Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My First

When I was pregnant with Caroline and someone would ask me if it was my first, I almost always said no.  I got asked that question a LOT and only twice did I lie because I wanted to shut down the conversation.  After all, it wasn't my first pregnancy.  I would much rather tell a stranger my sad story and watch them feel awkward than listen to their smug and patronizing, "Ooh, your life is about to change!" or "Get your sleep now while you can!"

Eff you very much, my first baby died and I sure as hell don't need your advice or your ridiculous comments about how life-changing this experience is.

Not a very nice attitude, but what can I say?  Grief + Anxiety doesn't bring out the best in me.

As I wrote before, one of the nicest surprises about being pregnant again was that it gave me the opportunity to talk about Eliza.  To say her name, to explain that she mattered.  Everytime I shared her story, I almost always got a kind and compassionate response, and often I opened the way for someone else to share something important with me as well.  It wasn't always easy to talk about her, but I was always glad when I did.

Now I have a living, breathing, squawking little baby, and when strangers ask if she's my first...

I usually say yes.

Because she is my first five-and-a-half-week-old baby.  She is my first experience with breastfeeding and diaper changing and tummy time and lullabies and rocking chairs and car seats and strollers and bouncers.

In my heart, in reality, in all the ways that make me a mom, Eliza was and is and will always be my first baby.    But in the way I know people mean when they ask if Caroline is my first, well, I guess she's my first baby, too.

So it's a difficult question to answer.  It's one that I dread being asked.  And I've wondered if saying yes means that I'm taking the easy way out, that I'm pretending Eliza never existed.  This bothers me a lot, even though I know that everybody who knows us, everybody who matters, knows how important Eliza is to us, knows how much we love and miss her.  So why is it so hard to mention her to a stranger these days?

I think it's because I'm afraid I'll do it sort of apologetically.

Actually, my first baby died.  But it's ok that you asked!  See, look how great this new baby is!  I'm doing ok!  I'm totally not a crazy, unfit mother.  **insert big, fake smile**

I could talk about Eliza when I was pregnant and explain why this pregnancy wasn't all sunshine and unicorns, I could talk about Eliza and explain how much we missed her and how scared we were that something unexpected would go wrong again.

But now that something didn't go wrong...  I'm afraid that if I talk about Eliza, there is no way for me to adequately explain that I'm still not ok, and yet, things are really, really good.  I don't want to sound as though I'm awash in desperate grief on a daily basis because the truth is that I'm not drowning in it the way I was before.  But I absolutely don't want to sound as though I'm "all better" or having Caroline has fixed things, because nothing could be further from the truth.  I may try saying, "Yes and no," and see if I can get people to leave it at that.

I was clicking around the Still Standing online magazine (a wonderful resource for people struggling with loss and life after) and I found this article by Kristen Binder.  It's a reminder of why the internet community is so amazing--because when you don't quite know how you feel, someone else magically puts it into words for you.  Her article succinctly explained why I'm so reluctant to mention Eliza to the grocery store clerk or the nice lady at Walgreens:

"I used to think that I was doing some great disservice to Peyton's memory and life if I didn't mention her every time the question was asked, but after seeing how those conversations tended to play out, now I feel the opposite.  The moments when I choose not to share Peyton's life with strangers are less about protecting myself, and more about protecting her from the ridiculous notion that because she died as a baby, and I have gone on to have other children, her death is some how acceptable."

That's exactly it.  Because if I told someone that my first baby died, and they looked at Caroline and said, "Well these things happen for a reason," or "Well, everything works out in the end," I would COMPLETELY lose my shit.  Or, worse, I would just smile and nod and silently hate them with every fiber of my being.  Because Eliza was not a TRADE OFF for Caroline.  She didn't die so we could have this new baby.  And if anyone were to so much as imply that this is how things were "supposed" to work out...  It makes me cry just writing about it.

Kristen goes on to say, "The reason I don't share all of the details of Peyton with just anyone, is because I refuse to sit there and hear her worth insulted.  She is too special to me; too sacred, too amazing, and far too loved for me to leave the door open to having to her life minimized by some stranger's platitudes."

So sometimes I'll talk about Eliza.  And sometimes I won't.  The truth is that in so many ways, Caroline is our first baby.  Except she's not.  Eliza is.  And strangers can keep their platitudes to themselves, because for all the happiness that Caro has brought us, I still miss Eliza immensely and I don't know how on earth I've lived twenty months without her here.


