We went to a BBQ on the fourth of July. There was a family there whose oldest daughter is the age Eliza would have been--five and a half. Their younger daughter is two and a half. And the mom is pregnant again (expecting a boy this time).
I was able to be "normal" and talk a little bit about pregnancy (feeling good? boy names?), and although my heart definitely felt a twinge watching their oldest daughter run around as the "boss" of the younger kids, it was manageable. I could be there and miss Eliza and still enjoy the BBQ and our friends and all the kids. Eliza was constantly on my mind, but I never mentioned her.
The kind of weird thing is that part of me wanted to talk about Eliza, to say that she would be the same age as their daughter, to note that I've had three pregnancies and three babies, too... but I didn't. I just didn't find a way to work her into conversation. It wasn't my party or my guests, and I didn't want to take the conversation in a direction that felt a little bit selfish, somehow. But I also felt guilty for not talking about her. It feels almost dishonest to omit her from a conversation about my family, even though I didn't dodge any direct questions, and I definitely would have mentioned her if they conversation had moved in the right direction--I think I was hoping that it would without me having to force it. But I suppose that Fourth of July BBQ conversations with a group of friendly-but-casual acquaintances don't typically generate honest discussions about grief or loss, and so nobody asked me if I had a dead baby and I didn't talk about her.
Sometimes people ask if we're going to have another baby (though no one at this BBQ did), and I usually just laugh or say, "I don't think so!" Sometimes, though, it's an opportunity to talk about Eliza, to try to briefly explain that the incompleteness of my family is something that another baby wouldn't fix. But somehow it almost feels a little bit harder to talk about Eliza now that it's been more than five years. Unless the conversation is specifically about pregnancy, it's almost always about my living kids, and I just don't know how to talk about a baby whom I never got to know alive.
At the same time, talking about Eliza is easier in the sense that it's only in the last year or two that I've been able to talk about her without crying (although the tears are still surprisingly close to the surface sometimes).
My feelings about all of this are complicated. I want to be able to talk about her, but I also still want to protect my heart from that awkward situation where I either have to acknowledge how immensely shitty and heartbreaking it is to lose a baby, or I find myself downplaying it in order to not make the conversation all about my grief, "Oh, well, you know, we're doing okay now..." which is maybe sort of true but also oversimplifying things enormously. It's something I have to have a lot of energy to tackle, or I need to be in a smaller group of people so I don't feel like I'm putting my grief on display.
I was talking about this with a friend whose loss was more recent--she's approaching the one-year anniversary of her son's death--and she said she couldn't imagine not telling everyone about her first baby. I understand that need for acknowledgement, and I still feel desperate for Eliza to be acknowledged. (My cousin mentioned to me that when she was working as a camp counselor, she had a student in her group named Eliza and she thought of my Eliza every time, and it was like a balm to my heart to hear that.) And yet even so, I still find myself talking about her with caution if I meet people who don't already know, or if I'm not sure if friends-of-friends know (or remember). I don't know if this is normal, or if it's something that I wish were different. I don't even know for sure if I'm trying to protect them or me from my heartache.
A lot of things about grief have changed in five and a half years, and I am not sure I will ever be satisfied with any of it. What hasn't changed is how much I miss her, and how much I wish I knew the girl she would have been.