use quick sketches to tell the story. I knew I wanted to create a photobook. This would be a story M. could pull off the bookshelf anytime she felt grief and wanted to talk about the babies. I decided to use actual photos of our family, our home, and of the hospital. It took me a long time to solidify the story due to the emotions I had to experience in writing it. M. pulls the book off the shelf every few weeks, and we read the story of our family. The book not only helps us all process grief, it holds the space where our entire family exists together.

Other things that we have done to help M. process the loss of her siblings:
1) We named the babies. We talk about them by name, and we say brother and sister.
2) We celebrate the babies’ birthdays (what would’ve been their due dates). M. has a great time choosing their birthday cakes, singing happy birthday, and blowing out the candles for them.
3) We try to hold space for her grief whenever she brings up the babies. The timing is not always convenient, but I try to allow her to talk about the babies and let her curiosity lead.
4) Read books about grief and loss.
5) We use real descriptions of what happened. With the miscarriages, I told my preschooler that the babies didn’t have a heartbeat and died in my womb. The babies bodies weren’t strong enough to live on earth.
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) We use visuals when we can. It is hard for children to understand death, as it is an abstract concept. Picture books, pictures of the babies if you have these available, or sharing a keepsake may help. We have a small toy for each of the babies that is displayed on the bookshelf in our livingroom. Taking your living child to visit their sibling’s grave can also make death more concrete as this experience is visual and tactile.

Sharing the loss of the babies with my eldest daughter was, and remains one the most difficult aspect of my grief. I try to keep all explanations age appropriate for her. How have you helped your living children process the grief of sibling who has died? Feel free to leave a comment to share with others, or send me a private message and I can post your comment anonymously if you like.


Each day, we will be tackling a new journal prompt about grief and life after loss, and we encourage you to join us! Use the #thismotherhoodstory hashtag to share your journal prompts and help us build meaningful conversations about the reality of pregnancy loss! We don’t want you to miss out on any of these posts, so be sure to follow along on my Facebook and Instagram AND on Liz’s Facebook and Instagram.

Catch up on the rest of the series:
Day 1: A Letter to Your Angel Baby
Day 2: Pregnancy After Loss
Day 3: Postpartum Depression
Day 4: Grief, Faith, and the Psalms

child grief

Each day, we will be tackling a new journal prompt about grief and life after loss, and we encourage you to join us! Use the #thismotherhoodstory hashtag to share your journal prompts and help us build meaningful conversations about the reality of pregnancy loss! We don’t want you to miss out on any of these posts, so be sure to follow along on my Facebook and Instagram AND on Liz’s Facebook and Instagram.

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