Living with the Elephant

If the topic of death makes you uncomfortable, skip this post and check back next week. If you do end up reading this post in its entirety you will probably smile at the irony of this warning.

I have a giant elephant in my living room. Unfortunately he doesn’t just stay there. My current elephant – the death and birth of my baby boy – haunts me wherever I go.

It finds me every time I meet someone new. They ask a simple, non-threatening question, “How many children do you have?” Then I coil back like someone just socked me in the stomach.

How many kids do I have? That’s an interesting question. The real answer – three. I have been blessed with three beautiful boys. But one of them is no longer with us. He was stillborn last spring.

That makes the answer more difficult to define. I never really know what to say to people.

I feel guilty saying I have three kids – especially to a mother I see wrestling three young children. I have three boys, but I definitely don’t have the responsibility of raising all three right now. I do not chase around a four-year-old, 2-year-old and a 10-month old.

Technically I only have two. But I will never forget my third, and heaven knows my body won’t either.

Yes I was pregnant for 37 weeks. Yes my ankles swelled up. Yes my back felt like it was going to break and my sciatic nerve sent jolts of pain down my thigh. Yes I fought my eyelids every afternoon as I sat on the couch with my three- and one-year -year-olds wondering how I was going to stay awake until 6 p.m. when dad got home. I was tired, I was sick to my stomach and I was dying to have a baby to bring home to make it all worth it.

But I was forced to come home empty-handed and brokenhearted.

So what to do?

My children aren’t afraid to talk about their brother. I’ve heard my four-year-old proudly exclaim that he has two brothers, but one’s in heaven. Then there’s my two-year-old. He’s always telling people his brother died and he wants to play with him.

If they aren’t embarrassed about their angel brother, why am I? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen several people shrink back horrified when I tell them my baby died.

It happened just last month when I went to renew our dinosaur park passes. I forgot that last year we listed “baby” on our pass because we didn’t know yet what we were having. This year when the worker updated my information she asked what our baby’s name was. When I told her he died she looked terrified, then replied something like, “That sucks, I’m sorry.”

Yeah, it does suck. And I’m glad that worker’s “sorry,” but it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t even my poor baby’s fault. His death was out of all of our control.

Another awkward issue associated with my baby’s death is his birth-death reversal. Yes my child died before he was born. What does that mean? It means he has no birth or death certificate. Basically, he never existed.

But believe me he did. I felt him kick every time one of my piano students played an upbeat song. I felt him go crazy when I’d lie down to sleep — turning somersaults and handsprings in my womb.

I heard his heartbeat the day he died. He was alive, and he was mine.

For now I will probably continue to address the awkward elephant that tromps into my life almost daily. I will probably make people uncomfortable as I tell them I have three boys — two on earth and one in heaven.

But I can’t forget my third child – no matter how short his life was.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natalie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 15:08:24

    I have an elephant in my room right now… a trial I’m going through, and its horrible. People tell you that they are sorry, but it just doesn’t cut it, but you appreciate it at the same time.

    After I got divorced… I found I didn’t have a place to go. I wasn’t single… no longer was I carefree. I wasn’t married… but I had more insight than my single friends. And I wasn’t a single mom who had to fight custody battles and whatever. After I remarried, I didn’t fit in with all the bright-eyed newlyweds… but of course I was no longer single.

    There’s so many of us that don’t fit into perfect boxes — but I think we all want to put each other, and even ourselves into nice and fancy boxes! It just makes everything feel better!


    • Natalie
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 15:58:27

      I totally agree with you Natalie. I yearn to fit into a “normal” box but its not going to happen. I kind of hate the fact that I’m the lady whose baby died. But I can’t change what happened. I think of you often and wish you all of the happiness in the world. Everyone deserves to be married to a gentleman. It’s weird what different things we have to go through in life.


  2. Amanda
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 15:47:12

    I still get tripped up on that question and it’s been 10 years since we lost Hannah. Though the emotions are not as acute, the awkwardness is still there. Most of the time, I go with the easy answer–not because I’m ashamed, but because not every situation warrants me dredging up my most painful life experience, in having to explain why my addition is a little off. As long as I’m remembering her (which I do–every time I’m asked how many children I have) then I’m okay without guilting myself into full disclosure.


    • Natalie
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 16:11:50

      I love what you said. It’s hard too for me to pour my heart out to a complete stranger and let them in to a very private and painful part of my life. I am so glad that we are friends. You give me strength and help me see that I will make it through this.


  3. Alison Jenkins
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 15:48:14


    My name is Alison and I am a friend of Jaclyn Herrin. She sent me the link to your blog today (love that girl!). I too have that SAME elephant filling up space in my life. Our little Bridger was stillborn last May and I am due to have another one (a baby girl) this May. The month of May will obviously be very bittersweet for us. And to say the least this year has been… rough.

