It’s an innocent enough question, a universal icebreaker among adults really. After all everyone has kids and talking about them is safer than religion or politics. For a woman who has lost a child it’s a question that pierces the heart. Living with infertility is like losing a child every twenty eight days for years on end, living with the loss of a child is like looking through a kaleidoscope at every holiday and anniversary that passes. You see the colors through the light, but the picture is shattered and the little broken pieces are lying haphazard before your eyes. You want to pick up the pieces and sort them out into an image that makes sense, but it’s simply not possible.
After seventeen years of fielding the same question, I have yet to offer a graceful answer. To simply say no does not do the question justice. I do have children, and I feel like a simple no implies that I’m childless by choice, and that doesn’t feel right. To say yes I have three girls is no good, that begs a conversation about them and their activities. To say yes, I have three girls in heaven opens an awkward conversation with a stranger about my struggles with infertility, not appropriate and not someplace I want to go with a stranger anyway. To say “no I’ve had miscarriages” is considerably less than graceful, but in my frustration I have said that from time to time. It will shut down that line of conversation PDQ. To say “we haven’t been blessed” as someone suggested to me opens a dialogue about the whole issue of IVF & adoption and what that person’s friends, brothers, cousin did to bring children into their family. To say “no, but that hasn’t been our choice” is awkward but at least it ends all further questions. The best I suppose would be to simply say no and ask about the questioner’s children. Either way the question is painful, to simply say no and act like our little girls don’t exist is painful, to expound on the question opens a whole can of worms most definitely not intended by the questioner.
In the first five or so years of marriage when the question is asked and the response is no the questioner generally will go on to tell you that what you need is a little vacation some time away with Hubby and that is usually followed by a little vignette about that person’s friends, brothers, cousin who got pregnant that way. IVF was not so common in the early 90s, perhaps that has become the first suggestion made by strangers wishing to discuss the most intimate details of your life. Sometimes they wish to discuss adoption. I’m not always the most patient person, sometimes I want to snap back, “gee I didn’t think of that”, but I can usually contain myself. What becomes difficult at this point in the conversation I never wanted to have with this particular stranger is the recollection of just how dire the circumstances of children in need of adoption are in our nation. But that is another post altogether.
Every so often when someone asks the “so do you have children” question and I respond with a simple no they snap back “I’ve got three…some….a teenager, you can have”. Odd as it may seam, that is the most merciful response from my perspective. It tells me that the question is really a preface to complain about their kids and not an inquiry about me at all. Those are the easiest to deflect, simply shut up and let the crabbing begin.
So what’s the solution to the most miserable question of all time? Lately I’ve managed to toss in a little prayer before opening my mouth in difficult circumstances. A quick “help me Jesus” or “come Holy Spirit” before answering may be just the ticket. I’ll let him use this aspect of my life in whatever way he wishes and offer up the pain for the salvation of souls.
Not my will but yours be done. Amen.