This post was last updated on June 22nd, 2018
“Congratulations,” said the young man at the cashier’s station with a smile after a few glances at my hard-to-miss baby bump. He was so sincere and seemed genuinely happy for me, a stranger he’d never met. As I put the last few grocery items on the conveyer belt, I thought to myself how nice it is to encounter rare little kindnesses like that, when people are truly sincere. Then, as many PAL moms are bound to face, the question left his lips, “Is this your first?” I swallowed and briefly thought about my answer.
As always, the perfect face of my day-old daughter Lucy flashed through my mind and my heart radiated warmth. With a wistful smile on my face, I told him, “No, this is my second baby.” He seemed a little perplexed, having assumed I looked the part of a first-time mama, and paused. I continued with, “Our first baby, Lucy, passed away when she was a day old. We miss her, but we’re also excited to bring this special baby home,” as I patted my belly. He quickly apologized, clearly saddened by what I said, and a sheepish look crossed his kind face. I said, “It’s okay, I love opportunities to talk about my baby girl.” I finished with the transaction, and he wished me luck as I pushed my cart away, thanking him.
The “Is this your first baby?” question was one of many things I’d initially feared when I became pregnant with our little rainbow. I knew eventually it’d come with some frequency once I was boldly showing; I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel when faced with that tiny inquisition. Like so many other things during this PAL journey, I’m surprised at the impact it’s had on me. It’s the opposite of what I’d imagined. Instead of feeling sad, I feel a sense of pride when I have the chance to answer that question. I know this isn’t always the case for women in my situation, and there have been plenty of other questions and phrases directed at me that have been hard to react calmly to. However, this one is surprisingly different for me.
Feel No Shame
As time moves me further from my dear Lucy, I’ve learned to embrace conversational moments when I can talk about her, particularly in response to, “Is this your first baby.” Not only do I get to acknowledge her existence to others and affirm my unique motherhood, I also feel a sense of empowerment. Our stories make us who we are; they are the beautiful and sometimes tragic pieces that create us. I don’t want to hide my truth, especially when my darling daughter is part of it. When I share that piece of myself, I want people to be able to see a hardcore warrior mama standing before them. I want them to know that I’ve been through the pits of hell and survived it. I want others to see that one can endure the most tragic and painful of life’s dealings and still thrive on the other side.
In the conversation with the friendly cashier, I felt comfortable sharing, but that may not be the case if I encounter someone less sensitive. The loss journey is so unpredictable, especially during pregnancy after loss. It’s truly different for everyone. There is absolutely no shame in answering the “Is this your first baby?” question differently than I’ve chosen to. Opening oneself up to such vulnerability isn’t easy, and is often downright terrifying. Don’t be ashamed of your story, but also, don’t be ashamed of not sharing your story with everyone. Your heart has been through the wringer, and honestly, not everyone deserves the privilege of hearing it. You have the power to decide how to answer, and don’t be ashamed to do what’s best for you.
Jessica Orlaske is the mother of beautiful little Lucy Rose, whom she was only able to spend a precious day with after suffering a placental abruption. Though the loss of Lucy has transformed her life into one of heartache and challenges, Jessica continues to search for Lucy’s light in all things and find ways to honor her sweet daughter with love and kindness. She has found healing through writing and sharing her story with others.