It’s been five years since my son was stillborn. Five years and there are moments that still hit me hard. Unlike right after he died, these moments are few and far between now and usually attached to some comment that catches me off guard.
Loss mamas know what I’m talking about. It’s the comments people make who don’t know you, or your history. Those innocent comments people say to make small talk, show interest or be nice. Those comments are the worst.
Usually, it starts with this:
“Do you have children?”
In the beginning, when my loss was fresh, my weak heart would crumble all over again and I wouldn’t sugarcoat it for people. In fact, I’d do everything in my power to make them feel bad for being nice.
“I have a son who died,” I’d reply as I shot an icy look at them and thought to myself how I hated nosy people.
That usually shut them up. During that time, the first few weeks and months after we lost Alexander, I felt better making people feel bad for asking me those simple questions. I was hurting so badly and I felt they at least deserved to feel uncomfortable.
As the years have worn on and my heart pieced itself back together, covered in scar tissue, I softened. In fact, I didn’t just soften, but I learned how to take their questions and their comments in, digest them emotionally and recover. Basically, I learned to lie better and be a nicer human being all over again.
But, no matter how far away I get from my child’s death, I’m still surprised and caught off guard when these moments come up.
Last week a new employee from Argentina was visiting our offices. He was like most Latin American people I have met in the workplace – warm, enthusiastic and a great conversationalist. We sat down together so he could understand my role in the company a bit better and before we dove into the work discussions, we did the small-talk thing that often accompanies any meeting. You know the conversations:
“How’s the weather in Argentina? How was your flight? When do you go back?”
Somehow the subject of my not-so-recent maternity leave came up. I don’t actually remember how or why this happened, but at that point his eyes lit up.
“Oh! You have a baby,” he said.
“Well, he isn’t really a baby-baby anymore,” I said and reached over to grab the picture on my desk of my little family.
He looked over the picture, eyes bright with enthusiasm.
“You finally have the son you’ve been waiting for,” he exclaimed when he saw my son’s little 3-month old cherub-like face.
Wait, what? What did he just say?
If someone who really knew me had been there, they would have seen the split second I took to digest that comment and recover – forcing out the smile I plaster on my face whenever something chips at the scar tissue. Making some sort of affirmative noise.
I quickly moved on to work topics after that, but the comment stayed with me. I figured it had to be cultural, most cultures still prioritizing sons over daughters, and I knew it was some sort of compliment. But it shook me.
Usually my least favorite comment is, “Oh you have one of each now!” I got that a lot when I was pregnant with Ro and people would ask me if I was having a girl or a boy. The smile would come out, I’d sort of grunt something and they’d either move on or follow-up with more questions on ages. I had learned how to pass those comments off. I learned to expect them and shield my heart.
“Here it comes,” I would tell myself. “Hold on and put up all blockers.”
This comment was different though because it was new, the first time I had ever heard it. This poor, excitable man assumed I was waiting for a son. He didn’t know that I already had one because there is no one else to see in that family picture sitting on my desk. A reminder to me that to the outside world, there is no other son. Ro is it. A reminder to my heart, that just because it appears stronger now, that scar tissue is always just a bit weaker than the original structure. Almost five years out though, it no longer crumbles all over again. Today, my heart may be a bit weaker, but it still holds up and I’m more resilient.