So there I am - shopping or waiting in a checkout line. My mind is probably somewhere in worksville thinking about all the things on my to-do list that require my immediate attention at home. I sense a presence near me, another shopper or an employee. I count the seconds until they speak up about the bulging appendage I make no effort to hide...
"Is this your first?"
Le sigh. Random stranger, you have presented me with a very difficult mental dilemma... and you don't even know it. You're just trying to make small talk with me - you probably have kids and want to relate to me in some way. Or maybe you think I look great for a pregnant woman, so you feel warm and fuzzy in the aisle and want to express to me all your warm fuzzies. I know you have good intentions but here is what you've actually done to me.
This is a YES or NO question, basically. I actually have three options though, on how to answer this (in general). Here they are:
Answer "YES, this is my first". I have just lied to you with a straight face and a little smile. I have just added you to the long list of strangers I've decided to opt for a lie about my first child ...that pile up on one another in my little white lie bank - contributing to an ever-fading emotional attachment to this memory. I feel horrible inside that I have just denied the existence of my dead child. His memory enters my mind... but like the ghost from Christmas past he is here to show me how horrible I've become. I have prevented you from feeling guilty about bringing up a tragic event in my life... but at the same time I've opened the door for you to give me all kinds of pregnancy and parenting advice because now you think this is my first child. Now you think you can tell me "Oh the third trimester is the WORST." Now you think it's OK to say, "Well the labor is painful but is is SO worth it." YES I KNOW. You don't have to tell me because I've already been there and done that... but my little white lie has dug me in to a little hole here... and I'm just praying that this checkout line moves a little faster so that I don't have to tell you any more lies. Random stranger, you don't know this... but this brief exchange will haunt me for the rest of my day.
Answer "NO, this is my second child"... but you see I have to follow that up immediately with "BUT MY FIRST CHILD DIED," to prevent you from asking how old my first child is... giving me yet another opportunity to just lie to you. I have just made you an intimate partner in my grief. I have given you just a enough information (he's dead) to peak your interest. "Oh goodness I'm so sorry. How did he die?" is sure to follow. Now there's no way for me to explain this quickly. I'm just trying to get some shopping done. I have to stop what I'm doing and give you the essentials (so as not to leave any other questions out there). "I carried him to 42 weeks but when he arrived he didn't breathe. Doctors said there was a lack of oxygen at some point and he sustained extreme brain damage. But we got to be with him for 5 days before we 'let him go'." Now that I've wrinkled my brow for you and regurgitated a painful memory for you, I get to listen to you say something nice about death or grief. oh joy. There's a small chance that you, random stranger, have had a personal experience with baby loss.... and now I have to hold off my shopping even longer to relate with you and feel your pain as well. If that's the case then HOW DARE YOU ask me if this is my first! Random stranger, you don't know this... but this brief exchange will haunt me for the rest of my day.
Answer, "Well sort-of... not really." You have just asked me a basic yes or no question and I have given you the most ambiguous answer in all of humankind. You are already very very nosy... you are sure to ask me more questions. I have just made this exchange worse for myself... now it's not only painful but awkward. Great... I cannot win. At this point I have to either tell you everything or be a complete asshole and say something like, "I'd rather not talk about it." Can you imagine?! Here is this perfect stranger just trying to make smalltalk and I have totally ignored their sweet intentions in favor of "teaching them a lesson". This won't change anything. I'll leave this exchange feeling like a stubborn, angry, grief-nazi. Shoot. I'd rather just leave depressed or guilty for telling a white lie... at least that way I won't have to feel like I've got a major stick up my butt about nice people just trying to talk to me. At least this way I'll still feel approachable. Random stranger, you don't know this... but this brief exchange will haunt me for the rest of my day.
Although no studies exist showing the percentage of all child-bearing women who suffer pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or neo-natal loss due to SIDS or complications due to premature birth, I'm willing to bet that out of all the women who have ever been knowingly pregnant at any age, any time, with any range of health issues or not... it's probably at least something like one in ten. At least. And I'm only saying that because that seems to be about the going-rate for women who have a similar baby-loss story to share with me if I end up divulging the truth about my loss.
So, please... don't ask a woman if this is her first child. This pregnancy could be her fifth... or tenth... in a long line of painful memories too heavy to burden you - a random stranger - with.