That question…….. it comes in a multitude of forms; ‘how many children do you have?’ or ‘is She your only one?’.
These are normal questions when you meet a new mummy in the playground, playgroup, school or wherever. They are the welcomed questions of all mothers, wherever in the world you live.
Before Cacia, those questions were answered easily with no complicated emotions involved.
After Cacia, I find answering that question so hard. Why? Because, I am the mother of a living child and a stillborn baby. My second daughter died intrauterine at 22 weeks, placental insufficiencies caused by a previously undiagnosed complication called Ashermans Syndrome.
When I first arrived to live overseas, only 2 weeks after burying my daughter, I felt like a politician – answering questions without really saying anything. In the first few months following Cacia’s death I would answer the dreaded question with ‘No, Tyrant is not my only child, I had a second daughter, Cacia, she was stillborn.’ The response of most mums is to freeze, through fear, shock, or lack of knowing what to say. It is, to say the least, a conversation stopper in the playground, and when trying to meet new people and forge new friendships and find your way into the local ‘mummy tribe’, answering the initial conversation opener with a dead end (forgive the crudeness) does not help, I know, I have done it.
However, my problem is, by saying nothing about Cacia, I feel as though I am denying her existence, as though I am hiding away a secret that I don’t want anyone to know. Guilt, I feel guilty as though I am failing her. So in those early months of grief I had to find a way around this. I didn’t want to feel like I had disavowed Cacia, but also needed to make inroads into my community and acknowledging Cacia in floods of tears was not conducive to making new friends!
I have, as of one year and one month since Cacia’s death, perfected my politician’s answer when I meet new mums. However, as the initial pain of my grief has subsided, I find myself using the politician’s answer less and the truth more. I answer the question now bold and proud, ‘No, She is not my only child, I had a second daughter but she died.’ Choosing to acknowledge Cacia’s existence is more important to me than establishing an uncomplicated relationship with the other mums in the tribe.
That’s not to say that the politician’s answer is never used – just not very often anymore. If someone is just commenting on Tyrant in passing, like when you are in the supermarket and the lady behind you asks; ‘is she your only one?’ the likelihood is that I am not going to see or speak to her again. In that moment, I usually choose to hide Cacia’s death from her, for the simple reason I don’t have time to deal with her ‘rabbit in the headlights’ reaction.
I wish whenever I acknowledge Cacia that the other mum would just say, ‘I’m sorry to hear that’, and the conversation would continue as per usual. But that doesn’t happen very often. The majority of times they freeze, apologise for asking (not for my loss, but for asking, as though they are apologising for putting you in an awkward postion) and find a polite way to leave and go to talk to what I can only assume is an ‘uncomplicated’ mum.
So to all those mums out there, when you meet a new mum in your mummy tribe and ask That Question consider what you will say or do if a mum tells you about their loss. Please know that your words and reactions have impact. You may not know what to say or do, but please don’t make that mum feel like they are a ‘complicated’ mum, even if it is inadvertent. Please help us feel that although we joined an exclusive and tragic club, we will always be welcome in the mummy tribe. Acknowledge our loss but then please don’t run away as soon as possible because of your discomfort or fear of what to say.
Miscarriage, stillbirth and child loss are not catching. We don’t need to be isolated, we need to feel accepted and welcomed while we try to figure out how to navigate through this new reality we find ourselves in.