Friday, June 5, 2009

The Head Count

Today I went to a local children's museum for the morning. We hadn't planned on going out anywhere, as our week has seemed busy. Liam had a special week at school, four mornings because of special events, and each day after school we went somewhere new to ride bikes and explore. No babysitting clients this week, just my own two blessings, full of so much life and curiosity and amazement in the world around them. I have been absolutely relishing some time to spend with JUST my children and it has been simply devine.
But despite the joy of the past four days they were busy, and all three of us also really enjoy being lazy and having nowhere to go and no schedule to abide to. That was the morning I had planned. Laziness, maybe a walk across the street to wade in the river, throw rocks, maybe some baking. But the kids were up very, very early today, and when a friend called at 8 AM to say she had procured passes to the local museum, all three of us felt as if we'd had our share of laziness and were delighted to pack up once again for a morning out.
My friend's daughter is Aoife's age, and the two are fast friends. I was worried that Liam would feel the odd man out, but instead he jumped immediately into the role of loving caretaker, leading the two little girls around by the hand, helping them on the climbing structure, explaining to them how to use the frozen shadow room. The three of them were so adorable.
The museum was not very crowded and they were free to dash as they pleased from pretend grocery store, to ambulance, to forklift, to bubbles, and back to the store. On one of their passes, as I followed them, I heard a woman calling to her son, "Liam!" I echoed her, and she turned around, and I told her I had a Liam, too. We talked for a minute and as Aoife passed and I said something motherly to her, too, the woman asked, "How many kids do you have?" I think she had seen me with my friend's daughter, and also had perhaps confused some other kids that had been running alongside of ours as part of our group, so she asked it in the tone as if I had many children.
"Oh, just three," I said, the answer rolling off my tongue as naturally as if the third had been at the top of the climbing structure, pigtails askew, striped cotton shirt hanging over a polka dotted skirt over flowered tights. I almost looked for her, the third child, and I was so happy that in the din and the mayhem there was no opportunity to account for the three children I was laying claim to, that it was just an answer to a question with no explanation necessary.
I love these opportunities. It is so rare that I get to tell this semi-lie, not so much a lie as it is an omission of information. I love to just say the number, so that my pregnancies match up to the number I get to posess, so that the number of babies that I have held in my arms, that have stolen my hearts, and have left me breathless for years of my life all get to be included in the head count.
I still remember the first time I did this. I was at the dermatologist quite pregnant with Aoife, and the nurse who was taking my blood pressure asked if it was my first baby.
"No, my third, " I answered with ease, because that question is easy. There is never any temptation to omit the pregnancy, because they were all just as real at that stage. She asked how old my others were, and if they were boys or girls. I hesitated for only half a second, and then realized she was literally on her way out the door, and so as my heart raced, I answered her.
"A two and a half year old girl and a one and a half year old boy," I said, my breath catching in the truth I had never dared to speak. She looked surprised.
"You'll have your hands full!" she said, and I nodded and laughed, too, enjoying the action of being the mother of two young children, which was not the script I got to follow in my real life. Then she left, and I felt full, and warm, and happy, because I had just told this little almost-lie that had made my day. She was leaving and she was seeing me as the mama of a little girl and boy, and I was lying there under a paper wrap feeling as full and delighted as I hadn't in all my days of mothering.
I am careful, though, about where I throw out the three-kid-without-an-explanation number, because I don't like to feel backed into a corner when further questions ensue. I mostly only answer with a casual "three" if I know there will be no follow up. If I know I will be there for a while, or that I will see the person again, I usually answer with the, "Three, but..." answer. Because the truth is, sadly, my little Charlotte never got to be a kid. She should be a kid, and she would have been a kid, but her life was stolen from her when she was just a baby. This is why the question of how many babies I've had seems effortless to me, and almost a relief, whereas the question of how many kids I have seems more complicated.
And now, I almost look forward to the growing swell of my belly, because I know that the questions are sure to come more often, "How many is this?" And I will get to answer with honesty, that this is my fourth baby, and I will get to tell about my spirit daughter, and I will feel proud.

Speaking of the growing swell, I thought I would include this 16 week shot of myself. No, this is not a joke... this is me today. Some people, mind you, aren't showing at 16 weeks. So yes, the questions will come fast.
And then, just a few shots of daily life...
Liam on his beloved bike
Aoife and friend Julia (of Children's museum fame) nursing their babies alongside of Gina nursing 11 week old Elliott
Dad and kids roasting tofu pups over the campfire


Mel said...

I like when you address the 'how many children' question, because it's such a big deal to me. For me, this is my fourth pregnancy with my fifth child, (presumably my third living child) which quickly gets confusing. I find that I give a lower 'kid count' when I'm talking to pregnant women or their partners, afraid that I may scare them.

Anonymous said...

God, what a gorgeous family you have. My twins were born only 40 days ago, with Oliver dying 12 hours later, and I've already had to deal with the "head count" question several times. The tag that I have to wear in the NICU to visit Charlie will always say "Baby Boy 2." Yesterday a new father approached me at the washing station, saw my tag, and said very excitedly, "You have twins?" "Yes," I answered, "but one died." I felt so bad for the look on his face and his apologies--I spent five minutes assuring him it was okay, that I wasn't upset by his question. The same thing happened with a parent at my daughter's school who asked "How are the twins?" I then spent 10 minutes comforting her!

