Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Block Party Talk

We went to our block party on Saturday.  It was okay.  I mean, it was a block party.  The kids played in the blocked-off street and we were friendly to the neighbors.  Cooper played enthusiastically with our neighbor's dog and then in his excitement crossed the line from playful chasing to being an asshole and that was embarrassing.

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. 


  1. Those questions are total grief landmines. I stumble and stutter every time. And even if I give the response that I'm most comfortable giving at the time (wether it's bringing Cale up or not) I always leave a little upset and agitated. I want the answer to be simple because the question should be.

  2. Ugh, that is always so hard.

    There is a time in my grief when I never ever thought I would "lie" about that.

    But I have often and it's more for me, for the reasons you said, then for the other person. I don't want to get into it with them. I don't want to hear whatever they think compares but doesn't. I don't even really care that their neighbor's cousin's best friend's aunt's baby died too...(I mean, not that any baby dying isn't sad but I understand now that it happens every day and probably almost everyone knows someone who knows someone who has had a pregnancy/infant loss.)

    I have decided it's not really a lie because they are really asking if it's your first "living" child and meh, I used to feel much more guilty about it, but not so much anymore.

    But really if you get pregnant again ASAP then people seem to stop asking that when you have two kids close in age...just sayin. No one has asked if Luke is my first since Matthew was born. I would never recommend 2 under 2 on purpose for anyone but this is one nice side effect.

  3. I do a variation of the same thing. If I think someone could become a friend, I have to find a way to tell them, even if they don't ask. But I don't feel I have to tell if I don't think the person will be significant in my life. It is easier for me now with 2 kids. When it was just E, I was asked if she was an only. Now, with M, people rarely ask, though I imagine some do wonder about the age gap. But I feel like you - Anja is not all of me, but if you don't know her, you don't really know me.

  4. I almost always say Frostina is my first, just because I don't want to get into the whole dead baby thing when I first meet people. If I do get to know them better then I go ahead and tell them about my son.

    I don't feel like I'm lying or denying him in some way. I just think he is a very special part of my life and I don't share him with people who don't matter.

  5. I was really struggling with the 'wow tons of my babies are dead' convo with a new friend. First she was pregnant, and I'm sorry but I'm not discussing my past heartbreak with a pregnant new friend. Then, we'd have such a good time, it's hard to broach that topic! I felt like an asshole and it would weigh on me every play date. Then G was smooching on her little friend's brother and said my brothers are dead, I miss them. and I was Over. Whelmed. STILL didn't say anything and sent an extremely long email when I got home. I felt so much better. I don't know how I'll handle it this next time, and I don't know if I would do it differently if I could change it, but I'm so glad she knows now.

  6. Aw, neither answer was really something you wanted to say in the moment. I think sometimes protecting your heart in that moment in time is important. No matter who knows about it, YOU know she mattered, that she was a part of your life and always will be.

  7. You handled it pretty much the same way I would have (and do). I've said to passers by who ask, something along the lines of "he's not my first, but he's right now my only one I have to take care of...". Some hear me correctly, but other hear what they want to, or what they expect to...and yeah, it's not comfortable for me, so why make it for them! But I try not to drop the news all like, "fuck you for asking" because what the hell does the average person know about baby loss. Not much, I'll tell ya that.

    I hasn't made a lot (correction, any) new friends since Alexander died, so, haven't really had to wade in those conversational waters much...

  8. I have been following your blog for quite some time now and have never responded. I love that you share funny stories that have me laughing and hard stories that are so real and ones I can relate too.

    We lost our sweet girl Addison almost 3 years ago and those questions that you think should be simple to answer, well aren't. We have two older sons, had Addison (who was born still very unexpectedly at 32 weeks) and then had another daughter. And if I could give you a dollar for every time someone made the comment, "Oh, you finally got your girl!" I would be a very.rich.woman. And it's not a cut and dry answer, but I can tell you that my heart wants to scream, "No...I already had my first girl." Aghhh... I have quit asking people about number of children they have or is this your first or any of the loaded but not loaded questions. It is just so hard trying to navigate the answers to questions that seem simple but are not.

    Thanks for being so honest in what you write about...sometimes I feel the exact same way. Your little Zuzu seems like a sweet but little firecracker kind of a girl. Reminds me of my little rainbow baby. Makes me smile. :)

  9. And this is another example of how babyloss is a major a-hole.

    You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

    We had a block party recently as well. We're not new on the block at all, but this is the first we attended. When pregnant with Andrew, I remember chatting with Elliot about how we'd bring him next year to meet all the kids. And then he died. Then I was pregnant with Benjamin (just barely) and LIKE HELL if I was going to that one. And then there was last year and somehow I didn't feel like it... maybe because he was still only a wee one. And then there was this year. We went. With our 1.5 year old who was fun and spunky and totally into the other kids. But the awkwardness was still ever-present and I felt like a cloud was looming over my head the whole time while chit-chatting with my neighbors, the normals.

  10. I think you handled it extremely well for the circumstance. It is our right to guard our hearts. I stay away from asking people about their family plans because my own experience has taught me that that can be a very insensitive question. On the other hand, If folks are bold enough to ask the question, I think they can be bold enough to hear the truth. I haven't been in that situation yet, thankfully, but I definitely won't be sugarcoating our family history for folks at that time.

  11. "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."

    This is a good way to put it. I HATE this question. It has haunted me with my two subsequent pregnacies, even with a toddler now. It never goes away.

    Also, here's something I just don't get -- even people who KNOW about our baby daughter and know that this is my last pregnancy and know that I'll have two boys and just the dreams of my daughter STILL ask me, "you're sure you're not going to try for a girl?"

    It is a dagger through the heart every time. I mean, babies aren't like cupcakes or something, where you just make another batch and then it's ok the first ones are gone. Thankfully this realization has helped me be OK with the reality that I will be raising two sons.

    This post just reminds me how we can figure out how to do life as best as possible on our own but it will never stop being hard, negotiation conversations with other people.

  12. It's okay. Eliza is remembered, missed and loved regardless of what you tell people.

  13. I've been wrestling with this on a daily basis now that I'm near the end of this pregnancy. I not only want to acknowledge Genevieve, but I want credit for that second pregnancy. At the same time, I want to be remembered as more than the mother of the dead baby. I keep thinking that this will get easier, and it has gotten somewhat easier, but this life is always going to be a lot messier than I expected.

  14. It's good to read this and to see that you aren't beating yourself up about it. We've all been there. And you're SO RIGHT - you have a right to keep a superficial conversation just that. As time goes on, I keep Elias a little closer to my heart and don't share him as readily. Not due to shame, but there's a sacredness to him, and not everyone deserves to know our story.

    Hugs mama. I always feel so awkward at neighborhood events. While pregnant with Will, one of my neighbors' friends kept telling me how much he hoped it would be a boy so I would have a son. I finally said, "I DO have a son" and then just left the party in tears. Sometimes it's just a lose-lose either way.

  15. It's such a hard thing. It's so hard to know what to do. I started a new job about six months ago, and only one person I work with knows that we lost our daughter. No one has asked if I have kids, and at this point, I guess everyone just assumes that I don't. I wonder sometimes what I will say, because either way feels wrong. But you're right, talking about them is a window into our hearts, and not everyone can be let in.