How old is YOUR baby?

“How old is your first?”  another question that keeps coming up.  This time (at the dog park again- I take my furbaby there almost daily) it was from an older woman making very nice small talk.  I know her only as Luna’s mom.  Luna is an older, somewhat toothless dog that has an affinity for puppies.  Luna and her mom are regulars, as Muppet and I have become.  It’s funny because our talk usually centers around our dogs or the weather, but on that day it ventured into family life.

“She would have been fourte…fifteen months,” I stumbled.  She was so appropriately sympathetic- not ignoring the odd tense I used, responding how hard this pregnancy must be.  I think the responses from the slightly older generation have often been most gentle- I’m unsure if it’s a maturity thing or a generational thing.

But I was horrified.  I can tell you exactly how old my puppy is, but I stumbled over the age of my daughter.  I was brought back to a month after Mabel was born and the seamstress asked how old the baby was, after spying my post-baby pooch and first asking incorrectly if I was pregnant.  I stumbled then too and was horrified that I could say off the tip of my tongue how many weeks old my baby would have been.  On this day at the dog park, I was thrown right back there, making me feel like a bad mom.  I know I am not- and it was just a passing feeling, one that was totally self imposed, but do you ever feel that way?  How old would your baby have been?

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The same question over and over.

We stood in the middle of the dog park watching our dogs romp and run.  She commented on how cute Muppet was- not an unusual thing.  Muppet is surprisingly well loved among the regulars at the dog park.  I guess not too surprising- she’s a lover of people and dogs alike.  Playful, soft to the touch, recognizable.  Even a quasi-celebrity after she survived a near attack by another dog, which was photo documented on the park’s facebook page.  Muppet was doing her typical zoomies around the park, trying to get other dogs to engage in a game of chase.

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“Is this your first?” she asked me, nodding at my big belly.

“My second,” I smiled politely.

“Oh good!” she said, relieved, as she watched my puppy and her boundlesss energy.

I didn’t think much of the comment until  not a few minutes later, in a different spot, I had basically the same conversation with another woman.

“Oh, good,” she commented when learning this was not my first baby.

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing but, do they feel better about my crazy energetic puppy because she is supposedly used to having another kid in the home?  What if I told them there was no other child in the home?  I wasn’t angry, just perplexed about their responses.   I know, I’m extremely sensitive in general to that seemingly harmless question.  But what do you think they meant by their responses?

Earlier that day I was at bootcamp and was paired up with a woman I had seen before but don’t think I’d even spoken with.  After introducing ourselves, she asked it this was my first. I shook my head with a small smile.

“What else do you have at home- boys, girls?”  she asked pleasantly.

I relied on my standard response. “I had a daughter,” I said simply.  Usually that’s the end of the conversation- I often think people either don’t pick up on the past tense or do, but don’t know how to respond.  Or perhaps because I don’t elaborate, they think I’m unfriendly.  But this woman surprised me.

“So you have this one and your angel in heaven?”  My face lit up with a mixture of surprise and happiness.  She not only got the reference but actually acknowledged it!  It doesn’t matter that I don’t envision Mabel that way; it just matters that she understood the meaning behind those four words.  She understood that I was trying to tell her that I had a baby and she died -in a gentle way- to give her an out, killing the conversation.  But she made my day by really hearing what I said and not being afraid to respond.

I looked at her and gave her a real smile, nodding and saying “yes.” This time I was the one who didn’t know how to respond.  I tried to convey in my eyes and grin, how grateful I was for her simple comment.

By the end of the class she offered to give me a baby carrier she was trying to give to a good home.  It was almost like having a mommy friend.  So that’s what it feels like!

It certainly beats the “make sure they go to bed at the same time!” piece of advice I was given by a fellow bootcamper, after she asked it it was my first.  People so very much want to relate to you when you’re pregnant.  I didn’t have the heart to tell this other woman that my daughter was eternally sleeping, so I I just nodded and tried to seem receptive to her advice.  Really I was just speechless- I often look back at these moments and wonder how I would have felt if I responded differently.  I am proud that I can reflect on these interactions thinking about how  would have felt and not necessarily pondering how I would have made the other person feel by announcing my daughter’s death.   Clearly I still have concerns, or it would simply roll off my tongue- “my first child died.”  But instead I’m subtler, hinting, without being ether obvious or lying.  In the moment I might still be protecting others from the horror that is child death, but now I can analyze the interaction later really just wondering if I had the best response for me. 

How have your responses to these type of questions changed over time?  Are you able to think of yourself as the most important person in the conversation? Do you still struggle worrying about how others feel when mentioning your loss?

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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?

How’s-the-baby season

“How’s the baby?”

I was asked twice today. I am now seeing patients for their annuals who saw me this time last year, when I had a baby bump. I dreaded this time. I made the sign for this time. Months ago I couldn’t imagine the pain I would feel as people eagerly asked about the baby.

“She died shortly after birth.”

I can say the words effortlessly now. I don’t get flustered. It’s the awkward silence that follows after the requisite and heartfelt “I’m sorry”s that I don’t know what to do with. I fill it with short sentences like,

“We knew she was sick, but hoped it would have been different.”

“It’s been a difficult year.”

“I’m here, so that’s good.”

I’ve been asked a number of times about the baby, but those comments have been spread out over days or weeks. Two in one morning made me realize I’ve now hit the how’s-the-baby season.

I was just getting to the point where I wondered if I should take down my sign. I sometimes found the comments disrupting to the visit- I never minded them (I always appreciate someone who has something to say about my baby), it sometimes just didn’t flow- I felt like I had forced the info on them with the sign. I’ve had several patients come back in after their visitor or call me later, seeing the sign as they left. I feel like I can answer questions about “the baby’ more easily. I was thinking that this easiness with the question was an indication that I could do without the sign. But today has shown me…not yet. I’ll probably take the sign down either in the new year or at the one year mark, because when else do I take it down? I’m ready and not ready all at once.

“How’s the baby?”

Part of me wants to respond, “She’s dead, thanks!” But I don’t think people would quite get my dark humor there.

How do you react to questions about your baby? Has it gotten easier? Harder?