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Explaining Pregnancy Loss to your Children

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.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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