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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A white lie

I lied….sort of.

Chris did the Best Buddies ride up in Cape Cod- a 100 mile bike ride to fundraise for the organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities- people like Mabel or who Mabel would have been. And so Chris rode in memory of Mabel. Turns out it’s good training for him, as he’s doing a half iron man next weekend (who is this guy??).

Our plans were a bit interrupted. We originally planned to spend the night before at my parents house, which is 20 minutes from the race start, but Muppet decided to eat one of Chris’s inhalers the day before and had to spend a night at the vet for monitoring. So Chris got up at the crack of dawn (before dawn actually- at 330am) to make it up to Boston to check in and ride at 7am. I stayed behind to retrieve the silly, but stable puppy and drove to meet him at the finish line on Cape Cod. We spent that night at my parents’ house instead of the one before. As we walked the puppy outside that evening, we ran into a neighborhood couple. My parents live in a community of town houses along the water, with a nice walking path right outside their doorstep. Neighborhood people often walk along there and this couple was very friendly. The man introduced himself and was quite chatty, in a way that made me wish my dad was with us because I’m sure they would have gotten along quite well (my parents were in Florida at a family funeral- one I would have attended had I not been grounded by my midwives due to my late gestation and history of preterm birth).

After the appropriate petting and cooing at the puppy, he amiably commented on my protruding belly. “Congratulations, I see!”

“Thank you,” I smiled softly (can one smile softly? I think so). I’m still working on accepting congratulations gracefully.

“Is it your first?”

“No, my second.”

“Oh boy, you’ll have some sibling rivalry, then, huh?”

“Mmm hmm.” I lied.

“We have two daughters five years apart. They warned us the older one might regress. I thought, no way- not at five. But they were right!”

I smiled politely at his story trying not to betray my reeling mind and pounding heart. I was still thinking about the subtle accession I had made with my simple “Mmm hmm.” He thought my first child was alive and I didn’t correct him. It wasn’t an outright lie- but it felt like one. I couldn’t do it though, not with this man, who I would likely never see again. I don’t think I’ll ever deny Mabel’s existence, but for the first time I denied her death. This protruding belly is an announcement to the world, something that people happily comment freely on, a public billboard inviting strangers to ask usually harmless, friendly questions.

I know this is a common conundrum among us. I’ve read so many of your posts in how you respond and yet I’m still caught off guard at my own response this time.

So tell me again, how do you respond to strangers?

Not faking it

At the dog park, a tall man stood next to me dressed in fatigues.  Because the dog park is such a friendly place, we chatted and I learned about his dog- name, breed, age, rescue.  He told me how he was a supply officer for the army- things like that come up when dogs are prancing on you with muddy paws and we talk about what we wear to the dog park.  We exchanged tricks we were working on with our pooches.
He was laughing a bit one time when I scolded my pup “Muppet, off!” I shouted as she jumped excitedly on a new human arrival to the park.
“I love that name Muppet! it suits her.” he chuckled.
“Sure does, ” I replied.
“I have a 17 month old at home and she just is getting into the Muppets.  WE put them on the tv and her face just lights up.”  He laughs at the image in his head and tries to imitate her expression.
I gave a weak smile.  I’m not proud of not really faking it then, but I just wasn’t in the mood.  Being at the dog park, I feel a little like a parent.  THat’s how we refer to each other- Muppet’s mom, Rosie’s dad, etc.  We don’t actually learn each others names.  We talk in ways I imagine parents of living children talking.   So we he brought a real live child into the conversation, reminding me that my bay was a furbaby, not the toddler kind she would have been, I kind of shut down. I hope I didn’t seem rude
__
I was at the lunch table at work, happily chatting away with my staff.  I don’t always get a lunch break- let alone a lunch break that I can enjoy with my coworkers.  I’m often sitting at my desk eating as I chart or grabbing bites between patients and phone calls if it was a really busy day.  As I ate we small talked, I heard a secretary give a little squeal outside the lunch room.
“Look who I found in the lobby!” she sang.
Behind her was a man holding a 8 month old baby.  The son and husband of a coworker who was pregnant when I was and had her baby a few months after me.  She got to bring her baby home.
She has been very tactful around me- as most of my staff has.  I’m very grateful for that.  They also didn’t come into the lunchroom.  Those who wanted to see the baby got up and went out.  I sat and finished my lunch and scrolled through facebook.
Again, not proud of not faking it.
I know in both these circumstances I didn’t do or say anything especially rude, but it was my lack of response that was a response in itself.  I hope I didn’t seem rude.
Have you had any situations like this, where you felt your inaction made a statement?

