Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Girl, 7, knows Mom's pregnant; now miscarriage seems likely
Q: We told our sensitive, 7-year-old daughter about my pregnancy earlier than planned because my morning sickness was bad and she was very worried that I was sick. Unfortunately my pregnancy is most likely not viable, but it is a slow process as we wait for further tests and let nature take its course.
We've explained to our daughter that things are not healthy with the pregnancy and that I am getting good care, but I feel like we are overwhelming her with my grief. While I can explain that miscarriages are common, I am overcome by sadness that the baby inside me is slowly dying.
I feel like I let my daughter down. She was so excited about another baby and now she is trying to take care of me (bringing me glasses of water and reading me stories), which is what I should be doing for her. And since everything is still in progress, I can't really say it's over and we can grieve and move on yet.
How do I survive this and be strong for my kid?
Carolyn: It sounds as if you're doing exactly what she needs: allowing her to be involved, useful, compassionate.
The thing so many of us get wrong about kids (I'm guilty myself) is that we put so much earnest energy into taking care of them and being responsible for them that we forget how badly they need to care for and be responsible for things, too. It's the key to so many things: their sense of purpose and therefore self-worth, their developing social and fine-motor skills, their understanding of family and communal responsibility, their judgment, their resiliency. Really, everything that will equip them to be strong, independent, civic- and family-oriented adults.
Glasses of water and stories are exactly what she's prepared to give you at her age. Praise her compassion, and go out of your way to take care of her when you feel up to it, to balance out the times you don't.
As for helping her understand what's going on — which is so devastating, I'm sorry — I suggest you get a copy of Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (warning: I blubbered when I read it at a similarly sensitive time). It explains nature so beautifully that it explains the science and the pain and the acceptance all in very few words and images — perfect for age 7.
Even though a happy outcome is still possible, consider grief counseling, a safe haven so you don't feel like you're always at your worst when you're home. I hope it will also disabuse you of the notion that it's possible to let anyone down with a terrible stroke of luck.
Anonymous: I have a sensitive daughter around that age, and she's at her very best when she feels like she's doing something vital to help someone she loves, and when someone in her life really needs her.
Please don't beat yourself up. It sounds like you're a wonderful mom who is taking great pains not to make her your confidante in a way that doesn't take her maturity into account. And I hope you get a better outcome than you're expecting.
Carolyn: Beautifully said, thank you.