Pregnancy loss – how to explain it to a toddler?

acornd
Mark had this lovely acorn journal cover made for me.

“Who is Oscar? Is that his house? Can I play with Oscar?”

Usually when Freya asks a question I don’t have an answer to, which happens quite a lot these days, I turn to my good friend Google for help – all the while pretending I know, really, but it’s educational for her to help me look it up.

Those three questions, though, the first two fired from her car seat as we were driving along, left me struggling to find the right words to explain. When they never came, I knew this was the one time I probably couldn’t even turn to Google for help.

“Who is Oscar?”

Maybe it’s because I’m desperate to say the right thing. To make sure that I can tell her who he is, or was, or nearly was without frightening her or making her worry, which she has a tendency to do.

I could have said: “Oscar was your big brother but he was poorly and died” but then I’d probably need to explain death and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want that to touch her. At two and three quarters it feels like her world should be full of light and colour not tinged with darkness.

Not yet.

Not now, when it doesn’t really need to be.

So I stayed silent.

My silence led to guilt.

Firstly for not answering her when I promised myself that I would always respond to her questions. And secondly because not talking about him felt like a betrayal of his memory and of what we went through.

Because I was only 13 weeks pregnant, trying to work out my own feelings at the time – in the face views such as it was “one of those things” and “not like a real baby” – was something of a minefield.

It took time and counselling to eventually come to some sort of understanding.

And my understanding is that he was my first, much wanted, baby and not only did I not want to simply forget him, having seen him, I wasn’t able to.

Which is why we were going to the Woodland Burial Ground that day.

“Is that his house?”

We had just pulled into the car park and she could see the meeting hall, a peaceful building with panoramic views over the woodland, where funerals and memorials are held.

“No, darling,” was as much as I could manage this time.

She has been to the woodland before, starting from when she was a tiny baby, but this was really the first time she had questioned her surroundings.

We walked together, holding hands, with Freya gripping the flowers we brought so tightly that I was worried she might crush them.

The woodland is dotted with beautifully carved memorial markers including Tinkerbell, various animals and flowers as well as the odd (tasteful) tribute to that person’s favourite football team. She was pointing out ones she liked and asking what some other ones were, which meant a reprieve from the more difficult questions – although not for long.

“Can I play with Oscar?”

This was the one that caused the lump in my throat.

When I visited on my own at Christmas I spent some time sitting near the baby memorial having a think. It’s such a peaceful place and while there are never very many people about it always feels safe, even on a gloomy December afternoon.

As I walked back down the hill, I could see a man in amongst the markers in the children’s section and I wondered what he was doing. As I got closer, I could hear. He was reading a storybook hunkered down next to a little grave.

Oh my heart, it broke for him in that instant.

So as not to disturb him I quietly walked the other way and went home. Freya’s question reminded me of him.

We can’t play with them or see them and I know Oscar isn’t really there, or anywhere, anymore but it comforts me to visit – just as I am sure it comforted that dad to read his story.

If everything had gone to plan, our boy would have been celebrating his fourth birthday on April 30. As you’re not allowed to leave anything that’s not natural, it feels right to take him some bright flowers.

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What to say?

When Freya was a baby I had no trouble mentioning him. “Look, Freya, Oscar has sent us a rainbow,” I would say. But since she started to really understand things – and I was mindful of the fact the that I didn’t know how to explain it – I’ve been more careful about saying his name.

A shame Mark and I hadn’t had this conversation.

That day I told her we were going to take some flowers to a woodland but, while we were in the car, Mark mentioned Oscar, and set the questions off.

Our eyes met in the rear view mirror and I think he was as clueless as I was about how to explain to her.

After laying down the flowers we walked back to the car and went off to get on with our day. She hasn’t mentioned him since but I’m left with a feeling of not having done right by either of them.

I do mean to talk to her about Oscar and what happened – I don’t want it to seem like some dark family secret – but when she can understand things a little better.

