Why Answering These Normal Parenting Questions Is So Difficult for Me

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“Do you have any children?”

“How many children do you have?”

“Is she your only?”

“Is she your oldest?”

These all seem like simple and normal questions. However, when you’ve lost a child, these questions can be uncomfortable and gut-wrenching.

I remember the first time I was ever asked this question. It was a month after my son Robby had passed away, and I was out getting my bangs trimmed. I’d never been asked this question before, but yet here it was, and it blindsided me, and I felt like I’d been hit in the chest when the lady doing my hair so very innocently asked me
“Do you have any children?”

I just sat there for a few moments before answering through streams of tears that yes, “I had one child, but he had died.” She told me she was sorry, and then quickly finished my bang trim, and I left.

After my daughter Ellie was born it made the question a little bit more difficult to answer because there were so many variations of the questions that could be asked. However, whenever it came up I managed to stumble through my response saying I have a daughter and I had a son but that he was gone.

Then one day, it happened. I was in a rush trying to buy some socks for Ellie at the mall. I was stressed out about something, I can’t remember what now, and the sales lady was trying to chit chat with me. Next thing I knew, she asked me if Ellie was my only child, and before I could stop and think, the word “yes” slipped right out of my mouth. I felt like such a terrible mother and person at that moment, and for days afterwards I beat myself up. I felt as if I’d let my son down or had pretended as if he didn’t exist. It took me a long time to realize that it was OK. I was not denying his existence; I was just trying to get through that exact moment.

I now have standard answers for these questions, and I’m not ashamed to admit I did spend a lot of time practicing these out loud.

These questions almost four years later are still uncomfortable, and they still take me off guard. However, they’re not just uncomfortable for me; they’re uncomfortable for the person who asks the question as well. I get all different kinds of responses from obvious discomfort to looks of pity. I don’t mean to make others around me uncomfortable or sad, but this is my life. The fact is, I have two children, one in heaven and one here in my arms.

Amanda's daughter holding a picture of her brother

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When Grief Is Like Another Child You Must Take Care Of

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We are coming close to the two-year anniversary of the loss of our 6-year-old daughter, Jennifer Lynn Kranz. Her name matters.

I keep expecting it to get easier, like at nearly two years I should be adjusted to this new life I was handed. But deep down I know I am still in the very early stages… and I realized…

On Feb 12, 2013, as she took her last breath, I birthed another presence in our family: the grief baby. Grief is another child I must take care of.

Child loss is like birthing a baby. It is something you must nourish and care for the rest of your life. Something that, as it ages and changes, never stops mattering.

At first, you experience the newborn stage, up every two hours with a crying and needy baby so you don’t even realize you are tired. You are on autopilot. It’s part of you, like another limb. You can never put this baby down or it screams for you to pick it up… to rock it, gently, constantly.

At night you want to sleep, but it seems this newborn hasn’t gotten that memo yet. It seems to need you the most at night. People and meals are at the ready. The days can seem to drag on forever, but the time between now and when this new presence arrived seems so fast. As author Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

At six months out, you can put the baby down and walk away to cook dinner or go to work. You might look at your partner and want them to do more in helping you care for this still young and needy babe. But the truth is you each have very different ways of soothing this baby.

You think you have a routine, a good bereaved parent schedule. But then the grief baby changes it all up. Now it is cutting new teeth, and it’s like you have a newborn again. But you arent used to it anymore and the exhaustion is deeper and more cutting.

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

Now it’s a year old. This first birthday is a big deal. A lot of people remember. You aren’t sure what to expect since you have never had a birthday for this little one. The next day it seems suddenly older to you. So much more grown up.

A year. A whole year. Days were long, but the year was short. Yup.

You think now you should have this whole grief-baby-parenting thing down. You might put pressure on yourself. Other people might start looking at you like you shouldn’t be so tired. A 1-year-old should be sleeping through the night by now.

