You may already have children when you lose a baby, or you could go on to have more children after your loss and one of the issues you can be left with is how much you talk about and include their lost sibling.
Obviously, there aren’t really any rights or wrongs and we can only do what works and feels right for us as a family!
I had two young daughters when my baby son died – they were 6 and 3. They met him briefly when he was born but they watched the bump grow and they were part of the preparation for his arrival. We also had to talk to them about how their brother had died, why he wasn’t coming home from the hospital and why they would never get to see him again. They were confused and upset and we answered their questions as well as we could. The great thing about small kids is that they ask blunt questions and then ask for a biscuit, they never seem to be upset for long.
As parents our strategy was to be as honest as possible and to allow them to talk about him. And we were completely driven by them, even though it was painful for us at times – Jamie was included in stories; a space sometimes had to be left for him at bedtime so he could be with us; he would be included in tea parties; flowers were picked for him; and my kids drew for him. I saw drawing as my eldest child’s therapy – she drew him as she remembered him in intensive care and as an angel. And she cried. At no point did I feel I should have stopped any of this.
We have never wanted our girls to feel that they had to include, mention or even acknowledge Jamie if they didn’t want to, there has never been any pressure but, at the same time, we never wanted to hide him and deny his existence. They have both surprised us with their questions and comments. Sometimes we assumed that our youngest daughter, who was just 3 when her brother died, wouldn’t remember a lot or wouldn’t be as involved but she would mention him when I least expected it and she had taken in a lot more than I realised – she was 2 when I was pregnant and she was with me a lot of the time so she saw me upset, she had to come along to a couple of hospital appointments and she had taken in some of the conversations. It feels right that we gave them the opportunity to talk about him, to not hush or distract them when they mentioned him so they could make some sense of it for themselves.
This was 10 years ago and over the years we have talked about Jamie less although he still gets a mention and his photos are in the house, along with photos of his sisters. How much they talk about their brother is down to them, when it feels appropriate to them they mention him and they tell people they have a brother who died.
When my eldest recently started college she had to write an introductory piece about herself and she wrote that she has 2 siblings. As I looked at her questioningly, she replied with ‘well, I have and I’m not lying’. It filled me so much pride I could have burst. It might seem like a ridiculously simple thing but it means he was here, it means he is remembered in a simple and treasured way by his sister.
All of this might change again as they get older but, at 16 and 13, they still feel connected to their brother, not in an upsetting, grieving way but in a matter of fact, we had a brother way and, as their mother, that feels pretty special.