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  • Writer's picturethesepreciouslittlepeople

Baby Loss Awareness: Children Grieve Too

Updated: Aug 7, 2021


Although the tide seems to be turning, and each year since my daughter Esme died back in 2013 I have seen more and more awareness raised for bereaved parents who are dealing with the death of their babies, I am yet to see much written about or from the perspective of children affected by this type of bereavement - siblings, cousins, family friends. Perhaps it's for very good reason - parents respecting the right of their children not to have their pain potentially discussed and analysed by strangers over the internet, and maybe even judged or ridiculed by those who have no empathy or compassion. Quite possibly the grief is more complex and difficult to unpick anyway considering the relationship was only just starting to develop, if at all. But having watched George Shelley's very brave and personal account of the grief he has experienced since his beloved sister Harriet died last year I feel even more strongly that now is as good a time as any to start opening up conversations for our "forgotten mourners"; the children around us who are affected by the death of our precious little people.


When we suffered the unexplained stillbirth of my first baby, my daughter Esme, my older sister Hannah had a son aged nearly 3 and a half, and a 10 month old daughter. I had no idea how to cope with my own devastation, let alone explain death to a child, so I had little capacity to support her in that task beyond passing on advice that I read. I have been so proud of the way that she has chosen to be so open and honest with them and supportive to us even in the depths of her own grief. The fact that my nephew and niece know about her, visit Esme's grave with us, and speak about her so positively, means so much to me.


"When I found out the devastating news that my sister Frankie had lost her child so close to her due date, I was obviously extremely upset. I cried a lot in the subsequent days mourning my niece, worrying about my sister and brother-in-law Mark and how they would cope. I was very concerned that my son would be upset or worried seeing me in such a state. I wanted to explain to him what had happened so he could understand our grief and also be aware of what had happened to his baby cousin Esme. My sister had thoughtfully sent us links on the Sands website about explaining the loss of a baby to a child. I read through these to get help and ideas of the language to use.


I explained that I was very sad because Aunty Frankie's baby had died. We did not know anything had been wrong with the baby so doctors had not been able to help. Her little girl had died and we were going to bury her in a woodland under a lovely acorn tree. I told him that Frankie and Mark were also very upset and lots of people would be crying, but that it's ok to be sad. My sister gave us Michael Rosen's 'Sad Book' which we read to both my children. We are not religious so when my son asked me where Esme was I told him she was in the woodland but we like to think she comes to visit us when we see ladybirds, rainbows or dragonflies.

Esme's cousins enjoying a visit from her as a ladybird on a boat trip along the Thames

My sister shared with us things that remind her of Esme, for example the Chris Malinchak song, 'So Good To Me', which was played at her funeral. In the video a little girl plays hide and seek with a giraffe and we watch the video together. It makes me feel sad but also very happy and close to Esme. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is a lovely story which was read at Esme's funeral and is great way to explain death to young children. When a huge beautiful dragonfly flew into our kitchen one day we all got so excited saying Esme had come to say hello.


My daughter has had it explained to her similarly and has understood more as she has got older. We all often talk about Esme and any questions my children have about her we answer honestly. They have been to the woodland several times to visit her grave and we often enjoy a lovely play in the woods whilst we are there. They have never seemed scared or worried about what happened to Esme, they just accept the situation. It is nice that they talk fondly about their cousin and just accept that she is not here with us. Obviously I wish she could be here playing with them, but she is still very much part of our family."

A ladybird that my nephew drew in memory of his cousin Esme

 

Kerry and Mark were excitedly expecting their first baby together this time last year with a due date of spring 2018. Mark's daughter from a previous relationship, Lois, was just 6 years old when they had to break the news in February that the baby had died.

Lois kissing Kerry's beautiful baby bump, Christmas 2017

"When we heard the news that our baby had died I remember one of the first sentences I tried to say to my partner Mark between the devastated sobs was, “How are we going to tell Lois our baby has died?" Lois was absolutely over the moon we were expecting her (half) baby brother or sister. Lois had promised she would help us look after ‘Bump’ or ‘BabyBell’ as we called our baby and I know she really would have. It was agreed that we would tell Lois what had happened to her baby brother or sister with her mum and her mum's partner also present too for support for us all. We went the next day and breaking her heart definitely shattered mine some more.; I still feel so much guilt for that. We told her that the baby had died in my tummy and we explained that I would be going into hospital the following day to have baby. We would know if she was a little girl or boy but they wouldn’t be coming home with us. 


The following days and weeks after losing Florence were tough on us, but just as much on Lois. We were open with her as much as we could be and explained it was ok to cry, or not to cry, and feel a million emotions, but we personally all felt it best to protect her from the funeral. We took Lois a few days after Flo died to pick her own special teddy - a teddy that she could cuddle whenever she needed to. She picked a beautiful soft cuddly cat and when we asked her if the cat had a name she just looked straight at us and said, "Yes, Florence of course”. For a little girl who isn’t really into dolls or teddies Florence the Cat is super special to her and the one we find her playing with, making beds and swings for in her den under her bed, and I think it’s her way of playing with her little sister. 


