How Many Children Do You Have? A Bereaved Mother’s Response.

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Bereaved MotherI lost my daughter three years ago in February to multiple congenital heart defects. She was 48 days old. After her death, I found myself a member of an exclusive group that no one wants to become a part of; I became a bereaved mother. When I meet another mother who has lost a child, it’s this chilling moment where I just want to hug her and cry, because I understand. I understand the path that she walks because I walk it, too. Bereaved mothers understand one another.

As you can imagine, there are many hurdles for bereaved mothers. Many of these hurdles are not discussed, nor are they really thought about until the situation strikes, blindsided. But I think it’s time we talk about some of those hurdles for the sake of bereaved and unbereaved mothers.

A grieving mother asked this question on Facebook recently:

I’m currently pregnant again after a 20-week loss. I was induced and gave birth to her, so when people ask me now if this is my first child, it has created an issue for me. Sometimes I explain my situation and it’s not for the sympathy. It’s because not mentioning my angel baby girl breaks my heart. Most of the time I just say, yes, but as I walk away I feel so guilty and just not right. How do other mothers deal with this situation?

How many children do you have? It may seem like a simple question. Many people ask it in an attempt to make conversation. But for a mother who has lost a child, it’s not an easy one to answer.

When I am asked how many children I have, I continue to feel a flood of emotions. I, of course, want to count my daughter as one of my children, even though she isn’t here anymore. I carried her for nine months. I birthed her. She existed. Her life was very real! So, why wouldn’t she be counted? Some mothers, even I at times, find it very difficult to tell people that they have a child who died. It creates awkwardness in the conversation. Suddenly, the individual asking feels that they brought up a sensitive topic, and may even regret asking. They are shocked and are left feeling sorry for you. In the awkwardness, some of these individuals will tell you the story about how their cousin’s-wife’s-sister had a baby that died. Some will ask how the baby died. Some simply express their condolences. Some people choose not to ask about the baby who died, in fear that they may bring up a difficult subject and make the grieving mother sad.

Everyone that learns of your child’s death reacts differently, sometimes with heartfelt compassion and other times with comments that come across as rude to a grieving mother. I have learned to not take these comments to heart. They aren’t trying to be rude; they just don’t know what to say.

I don’t tell people that I lost my daughter because I’m looking for sympathy. I tell them because she is too important for me to leave out. I have gotten to the point where I can smoothly tell people that I have three children. In fact, if it’s an inappropriate time (like the Target check-out lane), I do not include that my daughter died, because the fact that she isn’t here anymore is irrelevant. I am a mother of three children, and one on the way. I love to talk about my daughter; I want to say her name and tell her story.

After hearing this mother’s question on Facebook, I spoke with other bereaved mothers to see how they respond to the “how many children do you have?” question. We all respond similarly. The majority of moms include the child they lost. Many mothers seemed to explain that they had X-amount of children and one in heaven. A few mothers chose not to include their baby lost, because telling someone their story is too difficult. Many mothers said they answer according to the situation and the individual asking. If it’s an inappropriate time, or if they likely will never see the person asking again, they do not inform the person asking about the death of their child.

For those of you who haven’t lost a child, my hope is that you, too, can understand a glimpse into the life of a mother who has buried a child. All bereaved mothers want others to know that we love when our baby or child is talked about. You won’t make us sad. We are already thinking about them and we are honored to talk about them, even if that means we end up in tears. All we have are the memories they left with us. And it is a blessing to be able to share their lives with others.

Do you have a question for Kristina? If you have lost a child or want to understand how to support a bereaved mother, leave your question below. We’ll do our best to answer it or discuss it in an upcoming post.

Kristina_HornerKristina Horner and her husband have three children, and are expecting their fourth child in the spring of 2014. Their second child, Annika, died of multiple heart disorders when she was just 48 days old. Kristina always wanted to be a mother and loves being one, but what she didn’t anticipate was the roller coaster ride that her journey has included. She shares her story on her blog Heartfelt Journey, hoping that her story will help or inspire someone else that is going through something similar.

{Photo credit @iStock.com/melnichuk_ira.}

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