Telling My Kids About the Siblings They Never Knew

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READING TIME: 4 min.

One of the bigger challenges I hadn’t really anticipated as a baby-loss mom parenting rainbow (or subsequent) children was how to talk to my young children about their brothers.

My son has a big heart and loves fiercely. He is also a worrier. He gets that from me so I wanted to be as gentle and careful as possible when I talked to him about Liam and Sebastian because I didn’t want to scare him or make him feel worried for himself or his sister. Death is a hard concept for most of us, but kids – with all their magical thinking – can have a hard time knowing how to think about death.

Parenting after the death of a child or children is something that none of the parenting books prepared me for. When we found out we were going to have twins after years of trying, I started researching how to parent multiples – everything from nursing techniques for the boys to the importance of routines.

Then on August 4, 2011, I got home from work and my water broke in the driveway. The following day my boys, who weren’t due until that December, were stillborn. Liam lived for 10 minutes. Sebastian was born still.

The following year on Halloween morning, our third son was born. Our daughter was a born a couple years later. Nothing about my pregnancies was easy or carefree but they were worth every doctor visit and every injection.

Telling these stories has gotten easier for me as the years have passed thanks to a strong support system, wonderful doctors and MEND. The story of my first pregnancy is a heartbreaking one, I know, but it’s just one part of my family’s story.

The longer I put off talking to my son about about Liam and Sebastian, the more I worried about it being a shock. I promised myself at the end of the school year that when the moment arrived over the break, I would tell him the story of his older brothers.

I’m sure he has overheard my husband and me talk about them. But I’m not sure he understood his relationship to the people we were talking about or their relationship to us. Days passed and I would feel anxious every time I thought about how the conversation might go and all the worries it might stir up for him.

The conversation

Then one night as I was putting the kids to bed, he asked for a brother. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, honey, do you know how I call you and your sister my rainbows sometimes?” He said yes. I explained that sometimes when someone has a child or a baby that dies, the children the family has afterward are called “rainbow babies” like when a rainbow happens after a storm.

He said, “I have brothers? But what happened to them?” I told him they were born too early to survive. I told him we had a funeral kind of like when we had a funeral for his great-grandmother. He asked if we buried them. I said we did.

I said, “Do you know what makes you so special? First of all, you’re you! That makes you very special. But also you’re my rainbow. And your sister is my rainbow too. That makes y’all extra special kids.” He smiled a big smile and snuggled down into the bed.

I waited for his questions and his worries, sure that they were coming. Instead he told me he loved me and asked for one of his favorite stories, The Dragon Tamers. I’m sure more questions will come eventually but I feel like our conversation went well. A weight was lifted.

Books for kids

We also have a few books that I read to the kids sometimes – especially when my son mentions how much he misses his great-grandma. If you’re looking for books to help kids with grief, you may want to try these.

I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Always Remember by Cece Meng

3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sorry about your twins, that is so awful. As a loss mom with three rainbow babies, the oldest one who was born less than a year after his sister was stillborn and who also has a very big heart and is a big worrier, I could very much relate to your story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Anita. It means so much to me that you found a connection with my story, especially as a loss mom. Big hugs to you!

  2. I didn’t really learn about my little sister and brother until I was at least 6, and all I remember was my parents telling me that after me there had been 2 more babies – a girl and a boy – but that both of them were miscarried and (very generally) explaining what that meant. The only things I distinctly remember asking my mom were how old my brother would be if he was still alive (I was 9 at the time), and what their names were. I don’t think my mom had any reservations about talking about them – she was always willing to talk about it when my sister or I asked about them – she just didn’t go out of her way to bring it up. Some years later (I might have been in 6th or 7th grade), I was going through the bookcase that had all the photo albums and baby scrapbooks on it, and stumbled upon my little sister’s baby scrapbook – that was rough to say the least, but at least I learned a bit more about her. During a really rough stretch in college, I was immensely blessed to actually meet both of them (I never thought I’d ever get the chance in my lifetime) – turns out they’re huge goofs and tons of fun to spend time with, they love riding horses like I do, and they’re good friends with a classmate I had lost to a rockslide a few years previous; ever since meeting them, I’ve never once felt truly alone.

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