Saturday, May 16, 2009

Small Talk

Sometimes its exhausting being walking gloom.

This week I was away at a professional conference, a first since Ezra died. As it approached I became apprehensive about being away from home, even if it was just for 2 nights and 3 days; I've become so reliant on having the safe space of my house and the comfort of my husband to retreat to after a long day. Although it was exhausting, the conference was exciting and so I muddled through.

What I hadn't thought to anticipate is how frequently I'd be asked 'do you have children?' by various colleagues I met at the conference. Up until I was pregnant with Ezra, I'd always answer that question with a hopeful, 'not yet'. Then while pregnant it was 'just this one on the way'.

The reality is that I am the worst liar in the world. The only way I know how to answer that question now is 'yes but he died'. And if they press for more, simply 'he was stillborn' or 'he died just before he was born'. Usually that ends that line of conversation. In fact it sometimes ends the conversation entirely.

Most people don't know what to do with that information. Some are appropriate, at least spitting out 'I'm sorry' or 'I can't imagine'. But once spoken, the fact of his life and death hangs between us, no one quite knows what to say next. I hate being the one to drag a rainy black cloud over everybody. But I can't deny my son's existence.

One particular group of 3 women from the same office were all wearing the same kind of necklace, with their children's names engraved on round silver disks on chains around their necks. One said, 'ooh you have the same necklace as us. How old is your child?' I said, 'he was stillborn in August' and their faces dropped like dominos...1, 2, 3. They all said they were sorry. They all said they had a friend who had also had a stillbirth. They changed the topic.

The interaction reminded me of junior high. Eager to fit in with whatever was the latest fad, it was like having the popular girls say 'ooh you have doc martens like us' and having to admit they weren't the real thing. Still on the outside looking in, just like junior high.

Sometimes its tiring being a mama only in my head and in my heart. I wish the rest of the world could see it too.


aliza said...

oh sarah, that sounds like a tough place to be with those jr. high moms. i'm proud of you for being real and honest, even if it's uncomfortable.

i'm tired of only being a mama in my head and heart too.

sending you love

Sara said...

Oh, I hate these questions and the suddenly ended conversations. Sounds like a rough few days. Hugs!

Hope's Mama said...

You were brave to face these few days Sarah. I hate so much that we all got kicked out of the Mummy club. I hope you are feeling safe and loved back in David's arms now.

Ya Chun said...

wow, on many levels.

Like, who gets all the same necklaces as their coworkers???


You are brave to go away. I don't think I could bare it, still.

And it is wonderful taht you are wearing a neckalcce for Ezra- and actually kind of cool that they recognized that it represents your child.

Sometimes, I feel like I get the "do you have any children" question more than I used to. I guess there are recognizable changes to our bodies. (I don't know about you, but I don't think I recognize my own body anymore, and that tummy is certainly a 'mom' tummy now)

erica said...

I remember how hard my first conference was, how much I hated to leave N and face people who'd last seen me before Teddy. I was so glad when it was over. I hope you get some restorative time now that you're home.

Your Junior High analogy? Exactly right. Some of my coworkers talk about their kids and when I walk around the corner they fall silent till I pass. I know they do it partly to be kind, but it feels like I've been booted out of the clique.

Delia said...

I always hate these questions and am just now, after six years, getting strong enough to even answer the way I should have been answering all along. Is that terrible of me? Yes, but it's the only way that I knew how to survive the on-slaught of questions. Thank you for sharing this! I needed this today!

Funsize said...

I do the same thing. People often ask me, do you have any children? And I say, yes, I have a son. I leave out the *but he died* part unless further pressed,or unless they say something stupid like congratulations, or you must be lucky. Because I am not lucky- I am so unlucky in this motherhood department.

I'm tired of being a momma in my head too. I still think of us as mommas though.

Michele said...

I get that. I have a necklace that has 3 babies on it. So I often get, "How old are your children?" I usually answer with "Our twins would be X and our son would be Y. They were born very premature and only lived a few minutes." People get the whole clammed up thing where they apologize. But before they can change the subject (which I've lived through more times than I can count) I follow up with "Those were the best moments of my life. I wouldnt give them back for anything in the world." Sometimes people still walk away or change the subject. Other times, they feel it's okay to ask questions or to share their own stories. That's what I hope happens.

I was at work and actually had a computer tech ask me about the photos of the babies on my desk. I explained what happened and he was quiet for a few moments. Then he explained that he and his wife had lost their first child, a little over a year before... That he'd never felt like he could talk to someone... Thanked me for displaying their pictures and letting him let it out.

