Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How many children do you have?

Earlier today, on Facebook and Twitter, I asked the question, "When people ask you how many children you have, do you include the children you've lost?" The answers were interesting and varied, and I thought I would share my own personal response here.

First of all, I know my husband and I have conceived at least six children. I say "at least" because I suspect that I've had a few other unconfirmed "chemical pregnancies" (very early miscarriages) based on my charts from the past few years, but also because most women have most likely had early miscarriages of which they are completely unaware. There are some statistics out there that put the percentage of miscarriages of unconfirmed pregnancies at 50%. So it's quite possible that half of all pregnancies end before a woman even has the chance to know she's pregnant and then another 20-30% of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. So, it's fairly impossible (this side of heaven) for any woman to know for sure how many children she's truly conceived. In some ways, attempting to answer the questions "How many children to do have?" with 100% certainty is a bit unrealistic. But my husband and I know we've conceived six and we acknowledge all of those souls as our children. Those who have passed are not any less real or significant than those here on earth with us. We don't distinguish.

But, if we're talking semantics, I don't have six children. I currently have two children - one who is currently playing downstairs and the other currently playing in my womb. God has the other four (or more, as I suspect). So, when asked how many children I have, I don't feel one bit guilty if I say I only have one or two (depending on whether I'm counting the baby in the womb or not - I am still not yet used to counting him/her and until just recently, it wasn't obvious I was pregnant and I prefer not to talk about it if I can avoid it) because that's all I have here on earth with me. I don't feel like I'm forgetting about the babies who have died or that I'm somehow failing to honor them. It's just the plain truth. I always assume that the person who asks wants to know how many children I am raising, not how many children my husband and I conceived, and I find it best to answer a question by addressing its intention.

When it comes down to it though, I try to avoid answering the question directly. When asked, "How many children do you have?" I usually say, "I have a three year old." Now that I'm a bit more obviously pregnant, I've been asked quite a bit (when Lucia's not around, of course), "Is this your first?" And I answer the same way, "No, I have a three year old," instead of having to decide whether to say, "No, it's my second," or "No, it's my sixth." It's a simple way to avoid having to directly answer with a number and gets across the information that was requested. (Again, deferring to the intention of the question.)

When someone directly asks if this is my second child, however, I do share that it's my sixth. I'm not sure why the distinction. Maybe it's semantics. I only have two children on earth, but this baby is not my second child. Second living child, yes. Second child, no. I know that doesn't make much sense. What can I say, the minds of women after loss are complicated places. There are very few things that all women who have experienced loss have in common, but I do believe one thing that's pretty constant is that each of us will find ourselves inordinately stuck on something while other things just don't bother us. We each have our own triggers, but I think each of us have them, whatever they are. Calling my baby my second child is just one of those. It's just not something I'm comfortable with, and I probably just notice it so much because it does bother me, but it seems like our society is pretty stuck on saying things like, "Congrats on baby #2", which is akin to nails on a chalkboard to me (especially from people who know about our losses).

So, if you've had a loss, how do you answer these questions? Are you comfortable with your response? Do you have certain comments or phrases that bother you more than others (like calling our current pregnancy "baby #2" bothers me)?


  1. I struggle regularly with this too, especially at work where patients parents' ask all the time. Because my loss happened before my earth-dwelling son I spent the whole pregnancy fighting internally with how to answer these poor people just being friendly fellow parents. I often would (and still do) pause, grit my teeth and lie that yes, he's my first. It truly feels like a lie to me and I know I will never look at William and see my oldest child. He will always be my second son. Sometimes I refer to him as my " firstborn " since Malachi was not born. That feels more honest. I have a patient named Malachi too and I always want to tell his mother I have a son named Malachi too. I've never had a good chance though. I think she'd understand. So to answer more succinctly, I say he's my first if asked that or "one" if asked that but not before a long pause and a deep breath in which I privately acknowledge my first son. In the right company I'll share more though.

  2. I almost always just count Maria. When I was pregnant with her and people would ask if she's my first, I would answer yes, assuming that they were asking- is she the first baby you've felt kick, the first heartbeat you saw on ultrasound, the first you will hold and nurse and change diapers for and sing to and raise? Occasionally when in a more private conversation with a catholic, I'll mention one in Heaven.

  3. Ugh, I used to cringe when people asked if Landon was my first when I was pregnant with him. Because no, I actually carried his brother for 5 months...but telling some people that is just awkward. (It took us awhile to get pregnant again, so people we had met recently really had no clue about our loss.) Then when I was pregnant with Chase, the whole "baby #2" thing never sat well with me but I know people just aren't thinking about babies lost. It really just depends on who I'm talking to, whether or not I tell them about Levi. At Chase's gender reveal, I had no problem saying "we have 3 boys now!!" because it was all family and friends close to us.