But Really, What Do You Say?

Deciding what you’ll say when someone asks that (horrible) question of “Do you have children?” really isn’t that hard. After multiple discussions at our support group, and reading quite a few articles, I had decided my response was going to be simple, but honest.

I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Simple enough. Easy to write. Easy to say. Only eight words.

But no one tells you how hard it will be to make those words come out of your mouth.

Thankfully I have only been asked three times. The first was only about 3 weeks after J died and my immediate response (and well-rehearsed in my childless years) was a simple, “not yet.” When I left the store with my mom, I snuggled Elephant in the car (I was not able to leave the house without her yet). I cried. I still can’t tell you if I was crying because I said no when I wanted to say yes? Or if it was just sadness that my baby was gone and I couldn’t do anything about it. Probably both.

Three months after Joanna went to Heaven I was asked the same question by a very sweet employee at the eye doctor. She was just making casual conversation. Her name was Jessica, and she had just finished asking how long Bill and I have been married. “It will be five years in September,” I told her. She seemed impressed and told me she wished her man would propose to her. They’d been together seven years and had a five year old. I knew what was about to happen but I didn’t try to change the subject.

“Do you have kids?”

I told her, an answer I had thought of over and over since the first time I was asked, yes. “Yes, we just had a daughter in December but she was stillborn.”

Jessica looked at me with sad eyes, maybe she was even tearing up. She said she was so sorry for our loss and then proceeded to tell me about her own loss at 16 weeks and her subsequent infertility. We talked a bit about our losses, intermixed with trying on glasses and details about potential laser surgery for Bill.

Two things strike me about this conversation, looking back. One, how brave I was to share my story. It’s not an easy thing to decide to tell a complete stranger what has happened to you. It’s hard to know how they will react, what they will say, if they will ignore your comment, accept your comment, or end the conversation altogether. People don’t like to talk about babies who die, and they don’t like to think that their children are not immortal. The second thing that strikes me is that this girl thought it was a good idea to ask me such a question.

We discussed this recently in support group. Now that such a sad and painful loss has happened, it causes you to pause before asking questions related to this topic when talking to strangers (or even to acquaintances or old friends you may not have spoken with in a while). As a fellow loss-mom, didn’t she know what sort of question she was asking? Didn’t she remember what happened to her baby and that maybe it was not a good idea? I have stopped asking people about children–about when they plan to have babies, if they have babies. I know how it feels to be on the other side and to be dealing with infertility or baby loss. People will tell me what they want to, when they want to.

And the third time I was asked about my family situation was this weekend. I was invited by my friend to visit with her and her family on Saturday while I am in California. I was finally able to make a work trip that included a weekend so I could do some sight-seeing and exploring. The invitation was to go visit at her house for a while, meet the kiddos and then head to Stone Farms for fun, food and beverages with a bunch of her friends, their husbands and children. I, of course, said yes! How much fun was this going to be?!

But the more I thought about it though, the more anxious I became. I was going to be surrounded by moms with kids. I was going to be surrounded by kids, all ages older than Joanna would ever be. It dawned on me that I might not enjoy myself. I spent most of Friday evening and Saturday morning worrying that I had put myself in a bad situation. So, I began rehearsing.

Someone is bound to ask you if you have children, Carol. What will you say? And so, the answer came, the same answer I always decide upon: I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Truth be told, I had a fantastic time that afternoon. I enjoyed the company of new acquaintances. I loved hanging out with my friend outside of work for a few hours. I enjoyed meeting her children and husband. I had a delicious root beer, saw some pretty flowers, listened to children laughing for hours and thoroughly enjoyed the perfect weather.

But, someone did ask me about my family.

The thing is…what DO you say? I could have just told her. I could have said Joanna was perfection and we miss her every day. I could have said anything, but I didn’t. It’s because there’s always an ongoing battle. Even when prepared for it, I still fight. Do I want to mention my sad story, and therefore bring down the mood of anyone who overhears? Or do I just skip over it to save all of these mothers of wonderful children the heartbreak of my story?

I guess I chose to skip this time.

And even though I had a blast (and would do it again), I still went back to my hotel room and cried.

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9 thoughts on “But Really, What Do You Say?

  1. abbylnewton says:

    Prayers for you. I haven’t been out in the public much as I’m still highly anxious. I’m thanking God that you had the strength to still go and enjoy time with your friends. I understand your struggle, sweet Mama, and I pray our hearts are filled with the love of our babies when we enter into unknown conversations. Hugs to you.

  2. Riversidemusing. says:

    This entry struck a chord with me. My daughter would have been 24 today and I still find that question difficult. I have since been blessed with 2 sons and now answer ‘I have 2 sons’ and say the rest of the sentence in my head. I know what you mean about not wanting to make other people sad but then feeling guilty when not mentioning her. I hope you don’t mind a stranger commenting on your blog and apologies if you do. I just felt the need to reach out today and find others. x

    • stillgracious says:

      Thank you so much for commenting! I don’t mind at all. I am sorry for your loss as well — you hit it on the head, you feel guilty for excluding child you can’t hold in your arms. Such a struggle! Thanks for reading. Would love to hear from you again.

  3. Dani says:

    Just heartbreaking, Carol. Usually I field these type of questions, but last year (while on vacation) we befriended some Midwesterners and found ourselves at their beachfront home having dinner.

    “You guys are great”, she exclaimed, “God…why don’t you have kids?”
    I exhaled deeply, as I always do, ready to find the answer…again…when my husband replied,
    “Our babies died.”
    On one hand, I was so proud of him for responding and on another I saw the horrified looks on their faces–shock softening to shame softening further to dreaded pity.

    I really don’t think there is a right answer. Every situation is different, as are the people involved. Some days you may extend outward and others retreat inward.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that we need to honor the place we are and the emotions we feel. It’s hard to do, especially when there are expectations (from others and ourselves). But the truer we can be to ourselves at soul level, the more we honor our experience (no matter where we stand on its spectrum of emotion).

    Under the same sky,
    Dani

  4. everydayspirit1 says:

    This post brings up so much, Carol. So sorry for the pain that the seemingly loving questions cause. In the 17 years since Angela was stillborn, I’ve had various incarnations of answers. My current answer ~ practiced just yesterday to the sales guy in the Apple store is ~ “I have two daughters. One is 19 and one died at birth.” It still makes my heart skip a beat, but when I say her story in those few words, like Dani said, I feel like I’m being true to myself and honoring Angela. I felt a lot of love as I walked away. Hugs to you. ❤

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