Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How many children to you have?

The English language is no longer easy.  (Some of you may be thinking it has never been easy for me, with my spelling and grammatical errors, I know)

But truly, the most basic question just became a door into my chaos of love and pain, of laughter and tears.

How many children to you have? 

Simple enough, right?  Well, I have four.  Three of whom live at home with me and one of whom lives in Heaven.

Stop and think, how many times are you asked this question?  Rarely, occasionally, weekly, daily?  I am a 32-year-old married woman, a minister's wife actually.  I am asked this question almost daily.  At least several times a week I would say.  Today, by 11:15am I was asked this question twice.  Once while Ryan and I were out to breakfast and once by a mom standing outside of Caroline's Kindergarten class.  When I am not at work I usually have most of my older kids with me.  Lots of littles running around, all cute and loud like, bring forth all sorts of comments and questions about the size of our family.  And when I am at work, it is not uncommon for a patient or their loved one to inquire what I do with my days off (I only work 2 days/week).  Occasionally the conversation flows to THE question.  How many children to you have?

It's unavoidable, not that I really care to avoid it.  I am a mom, a proud mom to all 4 of my children.  If people ask where my fourth child is, and the situation is appropriate to do so, I tell them that Ethan is in Heaven.  This is where the record stops.  People's expression suddenly changes and you could hear a pin drop.  It doesn't matter what type of delivery I offer this news with.  Usually I am matter-of-fact about it, acknowledging that it is a very tragic thing, but that I am happy to consider Ethan part of our family.  Lovely people don't expect to hear news of a dead baby, regardless of how it happened or how it is explained, when they ask that simple question.  Because, for most of the world that is a simple question.  But for me, it is not.

Different people who have a baby or a child die chose to answer this question in their own way.  There is no right or wrong way about it.  It's more the right or wrong way for each person, in that moment.  For me, I have a desperate need for the world to acknowledge Ethan.  I am only 3 months out from his death, admittedly this is still so early on, a very raw time.  I am comfortable telling others about all four of my children.  When an adult dies, does society all of a sudden stop acknowledging their existence?  Their place in the family?  Not usually.  So I don't believe it should be different for my son's death.

If you ask me the question you are going to get the truth.  Perhaps not from the blubbering mess, broken down Annie.  But certainly from the "it's been a very difficult journey thus far" Annie, who simultaneously smiles and chases after my three older children.

(In truth, there have been a few occasions where I felt it was more appropriate for me not to share about Ethan's death.  For one, I am a social worker in a cancer setting, so occasionally it would not be appropriate for me to share this information with a patient or their loved ones.  There was also one time I chose not to acknowledge Ethan's presence in our family.  It was the first day of Kindergarten and this lovely mother was excited, picking up her son.  She asked me THE question, and I just said "I have three at home."  Not a lie, but not the full truth.  I did this because I could not bring myself to be forever in this woman's memory of her son's first day of school with our "dead baby" story.  I just didn't have it in me.)

I don't dread the how many children do you have question.  Sure, it evokes painful emotions in me.  It is sad after all.  But this question is an opportunity to remember Ethan, to bring him into my day, into the world that he should be a part of.


  1. I love reading your blog annie. I just hate that i cant drive over and hug u! People can be very rude and nosy with stuff like this too. I know that look or the feeling that enters the room when it comes up that my dad died. The worse is when people press for details when you make it apparent that you are not wanting to elaborate. I have even had someone keep asking after ive said "it was very sudden" you would think people get the message...but they dont. Just like most things involving grief, it is amazing how insensitive and oblivious people can be....keep your head up. I love you

  2. Hi Annie- I just had to say that I feel like you do, about AdiaRose being a part of our family, my baby daughter who I am happy to talk about. I avoid most social situations though, so I don't get asked like you do. I do volunteer the information, though, and show off her picture (she is very cute.) It's the people who know me, who know I have a younger daughter and don't acknowledge her that bother me. Love,

  3. I have struggled with this question since my daughter was born!! People are always asking "is this your first". Honestly, there have been times when I have said "Yes" - out of fear of the additional questions they may ask! I would say I have given that answer mostly to strangers, that I might meet in a store. No need to ruin their day with "no, she is my second, my first son died of cancer last year". Of course, some people might be fine with just "no, she is not my first" but it is that fear that people will be nosey and ask more and more questions that I am just not up for answering!
    Don't get me wrote - I LOVE talking about Alexander - and I can go on and on about him! It is just that with random strangers in the store, I just don't find the "need" too!
    I joined a moms group recently, and I did put on my profile, about Alexander - that way people can hopefully feel a little more comfortable - knowing that I am comfortable talking about him