That evening, just before she went to bed, I happened to look out of the window. On his birthday Oscar had sent us a double rainbow.

I’m hopeful that means he understands too.

rainbow

Does anyone have any experience of this? Am I doing the right thing in waiting?

Little Hearts, Big Love
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34 thoughts on “Pregnancy loss – how to explain it to a toddler?

  1. A really poignant post, and I wouldn’t know how to explain either, and totally understand why you don’t want to talk about death to Freya yet whilst she still has that wonderful and beautiful, innocent view of the world. There’s plenty of time in the future for that conversation!
    A friends little boy asked me innocently why my baby had died, and I surprised myself when I answered him straight away, I just said I didn’t know, sometimes things happen that we don’t know why they happen, but I missed her a lot and always think about her. It seemed to do the trick and it felt much easier than when talking to adults about Robyn.
    I’m sure Oscar understands completely and what a beautiful gift for him to send! x

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    1. Thanks, Mands. That must have been tough but you sound like you gave a good, honest answer. I think Freya if asks again I might have a go at a gentle explanation but otherwise I’ll wait till she’s a bit older.

      Lovely to see you in the blogosphere again too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tara, Your blog made me remember my own experience even though it was long ago. I had a miscarriage at 9 weeks but it was an terrible shock and made me extra specially protective of the 2 babes who came after (both OK). Grace would have been 17 now – I still think of who she might have become even though I know in my heart it was not meant to be. I never told the children about her for the same reasons as yours. Now I think they’re old enough (they’re a boy 14 and a girl 11) I just don’t know how to bring it up. I think it’s just something I have to keep inside but if I was able, I think I would say “You were not the first – there was another baby, who was poorly and so did not live long enough to be born – and you are so precious to me”. I hope you find the words and peace.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can imagine it would be really hard to bring up with your children out of the blue. I’m not even sure how you’d start the conversation but I’m sad you have to keep Grace, who was obviously very important to you, inside.
      We are lucky in that we have the woodland burial so I’m hopeful in the future that we will be able to introduce it via a visit to the memorial. Hopefully there will be a right time (maybe for you too).

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  3. Tara, my heart broke for you reading this and I am so, so sorry for the loss of Oscar. Those must have been incredibly difficult questions to hear from Freya, so innocently asked and in all honesty, I wouldn’t have known how to answer them either. We often visit friends of mine who lost their only child a couple of years ago – the man reading the story made me think of them as that’s what they do nearly every evening at bedtime. My friends gave Jessica their daughter’s dolls-house because they knew she would love and treasure it – we refer to it as Amelia’s house but Jessica has yet to ask questions about Amelia. One day I have no doubt she will and I know they won’t be easy questions to answer either. Good luck for you with helping to answer Freya’s questions about her brother and I can understand why you want to wait a little longer before having to explain. Sending a virtual hug your way and thank you for sharing with #ftmob x

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    1. Thank you, Louise. It was heartbreaking to see that man at the woodland but I guess, just like your friends, reading to their lost child brings comfort and a connection. How lovely that they gave Jessica Amelia’s dolls house. I imagine they knew it would be well cared for and loved.

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  4. My daughter died of cancer at 21 and now we’re raising her son (my grandson). He was 15 months when she died. He can’t remember Becky. But he knows he had a mummy before Nana & Pops looked after him (he chooses to call us mummy & daddy sometimes too since he began school) and he knows that she died. We told him simply. She died and that was sad because when people have died their body stops working and they can’t talk to us or be with us. He has always been told and has ever known anything other than the truth. It makes it easier because there is no shock, no hiding, no explanation needed. It just is – it just was. These moments of questioning are hard though – and I feel so sad that you too feel that wave of pain when they ask those innocent questions and the truth tears you up. William is 4 now. Looking at a globe he’s asked if she is in Africa and if we can go to her house? He asked why couldn’t the doctors make her better? He says he is going to have some brothers and sisters one day. We have chickens now, he watches beetles and worms and tadpoles. Sometimes they die and he understands this is just how it is. We look at pictures and sometimes he says he misses his mummy. Me too I say and in a way I am glad that he is able to connect with sadness, that he sees I am sad too. You have been through a terrible sadness – and we at least have pictures and memories -I think its ok to allow yourself to be sad and for your child to see that sadness – our children show an amazing capacity for empathy without sentimentality – and that can sometimes strangely be a comfort.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story and for your wise words. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter, so young. It sounds like your approach to talking about her has been the right one. I have to say I am worried about it becoming a secret and then more of a shock when we do tell her – especially as we visit the woodland quite often. I think the next time we go I will try and give some sort of simple explanation and just see how she goes with it. Thank you again for taking the time to comment, I really do appreciate it.

