Where Loss and Life Meet

This week I’m entering my third trimester, and the uncharted territory continues to emerge both within and without. Thank God that it does. Now that I’m really showing, I’m getting this question: “Is this your first?”

It’s a day I hoped would come and am grateful for because it means my child has grown past where her brother grew and into her own visibility. She is sticking out into the world, leading the way as we walk down the street, as older Chilean women pass and smile at my belly, as I’m led to a special line at the bank, as seats are given up on the metro.

A new heart line.

Innocents are the ones who ask. I no longer do. I might ask another pregnant woman: “How far along are you?” or “How are you feeling?” I keep the focus on the baby in the belly right in front of me because that is the only baby I have evidence of. There may have been others who came and went before, as there were for me.

Despite my emotional preparation, this question about birth order is throwing me. I answer it differently every time, but I simply cannot bring myself to lie and say: “Yes, this is our first.” She’s not. She’s our third, though I feel differently about our loss of Lorenzo and our miscarriage, the one I held and the one I never saw. But I hesitate to say that she’s our third, lest people ask about the other two, live, children I must have running around at home, which isn’t the case.

So, I say: “We’ve had some difficulties, and this is our first healthy baby.” Or, as I said last week to a second-time mom I was being introduced to, “We lost a child at six months,” to which her eyes went wide and I clarified, “when I was six months pregnant.” Her face, still stunned, simply nodded, our pregnant bellies hovering between us. The entire exchange was so awkward, I was left wondering if I shouldn’t have said anything at all? But who would that have been for? Certainly not me, certainly not Lorenzo. It would have been for this woman, this stranger I may never see again, in order for her to feel more comfortable, on Remembrance Day of all days.

I forget to say what author Monica Wesolowska came up with in these cases, when she carried her second and third sons after losing her first soon after his birth. In her memoir, Holding Silvan: A Brief Life, she would simply say: “Not exactly.” Or, “Kind of.” It left the ambiguity there on the table for the other person to process. It didn’t quite suck all the air out of the room.

But in the moment, I forget those short, simple sentences. My mind races to Lorenzo and how whole he felt to me even though his heart was not, and I tell the truth.

Losing Lorenzo taught me how important honesty is, and I can’t live my life dishonestly in his wake. If he is going to live on in any way in this world, it’s going to be because I write about him, because Ryan and I and our families talk about him, because you all send in hearts in his honor (we’re almost up to 2,000!). If I simply nod and smile and say, “Yes, this is our first,” it denies his existence by the very person who grew him. Do you see how impossible that would be?

I talked to Ryan about all this the other night. He said several things that helped, including something I could say in these contexts: “This is the most pregnant I’ve been before.” It’s honest, but blurry. It’s truthful without showing my deepest wound to a stranger though I’ve done plenty of that over the past 16 months. He told me that it’s just a little while longer I’ll be getting this question.

Three hearts.

He’s right. But the question will change. I’ve spoken to other bereaved parents who have had to deal with: “How many children do you have?” What did they say? Did they come right out with the truth, shifting the air, the mood, the tenor of everything else? How did they do the math? Did they subtract the lost child or include her and then deal with the follow-up questions about ages and interests? Eventually, the truth would have to come out. That there had been two, but was now one. That there had been an oldest, but now the youngest was significantly older than she was when she passed.

These seemingly innocuous inquiries leave us unsure about how to present the most significant aspect of our lives because the grief story never really changes, though the questions might. After all, the triggering question for me used to be: “Do you want kids?”

Perhaps it’s strange that we ask such encompassing questions at all when we meet people for the first time: “What do you do?” or “Are you married?” or “Where are you from?” Those questions may well be triggers for the subject if she just lost her job or hasn’t met the right person yet or can’t go home again for whatever reason. We have all lost our innocence in one way or another.

Maybe we should just smile, say our name, and hand over a card, color-coded to the area of life we’re most sensitive about. I know that’s unrealistic, but sometimes I just want to hold up the “I lost my baby” card (it’s the color of deep ocean water). I’d hold up two of them, actually, so the kind, unsuspecting stranger knows the truth about me, but I can simply say: “Can we talk about something else first?”


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