Ask the Expert is a column at Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) where members of the community ask questions of experts who treat moms who are pregnant after loss. Visit our Ask the Expert page to submit a question.
*Disclaimer: Pregnancy After Loss Support does not give medical or psychological advice. We are strictly a peer-to-peer support resource and community where we believe in the healing power of sharing our stories. If you have any concerns with your pregnancy, birth, or emotional health please contact your doctor, midwife, or mental health professional, as we all know it is extremely important to take care of yourself and baby during this difficult journey through pregnancy after loss.
Dear Dr. Bindeman,
I lost my son while 21-weeks pregnant, no medical reason found. I went through labor and delivery and was able to hold him and see him and physically know that he was there. I currently have a 2.5 year old daughter and am recently pregnant with my 2nd daughter, our 3rd child. People–co-workers and friends–ask me all the time, “Is this your 1st baby, 2nd baby?” etc., and I am often dumbfounded because I am not sure how to answer this. In my heart I know this is my 3rd child, but I dread the questions that follow like, “How old are the other 2?” “Boys or girls?” etc. I dread this because it’s not a happy story, and who wants to relive that everyday? Also I feel bad for the person asking me, because I don’t want to make them feel bad about asking me. How do I handle this? How do I acknowledge that this is my 3rd baby but not lead them to believe I have 3 living children, or how do I handle not making them feel bad or embarrassed when the natural questions come next?
PAL Mama Wanting to Acknowledge all of her Children
Dear PAL Mama Wanting to Acknowledge all of her Children,
Thank you so much for your question—it’s a good one and there is no simple answer to it. The answer that is right for you might look different than for someone else. It can even look different within that question being asked of you within the same week.
The answer begins with a look at who you are. Are you someone that tends to be a person that shares? Do you keep your feelings close to the vest? Again, this can also vary based upon who is doing the asking. Is it someone that you are likely to see again? A stranger? Thinking about these various situations and what your comfort level is with conversation is a great starting off point in coming up with “canned” responses to these seemingly innocent questions.
For some people, it is easier to say nothing to a stranger, thus your answer might be. “This will be my second child”. An alternative response might be, “This is not my first.” If someone continues the line of inquiry, you can politely shift the conversation or say simply, “I’m not feeling talkative right now.”
For others, it might be important to acknowledge all pregnancies in this answer (regardless of your audience), so one possible response might be, “This is my third pregnancy and I have one living child.” Alternatively, “I’m looking forward to carrying a second child in my arms as I carry one in my heart.” It is a majority experience that this kind of answer doesn’t lead to much follow up (nor is much necessary).
It is important to base your answer on what feels true to you in the moment. You do not owe anyone a full explanation and you have no need to apologize for making someone else feel uncomfortable based upon your answer. We know how much grief hurts and makes others uncomfortable, and we tend to forget that we are not responsible for how others feel. Unfortunately, Americans are not a society that has language or many customs for grieving, which leads to discomfort when it comes up. Additionally, most difficult emotions are challenging for Americans to be able to witness or experience.
A third suggestion comes in the way of a token rather than words. Many women that I have worked with wear a piece of jewelry that represents all of their children, including their losses. Some use stones to represent birth months (or angelversary months) while others use names or initials. This is an additional way to acknowledge sunshines, angels and rainbows. Occasionally, someone will ask about the necklace, and many people take heart in the fact that it was noticed and they are given an opportunity to talk about all of their children.
One last thought: often times, when you take the step to speak about a lost child, the response you get might be unexpected. It is possible that you are talking to another grieving parent who in sharing your story might open up about theirs. For many who have been in this situation, it has made what starts off as a difficult subject to talk about and changes it into a sharing situation. This can bring both people some healing.
Again, thank you for your question as it is one that all of us struggle with during our journey.
Dr. Julie Bindeman