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  5. Oh, this brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful and honest post. I am so sorry for what you have been through. I had a miscarriage back in 2008 and it never goes away. My children are 6, 4 and 2 now. I will explain it to them one day, but I have no idea how. There’s so much taboo and stigma around miscarriage and baby loss, I feel I need to be honest with my children (I’ve written about it a lot on my blog and for other publications and have always tried to be honest). But I don’t even know where I would find the words to tell them. Thank you for writing so honestly about your experiences. There are a lot of us who appreciate it x

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    1. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve read many of your posts about miscarriage and I’m always so touched. I completely agree with you about the need to talk about it, especially because that stigma still exists. I don’t want to frighten her but at the same time, especially when she’s older, I’d like to talk to her about pregnancy in a more realistic way. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, it means a lot.

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  6. Oh Tara, no one can tell you if you are doing right or wrong as there probably isn’t either, Ultimately you have to do what feels right for Freya and what sits well with you. I am sure that when she is older and more able to understand you’ll be able to explain exactly who Oscar was and you’ll feel a whole lot better in yourself, not feeling like you have to keep someone so special a secret.

    How it must feel to loose a baby, I will never know, but the thought of some one sat by a small grave reading a story really got me.

    Thank you for sharing your story and one day you’ll know when the time is right.

    xx

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    1. He really got to me too, it was heartbreaking. Part of me wanted to go and give him a big hug but I figured he was best left alone. Thanks for commenting (and sharing), much appreciated.

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  7. I didn’t have the chance to read this properly yesterday, but I really wanted to, it is such an important thing, and actually I have on my list of blog posts to write something about how to talk to toddlers about death. I haven’t any experience of pregnancy loss, but my husband’s sister was killed in a car accident 13 years ago and since a young age my girls have been going to visit her grave, looking at her picture etc. They went through a real stage of fascination (not morbidly, just curiously) with death around 3 -4 yrs old and used to talk about it all the time. I can’t say it never worried them but we always offer as much reassurance as we can, and it has passed. I have to say that in my opinion young children can understand more than we often give them credit for as long as we simplify our language and don’t use euphemisms. Now, only last week we were walking to school talking about the different theories of what happens when you die. I would advocate answering any question truthfully. It won’t stop the questions, they will keep coming and be repeated often as they try to make sense of it but it’s the only way to help them understand. And ultimately guiding them through childhood to grow into adults who have a full understanding of the world is my aim. I hope you manage to find a way of talking about it with Freya that feels comfortable with you. Hugs xxx

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    1. Thank you, Alice. I really appreciate hearing your experience. I think next time she brings him up or we visit the woodland I will do my best to explain it to her. That way it doesn’t become some sort of dark secret.

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  8. Most importantly; *hugs*
    Secondly, I love how Oscar is such a recognised member of your family unit – just beautiful. 🙂
    Finally I’m a huge believer (as I suspect you too may be 😉) in the power of books and stories. I’ve heard good things about this one; https://www.amazon.co.uk/Something-Happened-Children-Experienced-Pregnancy/dp/0980198712 maybe worth seeing if the library can get a copy in? It discusses loss in a suitable way for children to process.