  1. People see E at the park, ask how old she is (3.5), take note that I am not visibly pregnant or toting a baby and assume that we've made some big decision to have an only child. 'So, she's an only, eh?' In a certain tone. And I want to say, 'No, she has a sister, but her sister died.' Except that I know they'll ask how, and I'll say she was stillborn, and then they'll say to themselves, 'well, that's not really a sister, then, is it? Not the same.' And, I know it's not the same - just like roly-poly, rolling around Caro is not the same as sweet, silent Eliza. But Eliza and Anja are still our daughters. It kills me how hard this question is for us and how easy it is for those who ask, both to ask it and then to walk away from whatever answer we give, true or not-quite-true. If we give the not-quite-true, they don't give it a second thought; if we give the true, they might spend a second or two pitying us and then they move right on, easy as pie, while we suffer their inability to get it.

  2. I think I've figured out the key to not getting those questions anymore. Get pregnant again, soon! That seems to distract people from the "first" question, especially when they see you have a baby/toddler, and are pregnant again, then they are more like "god bless you" and keep their questions to themselves. I don't think I've been asked if this is my first since I started showing again.

    I loved that post from Kristin and I think that any answer, whatever is the easiest for you for whatever reason, is an okay answer. You don't owe strangers your life story, if you don't want to.

  3. This totally makes sense to me.

    B and C are our first babies to carry home and mother. That's true, unfortunately.

    I sometimes fear explaining to others that I have two babies and one died-- that somehow they'd judge me as a parent to Benjamin. See me as unfit or something. It's my own insecurity brought on by the countless sleepless nights of wanting to wish away my life after Andrew was born that caused me to feel this way. I'm probably not the mother anyone will every ask advice from-- because, I mean, I have a dead baby. Or maybe that's part of my insecurity, too.

    I love how Kristin explained that she feels it's her duty to protect Peyton. I feel the very same about Andrew. My only job is to protect him. I couldn't then, but I can surely protect, cherish and love his name.

  4. I'm one who doesn't typically talk about my son to strangers. Sadly most people in our life, except for a blessed few whom we love, seem to remember that my daughter is our second child and not our first. Like you said about Eliza, I kind of get it and kind of hate myself that at times I feel the same. My point is that I love your reasoning that you can't quite explain it, especially to strangers, that you are still so missing your true first but you still can enjoy your second. That's it, I thought, when I read it. That's why I never mention him anymore to people. (I think there is somewhere in there too that I just hate it when people pity me or see me as a's the both issue again). Anyway, thank you for that verbalization of what I could never quite put my finger on.

    You aren't alone in sometimes choosing to not talk about your first child to strangers. I know many will always feel like they are denying their child's existence but I just have to do what feels comfortable for me, which is to not sob to strangers about my son or worse, make it seem like I'm treating his life and death like it was no big deal. How can I adequately put into words quickly what his life and death mean and how they affect me?


  5. For whatever reason, strangers tell me things. Very personal things. Usually, they are sad. Losses of babies. Cancer. Cheating husbands. Etc, etc. I'm grateful for this post because it helps me know the best (and the worst) way to respond. I've never thought about these things until you post about them. So thanks.

  6. I remember reading that entry from Kristin, and I just cried, cried, cried! I feel so much the same about Alexander as she talks about Peyton.
    What made me so sad though, and still does, is that ANYONE ever feels the need to sum up the worth of someone's dead child. It's just sad, and horrible, and say sorry, and mean it, and go away unless otherwise instructed. People still do it to me ... my skin is getting so thick now from holding my tongue, and then bluntly telling people to just quit when they're ahead because I don't need a follow up opinion about how the world works in mysterious ways.
    It's frustrating though, because I know my retaliation is often perceived as 'the poor grieving childless woman', and people don't see the error in their ways.
    I love the post Brooke, very well expressed. Your 2 girls will always have a special place in my heart.

  7. Yup.

    Pregnancy was a lot easier for me with that question. I almost always said "No, our first passed away" - but now I usually just mumble "mmmHmm" when someone asks if Finn is our first. Because I get it - is he the first baby I've gotten to have any experience with other than pregnancy. . .yup, he is.

