Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dodging Landmines: on conversations with other parents

Last week, I had a fairly normal conversation with a neighbor who used to be one of my closest friends.  There have been so many secondary losses since Lydie died, and normalcy with my mom friends is a big one.  For the most part, our conversation felt good - except for my discomfort when she mentioned weaning her son who is just a bit older than Lydie would be. Those kind of snippets are always painful for me.

Leaving story hour, I felt a little proud of myself.  Until I heard my neighbor ask another mom, "How close in age are your kids?"

I recoiled.  And that one innocent question reminded me all over again how difficult it is for me to hold conversations with non-loss parents.

Such a trigger to even overhear that question posed to someone else.

It got me thinking about my interactions at the playground, the library, daycare, and even standing on the sidewalk in front of my own home.

Anyone who doesn't know our family would never guess that Josie is not the second child, that she is actually the third.   That even though my living children are only 2 1/2 years apart, there is another child between them.

Even though I realize I would make that same assumption, it still hurts.

And as much as that hurts, sometimes it's actually harder when people know about Lydie -- the comments they make.

For example:

Setting: outside my house
Neighbor: How is it having your second?
Me: Actually, she's our third.  Our second child died.
Neighbor: (Typical shocked "Oh my God, I'm so sorry... response.)

Setting: a couple weeks later, at the library
Same neighbor: How was your Christmas?
Me: Um... it was okay.
Thought process: The holidays are actually really hard when one of your children has died.
Neighbor to Ben: How do you like being a big brother?
Me: (silent death stares)


The big brother question is tossed around these days a lot.

At Justin's work when we visit, by a random woman at an indoor playground, by this neighbor.
It makes me want to scream.  Ben became a big brother when he was 11 months old and I got pregnant with Lydie.  He spent 8 months kissing my belly and talking to her.  This question upsets me so much that I have, on occasion, spewed out: He already was a big brother!

I get it.  I get that Ben can finally physically be a big brother.  That saying "I love you, I miss you" while lighting a candle and looking at the stars before bedtime is not the typical behavior of older siblings.  But when Justin and I are trying to teach Ben that Lydie is a very valued member of our family, and just as much his sister as Josephine is, this "How do you like being a big brother?" nonsense cuts deep.

When Justin's coworker asked Ben, I kept my mouth shut.  Not your place, I told myself.  Later I wished I had responded something like, oh he is a great big brother to both his sisters, or it is fun for him to be a big brother again.  Why couldn't I have thought of those responses at that moment?

Next time.  And I'm quite sure there will be a next time.


I feel like I have to practice my responses to these questions, just like a year ago I was practicing my response to "How's the baby?"  God, that question cut deep.  Dead.  The baby is dead.


Here's a few more recaps of awkward conversations:

Setting: a 3-year-old's birthday party
Mom of a child in Ben's class (and yes, she knows about Lydie:) It's so tough to go from one to two. 
Thought process: Not nearly as hard as not going from one to two because your child died.
Me: (nothing).

What I wish I had said: We're very grateful to have our two living children.

Later, same Mom:  We'd like to have 3 kids but don't know how we'd afford the daycare.
Me: (nothing) (again)
Thought process: Are you fucking kidding me?

What I wish I had said: Yes, if we're lucky enough to have a fourth child, that would be an issue for us as well.

Setting: ski hill in my hometown
Girl from high school whom I haven't seen in 17 years: Heather!  Heather!  
Me: (questioning look)
Girl: It's Courtney.
Me: Oh! Hi.
Girl: I'm watching my daughter ski.
Me: Oh yeah?  My son is on that hill with my mom.
Girl: How many kids do you have?
Me: Three.  Two living.  My daughter died.
Girl: Like a miscarriage?
Me: No. I was 34 weeks pregnant.  A stillbirth.
Girl: Did you deliver her?
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: Did you have to deliver her?
Me: Yes.  I was 34 weeks pregnant.

Setting: indoor playground
Random mom: How many kids do you have (here)?
Thought process: Here?  Did she say here?  I think she said 'here' but it's really loud in here.  What if she didn't say here, but I don't include Lydie?
Me: Uhhhhhh........ two.
Random mom: (strange look)


There's also the time that I wrote the names of our three kids on the whiteboard at Justin's work and a new coworker asked him if Lydie was his cat.

Or the coworker who gifted Josephine a sleeper that says "Mom's little angel" with angel wings on the back.  I never refer to Lydie as an angel as many loss moms do, but there are a million reasons I cannot put that on my living child.


I feel like I'm constantly walking this line between my own need to acknowledge my daughter's existence and other's discomfort.  It is, quite simply, exhausting.


  1. I hate that look you get from some people. Like you overshared or something. Fuck them.

    I just admit I am mentioning N less and less when asked about children. The responses have been so bloody cold at times, that I've felt completely burned by it for weeks after.

    I tell myself not everyone deserves to know about her. I save her name for when it feels safe.

    1. You make a good point. Soon after Lydie died, we met up with a kid from high school whose baby died about 7 years ago. He said he doesn't tell random strangers about her, because they don't GET to hear about her. They don't get in. But he always make a quick judgment about whether to tell someone new about her. Like a neighbor, yes. A grocery store clerk, no. I like that philosophy although I am sure it is also exhausting. But... at this point I feel so damn guilty if I don't acknowledge Lydie. Even the mom who asked how many kids I have "here" (I think), I felt so guilty.

