I wonder how many people pause, like I do, every time someone asks me how many children I have?

It should be a simple question, with an easy answer.

But that isn’t the case when you have lost a child or have struggled with secondary infertility, then such questions can be painful to hear and even worse to decide how to reply.

Last night I visited a local optometrist’s office for the first time and towards the end of the appointment I was making small talk with the friendly office staff. At some point in our conversation they asked me that bittersweet question.

“How many kids do you have?”

I paused, but not for very long, and answered “two.”

Who knows what they were thinking, when I didn’t reply right away.

Then one of them followed up with, “how old are they?”

I said, “eight and two.”

The other person responded with something about that being a fun age difference.

I smiled and said “yes, it is.”

I resisted the urge to say, “their age difference was not planned. We wanted our children to be closer in age.”

or

“Actually I have three children, but one died soon after she was born and I don’t want to freak you out by telling you this since we just met and I will likely only see you once or twice a year for eye exams.”

But then, as I typically do when I choose not to mention my middle child who left this world much too soon, I feel guilty for not telling these people about her.

Every now and then, when I am feeling brave and strong, I will say “three — two here and one in Heaven,” when someone asks.

But not this time.

I am more likely to talk about Molly, infertility and/or our early losses when I feel a connection with the person I just met and have reason to believe our relationship will be more than just a superficial one.

In this instance I did feel very comfortable with these two people, especially because they had been so nice to me since I arrived in their office over an hour earlier. They also had spent the previous fifteen minutes or so helping me to pick out frames for the new glasses prescription I was given.

So they didn’t strike me as the type that would have been wierded out by my sharing openly about my baby girl who died soon after she was born or if I had told them that we wanted more children and for them to be closer in age, but we dealt with secondary infertility and loss for over five years and things didn’t turn out they way we planned.

However, I also get that it’s okay that in this instance (and others) I chose not to talk about Molly. It doesn’t mean I don’t love and miss her any more or less.

I also realize that it is not my responsibility to try to educate people about infertility and loss every chance I get. Though I try to be an advocate, I don’t have to speak about my journey trying to build and expand my family all the time.

Four years later I am still learning how to incorporate the short life and death of our daughter and Sean and Abby’s sister into our lives, as well as our experience with secondary infertility and loss.

I know that as I continue to do this it is okay, normal and even healthy when I feel the need to pause.

What makes you pause?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 April June 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I pause at that question too. Usually during the second half of the week when we don’t have Abby. And sometimes I too want to spill my guts to the stranger asking.
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2 Jessica June 8, 2012 at 5:45 am

Oh this question, I pause from it all the time. I am like you though, I can say whatever I am comfortable saying at that moment and am finally okay with it, knowing that I’m not denying my daughter or our struggle to have children.
One thing that makes me feel a little less guilty is to say “I have four at home.” They don’t have to know I left off the rest of my explanation.
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3 RoseAnn June 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

I know that I am fortunate to have never lost a child or dealt with any form of infertility. I have found myself acquainted with people who have dealt with a variety of losses especially since I am active in several online communities where sharing of that type is more typical.

I think many people are just insulated from these realities and they don’t realize what a loaded question it can be. I myself am childfree and sometimes bristle at the question about how many children I have but I try to remind myself that people are just trying to make small talk and most of the time, that’s something that is a commonality and a relatively safe topic.

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4 Lori Lavender Luz June 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm

It is a conundrum, how to answer to best honor Molly, yourself, and the situation.

I think you’re right in taking it on a case-by-case basis.

I pause when people ask me if my children are “real” brother and sister. Like you, each time I have to decide which route to take.
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5 St. Elsewhere June 12, 2012 at 1:09 am

Oh the pause. I know that bit.

I am still in the phase where I mostly reply with two. Only if someone bothers to ask about the second kid or the whereabouts that I clarify that the other one is in my heart.

However, I have answered one as well. And that was only when the conversation was too casual or I did not want to divulge much.

Hugs.

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