The death of a baby can have a profound effect on the mental and physical health of parents, children and loved ones. Miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and termination may result in feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, confusion, shock, anger and depression. Whilst some families and individuals may experience some or all of these emotions, others may find themselves feeling nothing at all. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. For both parents and siblings, the potential lack of a definitive cause of death may cause individuals and families to question whether they did/did not do something that may have contributed to the death, whilst also pining for a future that has now been lost.
Although 1 in 4 women experience miscarriage and an estimated 26 million stillbirths occur each year, the death of an unborn child is often not discussed in society. As a result, both adults and children may not fully understand what has happened, or how it can affect the wellbeing of others. Young siblings in particular may not be able to comprehend the permanent nature of death and may continue to ask questions about their brother or sister. This lack of understanding, can cause unintentional additional distress to parents and other family members who are themselves grieving.
Where your baby has a surviving twin, it is thought that they will experience feelings of separation and loss as part of their bereavement. Although not able to verbally express themselves, the effect of the death on parents may be felt by your baby. So it is important that parents do not suppress their feelings for ‘the sake of the children’ and seek help to manage grief. A child’s ability to recognise behavioral and physical changes in their primary caregiver is enhanced between the ages of 6 months and 2 years and may manifest itself in a physical reaction such as increased crying. An older child (2-4 years of age) may be better able to understand and vocalise feelings, but may not understand the irreversible nature of death. For example, they may continue to ask questions about the baby brother/sister despite being informed of the death.
A child in primary school (4-11 years of age) will begin to realise that death is irreversible and that a permanent loss has occurred. It is important to ensure they are given time to talk about their own thoughts and feelings. At this stage of development, children can empathise and show compassion and, like many adults in this situation, siblings may also need permission to grieve.
Siblings are likely to be affected by the death, even if you had a miscarriage or your baby was still born or died just after birth. A child will be helped by being part of your grief as parents/family.
The Grief Encounter helpline, grieftalk can be contacted from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday. The grieftalk helpline number is 0808 802 0111, or you can chat online or even email us now, we are here to listen.