How many children do you have?
I’ll never forget the first time someone asked my husband and I how many children we had after our loss. We both froze. Even to this day, this question is a difficult one to answer, because to so many people this answer varies. Now, after having time to come to grips with my daughter’s death and lots of therapy, I can only offer this piece of advice to you: What ever feels right in that moment. Confused? Yes, I understand, it’s not a great answer, because honestly the answer sucks; plain and simple. But let’s go into more detail about that.
When my daughter first died, I became obsessed with her existence being known, because as the woman who carried her for nine months, she was so very real to me. I felt every kick, every movement, every hiccup and every 3am dance party in my rib cage. I knew her before I even knew what she looked like. I did everything I could think of to “keep” her with me: I got jewelry made from her funeral flowers; I hung her picture in the house; I bought the same fabric softener that the hospital used to wash the linens they wrapped her in. Hell, I even have her name tattooed on my left hand. (See the picture below for my angel’s tattoo.) I even still have her blood-stained baby blanket from the hospital sealed in a Ziploc bag. I became obsessed with people knowing about her, because I was afraid people would forget; that maybe we would forget. (It sounds so silly now, but I was drunk with grief.)
However, I dreaded answering that question. “How many children do you have?” How do I answer that? If I say two, I must explain to a stranger that my baby was dead. If I said one, I felt like I was denying her existence. Being someone with anxiety to begin with, this was a gnawing, gut wrenching worry of mine and I dreaded this. So, I did what any sensible person in 2022 did; I turned to google. How do you answer how many children you have after a loss?
Expecting nothing, I surprisingly got a hit, and it made all the difference.
Back in August 2020, USA Today writer, David Doughty, wrote a beautiful piece on how he struggled with the question as well after he lost his son at the age of 28. He goes on to say how the first time he was asked he hesitated for a minute before saying two and then proceeded to share his son’s story with a random cashier at the store. His reasoning as to why he decided to do so was for a very simple reasoning: “If I hadn’t said two, it would have felt like I was leaving him out of my family. I just couldn’t do that.”
What a perfect way to describe how to keep your late child alive.
I am over a year out from my loss, so when I am asked that question, honestly, I’ve had some time to process this question and for me the best method is to see how I am feeling in that moment. Plain and simple.
Here’s an example: I was getting my hair done two months ago (I’m 38 and unfortunately started going grey) and I was at a new salon, where they didn’t know my story. The hairdresser was a very nice older woman who saw my son’s picture on my phone and asked if he was my son. Of course, I said yes and then came the follow up question I knew was coming. “Is he your only child?” A year ago, this question would have made me freeze and studder, like a Ford in the winter, but now I simply took a deep breath and plastered a fake smile on my face and answered: “Yes, I only have him for now.” And the conversation moved on to my son.
My tattoo at the time was covered by my sleeve so she didn’t see it but, in that instance, I just didn’t have the energy to go into the long sad story of my daughter and her demise. This woman was a stranger, and I had no idea how she would react. Would she ask a lot of questions? Would she relate and tell me a similar tale? Would she become super uncomfortable then be quiet the rest of my visit? I had no way of knowing, so I opted for the ignorance is bliss option and edited my answer.
But sometimes I do share my story and I’m happy to talk about my girl. When I started my new job following my daughter’s death, I was now in a position where I had an office and could have pictures at my desk, so I put pictures of my babies on my desk. (I had only been there a week and had been relatively quiet the first week, so they didn’t know me very well yet.) My new coworker asked about my pictures, and I told her, they were my children, Santo, and Noella. Soon the next question was: “How old are they?” My answer? “Well, Santo is turning three in October, but Noella unfortunately died in November.” This led to me sharing my story with my new coworker and it felt cleansing to get it out and talk about her. I’ve been at this job a year now and I once thought that people would pity me or see me as that “poor woman” but instead I’ve been told by many coworkers how strong they think I am and how I’m inspiring. One even said I should share my story; thus, (tada!) this blog!
Dear Mama, at the end of the day it is your decision how you answer that question but know that whether you choose to mention your angel baby or not, doesn’t mean you are dishonoring their memory. Your baby KNEW you loved them. They knew it every day they were with you. We as women we given the job of carrying the baby because the universe knew we would love that child from day one of their existence. I heard a quote on Yellowstone recently that so describes our situation perfectly.
“That boy lived a perfect life, Monica,” John tells her of baby John. “We're the only ones who know it was brief. All he knew was you. And that you loved him.”
Please remember that Mama. No matter how you answer that question, you gave that baby a perfect life, because your baby knew you loved them. Every gentle rub of our bellies, every bite of food we ate to make them strong, every time we vomited into a toilet from morning sickness, every time we sang to them, talked to them, dreamed of them, and prepared for their future, we showed them how much we loved them. All our babies knew, was love. Your love! You are a warrior Mama, and you are strong!
As I mentioned in my previous post, please know I am here for you to reach out to. I am still living my grief day to day and some days I feel as though it was all a bad dream. However, maybe by reaching out to you and others that we can keep the spirit and memories of our babies alive. Dear Mama, you can reach me at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if anyone is interested in the companies, I used to turn my daughter’s funeral flowers into jewelry, please reach out and I will send you their information.
Remember to please take care of yourself mama! Your baby loved you and so you should remember to always love yourself.
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