I've already had the agonizing experience of losing my son and while I'm certainly not finished grieving that (I've barely begun), mentioning the fact of it doesn't bother me. But mentioning it to other parents seems to scare the bejeesus out of them since they are understandably terrified at the very thought. But as awkward as it is for others, I can't imagine answering that I have two kids. I guess I'll do the "three but..." reply.

dude said...

I'm guilty of that lie, too. Oh, I have 4 kids. Yes, I know there are only 3 boys, my daughter isn't here.
Danny, the time will come when you don't offer them comfort anymore. simply take what you have and move on. It might sound cold, but it isn't. I comforted a couple times, and then got mad at myself. They are only sad b/c they've heard a sad story, but you are living it.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say.. you could have already answered that you have 4. =)

I was showing quite well at 13 weeks with my second. I would assume that my abs aren't as quite as strong as I would hope. lol

caitsmom said...

I love that you were able to answer the question in a way that left you smiling. Peace.

Team Harris said...

What an insightful post Carol! I loved it! I totally understand... I had a VERY early miscarriage (my third pregnancy) and even though I wasn't even showing, I understand the absolute need to include him among my children.

Love your photo... you are positively radiant with your beautifully swollen belly!

And as a side note... love that fire pit too... I've always wanted one! ;-)

Charlotte's Mama said...

I'd just like to add that six and a half years later I am still comforting people, and while I wish I didn't "need" to, I also realize that it is part of the human condition. I try to avoid it at all costs and realize it comes more easily (the avoidance) when I've planned out my answer in advance.

Taking Heart said...

First off, you look absolutely radiant!
I love that you share this secret joy... that you can have those moments. I realize that reality doesn't hand those over so easily... but you obviously cherish them! But, it is your reality and you deserve to be able to share your story without consequence!

Ya Chun said...

It is nice to be able to say '3', and now, 4!

I dread everyone thinking that my ext pregnancy is 'my first'. I am experienced, more than I want to be...

And, yes, that does look like a big belly!

Cara said...

Those moments are like sweet gold to me. A private inner truth within a sugar coated white lie.

And - oh look AMAZING! So NOT what I saw when the cold winter blizzard flew...but WOW!

CLC said...

I am sorry I am late to this, but congratulations. I missed a post somewhere when you announced you were pregnant. You look wonderful. I hope the next 20+ weeks go by fast for you.

kris said...

I somehow missed this post! Baby #4 is adorable already--no surprises there. Be well and enjoy the sunshine.

4 x a mom said...

Tomorrow would have been Adrianne's 27th bihday. I am sitting here and the teara are rolling down my cheeks. I don't even know which comments to make first.
We have 3 healthy young adults. They are great.

I don't cry about Adrianne very much any more. At first, at birth when she was diagnosed as having a fatal condition , my husband and I were almost paralyzed. The circumstances of her 28 days, were fraught with one incomprehensible crises after another. On day three, we took her off life support ( we were put in the staff lunchroom.... ( and every time she got a bit blue we gave her some oxygen. The nurses wanted the lunch room and several of them opened the door to peek in. One nurse politely asked us if we were finished. Well Adrianne's lungs kicked into gear and then she was able to breath on her own from then on...well till the day she died.

My head count is: my eldest is a boy and then the next 2 are girls.

So basically, I have a first born and then the 3 as mentioned above. I don't mention Adrianne any more unless I am meeting someone with whom our family might have become close. Mostly, I tell people in a matter of fact way the we have 3 kids but we actually had 4. One died in infancy. Then as quickly as a blink, I move on to another topic. Although, if the person I am talking to has lost a child...that is when it comes out.

No matter who is is , if a person has lost a child , they know...what you know, what I know. That deep dark spot in your heart.The wound heals around a dark empty spot that is always there. Sometimes it is warm and close.

Before the birth of my eldest, people would ask if I was a mother. I wanted to say , yes I am the mother of a dead baby. But i did not. I was evasive and would say, We hope to have kids in the near future."

One thing I did not miss the upheaval of teen years with her.

My parents did not come to my daughters funeral. My parents, sister and I all live in distant cities.

My parents came into town for Adrianne's birth but left as they were going to see my sister who had a 12 and 10 year old at the time and who was expecting. They were there at my sister's the day that my daughter died, the day that my sister's son was born.
He is a nice enough child and did not really get along with my eldest: our son, but I could never give him a birthday present,It was sacrilegious to celebrate that birth/death day. He gets other presents from me. My sister made me promise that I would never tell him or any of her in-laws or husbands cousins the date of Adrianne's death.

Every time he has a milestone I measure it in terms of what Adrianne would be doing. Is is not jealousy. It really is like when I found out that I wa spregnamt with Adrianne, I got onto a train. She fell off the train, in a manner of speaking, and we are still on that train. The hopes, expectations, well they did not get off the train with her. I totally understand the stroller.

I love my 3 kids. I feel badly that I had no joy when they were little. I had love and hugs and we played, but my soul had no joy. Trees were 1 dimensional.
As the years passed, her birthday and death dates were marked by supreme sadness, Only when we moved out of that house and into a new city 2 years ago did I begin to feel joy in my heart.

By the way the book when pegnancy fails was a great help to me.

One day you will feeljoy again,
I will be sad on and off for the next month. My adult kids will hug me and we will laugh about silly things and in a month I know the joy will be back.