    No question is easy. Whether it's "is this your first?", "When are you going to have #2?" or anything along those lines.

    I loved that article too - makes me feel better about picking and choosing when I bring Cale up - because like all momma's . . .scratch that . . . MORE than most momma's we are fiercely protective over our babies. And unless I'm confident that Cale and his story are going to get nothing but the love, respect, and tenderness they deserve, I'd rather protect him (and my heart).

  8. We're at the 'aren't you going to give G a sibling?!' stage. I never know what to say. 'They keep dying' seems not appropriate for casual conversation. Blah.

    1. Ugh same here! I had a Walmart check out lady hold up pregnant tests and say " just making sure HUH?!" I was like, " we'll, actually I just had my right tube removed and my wanted baby aborted bc I was bleeding to death internally. Just following my hcg levels down, thanks for asking - and waving my shit all over." people.

    2. That is awful. I know I've said many things that could have been hurtful without realizing it but I really hope I have never been that insensitive.

  9. I have never liked anyone asking me about matters related to future children. Long before I had children I always cringed when someone asked. I made my mother stop as well. I'm sure it was always innocent enough, but to me the question "so, when are you going to start a family?" always translated in my head to "so, when are you going to have sex with your husband?" Because really, if you get down to it, that's what (usually / sometimes) kicks things off, so it seems a little strange to ask a complete stranger something like that.

    I was very intentionally not having another child for almost five years after my first, and I got asked all the time if I was "done". I never really felt like it was necessary to explain that as soon as I made it through my PTSD from the lovely post partum experience that I had I might get around to it. I just smiled and moved on.

    After having a miscarriage between my two girls, I changed my opinion again, and never asked anyone (other than my closest family or friends) about anything related to family planning. In general, I really think people mean well, but I certainly don't want to butt into such personal matters with other people. If someone wants to strike up a conversation in the checkout line, they can always compliment your outfit or comment on how cute your kid is and leave it at that.

    My best friend is dealing with this issue right now - she gave birth to twins, and lost one after only three days. She struggles with the fact that her living son is a twin, but no one knows that, and the words never come that can sum up the absolute joy and emptiness contained in that little seat of the grocery cart.

  10. Just want to say I think you've handled the jump from the no living babies to the living babies side of the fence with such grace and poise. You've had a huge few months and you should be so proud of how well you're coping.

  11. We lost one of our twins at birth and we get asked all the time if Cohen is our "only". It's just so hard to know how to answer. I like the way that you and Kristen explained it, I haven't heard it put that way before.

  12. Oh, and people tell us "to be thankful we still have one", as if having Cohen somehow fills the incredible void of not having his twin brother. I just want to scream about how they aren't interchangeable! Yes we have "still have one" and we are so thankful, but they are two different babies and they will never take the place of each other.

  13. I don't know how on earth we have lived these months since the girls died either. The other day I was rereading some entries of my own from this time last year as we awaited inducing at the hospital. It was complete disbelief about how I rode home in the passenger seat with my eyes open, of all things. How did I keep my eyes open. How did I do all those things I feel I couldn't do again, ever. And still be here.
    Thanks for this post.

  14. I often keep Genevieve to myself, but it's definitely hard when strangers start asking about Eleanor being an only child. And don't I want another?

    For me, it's also a matter of wanting to protect Genevieve's memory. A lot of people give me a terrified look when I tell them, or refer to my situation as a nightmare. It is a nightmare to lose a baby, but I don't want Genevieve thought of as a nightmare. She is very much loved, and I'm grateful that she was my daughter.

  15. LOVE this post. I'm still trying to sort out how to answer this question now--I feel like I had just gotten the hang of it during pregnancy, and now I feel differently, beause like you said, in the practical sense, Livia IS our first, we are new at parenting. I hate having to dismiss Kayla's life in a 2 second comment, as if it's small talk. So I usually just say that yes, Livia is our first.

  16. Thank you for this post! I also have a first but not first. Mariam was my first pregnancy. Connor is my first child. My own family dismisses Mariam's "worth". To them she was a blob on an ultrasound. To me she was my first baby. I never held her, heck she may not have even really been a girl. We chose Mariam because it means "bitterly desired". Sorry I'm a little ramblely, it feels good to see my feelings in print.