There was a bouncy house earlier in the day and they blocked off certain hours for "big kids" and "little kids" so there was a time when just Zuzu and the two-year-old boy across the street were in there and Zuzu had a great time stumbling around. She would fall and bounce and grin at me. And then she kinda hammed it up and flopped around on her back, giggling.
The day was hot and humid--early October pretending to be August. It was cloudy and looked like it could rain all day long, but didn't rain until right when the dinner started. Somehow David had gotten roped into grilling for the entire neighborhood, so while he cooked up burgers and hot dogs in our front yard, I grabbed an umbrella to keep him company. It cooled off after that, and was only sprinkling, but the party died down quickly. My mom took Zuzu in for her bath and David and I stood under a tent and chatted briefly with some neighbors we hadn't met yet, who live further down the block.
They were cute and nice and they have a two-month old son. And for some reason they asked if Zuzu was our first. (Just in case we have an older child we don't talk about but who might exist? Oh, wait... We kind of do.)
I thought I'd gotten used to this. When we first moved, I told our neighbor the block captain about Eliza. I don't usually have a problem talking about her.
My general rule is that if someone asks if Zuzu is my only child and it's someone who won't see or remember me again (a store clerk, for example), I just say, "No" and don't elaborate--I change the subject. If they press the issue, I tell them that our first baby died when she was born. I don't feel compelled to sugar-coat my life to make someone's casual encounter more comfortable. It sure isn't comfortable for me!
If it's someone I will see again--a co-worker, for example--I just tell them about Eliza. This has gotten considerably easier since I can now do this without dissolving into tears.
But this new neighbor put me in a weird position. Would I see her again? Possibly. Likely. She seemed nice. It would be nice to have a friend in the neighborhood who wanted to walk around the park once in a while. But also? We've lived here for months and I hadn't met her before. We're both busy (she's going back to work full time in another month). I'm sure she and her husband have other friends. And I have friends I'd like to see more often than I seem to have time for! Maybe I won't see her again until next year's block party. Who knows?
So when she asked me if Zuzu was my first, I paused. I knew she was asking me because her baby was her first, because she was looking to make a "new mom" connection, because she was just being polite.
And then I said yes.
At that moment, I didn't want to talk about Eliza at a block party with virtual strangers while holding a paper plate and a solo cup. I didn't want to look at the face of this blissful new mom and tell her that one of my babies is dead. I didn't want to articulate the difference between her new-mom-happiness and mine. I didn't want to pour out my heartbreaking story to someone I'd just met and then imagine her going home with her husband and her perfect healthy first baby and feeling sorry for us and all we'd been through and talking about how awkward she'd felt when I told her my baby died. I didn't want to assure her that it was "okay" if/when she said she was sorry. But I also didn't want to elaborate on how shitty it is to lose a baby. It was too much. I was not ready to open up about all of that to some girl I'd just met five minutes ago.
It's hard to navigate a casual conversation with what most people seem to think is a perfectly ordinary question falls at my feet like a grief landmine.
The truth is, I wanted to protect my broken heart from being exposed to a random person at a block party. But the other truth is, I felt really shitty about not mentioning Eliza.
If I'd been standing next to David and he had been the one who had been asked, I think I would have been sad if he had given the same answer I did.
And yet, I don't know that I would feel any better now if I'd answered with the whole truth. Maybe she would have reacted weirdly. Maybe my grief would have made her not want to be friends--in case baby death is contagious or something? Or maybe she would have confided in me her own heartache. I find this happens quite often--I tell my dead baby secret and I learn things I never would have guessed about other people and their heartaches or illnesses or losses or pain. Maybe I wasn't in a place where I wanted to hear about her struggle with whatever it was she thought might be somehow related to my loss. Maybe I just didn't believe that someone with a perfect blond ponytail and Tory Burch flats could relate to my grief at all and I didn't want a dead baby to be what she remembered about meeting me. Maybe I just wanted to keep the conversation simple.
And so I gave her a simple answer to a complicated question.
Anyway, I didn't mention Eliza. The conversation meandered around the pleasant and superficial until I excused myself to put my first-but-really-second baby to bed.
I feel okay now about what I did in that moment. I think I have the right to avoid shifting from superficial chit-chat to sharing the most devastating and shocking experience of my life at a casual social event. I don't have to expose my soft underbelly to everyone who asks what they think is a simple get-to-know-you question.
But it's been three days, and I'm still thinking about it. Thinking about the unspoken truth and the little girl who wasn't there to play in the bouncy house.
If I see this neighbor again, if we have another conversation, if she seems like someone I'd like to know, I'll tell her about Eliza. Because there's more to me than my baby who died, but without Eliza, the story of my life is like that conversation at the block party--incomplete and superficial.