Unmastered question

Muppet and I preformed a rescue mission last week. It was my day off and a particularly warm day for those of us in the northeast. My car thermometer hit the 50s as we drove to a local hiking venue. The snow on the main and easiest path is usually packed down enough for hiking up to the top in just hiking boots and the day was no exception. There were several other hikers, many with dogs, out that day too. We had just turned the first few bends of the path when we stopped in front of a lady crouching down, two dogs at her side.

“Is this your dog?” she asked somewhat confused. I then realized that one of the dogs was leashed and the other she had by the collar alone. When I spoke my no, she then asked “did you see anyone looking for a dog?” Apparently she found this dog walking down the trail unaccompanied. I took a turn holding the dog, calm and content sitting with us, as we investigated his collar for tags. His name was Max and we found some phone numbers. The other woman tried one, but had no service. After a few attempts I was able to get someone on my phone. Before I had a chance to speak, a woman’s voice asked “do you have a little brown dog?” She wasn’t far downt he trail and Max apparently was a little hard of hearing, but we held on to him until his owner appeared and leashed him up.

Pretty content withourselves, Muppet and I continued up the trail with the original woman who found Max. We chatted for quite a bit- mostly small talk, about things like our dogs and the weather. I remarked how it has been frustrating taking a puppy out so much in the freezing temperatures, always on a leash. I went on to say how the past weeked was really rough because it was cold, but I was also super sick and had to take care of the puppy alone, because my husband was out of town.

“Oh, do you have kids then?”

Such a benign question in most other scenarios. I sighed mentally as I tried to decide how to answer. I still hate denying Mabel’s existence with a simple “no.” And the “none living” doesn’t sit well with me either. But this woman was a complete stranger- we hadn’t even learned each other’s names. I knew far more about her dog and her previous one than I did about her and here I was debating how to tell her such an intimate detail of my life.

“Not in the house…” I mumbled awkwardly. Ugh. I didn’t want that to be my answer. I just needed more time to think about it and craft the words that I really wanted to say. The conversation continued, but my response was still on my mind. But another opportunity presented. I can’t remember what exactly brought us to it, but I found myself saying, “Well, I had a daughter last year, but she died after birth. I got Muppet as a puppy not long after, so she could help fill that space. She’s my baby now.” My tone was cheerful and loving and her response was the appropriate “Oh, I’m sorry.” I was able to transition the conversation back to the dogs, talking about how protective I am of my puppy and the small talk flowed.

This interaction has sat with me though, now days later. I thought I was good at answering that dreaded question, especially when I’m in my office, where I hear variations of it most often. But I suppose I was unprepared on the trail. I guess I need to learn to be prepared all the time. I think I would have been happier if I answered “Yes- a daughter” or “I had a daughter” and see where the conversation went. Perhaps next time.

Has this happened to you? Thought you had mastered something in your babyloss world, only to be caught off guard and stumble?

The Muppet Puppy, dog rescuer.

The Muppet Puppy, dog rescuer.

I need to stop talking about the furnance

I made small talk as she ran the credit card.

“Weather’s turned cold, huh!” she said.

“Yeah, and our furnace is broken, so we’ve been without heat for the past few days.” I replied, trying to be friendly.

“Oh no! That’s awful.”

“Yeah, We’re surviving. We have space heaters. It’s the no hot water that’s tough.”

“Oh, no. Do you have kids?”

Ugh.

“None living,” I said quietly, the upbeat tone of companionship gone from my voice, and quickly changed the subject.

 

“Brr, it’s cold in here!” the phlebotomist apologized.

“It’s ok, it feels good! We’ve been without heat for five days!” again making small talk as she busied herself with getting the vials ready.

“Oh no! Do you have kids?”

“None living,” I replied, with that now familiar quietness in my voice, knowing that the conversation was about to die.

 

So much for small talk.

