a few days ago, we drove past our very-pregnant neighbour's house, and she was outside with her daughter S, who is the same age as L.
"Mommy," he said, with that This Is An Urgent Why Question upper-register voice of his, "is S going to have a baby?"
i explained that yes, her mommy has a baby growing inside her body, and that very soon S will have a little sister. now, we'd just come back from a playdate at the park with one of his school friends, who also has a little sister. L was very quiet in that special preschooler way that indicates Big Thoughts Are In My Head Right Now. i looked in the rear-view mirror. his brow was furrowed, and he looked worried.
"L, your face looks worried. are you having a big feeling right now?" i asked.
a little voice said "yes."
"Sweets, are you wondering if you are suddenly going to have a little sister too?"
he burst out in relief "YESSSSSS!!"
i'm glad we were driving, so he couldn't see my face. part of me was laughing merrily, and part of me went very, very still.
"Oh L, it's ok. don't worry. that won't happen." i explained.
"No, honey, getting a little brother or sister usually involves a big decision made by the mommy and daddy, and then it takes a long time for a baby to grow inside its mommy's body. so you get plenty of warning if you're going to get a little brother or sister. it doesn't happen suddenly. the mommies and daddies tell their kids way before it happens."
"Did B (another friend) know about his little sister before she came?"
"Yes, he did."
"Ok." L was quiet for awhile, again with that Big Thoughts look. "Um, Mommy?"
(Quietly) "Is there a baby growing inside your body RIGHT NOW?"
my breath caught. "Oh, no, my love, no. there is not. not anymore."
i swallowed hard. "Babies can't grow inside Mommy's body anymore."
"Oh love, i don't know. i just don't know."
He was quiet again. "Can we listen to the elephant song please?"
i gratefully turned on the kids' music CD and made it as loud as was safe, so he wouldn't notice me crying.
today is October 15th, National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, or in our home, Tummymuffin Day. (click links for more information, if you are unfamiliar with this -- it is observed worldwide, with candles lit from 7:00-8:00pm local time.) tonight will be somewhat different -- we will be remembering our four lost children, instead of three.
you see, it's been less than a month since i had to say goodbye to Tummymuffin V. yes, as i was writing that last post about closing and latching the gate on more kids -- i was, unbeknownst to me, already pregnant. and then just as we were joyfully adjusting to this new reality, it was all over. everything went back to being the same. and nothing will ever be the same again.
as L grows older, and becomes more aware of other kids having brothers and sisters, our decision to Talk About the children we lost becomes more complex. he knows that he had brothers and sisters that "no one got to meet," but as he starts to better understand that most people only talk about or know about siblings that are alive, there will inevitably be questions -- not just from him, but from others who won't understand why a little kid would be talking about babies that were never born.
the reason is exactly why this day exists, first brought into being in America by Congressional decree (and then spreading internationally; most recently Australia passed a resolution to recognize it) -- because the lives of these never-met babies, even if they were so short as to have never been born, massively impact the lives of their families and friends. my son's life is irrevocably shaped by the three before him, and now also by the one after.
pregnancy and infant loss -- and especially the accompanying grief and sorrow -- is not at all a comfortable topic of conversation, but it is imperative that our society becomes more accepting and adept at Talking About It. while every loss is unique, and especially every parent's response to it is also, they must be given the right to make a choice of how to respond in their own way. and too many of them have felt that silence and secrecy is their only option. it is incredibly hard to speak openly about this, and it takes practice with those you love and trust.
if you have lost a child in pregnancy or early infancy, please know that you are far from alone. many of the links to the right will take you to places that have wonderful resources for coping with the grief, finding support, and talking openly about your loss. you can also feel free to email me (my information is under the "About" tab at the top of the page). talk to your partner about where you are in your journey; too often even in our house, i am surprised by where my husband is, or he is blindsided by how fresh the pain feels for me sometimes. being open, at least in your family relationships, is a good start.
and for those of you who love someone who has had a loss -- or especially if they're revealing this part of themselves to you for the first time -- simply be present. let them tell their story without judgment or any "fix-it" responses.* give a hug and an "i'm sorry." or if you already know of someone mourning a loss/losses, perhaps use this day to send a quick text or email to say "i remember with you." don't worry that you might be reminding them of something painful; they are most likely all too aware of it on a regular basis.
keep talking. keep listening. keep loving. thank you to all of you who have done all of this for me on my journey. i promise to do the same.
*you can find posts about helping someone who's had a loss under the "advice and resources" tab at the top.