You might try to dress up your grief baby… put a bow in its hair or pick out the perfect outfit. But it won’t stay like that for long. It will notice the hair bow and pull it out.. it will play in the dirt and muddy up the clothes. You try to keep it looking put-together, but it never lasts long.

And grief baby grows and changes.

Sometimes you get so mad at this baby of yours. It never fails: every moment you try to take for yourself, grief baby seeks you out and climbs right on top of you. More independent now at nearly two years old… but also much heavier… and louder.

You think you have a good handle on it and know what triggers it. But you don’t. Grief baby needs you right in the middle of lunch, because another little girl with long brown hair walks in the restaurant wearing a sparkly dress. Your grief baby wails unexpectedly and you are embarrassed.

Be gentle on yourself; your baby is still a baby. It’s OK if you can’t control it. It’s OK to cancel plans because the baby just needs a nap.

This grief baby that was born as I kissed my first baby goodbye will continue to grow. One day it will even be 6 years, 4 months old. And after that this grief baby will have outlived the one that gave it life: Jennifer.

It will live beyond that. It will be a teenager… I wonder what it’s like to have a grief baby learning to drive?

And then it will get older. Twenties and 30s. By then we will be past the days of tantrums in the grocery store, but it will still be my baby. We won’t talk daily, but when grief baby calls I will answer the phone. Because no matter how much time passes it will still be my baby…

It will have a presence in my daily thoughts and take a prominent seat of attention on its birthday and holidays.

Time passes. This grief baby grows…

Mom with toddler daughter in pink dress
Libby and her daughter Jennifer

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When Visiting the Cemetery Reminded Me the Love of a Parent Is Forever

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Holidays are difficult when you have lost a loved one. Of course every single day is difficult, but holidays seem to really be a kick in the gut. It’s a time of love, laughter and family. However, when part of your family is missing, it makes things a little (OK, a lot) sad.

When we were Christmas shopping earlier in the month, my daughter Ellie told me that she needed to buy my late son Robby a present, so she picked out a small matchbox car. Ellie is three and is really into every aspect of Christmas this year, so she also insisted that we wrap it up for him.

On Christmas Eve we went out to the cemetery where Robby is buried. Ellie unwrapped Robby’s present and played with the little red car on his stone. She had received a package in the mail  from Santa the day before which included snow from the North Pole and some Reindeer food to sprinkle in the yard before bed on Christmas Eve. Ellie pulled both containers out of her Minnie Mouse backpack she had packed up and then she “showed” them to Robby. She very carefully took the lid off of the “snow,” put her little fingers in the container,  pulled some out some and then sprinkled it on his stone.

She told Robby that Santa sent her this snow from his house. Then she opened up the reindeer food and did the same thing, as she let Robby know that now Rudolph would know where to find him.

It broke my heart yet made my heart full all at the same time knowing that she wanted to share with her big brother. Her brother who she has never actually met.

A small child putting things on a headstone at the cemetery, a woman kneeling near a grave.
A small child putting things on a headstone at the cemetery, a woman kneeling near a grave.

When we go to visit Robby, I like to walk around “Babyland” and look at the different things out for the other angel babies. I talk with Ellie about the different decorations that are out and we say some of the baby names out loud. I like to say and hear Robby’s name said out loud because it validates his existence to me, so it has become natural to do the same for other angel babies as well.

This year, I noticed several different stones that were decorated for Christmas. They were stones of babies who were born many years ago. These babies were born in 1980, 1986, 1992 and 1993. The 1992  really hit home for me because I was born in 1992. These parents, 23 years later, still come to their angel baby’s grave and put out Christmas decorations.

As I sat at Robby’s grave, I’m going to be honest, I cried a lot.

Several different headstones with Christmas flowers and decorations on them.
Several different headstones with Christmas flowers and decorations on them.

I did not cry because I am living in the past.

I did not cry because I don’t appreciate the beautiful living child that I have.

