Saturday, 3 March 2012

Such A Simple Question

Is this your first?

It's such a simple question isn't it? An innocent question. A polite question. The kind of question that is asked all the time. It's part of the "getting to know you" routine. You meet a pregnant woman and you ask her if this is her first baby. No harm in that,,,, right?

This simple question is causing me much anxiety right now. Even though I knew it would happen as my belly grows, I'm still never prepared to answer it. So I get nervous and uncomfortable and never know what to say.

What is the right way to answer this question when your first baby died at 36 weeks?

Do you say no and spill your terrible life story to a complete stranger? Do you become that woman who brings up the sad subject of dead babies at fun social events? Do you become the woman who makes a perfectly nice person who was just trying to be polite feel completely and totally uncomfortable? Or do you lie and smile and say yes, sparing everyone else your discomfort?

If I'm asked by a stranger, like at a shop or in a taxi, I always say yes. I figure the person who is asking is just being polite and really doesn't care about the answer. Plus, they're not entitled to know anything personal about me. I liken it to saying "fine" when a stranger asks how I'm doing. I never feel guilty about this answer,,, this one is easy.

If I'm asked by someone who wants to know for professional reasons, like a doctor or dentist or yoga instructor, I usually say, "Well this isn't my first pregnancy." That lets them know there is history that they can either ask further about if they need to, or let it go if they don't feel they need any further info. This answer has worked out very well for me. It's the answer I figured I'd use in social settings as well,, the truth without too much detail.

A few nights ago I went to a social gathering. There were quite a few women who I had never met before, but who I will most likely see again. I'm visibly pregnant these days so of course my pregnancy was a big topic of conversation. I was asked several times if this was my first and each time I said yes. I cringed inside after answering this way. What happened to my plan to tell people this wasn't my first pregnancy? What happened to my perfect answer? Why couldn't I use it?

I left the event feeling guilty. As if I had somehow forsaken my son by not mentioning him. Maybe guilt isn't the right word. Maybe conflicted is a better way to describe how I felt. I don't know,,, I just didn't feel right about the way I handled the situation.

I've never been the kind of person to spill my guts and family secrets when I first meet someone. I have never been the kind of person who goes to a fun social event and then goes on and on about my problems. I attend social events to chat and gossip and have fun. In my early grief, these events were a way to forget about my horrible life if only for a few hours. So it's not at all out of character that I wouldn't mention something sad at an event that is supposed to be fun.

But for some reason, this is really getting to me. I feel like I lied to these women just to protect them from feeling uncomfortable. So that they could get to know the fun, happy me before I spring my tragedy on them. So I won't be seen as the woman who's baby died before I'm seen as anything else. So that they wouldn't all scurry away and be afraid to ask me any more questions just in case I had more terrible stories to tell.

Is that what it is?? Am I being selfish? Or am I just trying not to spoil a fun event with my sad story?

I don't understand why this question still catches my by surprise and takes my breath away. I should expect it by now. I should be more prepared.

After all, it's such a simple question.


  1. I really get how you feel. Nadav was my FOURTH pregnancy, and it was the first time I'd actually gotten far enough to show. I would too get that question a lot, and I decided to answer this way:
    "Let's just say we worked really hard to get here."
    It was enough info for me to feel like I was acknowledging the loss, and not enough to "bring people down" so-to-speak.
    Now? After losing him I'm not sure what I'll say when I'm pregnant again. If you figure it out, let me know, ok?
    Sending love and light.

  2. I will NEVER forget how it made me feel when people asked me questions like this. The way the answer caught in my throat, the way tears would spring to my eyes. That whole internal dialogue about how to answer an innocent question and still honor the beautiful little one who is now gone.
    Ultimately, I had a friend practice with me. My situations usually arose at work. I made her ask me at random times if I had kids and I came up with an answer that made me feel comfortable. Practicing helped ease the struggle in the moment a bit.
    Please be gentle with yourself. Those you love know your story in full. Those you just met, if they stay in your life, will learn in time. You and your son know that you think of him and honor him every single day no matter now you answer this question.

  3. It seems like such an innocent question. But you can tell it's not so innocent if you are infertile and have never asked it of an obviously pregnant person. I would never in a million years think to ask this question of someone.

    It is a good idea to practice your response so that it feels natural to you. Having twins, I got used to strangers asking me if my kids were 'natural' of if I used 'those fertility drugs' all the time. This annoyed me, but it didn't hurt like "Is this your first?"

    I hope that you can be kind to yourself. There isn't a right or wrong way for you to answer this question.

  4. That is such a difficult question, and unfortunately it doesn't stop once the child is born. I still get asked at least once a week by some well meaning stranger. Like you, I Will often just say yes and go on my way feeling like I've betrayed my first child but even now I occasional stumble over my response. It becomes tricky for me when the stranger is someone I think I might see again socially though. At what point in a developing relationship do we say "well actually I have a dead child as well as this living one..."? I try to judge if I will like the person enough to talk to them again and let that guide my answer but that can be exhausting. There are also those days where I want to shout Mallory's name from the rooftop and affirm her existence any way I can. On those days, the feelings of others be damned - I'm going to talk about my first-born if asked.