I'm sorry that you are going through other people's ignorance. But I am so happy that you ARE sharing Ezra. You are a mommy, just as valid as those other mommies, and should share Ezra as much as you want!

Jenni said...

wow, i have no idea how i would answer those situations. or handle a conference with loads of people. this babylost state really is like living with a foot in two worlds, one where i am a mama, one where i am not.

oddly, when i don't mention angel mae to people i don't feel like i'm denying her. i know a lot of mamas do feel that way, but it hasn't hit me that way yet. also i don't get too many questions. (that may change once i get my tattoo!) i'm super introverted, and mostly i feel like she is absolutely mine. mine and brian's. and my family's. and her life, her story, isn't really for anyone else to own or comment on. (of course then i blog all about it, so what do i know?!?)

Barbara said...

I think in the end what Michelle said is the point. One day you will reach someone with your words, with Ezra's story, with his inclusion, and they will be able to share their hidden grief.

*sigh* It is exhausting.


angie said...

I have tried to write four different comments, and erased them all. There is so much here, Sarah.

Basically, I just think it is so important to talk about Ezra. To expose small talk as what it is, small and petty. Talking about real life, talking about love, talking about Ezra is Big. It sucks that people can't handle that. But that is their issue. Their fear. Their pettiness. Their inability to deal. I know it feels this way, because it feels this way when I talk about Lucy, but talking about Ezra does not have to bring a black cloud over everything. He is your beautiful baby,and you are his beautiful mother.

I think about the times we have sat together and talked about our babies, and I didn't feel like there was a darkness. I felt lighter, happier, accepted. Here we were talking about our babies, talking about surviving, talking about grief...sometimes we tear up, but mostly, we are warm and loving. There are many ways to talk about our babies. I just wish people were more aware of transforming their fear into compassion. And their smallness to bigness.

Much love.

Emily said...

Someone asked me that at the conference i attended last week.
I just smiled sadly and didn't answer. I couldn't. Someone else changed the subject for me. I haven't yet learned to say anything with grace and confidence.

CLC said...

That does sound exhausting. I hate these questions too. And my answer is different every time, usually depending on who is asking. But I am glad you answered the way you feel is right for you.

Anonymous said...

I answer the same way, as denying his existence feels like a betrayal to me but then I struggle with the awkwardness afterwards. Glad you're home safe & sound with David. I'm proud of you for going. Much love & hugs.

Rach said...


k@lakly said...

I hate that question eventhough I have three living children who keep me in the 'other'. I never know how to answer without either pissing myself off or shutting down the conversation. I do know that parents who have lost children much later in life, meaning after they were born and had lived for years also have a hard time answering it. To include or not to include the children who died isn't just for us db moms. I think any time you mention a child and dying in the same sentence you stop the earth from spinning, just a bit. And you know what. I think it is a damn fine thing too. It should stop. And people should be dumbstruck by it. Our children are worthy of everyone's attention.

Paige said...

"Sometimes its tiring being a mama only in my head and in my heart. I wish the rest of the world could see it too."

This is brilliant, perfect. Sending you so much love, mama of Ezra.

Sadie said...

if you could have written a response that would have been in anyway affirming to you, to Ezra, what would it be besides "I'm so sorry."? Is it the way it's said, scared and awkward and quickly changing the subject? Would you like to be asked his name? What happened?

Cara said...

That is one of the hardest things about rejoining the 'unknowing' world! Kudos to you for deciding how you would handle it...and seeing it through.


Lani said...

i prepare myself for these questions a lot. i don't get them that much but when i do, i can't deny the presence of silas. but its so sad and stops people in their tracks. i don't care though, our babies are ours and deserve a mention and to be talked about. i need to talk about silas and i don't care what anyone thinks about that.
sending you much love sarah. xo

Catherine W said...

"Sometimes its tiring being a mama only in my head and in my heart. I wish the rest of the world could see it too."

I see it. I see you as Ezra's mama. You were very brave to attend that conference and to be so honest xx

Pink Ronnie said...

Hi Sarah,
I have only just started reading your blog and what you write is beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss of Ezra. Your words ring so true. After we lost Cameron, I hated that didn't look like a mother. But like you, I could never deny Cameron's existence, even if it ended conversations or made people awkward. The way I saw it, their discomfort was no comparison to my pain. I will return to keep reading your journey.

Dalene said...

Your words hit home for me, too. Now that I'm pg with B's little brother and the weather is warm and I can no longer hide my belly, I am constantly being asked if this is my first. I'm getting so sick of it, but I can't deny his existence. And so I stumble through with an honest answer, but these encounters are never very satisfying.