We also got a Memory Box for Lois from Jaxon's Gift and Lois treasures it. It’s in her bedroom and she has added her own special bits in she has made for Flo since. Lois’s school were supportive and gave her a notebook that she could keep in her drawer and she was allowed to write or draw in it at anytime she needed. Lois brought it home once and wanted me to read it. Reading the words SAD and ANGRY repeatedly written on a page broke my heart. When I asked her why she had felt that on that day she said, “Because everyone else has a brother or sister but Florence died and I felt angry.” It broke my heart some more but I was so glad she was able to express all her emotions and not bottle them up. I said I felt anger too sometimes and also wrote things down when I did. Her school also arranged some counselling sessions with a therapy dog and I hope these helped in the early months. 

Sisterly love at the seaside, summer 2018

Florence has been spoken about so openly about since she died but I feel we are now at a point where Lois understands we can talk about her with smiles too instead of just tears. We write Florence’s name, Lois blows kisses into the sky a lot off her own back, which is lovely, and we talk about her. Lois loves seeing feathers and picks them up but sometimes says that she's going to send this one back and throws it into the air for Flo. One day upon picking Lois up from school she showed me a note she had written on a tiny piece of paper and I was told to open it up. I felt all the love from the best big sister when I read the words ‘Florence, I’ll always be your sister’ - yes, you will Lois, always."


 

Kamie-Jane's 12 year old daughter Ella has very courageously agreed to share some of what she has been through since her sisters Hope and Lottie died due to tragic medical complications during both of their pregnancies.

Ella is Kamie-Jane's 'sunshine baby' (child born before a loss)

"When mum lost Hope nanny brought me to the hospital to see mum. She sat me down and told me. I knew something was wrong because mum had been at the hospital so long. I didn't really feel able to speak to anyone about the way I felt. I spoke to my primary school teacher until school and mum sorted a counsellor. I felt quite alone as no other person at school was going through the same thing. My mum talking to me and the little bit of counselling I got from school has helped support me. I moved schools and found a friend who had also lost a baby brother so I had someone who understands.


To remember Hope and Lottie we set a balloon off for them, put gifts on their graves, especially at Easter and Christmas time, and we have their names on our Christmas tree. My youngest sister Orla got given a handmade picture for her Christening with all of us in it (each of us are a button person) - it’s in my bedroom and Hope and Lottie are also included. It brings me comfort that we are all together in the picture. We also have a shrine cabinet with her photo in and other things. I gave Hope one of my comfort blankets that had a bear on it. Lottie also had one and we have a matching one for that too.

What I would like the world to know about how losing Hope and Lottie has affected me is that this can happen to anyone - I spread awareness when I was at primary school about baby loss. But truthfully I don’t really know how it’s affected me; I feel like I’m ok but it’s scared me seeing what mum's gone through."


 

Rupal's second pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of her precious son Aryan earlier this year when her daughter was just 2 years old.

Ami remembering her brother at the beach, summer 2018

"My husband and I decided not to have our daughter come to the hospital to meet Aryan, a decision we still aren’t sure was right or wrong. When we got home from the hospital, she was sad and wept with us... and then she got angry. I suppose being just 2 years old makes it very difficult when the baby you were promised disappears, your parents are unrecognisable grieving wrecks, and the house is constantly filled with adults you don’t see every day.


She started hitting us, especially me, whenever I cried, but just generally out of frustration. She also started to hit other children at nursery when they cried. But one day, it stopped, and she started to talk about her brother every day. One morning in particular broke my heart. Ami found my Aryan Bear in his blanket and insisted she brought him into my bed for snuggles. She treated the bear with such love and reverence, doing ‘pat pat’ to help him sleep, putting his hat on and off again, adjusting his blankets and telling him not to cry... and calling him Aryan. 

I asked her how she feels about Aryan. She said simply that she was sad. When I asked her to tell me more, she explained, "I’m sad because I want Aryan to come home." This little girl could express her grief to me so articulately, which meant a huge amount.

Ami with 'Aryan Bear'

She is now asking us daily for a new baby. Recently she asked if she could have a baby Aryan brother or Aryan sister. I said we needed to ask Jesus for one. She asked, "Will He give us Aryan back?" I said no, Aryan is being looked after in heaven, we can't look after him now. She then asked, "Will He give us a baby that can STAY?" I said we just had to pray for that to happen and she threw everything down, got onto her knees, screwed up her eyes to close them and clasped her hands together. She prayed fervently; I couldn’t even make out all the words but it was a pure and perfect prayer that filled my heart but broke it too. To see the desperation on her face, and to hear it, broke my heart as her mother, that I could not give her what she wants so badly - her baby brother, Aryan.

The only we can go forward as a family is to keep talking, being as honest as we can, and allowing our daughter the space she needs to talk about and grieve for her brother Aryan."


 

Perhaps some of these stories from the families that have been generous enough to share them will resonate with you. My hope is that others might feel more able to be open about how children can be affected by baby loss. I hope us all talking about this more will help bereaved families feel less alone in their grief, especially those of us supporting those even more vulnerable through the complicated and difficult emotions they are dealing with.


I have written before about why I think it's so important for us to accept that children have a right to remember precious little people within their families who have died and to grieve along with us if they need to. You can read more about how to talk to children about death and find further support here and here: https://www.everplans.com/articles/children-and-grief-how-to-help-a-grieving-child. If you are reading this as a grieving sibling or other young family member you might find this article helpful: https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-of-a-sibling/; there is also information and further links to support available on the Support Links page of this site.


You can read more on why I feel the book I have written for children affected by the death of a baby is a much-needed addition to the genre of children’s books that deal with bereavement here, and order a copy here.



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