Monday, October 3, 2011

How many kids do you have?

It is a question I used to love. When people would ask me, I would smile and say something like "Two! I have twins!" Then I would enjoy the inevitable "Noooo! You do? You look far too young and beautiful to have twins!"

Okay I edited that last sentence a tad.

Then I would find a picture I just happened to have hooked to my badge or saved in my phone, and inwardly squeel with pride as they "awww"ed, and "Oh my gosh so cuuuute"ed over my beautiful children. It's one of God's rewards to mommies, being able to brag about their children. I imagine God Himself does some pretty serious bragging now and then. "Yeah, that's my Son, Jesus. He's perfect. No literally, He's perfect. Prince of Peace. Savior of all humanity. Your son is an honor student? My son walks on water."

Bragging about my babies is one of my very favorite things. Answering that question always made me feel good.

It still does, but now it is tinged with a sting of sadness. I remember the first time someone asked me how many children I had right after we buried Lily. It was my first day back at work and a well meaning mom of one of my patients had spotted the pictures of J* and E* I keep on my badge. "Ohhh are those your kids? How many do you have?"

I literally froze. I was in the process of saying, "Two" when a horrible feeling of guilt hit me. How could I say two? Hadn't I just given birth two weeks earlier to a beautiful baby girl? Hadn't I named her and signed her birth certificate and kissed her little feet? Hadn't I attended her funeral, watched my husband carry her tiny handmade casket across the cemetary and watch them lower it into the ground?

How could I pretend none of it had happened? How could I say I had only two children? What kind of mother would I be?

On the other hand, I knew what this woman was asking. She was not trying to open up a big fat can of crazy worms and hear my life story, she was simply making small talk. But I was completely frozen.  I did not know what to say! If I said three, she would ask how old they were. I had been asked that question enough times to know the follow up. Before Lily, it always went something like "Oh, they're six months!" And the other person would marvel at how I was even dressed and put together with two tiny babies (okay that rarely happened, it was more like a look of sympathy while they internally said "Ahhh, that explains a lot").

Or, as they grew, my answer changed to "Oh, they're two," And then we'd make small talk on how easily they potty trained or if they still had a binky. Or maybe I would say, "Oh, they just turned four," and we would then go on to discuss preschools and if I was ready for them to go to kindergarten (No, I was not).

But now I was unprepared. How would the conversation turn if I said I had three children and she then asked me how old they were? Would I say, "My oldest are five and my baby girl died two weeks ago"? How horrible! I already felt sorry for this woman who was inadvertently stepping into a big smelly pile of awkward. And was I prepared to go into detail on my baby girl's passing with a total stranger who was merely trying to be polite?

And what if I just decided to spare her feelings? To avoid the inevitable awkward conversation and her feeling like a total jerk. What if I just said, "Two. I have two children." And then what if I immediately burst into tears because that's a horribly rotten thing to say when I was still grieving the baby I had grown under my heart only weeks before?

And what if, God forbid, Lily heard me? Now, I am a Christian, and I believe that when people die, they are gone, either in Heaven or Hell, and they do not "watch over us" or come back as gaurdian angels or have anything at all to do with this earthly life. They are (if they are go to Heaven, which I believe all children do when they die, unborn or not) in a place of perfect peace and joy, and how could that be true if they were allowed to "watch" what is happening on earth?

I cannot reconcile my child's completely painless and joyful Heavenly existence with them having to watch their mother fall to pieces over their passing. I just don't believe Jesus lets them watch a magic TV set with a channel for each of the people that loved them on earth. They have better things to do, and I'm glad Lily won't see me again until I am whole and perfect and running to her with utter joy in my eyes as I scoop her up and twirl her and hold her and not put her down for a hundred years. I don't want her to see me like this, and I know she can't.

But this unreasonable fear kept haunting me. What if she heard me say I only have two children? How would that make her feel? Would she think she didn't count? That she wasn't loved? That she didn't matter to us just as much as her brother and sister?

Again, unreasonable thoughts I know, but this is the internal struggle I have now whenever that question is asked. There is a whole other layer of ridiculous when you consider I've also had two miscarriages, and I believe those were two children that I will see again one day. So where do they fit into that question?

So that first day back at work, I was simply too unprepared and emotional to answer that question honestly. So I said "Two." And I talked with her about how they were starting kindergarten, and then I excused myself, and I went to the bathroom and sobbed my eyes out. I remember apologizing to Lily over and over, telling God to give her a kiss and tell her that mommy loves her, and I miss her, and I was so sorry I left her out.

I've been asked that question many times since, and each time I've answered it the same. "Two." And then I would be immediately hit with guilt and sadness and regret.

Then one day I asked another mother that question. Her answer touched me. She said, "One here, and one in Heaven." So simple. The world didn't suddenly end and she didn't break down and start crying. It was just matter of fact. I smiled to myself and told her that I had one in Heaven too. We went on to have a beautiful conversation about the children we've watched grow up, as well as the children who are waiting for us in Heaven.

So I asked myself, "Why am I trying so hard to spare everyone's feelings?" That woman didn't make me feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with her answer, and if she had, that's my problem to deal with, not hers. I think burying a child really puts the meaning of "uncomfortable" into perspective. Who cares if they don't know what to say? Maybe if people talked a bit more openly about these "uncomfortable" matters, it wouldn't feel so uncomfortable to do so.

So I tried it. I was working one day and one of the volunteers asked me how many children I had. I took a very deep breath (she probably thought I had so many I had to count them...), smiled, and said, "I have two here with me, and one in Heaven waiting for me."

She tilted her head and sadly smiled and told me she was sorry, but that I was so blessed because my children were beautiful. And I said I know, and we went on to have a very nice conversation. I even talked about Lily, and how she had the most beautiful little feet and perfect kissy lips. And it made me feel good. And no one broke down in tears or ran from the room screaming.

I know that there will be some women reading this who have had losses of their own. I want to encourage you to come to terms with not just your loss, but the fact that your child was here. They existed. You have a right to talk about them! You have a right to be a braggy mama! My Lily lived for 19 weeks and 3 days, and I will not pretend she didn't exist to save some shmuck from feeling uncomfortable. Because you know what? I think that uncomfortableness is mostly in our heads anyway.

The conversations that have begun because I opened up about Lily, the people who have also lost children who never would have said anything if I hadn't opened that door, the comfort I have found in talking to someone who's been there, who I never would have known had been there if I had said, "I have two children," I would have missed out on that. And I'm so glad I didn't.

I have two children here with me that I get to see and kiss and spoil and love every single day. I have one child who I got to meet, to hold, to fall in love with, to make memories with, to cherish and hide in my heart, but who I will not see again in this lifetime. And I have two babies who lived only for a breath. I don't know what they looked like or who there were. But I know they existed, and they forever changed their mama.

And I have a child out there who I haven't met yet, who maybe hasn't been born yet, who might not even be created yet! But I believe they're out there, and God will bring them home to me someday.

I am going to have my hands full in Heaven! This life is so short compared to eternity. It is but a blink of an eye! I can get through a blink of an eye if I have a promise of eternity with all of my children. That's one of God's promises, eternity. I will get to spend forever holding and kissing and playing with and loving all of my children! And that's pretty cool to think about.


  1. So beautiful Karen! Thank you for your breathtaking honesty. I love you!!


  2. You are brave and strong and amazing. You offer hope to so many in the toughest of times. May your journey be a blessed and courageous one.

  3. So touching and very beautiful. love and hugs <3

  4. Super good post. I really appreciated it.