It has never ceased to amaze me the ease at which complete strangers would come up and talk to me when I was pregnant. If this had happened only a few times, I would have chalked it up to chance, but throughout the duration of all four pregnancies, I would constantly be fielding questions about my "condition". Usually the questions were basic-
"How far along are you?"
"Are you having a boy or a girl?" followed by "Do you have a name picked out?"
"Is this your first?"
All questions that were without any issues in the past. After a while, I figured that most people were just genuinely happy to see a pregnant woman and everything that she represented.
A new life. A new beginning.
Pregnant women are full of hope and promise for our future as they should be since they hold the next generation within their wombs. The questions were an attempt to connect or perhaps acknowledge the joyful occasion that was to come even if they did not know the woman they were questioning. It was the circle of life like from the famous Disney movie, The Lion King.
After we found out that Rachel had Trisomy 13, those innocent questions took on a whole new meaning for me. Although I could feel my baby moving inside my womb, these were the constant external reminders of what might never be. Each time I answered the questions, it reminded me that I may not be able to keep her much longer even if I had her for that moment.
Most of my close friends and family know that I am not someone who likes to lie. In fact, I think sometimes I am too honest. It was though, a conscious decision when I decided not to tell strangers and even some of the people I worked with that the child I was carrying was a girl. I think it happened because so many people, once they knew that this was our fourth child and that we had 3 boys, would say, "I hope it's a girl!"
Each time they would say this, I would die inside because she was a girl. Rachel, our beautiful daughter who would most likely not live for very long. I did not want to hear other people get excited about the daughter that I would almost certainly not have for very long. I felt like it was better not to say anything and avoid having to go through all the details because in reality, they were just making conversation and did not want to delve into our situation if I had told them the truth.
I continue to try to grapple with seemingly simple questions. Of course, our close friends and family all know what happened but I have started to run into those people who only peripherally knew me as I go about my life these days. This has happened a couple of times at the preschool the boys attend and of course, with my patients.
I knew this would happen, WILL continue to happen, and yet each time, I freeze. Like a deer in headlights. And even though I have practiced what I will say, it comes stumbling out in a blur of words.
"Oh, you probably didn't know. My baby died."
The first time I uttered those words, it felt like they was coming out of a stranger's mouth. Those words seemed so completely foreign to me. As if I was talking about someone else. As if I had never been pregnant at all and I was making it all up. The shocked look on their faces betrays the fact that it is true. Once I snap out of my initial shock, I usually give a half-hearted smile and try to change the subject or make a quick escape. Most people seem to appreciate this from me since death is not an easy subject, especially the death of a baby.
I was writing more thank you notes today and kept thinking at how beautiful my children looked in the picture. All four of them. I felt so sad that it would be the only picture I would have of the four of them together. Joseph, Thomas, William and Rachel. It made me think about how difficult that question has become. The one about how many children I have. The one that I can never really answer without becoming overwhelmingly saddened by the reality. How I have to judge whether I want to have that conversation with a stranger or not.
I have learned that simple questions do not always have simple answers. Sometimes there is a deeper answer beneath the one given on the surface.