The Question that Still Makes My Heart Skip a Beat

October 30, 2017

“How many kids do you have?” Every time I hear this question, I freeze.

It’s an innocent question. Not meant to pry. No malice or ill intent hidden within it. It’s simply small talk. People making conversation, asking the usual questions after discussing the weather.

But every time I hear it, my heart still skips a beat.

Photo by Robin Spielmann on Unsplash

Which version of the story to share

I have my script prepared and I know exactly what I’ll say if I decide to include Aiden or not. I know I have a split second to decide which version of the story I’ll share.

In that moment I ask myself if it feels safe to share my broken heart and the truth. Can I tell this person I have three children, but my first child died?

Or should I avoid the potentially awkward moment and shield my fragile heart? Instead, only including my two living children in my answer. It’s a lie and I always feel a stab of guilt when I don’t acknowledge Aiden. It never feels good, but sometimes I know the person won’t want to hear the truth. Seeing their uncomfortable shock doesn’t make me feel good either. And sometimes my fragile heart just isn’t in a place to open up to someone I barely know.

This question never gets easier

No matter how much time has passed. Or how many times I’ve rehearsed my scripts of how to answer this question. No matter how many times I’ve shared the truth aloud. Or how many times I’ve winced as I decide not to include Aiden.

This question still makes my heart skip a beat. My breath still catches. I still feel a moment when pain and grief engulf my heart. There is still a panicked moment of indecision as I decide how I will answer.

Earlier in my grief journey, I remember searching for how other people handle this question. I thought if I knew what to say, if I had a script prepared, this question wouldn’t be so difficult.

The truth is there is no easy way to answer when someone asks you how many children you have when one of your children has died. I’ve practiced my script and I feel prepared. I can even share Aiden and the basics of his story without breaking down in tears most times.

But I’ve learned there will always be a moment of painful hesitation for me. Where I must decide if I want to risk sharing my story. I try to gauge if the person will receive the story with compassion and grace. Or if they will respond with shock, horror and awkwardness, making me wish I’d never opened my heart and shared at all.

No easy way to answer

I never know if it’s safe to trust this stranger with the darkest, most difficult part of my life. But I also know the guilt and pain I feel by not including Aiden in my answer. As though not including Aiden is like denying his existence. Even though my rational mind knows that’s not true, it’s still the way I feel.

Sometimes my heart just isn’t ready to trust every person I meet with Aiden’s story. And that’s ok. I’m learning that it’s ok to answer this question differently in different situations and with different people.

Sometimes I’ve been so glad I shared Aiden’s story with someone. There have been times I’ve told a new friend about him and received so much love and compassion back. Times where opening up and sharing about Aiden has taken a friendship from acquaintances to a deeper level of friendship.

But no matter how prepared I am, that simple question “how many kids do you have?” still hurts. It still makes me feel a flash of panic and indecision. It still makes my heart skip a beat.

Such an innocent question. Just one of many things that was once simple, but becomes so complicated after you lose a child.

  • Melissa Russell

    Melissa is the mother of three children, two in her arms and one forever in her heart. Her first child, Aiden, died in 2010 at 19 days old. Several days after his birth it was discovered Aiden was missing almost all of his small intestine, and his condition was too severe to respond to treatment. Melissa and her husband have gratefully welcomed two more children into their family since losing Aiden. You can find Melissa at Simple Lionheart Life, writing about creating a simple and intentional life as she tries to figure out the world again after losing Aiden.


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