How many children do you have?

This is such a simple, polite question. Before 2005, the answer to this question was so easy. “No, I don’t have any children.”

After Jake was born and died, the question became so complicated and difficult. A new neighbor moved in shortly after Jake passed away. She was pregnant and friendly. She asked very innocently, “Do you have any children?”  I quickly replied “no.”  As I walked away my answer felt all wrong.   I did have a child.  Why had I not answered yes?

I then proceeded to stay up all night until I felt like it was a decent hour to knock on her door.   The sun finally came up and I marched over to her house.   I explained that last night I told her that I did not have any children and that was not true.  I had a son.  His name was Jake.  He had lived.   He was our child.

When I was pregnant with the twins people would ask, “are these your first?”.   I would answer, “no.”  And, then I would hope they would change the subject or walk away.   However, usually they would continue and ask, “how old is your other child?’.   I had practiced my answer to this question so many times that I could get through it without crying (usually).   My answer, “Our first son was 14 weeks premature.  He lived for 2 weeks.   We never got to take him home.   These will be our 2nd and 3rd children.”

Over time my answer became so automatic that I would just rattle it off.   Until the night that our 4th child, Sawyer, did not wake up.  He was six weeks old.  For example,  at the playground the twins were playing.   These days I try not to speak to other mothers and caretakers at the playground.  The common conversation topic is about children – which makes perfect sense.

My twins love babies.  They saw a baby girl playing with her grandmother.   They ran over to her.  I ran after them.  The grandmother watched how excited the twins were to see the baby.  She simply and politely asked, “how many children do you have?’  Luckily, the twins made such a fuss over her granddaughter that I could pretend that I did not hear the question.

The grandmother persisted.   She joked with the twins “you should ask your mother for a baby.”  My twins replied, “we already have a baby – his name is Sawyer.”  In fact, the twins have even gone so far as to decide that Sawyer will be a spider for Halloween.  I couldn’t respond to the grandmother.   So, I once again pretended that I did not hear what was being said.

One day I will have another answer to this question.  Today is not that day.

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10 Comments
  1. I struggle with that question as well. Usually I just say I have two boys and pray they won’t ask new questions. Hugs and love to you. I’m so very sorry for your losses.

  2. I just got asked this question last night, by an almost-stranger. “So you just have the one child?” I felt awful, but I said yes. Didn’t want to get into it, but I hated to betray my stillborn Sebastian. Now I’m reading your blog and my heart is just breaking for you… that you had those weeks to fall in love with each of your baby boys who didn’t survive. That life was so incredibly cruel to you, against all odds. Please know that I’m thinking about you and hoping the patches of light are getting bigger.

  3. I have become comfortable saying I am the mother of five – because I am – and of someone asks hold old, I say “age 18 months to 20 years.”. That works. But I will completely lose it if anyone ever asks if my oldest is in college or anything else like that. 🙁

  4. I lost a daughter and 2 sons between my oldest and my youngest child. I was pregnant 3 years in a row, my daughter I lost first earlier in the pregnancy then my boys, my 2 boys we born premature but never lived but a few moments. It never bothered me to mention them, they are part of me and of our family and it just felt right for me to mention them when asked. Kyle my oldest who is 28 now would sometimes say his brothers and sister were in heaven, when my last child came there was a 7 year difference. Danny is now21, when he was little he would ask for a baby sister or brother and I would have to tell him I couldn’t have anymore and why. He was my last chance and I almost lost him. It is very difficult, I did find out that once I said it it became easier and that it happened to more people than I thought. Not that that makes it better but it did make me not feel so alone. My deepest sympathy for your loss

  5. Praying for you I do not know how I would be able to deal with one loss but two, Praying for you. and my sympathy for both of your losses.

  6. I run into the same thing when meeting new people and even when getting more closely acquainted with parents at my sons’ school. When asked how many children we have I answer with “Three, two that walk and one that flies.” It either stops them in their tracks or opens the door to an opportunity to talk about my daughter and what a sweet baby she was for the 9 hours she lived. ANd I’ll gladly take any opportunity to mention Samantha’s name. She’s been soaring for 10 years now and I won’t let the world forget she was part of it.

    Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. HUGS!

  7. I’m struggling with this question these days, too. It’s a tough one.

    My son was born full-term 9/15/11 and lived for 15 minutes. By the end of October, I became pregnant again. I’m now halfway through the pregnancy and showing. People often ask if this is our first. Sometimes I blurt out “Yes” and then feel guilty for days. I feel like this answer is a betrayal to my son. Sometimes I say “No” and explain the circumstances, but then I find that people feel so awful for asking that I’m the one comforting *them*, and insisting that I’m okay – even though I’m really not. And then the other day I was able to answer the questions in such a way that it kind of sounded like I had a son at home and he was almost 6 months old. I held it together until I got to the car…and then I lost it. I wanted to go home to that place where he was, but it didn’t exist.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. And that you have double the complications behind it all. You’re not alone. <3

  8. I finally got up the courage on Friday to answer the question, “Do you have any children?” with the answer “In heaven.” It doesn’t make me feel any better than I did before she asked the question but at least it didn’t make me sick to my stomach like all of the other times I denied my 4 angels by meekly stumbling out …”um, no.” What finally gave me the courage to change my answer was an interaction with a coworker who light-heartedly responded to my no with, “Good, don’t have any. They are expensive.”

  9. This has been a difficult question for me since I lost the oldest of my twin boys in May 2013 (first pregnancy). My Z lived for 4 hours. People see me with my youngest twin son and ask if he is the first or only. I often say yes because I don’t want to get into my life story with strangers and I also don’t like to make them or myself feel uncomfortable. I too feel weird and guilty for not acknowledging our oldest but I haven’t figured out a good way to say it in such a way that people understand and yet don’t try to keep pushing for more information. When people say that I should have more, I want to say I’m too scared to even consider it. I feel like I wouldn’t survive the grief if I lost another child. I love my living son so much and he and God keep me going daily. I pray that I will someday soon be strong enough to try again because I don’t want my son to live as an only child. I am so sorry that so many of us have had to go through this loss. This question is so much more complicated than people think.

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