The Two Missing Kids: Explaining Miscarriage to Children

by Kathryn Leehane
Originally Published: 

My husband, our two kids, and I were at a social gathering this past Mother’s Day when we encountered a family with four children. My 8-year-old son, who is my youngest child, stopped near to them and looked at them longingly. He then pointed them out to me.

“That could have been our family,” he said quietly.

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As my chest tightened and I fought back tears, I hugged him and kissed his head. I knew what he meant, but there wasn’t much I could say in response. Because he just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t comprehend that we never would have been a family with four children.

Because in his mind, there are two missing kids in our family. They are the pregnancies that I lost.

My son found out about the “missing kids” quite by chance. My mother, who is an avid genealogy enthusiast, tracks every family birth and death on elaborate charts on her computer. One day she was showing my kids the family tree when they noticed two other “leaves” growing from my branch. They saw and read the notations for the two babies I had lost.

Naturally, my mother felt horrible. She carefully explained to my kids that after my daughter was born, but before my son, two babies had started growing that didn’t make it. They had died before they were born. And it made Mommy and Daddy sad to talk about it, which was why the kids hadn’t known about them.

It does make Mommy and Daddy sad to talk about it, even though it’s been ten years since I miscarried those pregnancies. The grief never quite goes away. I have become more comfortable with it—more familiar with it—and the sorrow that initially smothered me and weighed me down has settled now around my heart, just giving it an uncomfortable squeeze every now and then. Once in a while I even manage to forget about it; other times it takes my breath away at unexpected moments. The heartache doesn’t overwhelm me daily anymore, but it still accompanies me because I miss those two babies.

The first one I lost toward the end of my first trimester. That life, no matter how new or tiny, was deeply loved. My husband and I had waited so long for me to get pregnant with our second child, and we were overjoyed when it happened. We had such plans for that kid. We’d discussed names and what supplies we needed. We’d imagined the beautiful and happy life that the baby would live with us and with our daughter. But when I went in for a routine exam, my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. I sobbed right there on the exam table. I wasn’t ready to let go of this loved one, and neither, it seemed was my body—it held on tightly. But the baby had died.

The second one I lost early in the second trimester. After the first miscarriage, we were hesitant to get too emotionally attached to the child. But how do you not get emotionally attached? We were so relieved to hear the baby’s heartbeat at our 9-week appointment that we started to celebrate. But by our next appointment a few weeks later, there was no longer a heartbeat. Once again, my body—just like my heart— didn’t want to let go; it kept clinging to that little being. But the baby, whom we later found out was a boy, had died as well.

I haven’t given my kids those details. They don’t need to know. Not yet anyway. All they know for now is that there are two missing kids.

This fact has hit my son particularly hard. This past Mother’s Day wasn’t the first time he’d pointed out other families with four kids. We have some friends who have four children as well. My son will mention from time to time that we could have been like them. That we could have been a family of six.

How do I explain to him that if I had not lost those babies, he wouldn’t be here? That it was our plan to only have two children? I can’t. And I don’t. I just hug him and kiss his head. I hold him tightly, and together we mourn that loss.

It’s a difficult thing to think about though. There’s this incredible battle that goes on between my heart and my head. I mourn for the miscarried pregnancies—the two missing babies. But then I feel intensely guilty because had either one of those pregnancies gone to term, I never would have had my son. This boy whom I love and cherish and delight in. This boy who has become one of the main focuses of my world. It’s a vicious cycle of pain and guilt.

When those feelings become too much to bear, I try to imagine that both of those lost pregnancies were my son. That he wanted to be in our family so badly that he fought with all of his might to get here—that he just kept trying and trying until the conditions were right. And now he’s with us. In our family where he belongs.

My son. That sweet, sweet boy. He still wants those two missing kids in our family. From time to time, he’ll ask me if I am going to have another baby. He’ll offer to share his room if we have another boy. (He’s clearly never lived with a baby.) And he “generously” offers up his sister’s room for a girl.

I just hug him and kiss the top of his head. “Our family is perfect just the way it is,” I explain to him.

And it is. Because it has to be. With my two children with me on earth. And the two missing kids—my two angels watching above us.

Related post: What Could Have Been

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