What I want you to know about losing a child

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer.

For seventeen years, I have been haunted by the seemingly innocent question, “How many kids do you have?” I used to say two. Then I said one. Now I say three. The math gets confusing.

Over the last few days, I’ve read a lot of articles about why Mother’s Day is terrible. Articles written by infertile women. Single women. Women who have miscarried time and time again. I understand. Sometimes the happiest of celebrations, the most innocuous of questions, the most common of conversation fillers can be... torture.

Cruel in the extreme. Take-it-home-and-cry-in-the-shower painful. Those of us who bear the pain write about it...or not. Talk about it...or not.

But we always, always think it, feel it, live it.

My first child, a boy, was born in 1994. His name was Jeremy. When he was 7 ½ months old, he died of SIDS. Five months later, I became pregnant with my second child, Collin. When my belly began to show during that pregnancy, the questions started.

In the beginning of the long years since, I answered honestly... “I have two children; my first son died.” That was a tough line for others to hear, especially those like grocery baggers and sales clerks. What were they to do with that big, fat, ugly sentence? In what part of the mind does one put that for processing, and where does the conversation go from there?

Friends. Pregnant women. People who told me I was too young to be Collin’s mom. Conversations flagged. Women cried. Others became embarrassed at their gaffe. So I lied.

At first I didn’t always lie. Just mostly. Let the dust settle a little on a friendship then dropped the bomb. Resolved to never bring out the truth for those with whom interactions were limited to an exchange of goods or services. It was a “need-to-know” kind of thing.

And then the sometimes lie became an always lie, even with my close mama friends.

Why bring it up? Why deal with the awkwardness, the “I’m so sorry-s?” The fear that clutched their throats for their little ones, or even worse: the questions. Questions borne of living in a society overrun with talk shows and tabloids and gossipmongers.

So. Not. Worth it.

Except that it is.

Over the last few years, since becoming pregnant a third and a fourth time, it has become worth it. Each time I’m asked “how many?” Or, “Is this your first (or second or third) child,” I die a little bit inside. I feel the lie eat away at me. I feel my son in Heaven wonder if I’m not his mama after all.

But I am. I breastfed, co-slept, sling-wore, and mourned, am still mourning, my child who would be 18 now.

I AM HIS MAMA. I just want that to be.... known. I don’t need to discuss it. I don’t even want to discuss it. But when another mom is referencing her children, I want to be able to make my own reference. To Jeremy. To say, “Oh yes! I remember dealing with that after Jeremy was born,” and have it be okay.

My now-six-month-old son is the last child I will have. And in the time since that fully hit me, I have become fixated on the number that flashes on my mommy resume: 3. 3. 3. Mom of three.

No.

And so over the last year, I have opened up a bit more. One online profile for me says “mom of four.” Another says of “mom of three.” At least one blog post references Jeremy. I’ve been opening the door a little more each day, and today I'm going all the way.

Why? Because of the stirrings and conviction in my heart. Each day I think about it more and more and MORE and some days it’s all I think about. And now with Mother’s Day on Sunday, and the inundation of articles on how infertile women, single women, and women who have miscarried time and time again suffer through Mother’s Day, I felt the time was right to share my story as they have shared theirs.

I may never post this. It would make things awkward. It would open up questions. It would make my friends feel pressured to say the right thing. Question if they should introduce me to a new mama friend as a mother of three or a mother of four. Honestly, I don’t know how they, or even I, should handle that last question.

But I am, and always will be, a mother of four. To not say so ignores so much, I don’t know if I can continue with it any longer. But to say so seems.... attention seeking. Dramatic. But I can’t pick and choose anymore. It’s either/or not neither/nor.

If this ends up on the internet, I guess I’ll have my answer.



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