Most grandparents love their grandchildren and await the arrival of a new baby with almost as much impatience as the parents. They also project themselves into the future with a grandbaby, imagine themselves doing activities with him, spoiling him, and probably all this occurs as soon as they learn of the pregnancy. They also dream of what the future lies with this baby. When the baby dies, dreams that the grandparents had for him, with him, vanish also.
Because the focus is often on the sadness of the parents, the grandparents are often forgotten. It is likely they had announced the arrival of the baby in their family and to their friends to whom they now must explain that the baby died. It is also difficult for them to adapt to this new reality, a near future in which a grandbaby is missing.
The death of the baby is also sometimes the opportunity to reveal to the children, who were unaware, the existence of deceased siblings.
Their helplessness before the pain of their baby
Grandparents are particularly affected because they live a double suffering: they weep the grandbaby they expected and they feel powerless over the suffering of their own children. It is upsetting for a parent to see their children suffer and cry.
If the pregnancy was not advanced, a grandparent may have difficulty to grasp the intensity of the pain felt by the parents for the loss of the baby. Sadness is not proportional to the number of weeks, but indeed to the love that parents have for the baby.
Grandparents sometimes feel that they do not know what to do, how to help. They think they do not adequately support their children, especially if the parent-child relationship is not optimal. However, an event such as this can bring family members closer and strengthen the relationship.
Other babies in the family
Grandparents sometimes feel uncomfortable when there are other pregnant women or other babies in the family. It is not uncommon for sisters in law to be pregnant at the same time. Grandparents are then split between the joy and the hope for the upcoming birth of the baby and then sadness for the missing baby. They are uneasy to feel pain before the couple expecting a baby and joy before the bereaved couple.
To look at babies alive or to be in contact with pregnant women can be very difficult for bereaved parents during the first months. One must take into consideration that they must learn to live with a reality they were not prepared for and that the transition is difficult, painful and requires a lot of energy! They must be respected and protected in this process. The ideal is to talk openly with the parents about the discomfort that grandparents can experience and on how the parents wish grandparents act.
Suggestions for the grandparents
- As grandparents, you must take care of your own grief. If you receive support from your family and your friends, you can better support your children.
- If possible, meet the baby. This will make his existence more real for you and you will cherish his memory on your part, as with your children.
- Talk about the baby, call him by his first name, unless the parents do not want to talk about him. You can emphasize the memory of the baby during special events, such as during family holidays, at the baby’s birth anniversary. Send a card, call them, give a meaningful gift, light a candle, etc.
- Remember the baby when you count your grandchildren. Although physically absent, he occupies a significant place in the family and in the heart of his parents
- Be open to suggestions from health care professionals who have the experience to help and support parents, even if these suggestions seem strange to you.
- Do not take decisions for the parents. They remain the parents of this baby. You can offer suggestions without putting pressure. Enhance their decisions, even if you see things differently.
- Do not be afraid to share your grief with your children. This does not increase their sadness, but shows them that you are sensitive to what they are going through. However, take care not to submerge them with your own sorrow.
- Listen to the parents when they want to talk about their baby, their sadness or the event. Do not tell them they should move on or overcome. The first months of mourning, parents often feel the need to talk and it helps them to grasp the idea that they will never see this baby grow.
- Be cautious when commenting on the events or what preceded them, as they can add to the guilt of the parents.
- Remember that listening means listening without judgment and without interpretation. It does not mean having all the answers and giving advice.
- Tell and show your children that you love them.
- Make yourselves available to your children.
The next pregnancy
The announcement of the arrival of another baby is probably very exciting, but this new pregnancy may be very stressful for parents and for grandparents. During pregnancy, grandparents often do not know how to act. Some are tempted not to talk about the new pregnancy, not to make preparations for the arrival of the new baby. But this attitude can be offensive to parents who may believe that grandparents have doubts about the outcome of this pregnancy.
Here are some suggestions for grandparents:
- Encourage your children by adopting a positive attitude. This new baby will have its own story that will be different from the lost baby.
- Keep in mind that pregnancy and children are not «a due» and that comments such as “this time it will be okay” are really unfounded.
- Talk of the baby to come, buy things for him.
- Allow your children to talk about what worries them. Do not focus on your own stress in their presence.
- Encourage them to consult if they are worried even if you have the feeling that they have no reason to be this way.
- Expecting a new baby does not necessarily mean that the parents have done the bereavement of their deceased baby or that they have moved on. This baby will always remain their baby and they will certainly experience pain, the need to remember him during pregnancy and even after the birth of a new baby.
- Do not forget the lost baby after the arrival of another baby. A baby cannot be replaced by another.
Adapted from the book “LES RÊVES ENVOLÉS” Éditions de Mortagne 2005 by Suzy Fréchette-Piperni, B.Sc., Nurse specialized in pregnancy and infant grief.
Informal exchanges, respectful and comforting with a good coffee and snacks: the opportunity for sharings among parents grieving from pregnancy or infant loss.