  2. Ughhhhh! I can't believe some of these comments. Especially the did you deliver her? WTF?!? People are such idiots. I hate that simple questions will always be complex to us no matter what. Hugs to you.

    1. Total idiots. I wrote a blog post, called The Trap Door about a year ago.

      How else do they think she came out??

  3. So so exhausting.

    It does get easier, I think, coming up with responses on the spot. But then it also seems that it gets more...nonchalant. Or maybe I'm just more settled in to telling people that Luke was stillborn. The other day we were at lunch with some newer people at work. Literally, they've been there a week. One of them has a 15 year old, so she gets Mom things, the other is REALLY young (like 23) and doesn't even comprehend things like marriage. So we were talking about me being pregnant, etc. I was with other coworkers who were there when Luke died and get it all...but then we got to talking about how every pregnancy, shit just gets harder and more sore, etc. and one of my friends asked how much Luke weighed, and I could see the confusion, because the two girls HAVE been in my office and seen pics of Lena...So I just blurted out "Luke is my first son...he was stillborn at 39 weeks..." and then told Dawn how much he weighed, etc.

    It felt like, whiplash. Like always. They looked horrified, and the Mom was just like, OMG, I'm so so sorry, and the other one had NO idea what to say, I could tell...

    Sometimes I'm glad that Luke was my first, so I didn't already have Mommy friends in the game who were on the same family-planning track as me where I had to witness kids growing up. I sort of just started making Mom friends with Lena, so most of their oldests are Lena's age and it doesn't feel weird. But also...I do insulate myself to only hanging out with people who know me deep. These conversations with random casual people are just the worst. Seemingly simple will always be complex to us, and I just hate that.

    And that question about delivery...What in the actual fuck?

    1. I hadn't thought about that, Jen, but you make a good point. Almost all my old friends have kids these days -- and you're right that the friends who have the same family-planning track as us are especially painful. The good friend that I was texting the morning I found out Lydie had died? Her son is exactly one month older than Ben and she was due like two weeks before me with a girl. I haven't been able to speak to her since that morning. She didn't do anything wrong, not at all. But I just can't. It's so fucking hard.

      And these conversations? I'm glad to hear from you that they get easier. You seem to handle the mom-stuff with such ease, I don't know how you do it. I'm glad your coworkers asked you how much Luke weighed though (he was such a big boy!). So many people steer away from questions like that.

    2. I'm not sure if I handle them with ease, or if I'm just lucky that I'm not surrounded by COMPLETE idiots. I know for a fact I'm lucky to have the coworkers that I have...because I can call most of them friends--really really good friends.

      It's OK if things like this are always hard. To an extent, they'll always be hard--just in different ways. Like for me, I still have a hard time that LITERALLY EVERY PERSON I'M FRIENDS WITH IRL HAS A SON. Like...I try not to dwell on it when I'm with them...because statistics--it's a 50/50 and no one gets a choice...but fuck if I'm not really fucking jealous when I sit down and really think about it. I don't get my son. The one I had. But EVERYONE else does.

      So yeah. I might seem to be better at dealing with the realities, but in my head, I still struggle. And that's OK ♥

  4. I never know what to say after I tell someone Eloise was stillborn. They all look at me the same way, eyes wide, jaw dropped for a millisecond, looking for a way out. I feel the need to reassure them that it's ok that my daughter died and they are asking about it. No problem! I haven't developed a response to the response I guess. Being a nanny for an infant only exacerbates my need to reassure people. Oh you work with kids? That must be so hard for you? Well, it can be challenging, but it's not as hard as having your baby die inside of you. Or, oh, she's so cute, how old? She's (insert age here), but I'm her nanny. Usually at this point I have to bite my tongue (literally sometimes) so I don't launch into my tale of heartache and woe. I'm learning to keep my eyes down, give clipped responses and to walk away ASAP.

  5. I feel your pain. Our 23 weeks gestation daughter, Annie, died six years ago.

    I've come to some personal conclusions about what I tell people regarding her: (a) mentioning her every time is untenable. People aren't comfortable hearing about it, for whatever reason, and the conversation takes a nosedive. Some people say stupid things ('God has a plan' or what have you), but the worst are the people who clam up and say NOTHING. So I generally don't mention her; Annie doesn't deserve to be a conversation-stopper.

    (b) That said, at one of the prenatal aqua aerobics classes I attended I asked someone if the baby they were carrying was their first. "No," she responded, "I have another, but she died during labor." We had an absolutely amazing conversation after that, sharing stories and commiserating.

    So I will sometimes mention Annie, but only if I get the sense the person I'm talking to won't be a complete disappointment.

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It's a good reminder to me that I do not have to mention Lydia every single time. Maybe feeling the need to will change over time for me?

      I am sorry you lost your daughter Annie. I love her name.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I worry about how I will respond to people all the time. And I always practice my responses even though I often blank and stutter and stumble. But I want to tell everyone about Ryan. Even when I know I'm going to make them uncomfortable. They won't be worse off than me. So there's always that.


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