“Meghan! What’s new?” she asked all smiles. I had seen her yesterday at bootcamp. It had been over five years since we had last seen each other- a friend of my ex-boyfriend, we had fallen out of touch. I said hello once I recognized her and we had a brief exchange. The next day she was there again at bootcamp. This time we had a little more time for a conversation. But how do I respond to that? What’s new? My baby died. But that’s not the right answer. Instead I shrugged and she asked if I was still working at the same practice; I asked if she was still teaching at the same school. She then volunteered that she had a son! Last I knew her, she had just had the second of her two daughters. I had visited her after her first; I remember the hospital had forgotten to take of the baby’s umbilical clamp. She had named her baby the French version of what we named our daughter- I remembered that fondly when I saw her face the day before. And now she has a son, too. “So you’re married?” Yes, I responded waiting for the follow up question. I braced myself, heart pumping, but ready to tell her I had a daughter who had died shortly after birth, three months ago, when she asked if I had kids too. She didn’t ask.
I was awkward. Not the usual good small talker. I bumbled my way through the conversation and left feeling quite unsettled. I didn’t get to say it. To tell her I had a daughter too. I had to take several calming down breaths as I walked away.
Why is it so important for someone to ask me? If I had living children, they would come up in conversation naturally. “Oh, I have to run to pick up my son from day care.” Or “I didn’t get much sleep last night. You know how it is, teething.” But when the only child I parent is dead, those opportunities don’t present themselves. “I have to run to pick up flowers for my daughter’s grave.” Or “I didn’t get much sleep last night. You know how it is, grief.”
Conversation continued around me as we did our warm up. I was sitting next to a very pregnant friend and talk of the baby’s gender came up. Another woman said that she was always wrong guessing with her own- she thought she was having boys and she had three girls. After my bumbled conversation earlier I was sick of my baby being hidden like a dirty little secret, an unmentionable. So I piped up too- “I was both right and wrong guessing my baby’s gender,” I said, probably a little too softly. We were on to the next stretch and the conversation trailed off.
I so very badly want to be part of the kid conversation; I feel I have every right to be. But how do I do it in a socially acceptable way? How can I say “Oh, I had a baby recently too! But she died.” without killing the conversation? If it’s asked of me, it’s easier to discuss. But to volunteer the info? If I say it, she would leave the exchange feeling uncomfortable. If I don’t say it, I leave the exchange feeling uncomfortable. Who wins here? Certainly not me.