Originally posted October 16, 2017.
Helping Children Cope When the Family Has Infant Loss
A pregnancy loss is a primal, deep loss. And often these parents have young children who were looking forward to having a little brother or little sister. Even in their time of pain, parents need to find ways to answer their surviving children’s questions about death and help them cope with their emotions. Miscarriage is a family event. In my previous article there is some information about how to talk to children about infant death.
Children best express their emotions using right-brain activities like play, drawing and story-telling. Books are a great resource for parents to help their children sort out and express their feelings.
A wonderful book about the sensitive subject of pregnancy loss is We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schweibert. It’s written in plain language and beautifully illustrated. It has the feel of easy poetry, as the emotions are plainly expressed.
This book is about a family who lost their baby. It is written from a child’s voice, the boy in the family who was to be the big brother. He looks to be about 4 years old. He talks very simply about all the members of his family, his mom, dad, and grandparents and how they feel. The family dog accompanies him throughout the story.
In the beginning of the book, the mom is pictured as being in the last trimester of her pregnancy, as her belly is plain to see under her clothing. The whole family is happily awaiting the arrival of their new baby. There are several pictures showing the little boy imagining play scenes with his new sibling.
But then, as he says, something happened. And everyone is sad. The nursery is empty. And he is sad as well. There are pictures of how Mom, Dad and the grandparents are coping with their grief: cuddling a baby blanket, building a memory chest. At the end, he says, if this happened to you, I’m sorry, If you got an angel instead of a baby. But he thinks a baby would’ve been more fun. And the family is shown walking together, grieving and helping each other together. Life goes on.
This story is a great way to begin talking and listening to your child about losing a baby. It is a great staring point about how the different ways people mourn, about what each person hoped for with the baby and how this is now lost. The book helps children identify their hopes and dreams of being a big brother or sister and lets them express these feelings.
There are drawings of the baby as an angel throughout the book. As children can be very literal, it would be a good idea to ask the child what he or she thinks about angels and make sure it is not scaring them at some level.
This is a beautifully written and illustrated book expressing complex deep emotions in a very simple straightforward way. It is perfect to read to children. The emotions are expressed so beautifully that its message is comforting to adults as well. I know I cry every time I read it.
Schweibert, P. (2003). We were gonna have a baby, but we had an angel instead. Portland, Oregon: Grief Watch.
Trozzi, M. (1999). Talking with children about loss. New York: Perigree Books.