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.
“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 I 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?