One of the hardest aspects of losing your child is dealing with other people’s reactions to your loss. Awkwardness, pity, shock, platitudes and a speedy change of subject are the most common. In a bid to make it easier for others, we often compromise on our own feelings. There is no greater example of this than being asked the dreaded question of “Do you have any kids?” The answer couldn’t be more complicated.
I was at work the other week when it happened to me. Since returning from my maternity leave, I pretty much keep to myself, avoiding the usual chit-chat, small talk, and social gatherings. The stress of being asked THE question is just too much for me to deal with. I don’t know why this day was any different, but I started some small talk with a new starter. Maybe I was trying to be friendly. I knowingly steered the conversation away from the topic of children, but before I knew it, it hit me out of left field:
“Do you have any kids?”
Related: How Many Kids Do You Have?
There it was, the dreaded question. And there I was, stuck in the middle of an open plan office, surrounded by prying ears. “Yes, I have a son,” I answered, followed quickly by “But he died.” The lump in my throat was so big I could barely swallow. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, I kept repeating to myself in my head. On the inside, I slowly died. On the outside, I managed to hold it together… just about.
There were many things that frustrated me about this encounter, but mainly I was angry with myself. I wished that I could have been stronger and not said, “I have a son BUT,” and instead just said, “I have a son.” A lot of the time when I talk about Benjamin I always preface the conversation with a “but”. I think I am trying to make it easier for the other person and in some ways easier for myself—I don’t want them to feel bad and I don’t want to have to answer a million questions that ultimately end in me explaining that my son died.
To be honest I really wish that it didn’t have to be either/or.
I wish that we could talk about our children safe in the knowledge that they are accepted like living children. I wish that we could talk about our children without having to worry about making someone else feel awkward. Death does not erase a life, nor does it erase our love.
Tommy’s The Baby Charity, from the UK, recently launched a new campaign #TogetherForChange calling for more open dialogue around baby loss and challenging the stigma of silence around it. They want it to become commonplace for us to be able to speak about our children freely and with pride and break down the social media portrayal of a perfect pregnancy. Our children lived. They changed our lives. They matter.
So I encourage you to speak up and tell your story.
Do your small part in helping to bring our children out of the shadows and into the light.
When someone asks, “Do you have any kids?”, no longer will I respond “I have a son, but…” Instead, it will be “I have a son” period.
Photo by Heartfelt