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    1. Thank you. Hugs always appreciated 🙂 He really is, I’ve felt that way since we lost him to be honest. I think that’s what makes it harder not talking about him.

      It will sound ridiculous but I never thought there would be a book covering it (I should have known as there are books about everything!). I’m going to order it from the library.

      Hope you’ve having a lovely day. It is freeeezing here.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh bless you. I have no idea whether you’re doing the right thing or not- I think that is your decision to make and yours alone. I think no matter what, your daughter will know that she and Oscar are both loved very much. I’m so sorry for your loss xxxx

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  10. I don’t care how many weeks you are when you lose a pregnancy, from the moment you know that you’re pregnant and want the child then they are your baby and you love them. You imagine the future you’ll have together and grieve for your child when you lose them. We lost my little girl’s identical twin at 19+6 and I’m not sure how I’ll tell her about her sister when she’s old enough to understand. We gave her the name we’d chosen for her sister as a middle name, so the conversation is open for us to have it one day…I hope it goes well for you and Freya the next time she asks about her big brother. I really can imagine how difficult it is for you.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m so very sorry for your loss. What an awful thing to have to go through. It took me a long while to realise it was not only ok to grieve, despite what a lot of people told me, but also that it was necessary to help me heal. How lovely that she has her sister’s name as her middle name. That does sound like an incredibly hard conversation to have. I hope it goes well for you too when the times comes.

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  11. You’re doing the right thing. My mom never told me about my older brother. Who died suddenly when he was about one , before I was born. I’m 30 and had to learn about him through my Godmom and I’m grateful I only came to learn about him recently if at all. It would have been too dark a secret, too heavy a burden, having to be perfect to compensate for the 9 miscarriages and the boy who died
    before me. I wouldn’t have felt free to talk back and make silly mistakes as I grew up and learned how to be an adult.

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  12. To answer your original question about how to explain loss to a toddler. Please don’t. Let her be a child until she’s an adult. Please. Don’t let her become like me. I suffered a lot. On top of what my nom went through, my dad’s cousin had a baby I abdolutely loved. I was three when he died of sids and it made no sense to me. People said people died of old age. But my baby cousin was gone and I missed him and then my mom explained about sids and that sometimes babies die in their cribs when they sleep. As a result, I grudgingly slept four hours a day and had horrible nightmares until I was like ten. I would imagine the worst things and, no matter how much I was told otherwise. I felt I’d die if I fell asleep. Also, I hated babies with a passion, because I never wanted to get attached again, in case they died on me. I didn’t want to have children either, which made impossibly difficult to bomd with my little firefly when she was born. It took me two long years to do so, to understand that it was Ok to love her, that she wouldn’t just die on me. PLEASE try to put your loss in your past and leave it there. Don’t do this to your child. She doesn’t need to go through this nightmare. Let her world be a happy one. Oscar would understand.

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    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I’m so sorry for your losses and I’m really sad being told had such a horrible impact on your childhood. I can completely understand why you would advise against saying anything as a result. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

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      1. I know it’s a terrible thing to read and I’m sorry both for your loss and for bringing this to your attention, but I had to. It was really hard growing up with that on my mind and, as a parent, I know you love your little girl more than anything. I’d hate it if she had to go through something like that. Like you said, she doesn’t need her sunshine muddled with sad thoughts right now. Perhaps when she’s a teenager or an adult she’ll understand better. It doesn’t mean you don’t love Oscar, but you can’t risk putting Freya through the heartache of grieving, of growing up wondering “what if”.
        To be fair, my mother has asperger’s so she is on the blunt side when explaining things, which makes talking about touchy subjects hard. If my lizard died, she’d just tell me straight on that it died and that probably didn’t help. These matters have to be handled carefully.
        Anyway, I trust you know your child better than anyone else and will find the best option for your family’s well being.
        Having my own kid and seeing her survive this far has finally dispelled all those fears, so even if whatever you choose doesn’t work out perfectly, know that it doesn’t have to mark her for life, that children are resilient and they eventually overcome their traumas.

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