A Simple Question

Lesley is a wonderful woman, and fellow doula, that I have been privileged to get to know while I lived in Michigan. I asked her to write a post awhile back, and she has graced my blog with this poignantly honest glimpse into her personal life. TRIGGER WARNING: loss is mentioned.
“How many children do you have?”

A simple question many new moms have been asked in a variety of social settings right?  For most women the answer is simple, they state the number of children they have, their ages, girls or boys, and it sparks a conversation, maybe even a friendship.

For me, the answer is far more complex.  I assess the situation- ‘who am I talking to? How are they going to react?  Are they going to judge me?  Will they never talk to me again?’  I usually say “I have three living children.”  Or “I have three boys at home”.

Why would I say three LIVING children?  Because I carried a baby girl who was stillborn at 20wks. 

Many people in our society today do not think I should count the baby I lost. The death of a baby is still very taboo in our society.  No one wants to talk about it. They would prefer to think that is doesn’t happen, or at least it won’t happen to them or to someone they love.  I know this because I used to think that way, until it happened to me. 

I have been told that because she never took a breath outside of my womb that she didn’t exist. I carried within me, a tiny precious life.  My daughter was her own little person, 10 fingers, 10 toes, a tiny little body with her own cells, and DNA.  I have proof that she was alive within me.  There was a recent article posted here on this blog that said “In addition to all of the nutrients flowing from the mother to the fetus, some of the developing child’s cells pass back into the mother’s body.”  When I read those words it made my heart smile.  To me, this means that my daughter is literally a part of me, she changed my physical make up, and she gave me a part of her to live on.

People often have no idea what to say when they hear that a baby died and many choose to say nothing.  Nothing could be less comforting than silence.  Not talking about it will not make it go away.  People are afraid that if they say something, it will make me think about my daughter, or that it will make me sad.  My daughter is never far from my thoughts, others speaking her name is music to my ears.

Talking about her will not break me, for I am already broken, her death shattered life as I knew it.  I have slowly and carefully put a lot of those pieces back together.  Talking about her and remembering her is often the glue that holds some of those pieces in place.  Talking about her may bring a tear to my eye, because I love her and miss her. But it would be the same for any family member someone has lost.  If someone’s parent dies, do they never speak of them again?  No.  They fondly remember and pay tribute to them.  Why should the death of a baby be any different? 

My tribute to my daughter comes in the form of helping other families that have lost a baby.  Shortly after my daughter was stillborn, family and friends started asking my husband and I what they could do to help, we requested donations be made in our daughters name to a local non-profit, MomsBloom (They provide free in-home postpartum doula support to families after they have had a baby).

Being a lay postpartum doula, I wanted to find a way to offer that same tender, postpartum support, to bereaved families.  After discussing the need for more support for families that have lost a baby, the grief support program started taking shape, this was the beginning of Cameron’s Garden Grief Support Program.  I want to be able to give newly bereaved parents somewhere to turn when no one else understands, to offer a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, someone to help these families get started on a journey towards hope and healing.

When you ask me how many children I have, I will answer you honestly, “I have four beautiful children, three wonderful boys that bring me joy each and every day, and a daughter that I can not hold, but will carry in my heart forever.”

Lesley is a SAHM to 3 boys 6 ½ , 4 ½ , and 14m, four time survivor of PPD, and survivor of stillbirth. She blogs on her work and healing here. She is a lay postpartum doula and works in Grand Rapids, Michigan. MomsBloom is the community organization that she works within. To make a donation to Cameron's Garden, please go to their website and select 'make a donation'. Be sure to put "Cameron's Garden in the memo line.

She recommends the following resources for families experiencing a baby loss:

Thank you, Lesley, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing!


Diana J. said...

Lovely post, thank you so much for sharing. It often grieves me how much we as a society ignore our babies who are lost before birth. I too have pondered how to answer the question "how many children do you have?" because the answer is THREE, even though only two are here right now. Beautifully put.

Kristi said...

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. I've only known one person who lost a baby at 20 weeks. We talk about it, but I always wonder if I am saying the wrong thing. This article really helps.

Myndie said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I agree, when we lose a baby before they are born, it is VERY taboo on our society. I hate it so much. I feel as though I'm in a weird group when it comes to losing a baby.

Matushka Anna said...

Thank you for sharing this. A friend just sent me the link. I rencently lost my 12 1/2 week son to miscarriage. I fought the medical establishment and delivered him at home in my bathtub late one night. He was gorgeous. I was given no information and very little support by the aforementioned medical people and had a very difficult time finding information on-line that wasn't about 6 week miscarriage. I started a blog, Lost Innocents to give information and support to women suffering a miscarriage and am in the process of extending that to stillbirth as well (with the assistance of a friend who experienced a 33 week loss this year). I too have addressed the question, "how many children" and have gone through the same mental gyrations in formulating an answer. Society need not shy away from this subject becauase apparently 1 in 4 women have a miscarriage. It is balm to my heart when someone mentions that they either read my story or looked at the pictures of my son Innocent on that site and say that he was beautiful.

Thank you so much.

Lesley said...

Thank you so much Nicole! It is more than I imagined it could be. I hope this helps other grieving familes.

Canita said...

"Talking about her will not break me, for I am already broken, her death shattered life as I knew it. I have slowly and carefully put a lot of those pieces back together. Talking about her and remembering her is often the glue that holds some of those pieces in place. Talking about her may bring a tear to my eye, because I love her and miss her."

This resonated with me and is exactly how I feel. It's been five years since my son Alan was born & passed away very unexpectedly 14 hours later. I enjoy telling my son's birth story, I enjoy talking about the joy his pregnancy & birth brought me, and I am brought great comfort by sharing the journey to healing of his loss. Good, good stuff....thanks for posting.

Vicki said...

Thank you for this post. I have lost three babies, one at 31 weeks (passed away 7 hours after birth), one at 14 weeks and another at 8 weeks. Each were difficult to go through at the time, but I found with the loss of the first one, that talking about her with someone who had gone through a similar situation made me feel not so alone in my grief. I felt a bond with another woman who had gone before me. Keep talking about our babies, they are just as much real as our living children and deserve to be acknowledged. Thanks again :)

Juliea said...

As a mother who has experienced loss a couple of times myself, I think that articles such as this are so very important. All of my children, with me or not, are still my children - I still love them and carry that love with me always. The experiences of loss changed me, transformed me, just like motherhood does. And, just like motherhood - you can't quite explain what loss feels like. People who have never experienced it will never fully understand and I think that is why it's hard for some to address. I think they choose not to say anything when they simply don't know what to say. But, I still think that it's good to talk about and be honest about because we need to address it more often within our culture.

Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing your story, Lesley. I am a birth doula in Grand Rapids, MI and have added the wonderful resources you have shared here to my website as a resource as well. I often recommend and support MomsBloom (Sarah Tow is a friend of mine). I absolutely love what you guys are doing. It's good to know that there are people like you within the organization who feel capable of taking on this difficult part of some people's lives.

Much love to you and yours.
Juliea Paige


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