I Can’t Answer That Question

In the last 48 hours, I’d guess that I have answered the question, “Do you have any children?” at least five times.  I obviously hate this question from the start, but I hate to answer it even more.  If I answer honestly and from my heart, yes, I have six children in heaven.  If I answer politely, no, not yet, but we have three dogs and a cat.  I always throw out the animal information because some people get distracted and stop there, content to discuss pets.  The honest answer usually leads to an awkward silence (cue crickets chirping).  However, the polite answer almost always leads to, “Don’t you want kids?” or “Well, you better get busy.”  Or some other inane fork in the conversational road that I’d rather avoid taking since it is usually broached by a stranger who really could care less and really doesn’t want to know that we’ve had six miscarriages.  Inevitably, the conversation will grow terribly stiff on my end, or the stranger will continue until I finally explain why we don’t have children.  At that point we’d both like to walk away and pretend the discussion never happened.

I will take the fork all day long with someone who truly cares or asks out of concern rather than a weird sense of conversational obligation or gossipy curiosity.  But the last two days have been full of people who really don’t care.  One such person was a customer of ours today who went so far as to ask if I was really going to let my sister-in-law show me up.  Beyond being completely inappropriate, that moment was extremely hurtful.  There is no competition there – even if there were, I’m definitely losing as all I have contributed to the grandchild proliferation race is a profound sense of loss and misery.

The conversation went a little bit like this:

Him: “Are you expecting kids anytime soon?” (Which also came out of nowhere…)

Me: “No, not yet.”

Him: “Oh.  Well why not? Are you really gonna let your sister-in-law show you up like that?”

Me: ” Well, I guess so.  It’s not like I can do anything about it.” (Thinking about the mean things I would like to say or do to the man…)

It was terribly tempting not to verbally beat this guy over the head with a snappy comment about having tried and failed six times already.  But in reality that wouldn’t have done any good.  I was already upset, and that would not have made me feel any better, especially since it would have been rude (even if it felt appropriate).  This guy was going to forget all about that conversation in the next few hours anyway, since he was already confused about what day it was, and he’s probably going to say the same thing again tomorrow when he comes back for his paperwork.  My pain isn’t worth causing someone embarrassment over something they didn’t know any better than to ask.  It’s certainly not worth the effort for someone who doesn’t care in the least about the pain they are causing me.  I have made a very few exceptions to this rule, and it has always been with someone who should know better. (And if you’re reading this wondering if I meant you – NO, I’ve never let a friend feel embarrassed about asking questions or talking about the situation.)

I suppose it bears repeating here that I will always listen to someone who needs to share about their own pain, even if their situation is different from mine.  And I will always try to talk to someone who really wants to know about miscarriage and its aftermath, at least from my perspective.  There is a tremendous difference in the approaches of people who are really care about other people and the people who are just trying to say the right thing, whether they mean it or not.  I sometimes catch myself wanting to say something profound to comfort someone because it sounds like the right thing to say, when all I need to say is simply, “I’m sorry , and I love you.”  All the pretty prose in the world is meaningless without the sentiment of the heart expressing it.  Apparently, my heart likes to use smaller words; it’s pretty obvious that my head likes to use big words that sound smart. 😉

The bottom line is that when you pay attention to people and at least attempt to see past the surface, you know who it is safe to talk to about the things closest to your heart, and you know who it’s not worth wasting your breath on.  I am blessed with a lot of safe people in my life right now beyond my family, mostly because I have a tremendous church family.  It seems like a million years ago now that I felt too afraid and too embarrassed to even attend church on a regular basis; it was hard to walk in the door and face what I thought would be hundreds of questions about our losses or hundreds of “church answers” in response to them.  Of course most of that was in my head, and it was a pretty natural fight or flight response to questions raised by grief that I couldn’t answer for myself just then.  Now, I couldn’t imagine living without that feeling of family and comfort and safety and people with whom I can honestly answer my least favorite questions.

It doesn’t make it easier to answer the questions about children that any woman over 30 must inevitably answer, but it makes my honest answer easier to deal with: I have six babies in heaven, and one day my family, both the tree and the vine variety, and I will see them.

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