The Question I Fear The Most: “How Many Kids Do You Have?”
Guest Post by Alecia Mader of The Unleashed Mum blog
This question is seemingly harmless and one that most people don’t think twice about answering. It’s like answering your name, it’s an automatic response and not one that you need to think about too much before answering…unless you’re a bereaved parent that is.
I have had four children, all girls. However, only three of them are with me every day. Lilly, our firstborn daughter, was stillborn at 27 weeks gestation in May 2008. Nothing prepared me for the complete shock, devastation and absolute heartbreak my husband and I felt at that time. It was bone-crushingly devastating and without a doubt the single most, worst experience I have ever had to endure.
Giving birth to a dead baby is so traumatic and at the time it didn’t even really feel like it was happening to us. I felt like I was a witness to someone else’s horrific nightmare and it was only in the days, weeks and even months after her birth that I really felt the full force of what we had just experienced.
I was supposed to be pregnant for another 12 weeks and here I was packing all our baby stuff away.
Waking up each day and not feeling her kicking in my tummy and watching my belly shrink instead of grow was devastating. I was supposed to be pregnant for another 12 weeks and here I was packing all our baby stuff away and closing the door of our freshly painted nursery because it was just too hard to walk past her room each day and know that she would never sleep in there.
As I sank into a deep depression and struggled to get out of bed each day I kept telling myself that things would have to get better. I couldn’t keep going on the way that I was. My husband was my pillar of strength and was the one who held my head above water when all I really wanted to do was sink, despite his own heartache. One particularly bad day I remember crying and screaming so much that I had made myself physically ill, vomiting and retching for hours on end. The pain seemed relentless and it didn’t feel like there was ever going to be an end in sight.
The idea of having another child was so terrifying.
The idea of having another child was so terrifying and I was still in such a fog that I don’t even remember really discussing it with my husband, I think we both just assumed that by getting pregnant again, we would hopefully be able to start healing and things would get better. We knew it wouldn’t be easy though, as we had endured two years of fertility treatments and a couple of early miscarriages before I finally fell pregnant with Lilly.
Miraculously, we did fall pregnant again, naturally this time, only three months after Lilly was born. I felt awful that I wasn’t even happy about it initially as I had convinced myself that my body would fail me again and I would never hold a full term, live baby in my arms. I was so psychologically damaged from Lilly’s birth that my mind wouldn’t let me think of anything but negative outcomes.
Eleven months and two weeks after Lilly’s birth/death we were given the greatest gift and blessed with a healthy, happy, full term beautiful baby girl, Tahlia. She is a mini me and there are times when I look at her and see myself so clearly, that it just astounds me. She helped me out of such a horrible, dark and lonely place. One that I never ever wish to revisit again. She showed my husband and I that miracles do happen, and they always appear when you least expect them, but right when you need them the most.
We tried for almost four years after Tahlia was born for another baby, to give her a sibling and complete our family. This time, again, it wasn’t easy for us and we once again found ourselves back at the fertility centre, enduring painful, invasive procedures that ultimately led nowhere, only to heartache and disappointment. We gave up and were resigned to the fact that it would just be the three of us and we were happy with that. We knew how incredibly lucky we were to have one healthy, happy, beautiful little girl.
Now, three years later those days seem like a distant memory as we have been blessed with two more little girls, both lovely surprises, born 19 months apart. Our world is suddenly chaotic and crazy and we have found ourselves back in toddler and newborn stages all over again, after thinking it would never happen for us again. The love I have for those three girls, and the bond that I have with each of them continually surprises and amazes me. No one can really understand the love a parent has for their child until you become one yourself.
They drive me crazy and they fight and argue and there is never enough sleep, or hours in a day and date nights with hubby are almost non-existent, but I would not trade it for the world. I love our crazy, loud, amazing family and am grateful for them every day, even on the not so good days.
The pain we felt in those first few early days, weeks and months after losing Lilly is now not as intense, but it has never fully gone away. I carry it with me every day, like a war wound. Proud to have those scars, as it means her life was not in vain. It means she will never be forgotten, that her life mattered.
People say time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t. Time just helps us better understand how to cope.
Some days are good, some days are bad, that’s just the way life works and when you experience grief of any kind, it is no different. You can’t put a time limit on how long you will grieve for, or how long it will take for everything to be better or back to “normal”.
After the death of a child, there is no “normal” anymore. There is life before and life after.
It is how we choose to live the life after, that matters. I try and make sure each day with my kids is one I don’t take for granted and even though I am by far a perfect parent, I think I am doing things that work perfectly for me, the kids and my husband, and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to work for everybody else, just us.
So, although I hate being asked how many kids I have, as it always rehashes old wounds, over the past eight years I have learnt how to respond without beating myself up too much. Initially after Tahlia was born, healthy and happy, I remember really struggling to answer people. It somehow seemed disrespectful not to mention Lilly when someone asked me how many children I have, but, on the other hand, I found it difficult to have to re-tell my story over and over again to complete strangers, particularly since some of those strangers didn’t quite know how to handle my news and, in many cases, reacted inappropriately.
More recently I’ve found that what works best for me when I meet someone new is to initially talk about my three living daughters, and then, if the person seems to be someone I may want to get to know better or if he or she seems to be generally interested in my family situation, I may decide to tell them about Lilly too, but usually not straight away.
Each parent who has experienced the death of a baby has his or her own unique way of responding to this particular question. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. What’s important is that I honour mine and my family’s feelings first, and for the most part, I think we do it pretty well.
Alecia is an everyday mum trying to navigate her way through this crazy ride we call parenthood. She’s passionate about pregnancy, birth, children/babies, women’s health and relationships. See the The Unleashed Mum Facebook page for more of her posts.
Image by Play & Go.
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