This is part of my series 100 Days: Waiting for a Rainbow.
After William died, I quickly came to realize I would have to learn how to navigate the very difficult question “So, do you have children?” I read a few articles and comments on my favorite BabyLoss blog, Still Standing Magazine, and heard the pain in so many parents’ voices as they tried to decide how much of their precious angel-children they should share with strangers.
I decided almost immediately that my answer would be “We have one child, who is deceased.” This was a simple enough answer, and I was quite comfortable with it. I never wanted to deny William or the important role he plays in our lives. At first, maybe I was too sad and hurt to notice the reactions of those around me. Eventually, I started noticing that there were some people who were uncomfortable with my pain. They thought William was this tragic part of my past I wanted to forget, and so they grew nervous and would apologize profusely for bringing up such a sad subject. So I adjusted my answer, particularly in more casual networking situations, to “We have no living children.” I found people who were sensitive would thoughtfully ask. Those who didn’t want to engage had an easy exit.
As comfortable as one could be with sharing a particularly painful part of one’s life, I was comfortable with how I navigated this very difficult conversation. Pregnancy, however, has added a whole new level of discomfort to the question. Instead of asking how many children I have, people ask if this is my first pregnancy.
Early on, I would say “No, this is my second.” But by saying this I would receive a painful commentary on how this was all familiar territory, I was an old hand at this, nothing new to note. Which of course isn’t true. I’ve never had a large, uncomfortable third trimester. I’ve never had a normal delivery, or brought a baby home from the hospital. So much of this pregnancy is different and new. And no, I’m not an “old hand” at all of this. I would also get questions about how old my first child is, or a remark on how nice a family of four can be. The comments were never meant to be painful, and are very typical things to say, so they don’t make me angry or leave me offended. Just very pained at the reminder that all is not as it should be.
I started to flounder when answering the “Your First” question. In many ways, I do it feel like I’m pregnant for the first time. But to say that feels like ignoring and denying William’s life. I cannot do that to him, or to myself. He matters too much to me to be ignored and denied. And so I would get this question, often from well-meaning elderly ladies or perky young moms with three children in tow. They are being kind, asking questions, making connections, so I feel no resentment for their questions. But my mouth goes dry and I start to stutter and I find myself looking around for someone to answer for me – someone who has a better answer.
Recently I’ve adopted this very uncomfortable habit of taking a deep breath and blurting “This is my second, but my first child is deceased.” I spit it out so quickly the worlds slur together, and I’m not sure anyone actually understands what I’m saying. “Thisismysecondbutmyfirstisdeceased.” GULP.
There is simply no graceful way to answer this question. No way that I’ve found that spares me the pain of being reminded what a difficult spot I’m in, or that acknowledges my first child while celebrating my second. I don’t want this baby to be overshadowed by the tragedy of William’s death, but I don’t want William to be forgotten and left behind.
So I suppose I will continue to muddle through, one awkward answer at a time. Doing my best to be the mother of two children, when one is invisible.