It used to bother me more. The "how many do you have?" question. Sometimes it happens with both my earth children standing at my feet, as they reach for corn syrup laden sweets in the checkout line and the question pokes me out of the blue, smack dab in the middle of motherhood and coupons.
Suddenly the battle with sweets and corn syrup feels trivial. It isn't, but it is.
I quickly scan the face of the poser of the question as I subconsciously whip out my people-reading skills, trying to decide whether or not the real answer will ruin the rest of their day. And whether or not they can handle the reality of what they're really asking. Usually if they're young or obviously asking for niceties I glaze over the question with a big white lie.
Inwardly, I have to admit - I wonder where they think my other children might be? Of course, since our last daughter arrived it is quite possible they are wondering where in the world she gets her baby blue eyes and curly blonde hair from. Certainly not the woman standing before you. Their curiosity could get them more than they bargained for, unfortunately. I swallow all of this, and feel that lump of guilt and relief slowly make its way down to the pit of my stomach. It's a bitter pill.
But young people rarely ask, it is usually the already-mothers, and the grandmothers. The ones who are good to remind me that these are the best years of my life, because they are. The ones who appreciate the mother's struggle, and relish in the young ones that smile at them as they reminisce their own kids - now grown - who used to be this little. I can't put my finger on what makes me tell the truth over a gentle white lie, but it's there. In the eyes, usually. And if I sense I can trust them, I admit to them that there's one missing.
A confused, yet suppressed, look takes over, and I quickly recap the nightmare that haunts this question, almost apologizing to pacify this poor person. I find myself usually regretting this answer, but only because I feel awful for the person asking. I do my best, when I feel like I can share, to let the person know - I really am okay. Getting that out of the way is the hard part but it makes talking more openly about our loss easier. I have grieved heavy and hard. I have written my soul through tears and anger, and more emotions than I knew existed. I have felt my chest ripped open, with the grief and pain of burying a baby I hardly had the chance to know. I have grieved my chance to mother her this side of Heaven. If I am sharing the truth with you, it is because, as a mother to three, I need to say her beautiful name and validate the heartbeat that made me a mother for the first time. The opportunities to share her openly are few and far between.
If I tell you my truth, it's not because I want your sympathy, or your tears (though I do appreciate them); it is because I trusted you with my heart and my full story. What you see here is a beautiful redemption and silver lining, but the chance to share the hard parts too was like a balm to my weary mother heart. I dread the question, yes, but only because it is a loaded question, assumed to be followed by traditional answers. I secretly revel in the question because every once in a blue moon there will be an opportunity to tell the world about that baby girl who rocked my world. The one you can't see. The one you asked about, and didn't even know it.
Written by Franchesca Cox. Franchesca is the voice and artist behind Wildfeathers Wellness, an oasis for holistic health and healing after loss. She also hosts online Women’s Heart Healing Workshops for bereaved mothers driven by her passion for creativity and breathing, surviving and thriving in the face of grief. Find her on Facebook and on Instagram.