Is Mabel a real person?

“Is Mabel a real person?” the woman behind the counter asked. I had called a week before to order a custom cake. I picked out a decadent flavor and frosting combo. The only things I said was that I wanted it to say “Happy Birthday, Mabel” and for it to have carrot decorations on it.

When this woman, who I could tell was the decorator, asked if she was real, I was yet again taken aback about how to answer.

“She was,” I answered quickly with a half smile.

In the car, I relayed this exchange to Chris. A strange question, we decided. I must have said something when ordering that was a little out of the usual. Perhaps they thought I was ordering a cake for a rabbit?

“I wish I had answered differently,” I told him. “I wish I had said, “Yes, Mabel’s my daughter.” But instead I said what I said, leaving them thinking that Mabel was some 85 year-old grandmother who passed away, and isn’t it sweet that we still remember.

There’s a first time for every question. Right now I can answer “how’s the baby?” and “Do you have kids” very easily, with responses that leave me satisfied. In the beginning these questions would cause my heart to race, my face to get hot and tears to well and I’d stumble over an inadequate answer. With time I learned the replies to such inquiries that left me feeling true to my daughter. If I’m ever asked again, that strange, hear-swirling question “Is Mabel a real person?” I’ll be better prepared.

The question did come at an interesting time. It’s been a full year since she was a “real” person. Sometimes I wonder, did it all really happen? Was she really here? Here I am, 21 months out from that positive pregnancy test, eight full months of pregnancy later- the discomforts, the kicks, the ultrasounds that proved there was really a baby and yet, no gurgling baby to show for it all. It feels so unreal. My life in many ways is the same- go to work, come home, care for just myself and Chris. There are many ways I remind myself that things are different- the work changes (still not attending births), the photos that line my house of a child I once held, the stretch marks on my breasts- but I am still thrown a bit when asked “Do you have kids?” Because even though I know I am a mom in a sense, I know I had a daughter, I still feel a bit like an imposter, like I made the whole thing up.

Do you ever feel that way?

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23 thoughts on “Is Mabel a real person?

  1. First, that seems like a really odd question. I’m not sure why it would matter if the cake was for a child (living or not), a dog or an adult – it just strikes me as really odd. It sounds like you handled it well, but I’m sorry you had to handle that question at all.
    Second, yes I too feel like an imposter some days. No-one acknowledges our losses or that I am a mother, and so some days it feel likes we’ve just been living a bad dream and maybe one day we’ll wake up from it.

    • right? what does it matter who the cake its for? makes me wonder what kind of conversation they had while making her cake. and the crazy thing is, this woman has no idea the significance behind the question! Imposter- yes! I feel like that often. even when I’m recognized as a mother, I feel like an imposter, ecuase I dont really have much experience mothering a living child. we are mothers, no doubt, jus tnot in the traditional sense.

  2. Ouch. Of course she is. And I agree that it is a strange question.
    I got a lot of “is this your first” questions when I was visibly pregnant with SB. And I always told them about the twins, but I wonder if people thought they were “real”, if they “counted”. It is a surreal experience, having and then directly losing your child (or the other way round, as it may be). Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that A&C were real. The hole in my heart that they left certainly is real.

    • had Mabel lived I think I would have laughed it off- but since she died it was such a striking question! Even though I feel I can handle- do you have kids, or how many kids do you have- type questions, the answers I give make me wonder the same- if people think she counted. You are right, the gried is so very real.

  3. I started feeling like an imposter until I got my rainbow. Now I feel like a mother again, and I feel like a mother to two. It makes me so sad that I was losing my grip on my son in those months between losing him and falling pregnant again.

    How do you answer the do you have kids/how’s the baby questions? I’ve yet to have a stranger ask me that and I have no idea how I will react. I have plans for how to react, but I don’t know if they will come to fruition.

    • Right now, I have no livign children so I answer depending on the person asking- “I had a daugter, but she died after birth” “or “she died last year.” SOmetimes I can leave it at “I had a daughter” and let people pick up on the pat tense only if they want to. I’ve tried the “none living” and didnt like the responses/how it made me feel. For future children, if I am so lucky, I might say “he’s my second” or “her sister would have been 2” or somthing. Right now I feel its important for me to be able to ackowledge her even to strangers. But I also think there may come a time when I dont feel that need, when I want to keep her private. so that may eveolve.

  4. That is definitely an odd question. Your reponse was appropriate for such a question. In a lot of ways it feels like we were just bringing our son home and then in some ways as we approach his first birthday it feels like it was all a dream. As a middle school assistant principal I have to talk with a lot of parents/ guardians. It is pretty common when they are angry/frustrated/anxious/etc to say….. Do you have kids? If you did, then you would know…… I have gotten much better recently at handling this particular situation and deciding when it’s appropriate for me to answer that we did have a son. It still stings each time.

    • oh my! yes! I’ve had that question too- people frustrated and lookin g for either comraderie or sympathy in their frustration from a professional. not having a livign child can sometimes be invalidating! Before I was pregnant with Mabel, a woman was complaining at the front desk as I stood there charting. she was 37 having her 3rd. whatever she said (i forget) I couldnt hold back and made some sort of comment. I had helped too many people through babyloss and infertility and difficult pregnancies to keep my mouth shut. Plus I knew I’d be starting my family later in life than I had ever imagined. I said what I said in a professional way, because I was there as a midwife and she as a patient. And she shot back “do you have kids?” I simply said no, becaus eit was pre-Mabel. “Well, then you dont know!” she snickered. But I remember thinking, “I’d be grateful to be having my 3rd at 37.” I’ve been told I look younger than I am, so she probably thought I was. Here I am at 35, with no living children. “so there!” I want to say to her now. “be a little grateful…”

  5. I looked my husband last night and I just started crying. I told him I was sad, sad that Benny was dead and that we couldn’t change it. It hit me in that moment, all that we had lost. I can’t dwell because I have a 6 year old (sometimes I wish I could). When it hits me though, it’s earth shattering, like I can’t believe it happened. It’s always there, but the reality of it all is too much, so when it does it hit, it’s brutal. I’m so sorry that you had to answer that question.

    • yes- I have those moments too! those pangs of being just so sad. I lately have them and think I”m not giving myself enoguh time to grieve- though its hard. I”m busy and it’s not fun to grieve. I worked so hard on distraction in the early days, which allowe dme to get out of ed and generally function. but now its my go to and I think it’s a little detrimental.

    • thank you. it was strange and I’m glad I handled it ok, but funny how I still felt unsatisfied! we have so few chances to talk about our children, so I dwell on even the smallest ones (even the weird ones)

  6. A strange question for that person to have asked.

    But oh yes, I get that feeling often. The fact I was ill when Hugo was born compounds the sense of unreality – was I hallucinating? There are times when I fear I will I get into trouble for being a terrible fantasist, making up everything that is on my blog. Every word is true of course, I just wish it wasn’t. xx

    • very strange. I can only imagine the strangeness of being ill while he was born and during his first day of life- I can imagine how dreamlike and surreal it must be to go to sleep pregnant and wake up (in the haze of magnesium) no longer pregnant. When I look back at the photos I have, I am perhaps most grateful for the ones of her literally coming out of me (totally not allowed in my hospital for legal reasons, sadly, but I had people helping me out) becaus its proof that t really did happen. I’m sorry you dont have photos, or even memories of him coming out of you. but you are no terrible fantasist! your words are not only true, but helpful.

    • I suppose babyloss will always feel unreal- especially because we have only so many memories- memories of being pregnant, of holding your child (or sometimes not even). whatever the scenario, our memory making time was short so I think that contributes to the unrealness.

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