    I just got home from the grocery store where I used to work. One of my old coworkers asked me the same daunting question about my kids. Even though it is awkward for the people I tell I cannot usually say that I only have 1 and 1 on the way because I, in fact have 2 and 1 on the way. Maybe it is because it is fairly fresh and I am still working through my feelings. I just feel too guilty only saying that I have one child.

    I also agree with the birth-death reversal. Especially as far as my church goes. We gave him a name and a blessing in the hospital but they would not give us a blessing certificate, nor does his name go on any of the church records… What is that supposed to mean? I hate wondering what it means because I too know that he was aliveb and I feel that he is very much a part of our family and can feel his presence at times.

    Lastly, I just felt like your story was so similar to mine… I have met several other women online whom have become my friends. It is nice to talk to someone that has been through something similar. You can read Bridger’s story if you want on his blog:

    I wish you the best!



    • Natalie
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 16:24:01

      Wow Alison it does sound like we have a lot in common. I’m sorry to hear about Bridger. I wish mothers didn’t have to bury their babies. Not only did it break my heart then, but it breaks my heart every day.

      I almost mentioned my religion in my blog post. I hate that they don’t recognize my baby on church records. I was in charge of putting together a church phone directory for my area and I thought of listing his name in there. But changed my mind at the last minute. It shouldn’t bother me, but it does.

      I wish you the best of luck with your little baby girl! That is so exciting.


  4. Melissa
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 15:58:18

    You never realize how often this question is asked, until you don’t know how to answer it! Thanks for addressing “the elephant in the room”!


  5. Jessica
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 22:10:38

    I feel the same way about Lincoln. He was here a little bit longer, but it still hurts so bad. I try to say that I have four kids to complete strangers, but if my kids are with me they always add Lincoln. Dallin will sometimes get asked if he wishes he had a brother when people see him surrounded by his sisters, and he just is very blunt and says he does, just not down here! It breaks my heart every time. Thanks for your sweet post, you are an amazing writer!


  6. Tammy
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 23:04:10

    This is such a delicate issue to deal with. I know it can’t mean anything, but I am truly sorry with all my heart that you have to go through it and that it’s something you live with every day.

    I struggle with something similar thought not in exactly the same way. Now when people ask how many nieces and nephews I have (I know it’s not the same as your own kids, but since I don’t have any of my own yet they are my kids until I have my own and fill a special place in my heart), I find myself wondering whether I should say 11 or 12. Nobody would know the difference, except me, but it’s important. I fight against it so much because to decrease the number feels to me like I’m somehow forgetting my niece when I’m really not. It’s the same thing when I go to my sister’s house. I’m adjusting to visiting them and not having her there, but I don’t ever want it to feel normal for her to not be there because that feels like forgetting her too.

    I think it’s a delicate balance and hard to find. Thanks for not being afraid to discuss such a difficult and personal issue. I hope in time that you loss becomes easier to bear and people don’t shrink when you tell them about your loss. It isn’t always easy to know what to say, but the response I find most comforting is when people just express love.


    • Natalie
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 15:11:52

      Thanks for your love and support Tammy. Who knew when we worked on the crazy zones team that we would end up having similar trials so close together. I am so sorry about your beautiful niece. I am sure there will be many things we both will have to deal with because of the loss of our loved ones. We’ll have to hang in there together.


  7. Laura Sheridan
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 14:05:13

    I always think that this is one of those things people don’t talk about or rrecognize enough so I’m glad you wrote about. So eloquent too.


  8. Jackie
    Feb 24, 2011 @ 08:59:31

    Thank You so much for posting this! We lost our little girl 11 years ago in June. “The Question” still has us falling over our words. Do I have time to tell the entire story now? Do I just want to say I have 3 children and move on? I loved reading your post and everyones comments its good to know there really are people out there that can say I know how you feel and really know how I feel!


    • Natalie
      Feb 24, 2011 @ 23:22:28

      I agree Jackie. It’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one dealing with such a hard thing. I wouldn’t ever want anyone to have to go through losing a child, but unfortunately some of us do. I’m so sorry about your daughter.


  9. lindsay
    Feb 24, 2011 @ 14:37:50

    hi natalie,
    my sil sent me a link to your post. i am in awe. i delivered a still born baby boy, eddy, last july. i just had another baby boy in october. it was a very long and difficult pregnacy. greyson was in the nicu for 2 weeks and it was so painful to be in the hospital and to come home again without a baby. when we did finally bring him home it was amazing. he brings me so much peace. i have a 4 year old daughter who always talks about her angel in heaven. she talks about all her brothers. she remembers eddy. she tells random people about eddy. i am so glad she does this, because i don’t have to. it is hard. still everyday, it is hard. thank you for your post. its nice to know that the feelings i have….others feel them too.


    • Natalie
      Feb 24, 2011 @ 23:14:37

      Thanks for reading. I’m so sorry about Eddy. I think there are more people than we realize who are dealing with death and grief. It’s so hard to talk about. Thanks for sharing with me.


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