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Talking to my daughter about miscarriage

Nicola reflects on how hard it was to tell their daughter that their baby had died.

The trauma of having to go home and tell our 5 year old daughter our baby hadn't survived was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

“Is my baby sister dead?”

Words said by my then 5 year old daughter Scarlett Rose.

I’ll never forget what my husband and I went through in that room that day, the 1st of May 2015 will forever be etched into our minds. The trauma of experiencing something so painful is something I will never forget, but the trauma of having to go home and tell our 5 year old daughter our baby hadn’t survived was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

After leaving hospital we waited until the next day. Scarlett had stayed at my parents oblivious to what had happened. My husband and I were up all night wondering how on earth we were going to tell her, questioning what would be the least distressing for us and the least upsetting for her. What terminology would our 5 year old explicitly understand, but that wasn’t too sharp?  The message had to be clear but I wanted it to be sensitive.  It felt odd knowing that we were going to cause pain to our child but it was something we had to do, our baby was no more. We also questioned was it best to tell Scarlett our baby was a girl, as up until this point she didn’t know.

Given no advice from the hospital apart from “Just tell her the truth, children are very resilient,” I took to Google and found the Miscarriage Association website plus others and we came across what we thought was the best option. The next morning we sat down in the conservatory, just me, my husband and our daughter.

Fighting through our own grief we calmly explained to Scarlett that when mummies are pregnant it’s like they’re growing a seed. Like when we planted a sunflower seed earlier on that year, we watered it and the sun gave it light. All the conditions have to be right, but sometimes even when you do all that the seed doesn’t always grow into a big flower because somewhere something is happening maybe under the soil that you don’t know about, and that’s the same for babies in mummy’s tummies. That means that sometimes the flower doesn’t grow like it should and that’s the same for babies.

We continued to explain that in our case our baby a little girl hadn’t been able to grow and that this meant we won’t get to meet our baby, that’s when the line came….

“Is my baby sister dead?”

I felt a lump in my throat, her eyes filled up and she began to cry, my husband’s eyes filled up and my heart started to thump in my chest. I was trying to be strong but I couldn’t, I cried and in that moment we just sat there hugging our daughter.

She asked questions and we tried to answer them. She pointed at my tummy and asked “well if she’s not in there where is she?” We told her she was asleep now and the nurses were looking after her. She then said “will she go to heaven?” and I said “of course”.

She went on to say that she was so upset as she was really excited to be a big sister and that she was looking forward to seeing her. “Do you think she would have looked like me?”  Another lump in throat moment.

She then said “I don’t even know what she was called” to which I replied “I do….we’ve named her Rose.”  “My middle name” she said with a smile.

We asked again if she understood what we had said and she said “yes mummy I do. Are you ok?  You’re crying”.  Her care for me in that moment was sweet and innocent.  She then got up of her own accord and went to play.

We stayed close to her and didn’t push for her to talk. Me and my husband sat there numb and exhausted , but there was a slight relief that we had got through the last half hour and that it hadn’t gone as ‘bad’ as expected, maybe children are really resilient after all, but that was only the beginning………

“I have a baby sister named Rose but she’s dead, isn’t she mummy.”

Words said by Scarlett to a woman holding a newborn in the middle of a full cafe area at Ashton swimming baths.

In the days and weeks that followed, Scarlett would often bring up Rose, and cry. We never once told her not to cry or to stop talking about how she felt. I needed to know what was going on in her little brain, how she was feeling and answer any questions she had even if it meant putting myself through pain in order to answer them. It was Important to me that she was able to speak about it without thinking she shouldn’t. She said a few times “I best not talk about it because I don’t want to upset mummy.”

Even though I wanted to be open with Scarlett, some of the things she would say would be so matter of fact, and some I just wasn’t prepared for and I struggled to say the right things in response.  For example, she made the announcement she was going to call her baby born doll Rose. In the end she swapped it by her own choice.

One time I was called into school to be informed Scarlett had been telling a group of friends her baby had died and she was dead in the ground. This had upset other children. The teacher had intervened in the conversation and spoke with Scarlett sensitively.

Another time walking down the aisle in Asda she spotted the baby aisle and said “oopppsss we don’t need that aisle do we mummy”.

The hardest one was at her swimming lesson one night.  We were waiting in the cafe for her class to start and it was standing room only. Next to us was a young girl with a tiny baby.  Scarlett asked the girl what the baby was called, she then went on to say “I’ve got a baby sister named Rose but she’s dead isn’t she mummy”.  She looked at me and so did everyone around us. The girl holding the baby clearly felt awkward and I couldn’t help but want the ground to swallow me up. My heart was thumping, I had a lump in my throat. I got Scarlett’s hand and softly said “yes darling but it’s not always appropriate to talk about”.  I found myself saying sorry to the lady with the baby and walking off to the changing rooms.

I held it together while Scarlett got in the pool, then I went in a cubicle and cried for the whole half hour lesson. Not one of the parents ever asked how I was or approached me afterwards. We ended up leaving swimming lessons shortly after. That night I found Scarlett crying in her bedroom holding the white teddy she had bought for the baby from Mothercare following our first scan. I felt I’d caused that pain after what had happened at the swimming baths and I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Another emotion to add into an already full mix!

In light of some of the things Scarlett had said and the places she had said them, me and my husband decided to sit down with her to speak about appropriateness. The time and place etc..  I was still experiencing great sadness and grief and I’ll be honest, each time Scarlett said what she did it caused me unintentional pain. We stressed to Scarlett this didn’t mean she couldn’t speak about how she was feeling because me and her daddy cared deeply about that.

As the months went on Scarlett’s mention of Rose became less and less.  This, I was always told, was a good thing but subconsciously I couldn’t help think, is it because she feels she can’t talk about her or how she is feeling?  I then argued with myself – do I bring Rose up with her or does that open wounds? My head was baffled. What complicated things, was I didn’t want to talk about Rose, so these things happening were really hard for me. I struggle even now.  It’s just not something I’m comfortable with unless it’s for a specific purpose.

We decided to keep from Scarlett the fact Rose was to be cremated, with only me and my husband in attendance. We just didn’t feel it was necessary and to this day I’m glad we made that decision. We scattered her ashes in the Lake District at the spot where my husband proposed to me, again choosing to go alone while Scarlett had fun with my parents.

Over 3 years on I look back and feel the message of children are resilient and ‘they easily forget’ shouldn’t be solely relied upon.  I think it’s taken for granted.  Scarlett showed resilience in those first few weeks leading me to think she was ok, but months later the events above happened sporadically, showing that what had happened was still very much in her mind.

After seeking advice I was able help Scarlett process better. Scarlett is now thriving and enjoys being a big sister to her little brother Rex, our rainbow baby born 2016. Although I don’t really speak of Rose through personal choice, we remember what we went through and have a single pressed rose in the front room along with a small rose candle holder. It helps as a talking point for Scarlett and a reminder to us all that she existed.

#KeepTalking #babylossawerness #BLAW2018


Nicola Taylor, 15 October 2018


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