I did not cry because I can’t move on.

I cried because this Christmas, and every Christmas for as long as I live, I won’t get to see my little boy’s eyes light up on Christmas morning while opening presents.

I cried because he won’t ever have a picture with Santa.

I cried because the love of a parent is forever.

I’m praying for all of the parents who have suffered a loss — whether it’s a recent loss, or it has been many years. A loss is difficult whether it is new or old because the love of a parent is forever.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living,
my baby you’ll be.”

Robert Munsch, Love You Forever

A version of this post originally appeared on Plan B

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How Do You Possibly Find Contentment After Losing a Child?

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One afternoon in April of 2011, a few days before Easter, I took a break from work for an errand. We needed to get gifts for our son Aaron’s basket. What do you give a child who can’t eat candy or play with toys? Simple: CDs and DVDs. I went over to the FYE store and picked up several of both, including some “VeggieTales” episodes.

Veggie Tales DVD Aaron loved “Veggie Tales.” It was among the shows we played each evening as we prepared his meds and tube feeding. We’d sing along with the opening theme, and he would bellow in laughter.

If you like to talk to tomatoes,

If a squash can make you smile,

If you like to waltz with potatoes,

Up and down the produce aisle…

Have we got a show for you!

When I got back to the office with my stash, I realized I’d purchased too much. I’d gone overboard; it was difficult not to. So I set aside one of the DVDs, “It’s a Meaningful Life,” the VeggieTales rendition of Frank Capra’s “Its a Wonderful Life.” It was a Christmas story, so it seemed more appropriate as a gift held for that holiday or, if we couldn’t wait, for Aaron’s birthday in September. I left the DVD at the office, and brought the rest home. That Sunday, the Easter bunny delivered a bountiful basket.

Three weeks later, on a Saturday morning, my wife and I woke and found Aaron had died during the night. Quietly, he’d left us while we slept. He was 7.

Eventually, I returned to work, and on my first day back I found the “VeggiesTales” DVD waiting for me. I’d forgotten about it. I chided myself for leaving it out of Aaron’s basket, as if I should have known there would be no more Christmases for him, nor birthdays.

The DVD is still on my desk, shrink-wrapped as the day I bought it. The box stares at me, its title reminding me this is a meaningful life. The subtitle tells me the show is a lesson in being content. Not in being happy, mind you. Just content.

Now I sit in my office, and mourn Aaron as I do each day, and the Veggie guys watch me. They challenge me with a question: How does someone find contentment after the most important thing has been taken away?

Here is my answer: you work hard at it. You remind yourself that life can still offer bits of joy and meaning and surprises. And you make the choice — the difficult choice — to smile at the squash and waltz with the potatoes. You wake each day, look out the window and take in the world’s buoyant greeting: “Have we got a show for you!”

Aaron and Mike Large

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The Family Photo You Can't Prepare For

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This photograph means the world to me. This photograph is the first, the last and the only family photo that we have. It can never be replicated, and those emotions we depict can never be truly explained.

mother and father looking down at child

Our son, Sebastian, is pictured with us. He was born sleeping at 20 weeks gestation. He was our firstborn, our much wanted and loved son. This photo was taken on the evening I delivered him in August 2015. He died from a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia, more specifically type 2 osteogenesis imperfecta. His body was so much smaller than a baby for his gestation; his legs were too short for me to even feel his first kicks.

His skin and organs were underdeveloped and tore just from being touched. He was brought into the world with every bone in his body broken. His limbs were bowed as a result of constant fractures and healing within the womb. He was one very sick and weak boy. We had been warned a week earlier that he was expected to die in utero at any time, and while we found this news confronting and devastating to hear, we prepared ourselves for the long journey ahead of us.

I am not sharing this story for you to feel sorry for us; I am sharing it to raise awareness about the men and women who walk among us in our community. The one in four Australian couples who also have their one and only family photo; the one in four women in Australia (according to a 2012 Sydney Morning Herald article) who experience a miscarriage or who deliver a still baby.

