There is a question that I get asked from time to time, mostly from strangers or acquaintances with whom I have not spoken in a while. It is an innocent enough question, but it throws me for a loop every time it is asked. I have no idea how to answer it.
The question is this: “How many kids to you have?”
The answer is three. Or one. Or possibly two. It depends on how close we are, or how unprepared I am for the question, or how you view the moment when a life comes into being.
Here’s the thing. My wife and I lost our first daughter, Addison Paige, when my wife was 7 months pregnant with her. Doctors ran tests and couldn’t find any obvious reasons why she died. One day, my wife was feeling lots of movement, I was reading The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh to her tummy, and we were searching for the right crib and bedding set. The next day, she was gone.
It was a tough time. My work gave me the week off to take care of my family. But rather than giving her the six weeks time off to which she was entitled, my wife’s boss asked if she was going to come in two days later and whether she could pick up a shift a few days after that (she said no). My wife was also in college and this happened right at exam time.
Friends and family rallied around us. Money that was going to go for a crib went toward a headstone. Our pastor got to perform his first funeral (he’s a young guy). We grieved. We were cared for.
After some time had passed, we tried again. On October 1st, 2010, our second daughter, Adelaide November, was born, healthy and large as life itself.
The whole pregnancy, up to the moment when we heard her first cry in the delivery room, my wife and I now felt mixed emotions on being pregnant. It was an exciting deal, but there was no assurance that we would get to keep this baby. I guess that’s just something you deal with as a parent of a child who died.
Around the time Adie turned one, we were ready to try for another child. Honestly, I was ready before my wife was, but we both got there in the end. As of this post, my wife is very ready to have our third daughter, [NAME REDACTED], in July. We have her room all ready. Adie has no idea what is going on, but at least she won’t remember a time when she was the only child. We’re looking forward to bringing another little girl home.
So, the question. How many kids do you have?
I have three. But the answer isn’t as simple as that. People who see my family all together can count. They see one child running around. If they are smart, they see my pregnant wife and figure out that I am counting our baby-to-be-born. But the third, that requires a story. It is a personal story that makes people say things like “I’m sorry,” and “I didn’t know.”
It would be easier to say that we have one right now and one on the way. At least then the visible numbers would add up. But is it right?
I don’t know. That’s why the question is hard. It forces me to decide whether or not to share a personal story that may or may not make the asker feel uncomfortable.
Today is Father’s Day, a festive day necktie-giving and breakfast in bed, but I can’t help but wonder how many fathers are in the same boat as me, unsure of how to celebrate being a father when one of your children is gone. Time may cover the wound, but it never fully heals. You never stop thinking about what could have been, and how old she would be now.
So to those fathers, Happy Father’s Day. Someday you’ll see your kids again.