I love surprises. My boys know it, and they enjoy being surprised. It was so much fun to share with our friends and family that we were expecting again! This is our pregnancy announcement from November. I adore it! We had fun telling the boys what it meant. Manasseh, our 4 year old was super excited about being a big brother again. He really wants a little sister named Annie. (Even if he has a little sister some day, her name will not be Annie).
How do you tell a 4 year old that the baby he is so excited about welcoming will not be coming after all? I'll admit, I had shed a lot of tears. It took a few days to come to a place we could share with the boys that we would not be having a baby. When we did tell him, he was crushed. He snuggled in my arms and cried with me. "But I wanted a baby," he told me. I cried too. "Why did the doctors say we can't have it?" I asked the same questions, only in more complex ways. I love the simplicity, the clear thinking that my children bring.
So how do you talk to the older sibling about losing a baby? How do you keep that sibling from fearing that he'll be lost as well? In our case, Manasseh already struggled with issues of loss, how can you help them through it?
1. Be Honest - Kids thrive on truth. They want to understand the world around them. They want to make sense of this reality just as much as we do. Truth is really hard sometimes, it's hard to get the words out of our mouths. Our kids learn honesty from us. They respect us when we show them how to be true.
2. Use Ideas They Can Handle - My 4 year old is not ready to handle the mechanics of why a woman's body might not be able to carry a baby to term. He is, however, ready to know that sometimes baby's die. Know your child's ability to handle information. Keep it simple. If you aren't sure how much she can handle, give her a little bit if she seems ready and asks for more, fill in more detail.
3. Express Emotions - Truth? I have a really hard time expressing emotions in front of people - especially negative emotions. My kids need to see that I do have emotions and they will learn from me how they should handle their own emotions. "I am sad because..." is an excellent start to showing emotions.
4. Allow Self-Expression - Make sure your child knows it's okay for him to have feelings. Give him space to grieve with you. You have lost a baby, he has lost a sibling. He may be just as grieved, upset, and depressed as you are. If he is not great at expression, help him draw pictures about feelings, paint, or find another creative way to express feelings.
5. Be Patient - Know that you are likely on edge emotionally, hormonally, spiritually, phsyically. Some days every little thing your child does may be frustrating. Know she does not want to upset you. She is struggling too. Practice patience. Go to another room and take a deep breath before dealing with a frustration. Think about what might be causing her behavior.
6. Call on Friends - It's okay to ask for help. Your child needs some special attention right now too. Friends and family can be a great source of comfort for your child and a stress relief for everyone. Set up a play date or two that will allow you to have time alone and your child to get special attention.
7. Address Fear of Loss - When Manasseh is feeling insecure, he starts asking questions about our former foster sons. He often recounts when the puppy ran away (over 2 years ago), he talks about the cat that died. Those are cues to me that he is concerned about being left. He's a sensitive guy. We regularly have to reassure him that he will stay with us and we will continue to protect him.
8. Pray With Your Child - Take time to pray and thank God for your family. Name each person by name. Thank God for your pregnancy and pray that God keep your baby safe while it waits for you to join it some day in Heaven.
9. Give the Baby a Name - Naming the baby helps (me) with grief. I know this was a baby, I can remember the baby and talk about it. My boys can know that they won't be forgotten either. If the baby that we never met has a name and stays in our hearts, they certainly always will. (Our lost babies are Shalom and Selah).
10. Join a Support Group - This can be an especially good idea with older children. My boys are young enough that they are able to be open with us and ask honest questions. Some children are more comfortable talking to other children or adults outside of the family. If your child is really struggling with their loss, ask your doctor or school counselor about a support group.