These men and women are fighters.

For every baby they hear cry in the café, for every baby they see in catalogs, for every pregnant woman they see waddle past them — a piece of their heart breaks. Whether it’s a reminder of the cries they never heard, the clothes they were never able to buy or for the gestational age they never arrived at, their heart aches. There are no words one can say to bereaving parents; nothing can take away the heartache that haunts them for the rest of their lives. The only thing you can do is join with them, help fight their battles and when it gets too hard, too sad and you think they should be over it — think about their first, second and third birthdays they will never get to celebrate. The only occasion they have to remember their baby with is the day they delivered their sleeping angel.

It is far too easy to tell bereaving parents to “get over it” or “you can have another one,” but these words hurt. These words don’t acknowledge the loss that has been experienced, the years of infertility and the uncertainty as to whether future pregnancies are viable. Bereaved parents will never replace their angel baby; they want that baby.

Ever since joining the team of bereaved parents, I’ve realized we are not alone in this, and that no mother, father or grandparents should ever have to be alone in this grief either. For too long this topic has been taboo, and bereaved parents have been forced to hide their emotions. By why? There is a lot I’ve learned from bereaved parents, and there is a lot that society can learn, too. Please remember, it’s OK to talk about the child who has died, celebrate their anniversaries and refer to them by their name (not “fetus,” as most medical professionals prefer). It’s OK to lift others up when they are down and be the shoulder for them to cry on. This is something I have experienced from complete strangers since losing Sebastian, and it’s been the most comforting thing I have ever experienced within my community.

We know all too well that not everyone will be supportive, and not everyone will understand. This is why we can only share with you our family photo that has been edited, where our most prized creation had to be blurred. We’re afraid of how people will react; we’re too afraid of him becoming a focus of interest for people who have not seen a baby at that gestational age or with his physical deformities. We have done it to protect ourselves and our son. That is how taboo this topic is, and that is why I am speaking out this October. It’s the awareness month for two things close to our hearts that Sebastian was affected by – pregnancy and infant loss, as well as dwarfism (a form of skeletal dysplasia).

So, to the moms and dads who have lost their baby, and to the grandparents who have lost their grandchild, you are not alone. Grieve in a way that gets you through it. The pain will not go away, but you will learn how to deal with it better. Be proud of your angel, the baby you wanted, loved and created. We must be brave and insist that people recognize our babies and say their names.

Follow this journey on Words That Start With ‘S.’

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a photo with us and the bigger story behind it. What don’t we see in that photo? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Parents Honor Memory of the Twins They Lost in One Powerful Image

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Katy Patten was 23 weeks pregnant when she went into preterm labor in 2011, Baby Center reported. Patten’s twin sons, Aiden and Gavin, were born with heartbeats but could not breathe on their own. They passed away a few days after being born.

To honor their memory, Patten, her husband Justin, and their two girls, baby Giuliana and 3-year-old Ava, did a special photo shoot with photographer Linda Gittins, owner of Lulu B. Photography in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. In it is the entire family, complete with allusions to the twins in the form of shadows.

We wanted to finally have the family photo,” Katy told Baby Center.

family photo honors memory of premature twins
Courtesy of Lulu B. Photography

Gittins took the beautiful photo of the Patten family with their hands intentionally placed so that she could later add in the image of the boys. Gittins used the shadow of her 4-year-old neighbor to complete the scene. Her neighbor is the same age the boys would’ve been.

As the girls get older, we want them to know about [the boys],” Patten told Yahoo. “I want them to know that there were other people in our family and that they’re important to us.”

The picture hangs over the fireplace in the Patten home. Katy Patten, a pediatric ICU nurse, now serves on the Bereavement Committee at her work to help others deal with grief.

h/t Scary Mommy

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