Over the past couple of days I have encountered a few articles written about how a mother describes her family after a loss. The subject seems to repeatedly present itself to me, so I figure that it is time to reflect on it. I’m going to reach back all the way to about 6 years ago, when I can first remember feeling the sting of a strangers assumption that I was not a mother…
About 3 years after Levi’s death I was in a local health goods’ store, trying to decide on a method of eco-friendly menstruation control. After weighing all of the options (cloth pads, organic unbleached tampons, etc…) I decided to give the Diva Cup a try. There was a little sign on the shelf asking customers to inquire at the register for different sizes. So, I approached the woman at the register, and explained to her that I was unsure of which size I needed. It was a pretty busy day in the store, and there were a few customers lined up behind me. The woman impatiently snapped at me that there were only two sizes, size A was for girls who had never given birth vaginally, size B was for woman who had. She rolled her eyes at me and stated loudly, “Obviously you need size A, and we currently only have size B available. We’ll have to order size A in for you, it will take about two weeks.” Then she proceeded to dismiss me, and began to ring up items for the customer who was next in line.
It felt like a slap in the face. Tears welled up in my eyes. I got really angry! Rationally, I should have been more forgiving. A perfect stranger could not possibly know that I was a mother.
“Um, excuse me!” I interrupted, harshly. “I don’t need to wait for you to order Size A. Thank you, I will take the B size.”
The woman stared at me for a moment. Her eyes widened, her gaze softened as she realized that I was offended. Very quickly it dawned on her that I must be upset because I was, in fact, a mother, a woman who had given birth.
“I’m… I’m sorry. You’ve been a regular in this store for at least a year. I’ve never met your children. How old is your little one?” She inquired as she bustled around on the shelf behind the counter to find the Diva Cup in the size that I required.
My face burned. Suddenly I was very aware of the people standing in line behind me. I resented the woman for asking me such a question. Since Levi passed, whenever the subject of children came up, my normal response was no response at all. Most strangers assumed that I had no children, and I never had any reason to explain otherwise.
“My son is three,” I stated simply.
The woman brightened her smile. “Oh that’s wonderful!” she beamed. “You’ll have to bring him in to the store tomorrow! It’s Earth Day, we’ll be hosting some family friendly events.”
Quietly, I explained that, although I’d love to, I couldn’t bring him to the event because he was not with me.
She didn’t even skip a beat before she assumed that I meant my child only lived with me part time.
“Oh thats a shame,” she gushed, as she rang up my purchase. “Is he with his daddy for the weekend?”
I shake my head slowly. Again, I respond very quietly, so as not to involve the various strangers who were waiting patiently to pay for their purchases. “No, what I mean is that my son is no longer with us, on Earth.” My eyes are downcast to the floor, trying to hide my tears.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she mumbles, awkwardly. She finishes ringing my purchase through without another word, hands me the receipt, and tells me to have a nice day…
Over the years I’ve felt a twinge of guilt whenever I tell someone that I don’t have any children, or whenever I have passed up an opportunity to mention him for fear of creating an awkward situation. Thankfully it didn’t happen very frequently before I gave birth to Ghanima. It seems, though, that since I became pregnant with her, and during the months since her birth, the question has come up more often. Well meaning strangers stop to admire my precious baby girl, and the conversation always leads to whether or not she is my only child. What do I say? Well, it depends on the person. If the person is just a passerby, someone I feel that I will never come into contact with again, I simply state that she has an older brother, and try to change the subject. If they happen to inquire further, sometimes I will share his name and age, implying that he is alive and well. If I feel like the person who is inquiring is someone who might become a part of my life, if I feel safe enough, I will share that Levi is our family Angel, who is watching over us every day.
I have absolutely come to dread the look on a persons face when I tell them my son passed away as an infant. I don’t need to feel pitied. Every day I struggle to see the positive side to his short life, and I try to put in to perspective that I was blessed to know him, and that he is in a better place. So when a person has a negative reaction to hearing about him, for the rest of that day at least, the struggle is just that much harder. I catch myself weighing out which scenario would be worse; do I want to feel remorse for the rest of the day for not acknowledging his existence, or do I want feel awful because of an awkward situation with a stranger?
… My husband and I were out for dinner with my brother one evening. I was about 4 months pregnant with Ghanima, and my belly was just starting to pop out. The waitress came to the table, and upon noticing my little belly, she began to ask the usual questions; “You must be so excited, how far along are you? Do you know what you’re having? Is this your first baby?”
I nodded politely, placing my hands on my tummy. “It is pretty exciting! I am about 16 weeks along. We don’t know what we’re having, we want to be surprised. This is my second baby.”
“Oh that’s nice, how old is your child?”
“I have an 8 year old boy.”
“Well, he must be excited to be a big brother! Let me know if you guys need anything else,” and with that she hurried away to see if any of her other tables needed her.
After she was gone, my brother leaned across the table to squeeze my hand. He said he thought that I handled her questions really well. I must have looked confused, because he added, “You know, you don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable by getting in to all the details…”
Sometimes I find myself outright lying to people about him, indulging in a little fantasy. I go to the local farmers market regularly, and have been going there for years. I buy my face cream and shampoo from a gentleman there who makes all natural beauty products. A few months ago, I was wearing Ghanima in her sling while browsing through his booth. Of course, the gentleman recognized me as one of his regular customers. He approached me to admire my three month old little bundle of joy, and asked me how I was enjoying becoming a new mother.
“Oh, I’m not a new mother,” I replied, smiling. “I have an eight year old son.”
“I’m sorry! I’ve never seen him with you before!” he was a bit confused because I’d been there almost every Saturday morning for the past few years and never had a little boy in tow.
I told him that I never brought Levi with me because the farmers market was boring for little boys and he would much rather be at home with his dad on saturday mornings…
Oh how my heart aches for that to be true…
I want to honour my son. I don’t want to feel as if his story is a source of discomfort. I want to be able share his life, the wisdom that he taught me, safely, with as many people as possible. And I need to feel supported in doing so. Otherwise, he died for nothing.