  5. I'm struggling to conceive again after losing our twins - our first pregnancy, first children - so haven't yet had to deal with that specific question. I have struggled with the other question, "Do you have kids?" We joke in our support groups, always considering, "Hmmm, do I feel like ruining their day today?" I have answered both ways, and lying made me feel guilty. Most of the time the truth is met with awkward silence or a crappy cliche', but there have been times when amazing things have happened, when someone was touched and wanted to know more so they could understand, or, better still, had lost a child, grandchild, niece or nephew themselves. I always leave *those* experiences feeling good. It's risky to tell the truth, though...and probably moreso when you're meeting these women for the first time and might be around them again. I think all you can do is try in the moment, and if your gut doesn't feel good about it after, try something different the next time.

  6. I almost always say this isn't my first. Because she's not. Sometimes they ask about the gender, then "what is your other/how old is your first?), but more often than not they don't care enough to keep asking. If I do, I answer... No shame in that. :)

  7. I feel that guilt too and cringe inside every time I say it's my first. I just don't trust people so easily...I wonder if they will care enough about my loss or I am fearful of their reactions. Ultimately, I guess it's our personal decision - are these people worthy of knowing about our children? I tried to be casual one time when I said I had one in heaven to a dental assistant. It still took my breath away just to share the loss. Maybe one day I will freely share and feel more natural about sharing.... Hope your little one keeps cooking!

  8. I always respond with "This is the first that I hope to take home from the hospital." If I feel like I'll see the person again, I go on to elaborate and give some background and if I don't think that I'll see them again, I just gush a little about this pregnancy which usually eases any social awkwardness.

  9. I constantly go back and forth between wanting to play along, to enjoy the conversations as if pregnancy is innocent, and wanting to acknowledge that my experience is also real. I'm not at all consistent, and I don't think there's any method to the madness of my answers.

  10. It's not at all the same but when people ask if the Minis are twins I say yes: if we are somewhere like the grocery store or the playground. On the other hand if it's a passport authority, then there's an issue on the birthrates. What I've learned is you go with the first and most appropriate answer depending on the situation. Sometimes I've screwed myself and had to back track and explain that I'm just a big fat liar and no, they aren't technically twins. But no one has ever been anything but kind and pleasant about it. It's your history. Choose what to say when you feel like it. No right or wrong. x

  11. I was so scared of this question, and so far I've only been asked once. It was (annoyingly) a whispered question during a meeting at work, coming from a colleague who (obviously) doesn't know me well. I just shook my head no. There was no opportunity for him (yes, it was an older gentleman) to elaborate on the question, and I found that I was perfectly happy to say no and not comment further. So I won't share my story with everyone, but it was good to find that I can answer with a "No" (say at the grocery store or something) and leave it at that. Still, I think in certain situations I might say something a little more vague like, "It will be" or "We hope so." I don't think you have to be consistent. As you continue to see these women, you may find that you connect with a few of them and want to take them into your confidence. You can just explain that you're a private person, but you'd like to share with them a little bit more about your pregnancy. Or maybe you won't want to share, and that's fine too. You're protecting yourself first, however that comes out. If you want to protect other people, that's your decision. You don't need to feel guilty for speaking your truth or for keeping it private.

  12. I am still scared of this question. I feel like everytime I get asked lately though it always comes out with "yes". I hate not saying I have a son but I also making everyone feel sad for me or wish they hadn't asked, but then I always leave feeling bad.

  13. I guess you answer in a way you can cope with at the moment, depending on different situations and the mood of the day.

    I'm now afraid of the innocent question,"do you have children?" That would trigger the same emotions as this one.

  14. It's a really hard one.

    I posted a blog written by my friend who has triplets. One triplet sadly died at one day old. So she gets it all the time when out with her two boys "oh twins" but they are not.

    There is no right answer as to when or how to disclose, and it must break your heart every time it happens.

  15. You certainly aren't selfish... this is such a hard question. After 2 years, I'm never sure what to say and always feel uncomfortable. Our society finds it so hard to talk about death... esp. of a child. I guess, we're just responding to that and not because we don't want to honor our lost child. Hopefully one day others will feel more comfortable about hearing our stories :) xoxo

  16. I can only hope this gets easier with time, but so far, I can't offer that assurance. It is something I struggle with on a regular basis too. After we adopted Ashlyn, I always get the "is she your first" or "is she your only child" and frankly there is just no good way to answer that, so I usually lie - although I'm telling myself that I am answering what they are intending to ask - which is does she have any living siblings. Really, strangers have no desire to hear about dead babies, and I now have to think about how my daughter perceives whatever I say too (now that she is understanding more and more). I wish I could come up with some glib answer that doesn't minimize our lost twin boys, and doesn't turn the conversation into that awkward "what the hell did I get myself into" discussion either.

    One that I have occasionally used is the non-answer "she is our little miracle" - because to me she is, and it doesn't address the real question - and usually it is just vague enough for people to be too scared to ask anything else.