How Many Children DO I have?

I spent the weekend out of town at an annual craft workshop my family directs. I had expected to be full-term at this year’s workshop and to be contending with comments about, ” are you going to go into labor while you’re teaching this craft class?!” Instead, I got comments like, “so, when are you going to have a third baby?” and “third’s times the charm” with regard to my having two boys and no girls. I do not know how many people present actually have any information about my experiences—only one woman there came up to me to say she wanted to tell me she was sorry about “the child you lost.” What I wanted to respond with to the joking comments was, “well, I did actually have a third baby, but he died. And, it was perfectly fine with me that he was another boy and not a ‘charmed’ girl—I would just like to have my baby.” I do feel like a mother of three—like I have three children, but only two are with me. I think this is partially because of my strong feeling that I have given birth three times, but only have two kids to show for it. When I introduce myself to strangers in group setting—like when teaching my current college class or attending my recent prenatal yoga teacher training—I introduce myself as having two sons and a third son who died during my second trimester. Somehow it is easier to say this in a public setting than to people I know—like the people I know already will think, “it was only a miscarriage, why would she think she has three kids?” When the people are strangers, I can present it as my reality—I have three kids, two are alive and one died—and they accept that in a way that maybe other friends and acquaintances do not.

I know that many babyloss mamas struggle with the question of how many children they have. I felt really sad to not acknowledge Noah during the joke comments this weekend about third times the charm—it didn’t feel appropriate somehow to mention him and yet it also felt not appropriate to leave him out. I talked to my husband about it briefly last night, asking him, “do you feel like we’ve had three children?” He responded with, “I feel like we have two kids.” This was hard for me to hear, while I can accept it, because it is not how I feel—I feel like we have two living children and there is a huge difference there. Perhaps this is because I perceive Noah’s birth AS a birth—and thus also a death/loss—my husband does not have the physical experience as a reference point. I do not know how or if this will change when/if we have another baby. I feel like I need to have another baby before I will be fully “healed”—so to speak—from these experiences, while I also know that I will still have Noah’s footprints on my heart forever. When I have another baby, I hope to be healed of the *pangs* I feel when seeing other pregnant women and the sense of loss/disillusionment I feel with my work with birth, and I also expect that I will feel like that as-yet-hypothetical future baby will be our fourth child and there will always be a little hole in our family. Someone missing. (even though we only planned to have three children. Period.) Will I still feel like acknowledging him then? I think I will—I have three kids with me and I had another son who died in my second trimester. Maybe that is weird, but I don’t really care.

One of the things I did learn from my second miscarriage is how people can not make a big deal about miscarriage or perceive it as a significant loss. While I will most certainly never forget that experience either, it carries significantly less emotional weight and meaning to me. I did not have time to feel a real attachment to that possible baby—-it was still an “idea,” a potential, a “spark,” rather than a person at that point in pregnancy to me—Noah, I gave birth to and saw and touched, as well as felt move in-utero. He was a real baby and in my heart and in my inner knowing he is one of my children. Our three sons.

I recently finished reading a new book called Avoiding Miscarriage by Susan Rousselot and she says, “A miscarriage is, by its nature, a life-changing event. From the moment a woman knows she is pregnant, she wonders how that pregnancy will change her life—she imagines the future with that child. How will this impact my work? What changes need to be made to the house? And what sort of mother will I be?…That unborn child can turn out to be anything, and because of that it is a dream of the future. When that dream is shattered, we don’t just lose a few weeks or months of pregnancy, we don’t even just lose a ‘fetus’ or ‘baby.’ It is as though we lose a whole lifetime—the lifetime we were going to share with that child.” I think this is a very accurate representation of the loss as I have experienced it—except for that fact that Noah wasn’t just an “idea” or a “dream,” he was a real little baby that I birthed alone in my bathroom—he had closed eyelids and little nostrils and a mouth that opened and fingers and toes. The magnitude and complexity of his development to that point and the reality of his fully-formed-ness takes my breath away. Do you realize the vastness of the development that had already taken place at that point in pregnancy? I am stunned by the intricacy and the reality of what had formed and then “failed” after that much growth and change and just magic of human creation. All organs are formed and body systems are working—a baby that size can suck its thumb and swallow amniotic fluid, as well as has brain waves and fingerprints and lungs, heart, etc., etc.

In another book I recently finished: Miscarriage: Women’s Experiences and Needs, the author addresses the question of “is it a baby?” with the following: “I do not want to suggest that a miscarriage at ten or twelve weeks is the same as losing a baby at twenty-two weeks…Nor am I suggesting that all women who miscarry at eight or ten weeks are devastated by the experience. Some clearly are, but that loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy is an experience with unique meaning for that woman and her partner. All pregnancy loss is part of the same continuum, of experience. There is no natural divide when a fetus magically and conveniently becomes a baby to all concerned, from the mother to the doctor and the lady next door as well. What is important is that women are able to define the meaning of their own experience and that those around them enable them to do so, without prejudging the nature of the loss. The fact that the individual meaning of the miscarriage goes unrecognised and, moreover, is often publicly denied, is at the root of the difficulties that many women have with those who are close to them and with those who are supposed to be there to help them.” (emphasis mine, because I find this a powerful phrase and have written about it with regard to birth in another post.)

