Following the death of their child some parents may eventually make the decision to expand their family and try to have another child. This may well have been a part of their hopes and dreams already, before the nightmare of losing their son or daughter.
Dave shares his story:
“Bethany, our first child, was the centre of our world. As her sisters came along, she became the leader and example to them and the helper for Mum and Dad – she loved these roles.
However, she died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of seven from a mucus plug caused by a virus. We went from having a school age child doing her first SATS, going to dance and gym clubs, to having only pre-schoolers. Our big and helpful girl was no longer there and her sisters had lost their role model. We were supposed to be a family of five. Bethany was going to make such an impact on this world! It felt like there was always something missing wherever we were and whatever we were doing.
The decision to try for another child was tough; we were relatively old and had thought those days were behind us. Did we really want a baby, could we cope, how would it impact on the girls? And we had plenty of thoughts of what could go wrong. We certainly didn’t want anyone to think we were replacing Bethany, or that our world had moved on.
Sammy was born five years after Bethany died and he has been a real blessing. Our lives have changed again, with a boy being a part of our new normal – and we are now a family of six! Bethany’s memories are still very much with us all, typified when we all celebrated her 18th birthday with a fund-raising ball.”
Catherine tells us about their decision to add to the family:
“We could have been considered an ‘average’ family. Not quite 2.4 children, but two wonderful, lively boys of eight and five. We thought that this was the shape our family would be for ever. However, it all changed suddenly and traumatically when our youngest son, Alistair, was diagnosed with a brain-stem tumour and died in hospital just 10 days later. There was now a huge hole in our family which could not be filled.
As months passed we knew that, although Alistair could never be replaced, our family shape felt wrong – we desperately wanted to somehow try and fill even a bit of that hole. We also knew that we were incredibly lucky to have the option of having another child, but that time was running out as we were both in our late thirties. The thought of bringing a new life into the world, when we now knew how fragile that life could be, made us feel very vulnerable. But Lewis was born and now we have a completely different family shape – we have two boys, with 11 years between them. Sometimes that causes comment – was Lewis a mistake, an afterthought or the result of a new relationship? We always have to stop and consider whether we will explain the real reason for the big age-gap. Alistair is still very much part of our family – and we have our memories and photographs. ”
Having another child was a significant part of the healing process for us. I have sometimes struggled with the idea that if Alistair had not died, we would not have had Lewis – and life without Lewis is unimaginable. I have now come to realise that Lewis is God’s way of redeeming some of the hurt and anguish caused by Alistair’s death.
Bereaved parents may well feel frustrated and angry that rather than their family growing, it has shrunk. They may have even gone from having a child to no children at home – and the emptiness and silence that brings. This adds to the pain of those shattered dreams. Having more children isn’t an option for everyone, or something that necessarily happens easily. There can be many disappointments if this proves to be difficult, as well as anxieties once a new baby is on the way.
Sadly, many of those looking on may breathe a sigh of relief once a new baby arrives, believing that this has created the bandage that is needed and the family will now be OK. Of course a new member of a family brings much joy and a hope for the future, but the whole family still miss and grieve for the child who is no longer there. Children born after their sibling has died may grieve their loss too. They may be angry that, unlike the rest of the family, they have never met their brother or sister.
Ultimately we each have a choice as to whether we ‘remain misshapen or become reshaped’. But no matter what the family shape becomes, we all know that moving towards the future is a challenge. It needs time, patience and understanding from everyone – from those within, and outside, the immediate family.