Friday, May 9, 2014

When to tell a toddler about a pregnancy

I recently had a reader email me with a question about when to share her pregnancy with her toddler.  Since this is a question many women may have, I thought I might expand a bit on my answer and make it into a blog post.  I'd love to hear other thoughts on the matter as well, so please share yours in the comments below!

First of all, if you are reading this because you are pregnant, congratulations!  Each family may share the joyous news of a pregnancy in different ways and I truly believe that there is no one right answer.  This question is, understandably, a little more complicated for women who have previously had a miscarriage or have reason to suspect they have a higher than average risk for miscarriage.  However, the truth is that every woman and every pregnancy may end with the death instead of the birth of a baby, so it's a valid concern for any pregnant woman.
In the past, David and I have told Lucia about our pregnancies as soon as I got the positive test.  We strongly believe this was the right decision for our family and will continue to do the same for future pregnancies.  We liked that she was able to talk to and kiss my tummy and this bond with her siblings from the beginning, something that meant even more after we lost the babies.

Young children are generally very resilient when it comes to loss. They often cope better than adults.  (In part, I think, because they have such a strong connection to the divine.) It's valuable for children to learn about death as a part of life. My role as a parent is not to shield Lucia from tough realities but to help her work through them in age appropriate ways.  Because of the incredible advances and medicine, death is not as much a part of daily life as it once was.  Obviously, that's a good thing, but it also means that we as a society are often ill-prepared to face death when it does occur.  Learning about death at a young age, in a way that is guided by loving parents, will lay a foundation for our children to deal with death in healthy ways later in life. 

We keep the memories of our lost children alive in our family by naming them and talking about them regularly.  It didn't make sense to us to hide the existence of our unborn children from Lucia until we were past the first trimester since we didn't plan to hide their existence even if they had passed. They are members if our family from the beginning and we treat them as such.

I also cannot imagine how I would have explained to Lucia why mommy was so sick and so sad for so long if I couldn't explain about my miscarriages.  Most likely, after you lose a child, you're other children will notice something and I liked being able to be honest with Lucia about what was going on.

All this is not to say that I don't see some benefits of waiting to tell. Because of our history we plan to wait as long as possible before telling others (outside our immediate family) about our next pregnancy - something a loudmouth toddler might spoil.

If you do miscarry, having to break the news to a little one can be extremely painful for you. After both my miscarriages, Lucia continued to kiss and talk to my tummy, something that always brought me to tears. It took a while for her to understand that the baby was no longer there and that she would not, in fact, be able to hold and play with and grow up with the baby like we had told her. That second part was mostly an issue after the first miscarriage. After my first loss, we talked about pregnancy much differently with Lucia, focusing on the present (the baby in mommy's tummy) instead of the potential future (what life will be like after the baby is born). When the baby died, Lucia only had to grieve the fact that the baby was no longer in mommy's tummy and not the lost future with a sibling. I suggest that no matter when you decide to tell your child(ren), you think about how you'll talk about the pregnancy and the baby in a way that fits for your family and your situation. 

Whatever you decide to do, be assured that your family is in my prayers.  I pray for families who are expecting and families who have experienced pregnancy loss every night.  May God bless you as you make this and other decisions for your family.


  1. We wait until after the 1st trimester, so sometime after 13 weeks. With our second child we told our then, three year old right away since she had told us a week before that she was going to have a baby sister. Telling her when we found out about the pregnancy led to many long months of her asking every day when the baby was going to be born. So now we pretty much keep the news to ourselves until the start of the second trimester so I'm not bombarded with constant questioning while I'm feeling nauseated. Once we tell them, we ask the kids to keep it quiet until we know the gender of the baby. Once we know the gender we happily share the news with everyone.

  2. Both of our sons are adopted, and we told our older son as soon as we were matched with his little brother, but not before--except to speak vaguely about how we might adopt a sibling. It seemed premature to tell him sooner, even though others in our lives knew we were waiting for a match. But until then we couldn't give any sense of timing or how old the child would be at adoption or anything else. When we were matched, we had photos and knew who our little guy was, and there was so much to talk about! And we could get excited together. When my sister was expecting a baby, we told our sons when she told us, at the end of the first trimester, and it felt like a very long wait for them. When she lost the baby at 33 weeks, I was really, really glad they had known about the baby and been calling him by name and everything. It makes it more meaningful, I think, when we visit his grave and talk about how he is in heaven. But if they have another baby, I think we would wait a little longer, maybe to the 20-week sonogram, because the pregnancy felt so long to our little ones. Of course, that's different than having a baby within our own family! I don't know whether we would handle that differently. I've never thought about it before!

  3. When we lost our third child, we had already told our two boys (then 3.5 and 1. Obviously the one year old had no idea but our 3 year old immediately fell in love. When we lost just a few short weeks later it was very hard. He would cry most nights asking for Jack to come back. He was sad that he was buried under our tree and he was afraid the same would happen to his one year old brother. It was heartbreaking but also healing. Since we could sit and cry together and since he was always (and still is over a year later) willing to listen and to talk about Jack. At first I thought we should wait the next time since it seemed so hard in him, but now that so much time has passed I think we will do the same as before. Celebrate new life from as early on as we know it exists. We want our boys to know and love Jack and any other children we may have that don't make it to birth. I love that as they grow our oldest talks to our youngest about Jack. He also demands that we have our certificate of life for Jack hanging on their room wall. It's the boys room after all so Jack needs to be there. Thank you for your prayers.


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