How many kids do you have? Yeah, it’s a simple enough question. For years, though, it’s been one of the most complex queries I’ve been tasked with answering, not because I don’t know the answer, but because I must approach it cautiously with a string of questions which have just a split second to be answered. Who’s asking how long will I know them? Do they need to know? Is it better to bring it up or just leave it alone?
And of course, how guilty will I feel if I don’t say exactly what I want to say? Six, I answer, qualifying with five alive, one in heaven, my son.
My son, Taylor, my second child and first son was stillborn. The reason I still still 12 and a half years later have hesitated is not because of embarrassment or shame or even sadness, but because of the history of having had a handful of unfortunate experiences. The suggestion that maybe it’s better this way. Because having two kids 20 months apart would be really hard. The brush off, but at least I have other kids, people saying it’s for the best it’s meant to be.
And the time a woman looked me right in the eye and said, I don’t care who you are, you haven’t bonded with your baby until it’s born and in your arms crying and cooing.
Well, I know the most people who said these things to me had only the best of intentions. These experiences have taught me to protect what I have left of my son, his memory and the words I use when I talk about him. In reality, life has moved forward. My kids know that they have a brother who passed away. We bring flowers to the cemetery on his birthday and on Easter. As for me, though, I do take a week each year, the week surrounding Taylor’s birthday, which I refer to as Taylor Week, to mourn and cry and be still and feel.
And each year I wonder when will it be enough? Will I ever feel some semblance of closure? Not that I want to move past having lost my son. It is and will forever be a part of who I am. But still I’ve ached to know how can I move toward a more full sense of healing?
Part of the process of healing has come in the form of association with other women who have lost a child.
The camaraderie is the height of devastation and misfortune, paired with the necessity to bond so as to not feel completely alone. Those vital connections in shared tragedy somehow make the burden lighter.
It was during tailor week last year that I received the invitation to travel to Uganda with the United Nations Foundation’s Shot at Life campaign. I had worked with them earlier in the year and fundraising for life saving vaccines for children in developing countries. And this trip would be to see the fruits of those fundraising efforts, though I was thrilled with the opportunity and looked forward to seeing the children receive the medicine they so desperately need.
I had another desire. I wanted to talk with the mothers. How did they do it? These were mothers who, like me, answer the question. How many kids do you have? Like I do with two numbers, the number of kids they’ve had and the number of those who are still living. My opportunity arrived on one of the last days of the trip in western Uganda in Fort Portal, in the Mubende data strict. I found myself sitting on a Sunday afternoon with some of the women from my group from the United States and seven mothers from the local area in Uganda.
It was a primitive roundtable setting. As we sat together under the branches of a tree, a storm was brewing in the distance. We enjoyed the breeze, but more. We enjoyed each other’s company. Some women sat alone. Others had one or more children by their side, some of whom would nurse when needed. Through a translator, we were able to ask and answer each other’s questions. When the time came for me to ask my question, my hands were trembling and tears were already falling.
For those of you who have lost children. How has that affected your parenting?
My intention was to bond upon the unfortunate sisterhood of having lost a child. The result was that I was floored by their answers and by their faith. Three women answered my question Violet, Margaret and Valéria. It was Valeria’s answer which stays with me of her experience, which is that she has lost three of her 12 children. She says, I endured patiently. I endured patiently a central missing piece to my puzzle had been handed to me and I put it into place, I realized that over the past dozen years I have endured, but not necessarily patiently, that if I could add patients to the equation, peace could come again.
Not a final ending sense of peace that seeks to wrap up the experience and set it aside. But a peace that makes my experience more bearable. Peace that gives me strength enough to continue to help my sisters who have lost their children along their varying paths and peace enough to hold my head high. And when someone asks me how many children I have to be able to look them in the eye and without hesitation or worry about judgment, knowing that I’m always protecting my son, regardless of the words of others, confidently answer six.