I want to finish my post from last week by sharing some specific things that helped our preschool age daughter after my first miscarriage. I’m not a professional when it comes to helping families deal with grief, but I’ll share from my experiences as a parent.
- Daniel and I made sure our own emotional and physical needs were met. It’s like the analogy (overused as it may be) of securing one’s own oxygen mask on an airplane before being able to properly help others. If I needed physical rest during the recovery, I took it. Trying to help my daughter from a place of physical exhaustion or pain would have been no help to either of us. It might have caused more damage. If we needed some time alone, we asked for help looking after our daughter from friends we trusted with her emotional well being. If we needed to talk with someone or simply be with friends for a while, we did it. Feeling heard and loved gave us the emotional strength to be there for our daughter.
- We didn’t ignore what happened. Kids notice more than we think. They sense the emotional climate of their home. They notice when something is different even when we don’t talk about it. Miscarriage can affect children deeply, especially when they’re old enough to understand there was a baby, but there is not anymore. Kids notice our sadness and changes in our behavior even if we try to hide them. Because children process things differently than adults and probably need help to understand the situation clearly, it’s better (in my opinion) to address the miscarriage with an age appropriate, truthful explanation of what happened than to hide or ignore it. Avoiding talking about it allows confusion, fear, and insecurity to linger in childrens’ minds.
- We were honest. There were medical problems that caused my miscarriage. That’s what we told our daughter–that there were health problems with the baby the doctors could not fix and Mommy could not fix. That our baby wasn’t with us anymore and would not be born. We explained this directly, but gently, and then listened and gave our daughter the opportunity to ask questions. We tried to give clear, simple answers. If she had to experience loss, we wanted her to deal with the truth so it would help her in the long run. Because sometimes kids can come up with explanations for difficult events that end up being far more damaging than reality ever would have been.
- We tried to temper honesty with sensitivity and wisdom. We didn’t want to put anything on our daughter’s shoulders that a preschooler should not have to handle. Some details about what happens during a miscarriage, things the doctors did to help me, or extreme detail about how her father and I were coping, would have been too much. She needed to know there had been a loss, that her parents were sad, but would be okay, that we loved her, and would continue to take care of her. We communicated that even though this sad thing happened, God taking care of our family and loving us would not change. The fact that our family loves and takes care of each other would not change. She needed to know it was okay to come to us with questions and express feelings in her own way.
- We told her it was no one’s fault. Because that is true. She saw me on bedrest for a long while. She knew all my efforts were for keeping the baby healthy, so we wanted her to be assured that her parents, and especially she, had done nothing to cause the baby to go away. We didn’t overemphasize it, which would not have been helpful, but if we thought she was struggling with feelings of guilt or wondering if her Mom had done something wrong, we addressed it. This was not something our daughter struggled with for a long time, so I do not feel I can say more than this.
- We didn’t force anything. We talked about the miscarriage when she brought it up, when it was obvious she was feeling grief, or when she was struggling to understand something that happened. If she seemed okay or didn’t want to discuss anything, we left it alone.
- We gave it time. We needed time to heal and adjust to what life would be without the baby we were expecting. Our daughter needed this time also. She came to terms with it in her own way, but it didn’t happen overnight. This may seem obvious, but weeks after the event, our daughter still expressed anger and frustration occasionally. She expressed these feelings differently than we did. Disciplining her became tricky when it was obvious that sadness was fueling disobedience. We were also still hurting, so we didn’t always have the grace and patience to feel like dealing with it. We took helping her in turns when we saw the other was struggling. We prayed together often. We asked mentors we trusted, who were experienced parents, for advice and help.
- We were reminded that we cannot prevent disappointment and sadness in our child’s life. We didn’t fail as parents because I miscarried and it made our daughter sad. Some people acted shocked that our child “had to go through something like that”– as though we could have made things happen differently. As though we should have been ashamed “for not being able to shield her.” Surely if the same events had taken place in their families, things would have gone differently because of their “perfect” parenting. But difficult things happen. We can’t shield children from everything in life even if we want to. I am not surprised when bad things happen, because they happen to all of us sometimes. But I know Christ as my source of hope. I’ve learned a little bit about walking through difficult times– that it feels impossible without help and support from relationships with people who have my best interest at heart. Life somehow continues, with God brining good things and genuine people at the right moments. We hopefully have a little more wisdom about living and more kindness for others. I want my daughter to know the same things. I will never purposefully bring adversity to her life, but I want her to have the resources and skills to cope when it happens. If I were able to shield her from everything hurtful I probably would, but then she would not grow and learn.
- Make sure what you say about God is helpful and true. If she asked why God didn’t make our baby better, we didn’t make something up. Because we didn’t know the answer. So we told her we didn’t know, but that we could still trust God’s guidance and love for us even though we didn’t understand. We shared Scriptures with her about the hope of being with Jesus and the comfort God gives to His children when they are sad. If our daughter said she was feeling angry at God for not making the baby better, we didn’t chastise her for saying so. We said sometimes we felt the same way, that God wasn’t mad at us for our feelings, and that He wanted to help us. We didn’t express the full extent of our anger, confusion, and grief in front of our daughter, but when she wanted to know the”why’s” or had questions about God, we tried to answer them honestly. Our intent was to demonstrate that Jesus always invites us to Himself, even in anger and sadness. Of course we never got it perfect, but we agreed together on how we would approach issues of faith when we saw her dealing with them. Again, this was an area where it was helpful to have friends and mentors we trusted if we wanted to talk these parenting issues out.
©2018 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
If you are reading this and you are trying to help children deal with grief and loss, know I am praying for you. I need to take a break from this category for a few weeks, but when I next write about Miscarriage, I will share about Miscarriage & Marriage.
For more of my stories on Motherhood, Miscarriage, and Changing Expectations, read my book, Flying in Labor. It’s set in the beautiful countries & cultures of the Himalayas. Available in Kindle or Paperback.