To the Mom I Didn’t Mind Making Uncomfortable at the Playground


I truly was enjoying our conversation at the playground. It was full of all the fluff and chit-chat I’ve come to appreciate as the mom of a young child. I find that these random mom meetings are a nice way to pass the time.

Then it happened.

Unfortunately, I knew it probably would. You asked a common and seemingly innocent question: “Is she your oldest?” I knew it would have been simpler if I’d glossed over the question, and I could have answered several different ways, but I made the choice a long time ago to always answer this question honestly.

“No, she’s not my oldest. My oldest passed away shortly after birth.”

The sweet look on your face faded. A look of horror, bewilderment and sorrow blended together before you were able to recompose yourself. I know that wasn’t the answer you expected, and I hate that in a split second our nice happy conversation suddenly shifted into an awkward moment. Silence lingered for a few seconds before you managed to mumble, “I’m so very sorry,” then glanced away.

As I turn to watch my daughter, ignoring the hovering silence, I wonder what you are thinking.

Although I’ll probably never know, I’m guessing you wished you hadn’t asked that question. I know I made you uncomfortable, and while part of me wants to apologize, the other part of me is unapologetic. I’m sure that sounds mean, but I don’t mind making you uncomfortable because my son, however brief his life, was important. He matters. He was cherished and dearly loved. His life had value, meaning and made an impact on this world. His life may have been limited due to his condition, but he still had life. That life is worth talking about, even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

Although I knew it would make you uncomfortable, I didn’t really care. You see, I don’t just answer this way for myself and for my son, but because I know that many moms bear the burden of pregnancy and infant loss silently, too afraid to make others uncomfortable. This won’t end until we start breaking the silence. Moms won’t share until they know they can do so in a way that will be comfortably accepted by others.

I don’t mind making you uncomfortable because, by mentioning my son, it also gives you the opportunity to share about the babies you might have lost, which has happened several times after sharing openly about my son. If you can overcome the sense of feeling uncomfortable, you will realize that through my openness and honesty I have created a safe place for you to share with me as well.

So next time we meet at the park and you see me sitting with my daughter playing in the sand, I hope you feel comfortable enough to talk to me again. I hope you are willing to ask me more questions, maybe even questions about my son. I’d love to share him with you. And if by chance you’re a loss momma, maybe you will feel comfortable enough to tell me about your children — all your children — even the ones you’ve lost.

bethany conkell playing with daughter in sandbox

To read more about my son, please visit Purposeful Gift.

Author’s Note (added June 15, 2015):

Dear Reader,

Due to a large amount of controversy and confusion that has occurred surrounding my article, I feel obligated to clarify a few points. First, and most importantly, please realize I never wanted to make this mother uncomfortable. That was not my goal, nor my intent in sharing about my son. I simply answered her question honestly and said that my first passed away. By answering honestly, I knew it would probably make her uncomfortable, and that is sadly what happened. When I told her my son passed, I said it very calmly, gently, and in the kindest voice I could use. I did not yell at her, shame her, say nasty comments to her, or try to make her feel bad for asking. I simply answered her question with honestly. Answering honestly is what made her uncomfortable.

Many folks stated that I should have continued the conversation to help the other mom understand and ease her discomfort. Please realize that I typically do try and continue the conversation. I typically follow up my initial statement by sharing what a blessing our son’s life has been ( even if it was short), how he became an organ donor, how proud we are of him, and how he continues to touch lives. Unfortunately, people do not always give me the opportunity to continue the conversation or share these things. Sometimes people allow their level of discomfort to end the conversation and do not give me the ability to continue sharing. I would have loved to share more with this mom! Sadly, I was not able to this time.

When I first lost my son I felt horrible when I mentioned him and saw how uncomfortable it made people. I would apologize profusely. However, I no longer apologize and I no longer mind making people uncomfortable (as I stated in the article). I have come to realize that there is a horrible stigma around infant loss that needs to be changed. I also have become confident in the fact that my son is worth talking about … even if it makes a person uncomfortable. This was the point of the article.

Some people also did not realize the entire second half of the article was the internal conversation that I had with myself. I did not actually say those things to this mother. The second half of the article shows why I believe it is important to share about my son and why I would encourage others to share about their loss as well.

Finally, I realize that not everyone in the loss community is comfortable sharing about their loss. That’s okay. I was not saying that others have to share about their loss – rather that I know many wish they could.

Thank you for reading. I hope this clarifies and helps. Hugs and prayers for the families who read this article and have experienced the loss of a child.

Bethany

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