“Miss, do you have any children?”

19 weeks + 1 day pregnant

I haven’t told any of the children at school about my new pregnancy yet. I’ve had a couple of the older, more observant children ask me if I’m having a baby but I’m reluctant to let on, and usually find a way to dodge the question. It feels like the best way to protect both them and myself right now. 

In my last pregnancy I had a permanant class and openly told them that I was expecting when I was about 14 weeks along. The children made me cards and took bets on whether I would have a boy or girl. I showed them the scan photos, would tell them when the baby was kicking, and at the end of the year when they left for junior school, I was bombarded with cards and gifts for my baby girl. I really enjoyed sharing that special experience with the children. 

I haven’t yet bumped into any of the families that I worked with last year, as the children are now at a different school. However, many of them have brothers and sisters who remain at our Infant school so I’ll undoubtably bump into some of the children at some point and I imagine that that will be very difficult to deal with. I have no idea how I’ll handle it if they ask about the baby, but I imagine that, just like in many of these situations, I’ll find the words at the time. There don’t seem to be any right words, there are only…words. 

You never know when you’ll be confronted with a difficult question, a question that tears at your heart. Yesterday one of our six year old pupils asked me if I had any children. I’d anticipated that a time would come when I’d be asked this question. I hadn’t considered that it’d be a child who’d be the first one to ask me. I wondered if the child who asked had remembered me being pregnant previously, or perhaps had noticed that I was pregnant now. Either way the question startled me. To answer yes would lead to further questions; was it a boy or girl? What was their name? How old were they? Painful questions. Questions that would be difficult to answer. Did I answer yes and venture down that road? Did I explain that I have a daughter in ‘heaven’? 

I considered that such a topic required time to explain properly, and then time to address the inevitable flurry of questions and worries that would follow. The children would undoubtably want to know how my baby had died. To answer that we never really found the cause is sure to create confusion and concern. I envisaged the anxiety. Can people just ‘die’? Just like that? Babies? Could my baby brother ‘just die’ then? Could I? The awful answer is that sometimes yes, but do young children need to know that? I decided not. I find that young children have little concept of ‘likelihood’ so are often unable to rationalise the frequency of bad things occurring. I felt compelled to protect both them and myself, so I simply answered “Not yet.” 

While I do think that it’s important to address real subjects such as life and death with children, I also believe that it has to be managed thoughtfully and sensitively and in a space where there is then time to address the questions and concerns that follow.  If I’d had older children of my own I would of course have addressed this with them, but with the awareness and time to explore it fully. A passing conversation in the playground didn’t feel an appropriate time to indulge in such a difficult topic. 

However, I’ve written a lot about how we as a society are not very good at dealing with death and grief and we are particularly poor at addressing the reality of stillbirth. Perhaps my reluctance to talk openly with these children perpetuates this ignorance and fear? How can people learn to deal with death and the complicated emotions that run alongside it, if we sheild them from it, if we never give them chance? I suppose we have to start somewhere, but where? and how? 

When a Teaching Assistant from our school tragically passed away last year, I was tasked with the difficult job of informing my class of six and seven year olds about it. There was such a mixed reaction in the way they received the news. Some were extremely inquisitive; how did she die? Why did she die? Was there blood? Who found her? Where was she? What would happen to her now? Some were deeply affected and filled with worries about death and dying that needed to be addressed. Others seemed unphased, preoccupied with children-type-issues, like what was stuck to the bottom of their shoe or what they had for lunch. Unaffected? I’m not sure. Accepting? Perhaps. 

After answering the little girl, I immediately felt guilty for not acknowledging my daughter’s existence out loud. I felt ashamed that I had denied her, hidden her. The only way she lives on is through me and her family, so I feel I have a duty to keep her memory alive. But it was my heart versus my head and I imagine there’ll be other times I’m struck with this quandary about how much or how little to reveal. 

When we moved into our new home earlier this year, one of the removal men asked me if I had kids. I was two weeks post loss and totally flummoxed. My friend answered for me “No,” she said quickly. I was initially grateful for the rescue but then felt bitterly sad that we had denied my daughter’s existence. I wasn’t prepared for the question, but I’m not sure I ever will totally be. 

How do you decide what to say? How much of your story, your heart to give away? I’m finding that it all depends on how strong I’m feeling at the time and how much I trust the person to ‘receive’ such difficult information. The loss is like a wound I carry and sometimes I need to sheild that wound in order to remain ‘fully operational’ in the real world. Other times I’m willing to drop that guard and allow myself to be vulnerable. Sometimes sharing that wound helps it to heal a little. My mum always told me that a wound would heal faster if you left it open rather than covering it under a plaster. I think that’s a good analogy for grief; the more you expose that wound, the easier it becomes, the less painful it becomes. I hope that one day I’ll be able to walk around free from that plaster… I just hope that the rest of the world is on standby with a first aid kit. 

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