I have shared this sort of feeling with several other people before—from the moment you find out you are pregnant, you mentally click-click-click forward on the calendar and through life. You think about being really pregnant at X event and having a new baby on X holiday, etc. You mentally rearrange your life to include the new person. I believe I have already mentioned how I am looking forward to passing my due date—maybe I am wrong, but I feel like my click-click-clicks only extended until May 3rd and perhaps those new pings and pangs of “should have been” will ease once I really shouldn’t be pregnant any more. Or, will it just change texture? I should have a three month old now, etc., etc. We’ll see.

In this same book, the issue of a subsequent pregnancy is also addressed and brings me back to my point above in feeling that it will take giving birth to another living child for me to feel fully healed from my loss experiences: “For many women it is only when they finally have their baby that the miscarriage is more in the past than the present. One woman described how the birth of her baby had taken the sting out of her miscarriage, and another described how she felt the emotional effects of her miscarriage would have been far more permanent had she not been one of the ‘lucky ones who went on to be successful’…Miscarriage is not something you get over, as a child gets over the chicken pox, but something you come to accept; that it has happened to you, you experienced it, it had an impact on your life but gradually has become less painful. A successful pregnancy is often part of that process.”

This is what I was talking about earlier in this post—I do not think I will be “fixed” unless we have another baby. My fear is of recurrent losses and in ending our family on a painful note that not only has an impact on my personal life, but also has a profound impact on my friendships, my joy for other women, and on my birthwork career and professional aspirations.

4 responses to “How Many Children DO I have?

  1. Molly, sometimes I am amazed at how my experience is mirroring yours. I have been struggling lately withe the whole ‘how many children have I had’ issue. The way I see it, I have two children earthside, and one angel. I don’t tell that to most people we meet, but it’s how I think of it. And yes, it was only 6 wks along when we lost our baby…but it was still a baby. Not just ‘a hope’, but a baby…just a very, very tiny one. I read somewhere that the level of grieving is equal to the level of emotional investment in the relationship…and I realised recently that I had invested a LOT more into this baby than I had thought. I found journal entries from 2 years ago where I was thinking and semi-planning and wondering about a third child, and imagining it as part of our lives. And yes, the pregnancy was a surprise…but in another way…not really. Interestingly, I did not begin to grieve the loss of this baby immediately after the miscarriage. Instead, I grieved the pregnancy. I was devastated, but then became focussed on detoxing and preparing my body and mind for another pregnancy. It was only when my husband revealed that he was not ready for another child that my floodgates opened. So now it looks like we will never have another baby, and yes, my arms ache with a yearning and my heart hurts for wanting to hold a soft newborn in my arms. This is a deep, deep pain. But then I wonder…would another pregnancy now heal this? Or just mask it until I have space again to grieve? So I am working through this now, and attempting to honour this child’s presence in my life. Thank you for again bringing me into the space of acknowledgement that can get so easily lost in the busyness of life.

  2. I feel honored to have come to “know” you, Melissa.

    I hope I didn’t make it sound like very tiny babies are just “hopes” or “dreams,” because that annoys me too—so many things say that with a miscarriage you lose a “dream,” but you don’t. You lose both a baby AND the dream of your life with that child.

    I have read that the intensity of grief following a miscarriage is as intense as grief after stillbirth (and really, what is a miscarriage other than an early stillbirth?!), but that the duration of grief is shorter (usually). I think perhaps you can only go so “low” with grief and thus grief is grief, regardless of the size of the person involved.

    I know exactly what you mean about grieving the pregnancy–I did that first as well. I am also familiar with the ambivalence and back-and-forthing about a third child. Now that we have had a third child, but one who died, I’m not sure how many children are *meant* for me after all–I felt like the third was “out there” waiting for us. Then, when Noah died, I no longer have that sense of someone else “out there” for us. It feels like he was it–that third child who was waiting. We plan to try again and I feel like I could cope with another loss, but only one more…

    I do not truly think another baby will actually “heal” the loss/pain exactly, but I think it will soften it. How are you coping with continuing to do birthwork? That is where I feel like I need healing–like I have lost some of my zest for the work and some of my joy for other women. I don’t know if it will ever come back, but I feel like another live baby would probably heal that loss.

    Keep holding the space for your baby! (((hugs)))

  3. Your words are really eloquent and they speak to me as a mother.

    My first loss was over two years ago. I was in such a dark place over it for such a long time. I avoided pregnancy tests because I didn’t want to have another hopeful pregnancy and then know about a loss. When I became pregnant in fall 2008, I struggled with enjoying the pregnancy. I worried about losing this child, too. I worried and worried through the pregnancy.

    Now I have a 9 month old son. He is a delight. He has softened the blow of not having a 2 year, 2 month old daughter. The pain is still there, but I think the grief is finally turned into acceptance. I think I am still healing from the emotional wounds of not being a mother when I first expected.

    Thank you for your honesty and also for the Belle Dame poem. Its lovely.

  4. Pingback: Acknowledging Losses (again) | Footprints on My Heart

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