 

I can’t seem to simply just say no. These are the kind of people I should say no to- the ones I wont see again, who don’t need to know about the beautiful baby I brought into the world and said good bye to a few hours later. I should save her story for people who will respond well. But I just can’t. I know we all struggle when asked this question, and I’ve loved reading how people respond. I’ve really respected those who respond “no” or don’t count their one less baby when talking with strangers and sharing their story with closer people. It seems like the right thing to do, though apparently I just can’t- or at least not yet. Perhaps if I had kids, it would be easier to answer. “Do you have kids?” yes, and maybe the follow up of how many would not come. But being a childless mother- there is no simple answer to “do you have kids?” and my conversations over the past couple days have shown me just how pervasive the question is, even in conversations that have nothing to do with family!

 

Ugh.

Relating to my patients

I had a shadow with me in the office again this week. A doctor, new to our practice followed me around for a day last week to get familiar with our electronic medical records and the ins and outs of our office. This week our newly acquired midwife did the same. I’m apparently the go-to provider to show people the ropes. It’s interesting being shadowed, especially by people with more experience than me (as were both the doctor and midwife.) I felt the need to represent the practice well and to represent myself well. Last week I felt empowered at day’s end because I didn’t feel self- conscious being watched as I cared for my patients. This week, I felt pretty much the same, but I had a few moments of unexpected pain throughout the day too.

“Are you having a boy or a girl?” the new midwife asked the pregnant woman, in an effort to fill the void in conversation as I flipped though the patients chart.

We midwives become masters of small talk, chatting during potentially awkward times. I usually use the time I spend doing a breast exam to talk about the new pap smear guidelines with my patients. At the beginning of each visit I get a good social history from my patients (relationship status, job, what’s new…) and often use that to create conversation during a pelvic exam. “So what are your wedding colors?” or “How long have you been at your job?” are good time fillers. I often ask couples to tell me how they met while I’m in the labor room pushing with a woman.

Prenatal visits are quicker, having gotten the big chunk of the social history in the initial visit and so asking more “fun” questions about the pregnancy has been my fall back for conversation fodder. “What are you having?” or “Are you having a baby shower?” or “Does your younger child understand what’s happening?” are all non-essential questions but help support the bond between patient and provider.

I don’t ask those questions anymore.

They are too painful, too intimate. They make the pregnant belly in front of me more real and thus more of a reminder of what I have lost. If the conversation picks up from there, it’s hard not to try and relate to my patient. When someone tells me they are getting married in September, of course I’m going to say “Oh, how lovely! I got married in September, too. We had great weather, I hope you do too!” It’s human. Patients like it and it makes my job more enjoyable too.

If a patient replies, “We’re not finding out,” to the what-are-you-having question, I want to say “I didn’t either!” I did it while I was pregnant, so my natural inclination is to do it now too. But I hold my tongue, because then they might ask, “So how old is your child?” And then I have to disappoint them with the news that my baby died. Since I can’t seem to hold back my attempts to try to relate, I simply just don’t ask. I think my relationship with my patients suffer because of this.

Being observed, I wanted to tell my new colleagues, I’m better than this. I usually am much more chatty and ask those kinds of questions. I actually had the chance to exactly that last week, at the end of the day after a conversation about Mabel, and that made me feel better. But this week with my new shadow, I heard her have conversations with my patients that I should be having… if my baby lived.

“What do you have at home, a boy or a girl?” The new midwife asked my patient who was having back pain.

“A boy.”

“Oh, I have two boys! I know how they can be, running around…” she said laughing. “Make sure you bend with your knees and not at your waist, when you pick him up.”

My chest ached witnessing this conversation. Oh, how I wish I could relate to my patients this way! I don’t have living kids to bond with them over and I hesitate to bring even my pregnancy experiences into the conversation, for fear that they will lead to the words “my baby died,” bringing sadness and attention to me in the exam room, when the focus should be on them.

It’s the same kinship I feel with patients who have had babyloss. I’m sure many of you have felt it too- when you’ve met someone who either shares their story with you or when you’ve heard of someone else and you reach out to them. It’s natural to want to say “me too!”

This is just one of the many secondary losses we experience after our babies die. I have lost the joy I had in relating to my patients. What are some of your secondary losses?