“Do you have any children?”
“Do you want children?”
“When are you going to have children?”
“Is he your only child?”
I’ve received those questions, at various junctures, consistently. Everyone in young adulthood has. Somewhere along the way, these deeply personal and complicated questions became common conversation starters. Or conversation carriers. Always delivered so casually. And, at times, by complete strangers.
They’re asked mindlessly. And innocently, I know. They can help avoid an awkward silence. Sometimes with a new acquaintance, colleague, or friend of a friend in a social setting. You don’t think twice about asking these questions if you haven’t experienced loss. And if you have experienced loss, then you probably don’t ask these questions.
Up until recently, I always gave the “easy” answer. I said “no” when asked if I had children after losing Lila, and before Dallas was born. I said “yes” when asked if he was my only child. It was the easy answer, for those who asked, to hear. Not the easy answer, for me, to say.
Recently, a contractor returned to our house. He knew me and knew my wife — I don’t think he knew my son. I asked him to text me when he arrived, rather than ring the doorbell, and mentioned that my son was napping. We discussed work that needed to be done in the basement, then the conversation was drifting into a lull. I could nearly sense the question before he asked it. “So, is it just you, your wife, and your son?” he asked me, innocently. “No.” I said immediately. “Our daughter passed away four years ago.” Stunned silence. His eyes widened and went to the floor. Not the response he was expecting. It was an innocent question, after all.
I haven’t changed my response to make anyone feel bad for asking. I take no joy in introducing a difficult moment. It’s important that people realize exactly what they’re asking. It’s an opportunity to introduce an understanding of how complicated, deeply painful, and complex the response to that innocent question can be. I changed my response because I want to honor my daughter. She’ll always be my first born. And I’ll never, ever leave her out of the conversation again.