This weekend we attended an event at which we met a bunch of couples with young families. It was our final Family Enrichment general session for the year, and we really went out with a bang. For the most part, it was fantastic. I left feeling encouraged about the difference the program has made this year and its potential to grow in the future.
At any kind of meet-and-mingle event, there’s a particular introduction protocol. In college, intros went like this: name, where you’re from, where you live on campus, what you’re majoring in. In the professional world, it’s more like: name, where you work, what you do, maybe where you live. In this crowd, it was: name, where you live, perhaps how long you’ve been married, and always how many children you have.
Therein lies the problem.
How many children we have is a tricky question. Until this weekend, I only had to answer it once since we lost Ethan. It was tough. Even though I know the person I was speaking with would have been sympathetic to our loss had we mentioned it, it was hard to get it out, and ultimately, I didn’t say anything about the little one we’d lost just weeks before.
Including a miscarried, stillborn, or otherwise deceased child in one’s count is typically not done, at least not in casual conversation. As I am now in the position of having to make a decision about how to represent my not-so-simple family, I am struggling with this convention. Is this the way it should be, or simply the way it is?
To my mind, it doesn’t properly honor that child’s life. Is this done to keep the other person from feeling badly? Or is holding that child in one’s heart and mind enough? There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Ethan, and there never will be (unless there’s a medical condition that messes with my memory, but that’s not the point).
They say that you never know another person’s struggles, and most people would not imagine that a question about how many children a person has could cause internal conflict. For me, it does. But I understand that no one intends that. And unless the situation requires it, I don’t think I’ll mention Ethan in the future. Not directly, at least.
To find my peace with this, I needed to develop a response that tells the truth in a way that doesn’t leave Ethan behind. Here’s what I did this weekend, and though there is an omission of his life, it’s not as definitive as it might be.
Q; How many children do you have?
A: We have a son, Jacob, who’s twenty months old (today!).
In my heart, I am adding, “And a little one named Ethan, who returned to God before we got to meet him properly.”
The difference is subtle, but I can’t bring myself to say, “We have one child,” because it’s simply not true. We have two, and we will always have these two, inasmuch as we can ever really call children our own.
To look at me walking down the street in our neighborhood, pushing a single stroller with a little boy in it, the answer seems clear. This revelation has been a reminder to me that things are rarely as simple as they look.
Thank you, Ethan, for another opportunity to grow in charity. You make me better, and I am so grateful for you, little one.