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Explaining Pregnancy Loss to your Children
by Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD
QUESTION: We have two sons, ages five and seven, who have been very excited over the planned pregnancy of a new sibling. The younger one is always kissing my tummy and wondering when the baby is going to come out. The worst has happened. I lost the baby at 14 weeks. I don't know how to tell them, but I need to, in order to help me with my own grief. Please help.

ANSWER: Your instincts about needing to tell your sons what has happened are correct. Your grief will cause you to retreat, if you are not openly expressing your sadness. And your sons are likely to take your emotional withdrawal personally if they do not understand it.

Gather your family together and tell your sons that the baby has died. They will naturally have questions. Be ready to answer these as truthfully as possible. While there is no need to tell them more detail than what they ask, be willing to address their questions about what went wrong honestly. If the placenta stopped working, or there was a problem with the baby's health, let them know that. If you do not know, tell them you are not sure.

Explain that sometimes nature miscarries for reasons that are unknown. For example, you may plant tomatoes and not all of them come up. But mostly they do! If you have a spiritual philosophy or religious orientation to create a meaningful context for this experience do not hesitate to verbalize this, too.

Consider crying together, as a sign of health and honoring the life of 14 weeks that you shared together. Talk about the loss as much as your children want. They will likely work themselves through their sadness by speaking to you about it over the next month. Telling the story of what happened provides a means of recovery for adults as well as children.

You and your husband may also wish to have a ritual for saying "good-bye," which may involve the children, too. Planting a tree, shrub or flowers in honor of your lost baby may also be helpful.

When you are ready, let your children know that you plan on getting pregnant again, though you don't know how soon it will be. Show them your willingness and courage to open up to life again, despite your loss.

Copyright 1996-2001. Gayle Peterson. All rights reserved. Used with permission

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She practices in Berkeley, California and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, and Making Healthy Families as well as the audiotape Body Centered Hypnosis for Pregnancy, Bonding and Childbirth. She also writes a family column on the world wide web for ParentsPlace.com and igrandparents, and hosts a new, live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on ivillage internet radio, answering questions on family relationships and parenting, every Friday at 10:00 AM. Information on her work can be viewed at: www.askdrgayle.com. Gayle is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother.

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