I’ve read that some parents who go through a stillbirth want to move immediately to restart their lives. When I was pregnant with Genevieve, we actually were talking about moving for a job opportunity. As soon as she died, we dropped talk of the move because I imagined becoming a recluse in a new city. I was only leaving the house — reluctantly — because my friends invited me out. And I liked having around a lot of people who remembered Genevieve. Still, I sometimes recognize why people would choose to move.
I took the kids to their favorite park this morning. It’s far from our house, so we typically don’t see people we know. A few minutes after we arrived, I saw a familiar mom, though I don’t know her name. Her daughter had gone to the same preschool and gymnastics place as Eleanor. I originally met her the summer that I was pregnant with Genevieve. Our girls would work on their puzzles side by side at the library each week. After I had Genevieve, she was one of the few relative strangers who talked to me about it. Now, I always feel happy to see her. She doesn’t know my name, but she knows that I have another daughter.
Later, I saw another familiar stranger. Her son went to the same preschool as Eleanor. I had also seen her at a barre exercise class a few months ago, as well as out running errands in her pint-size SUV. I had commented to Greg that it was strange she still drove that tiny SUV. She had two sons when Eleanor was in preschool, and she was due with a daughter the summer before Eleanor began kindergarten. How was she fitting three carseats in that thing? “Maybe something happened,” Greg said. I waved him off.
At the park today, she had only the two boys. I watched for a while, waiting to see a daughter toddle past. Nope. I already had Genevieve on my mind from the earlier encounter, and I wanted to approach this mom. Eleanor began preschool after I had Genevieve, so none of the parents there had known our story. What if I asked about the daughter and she had died? I should keep my mouth shut. But if her daughter had died, wouldn’t she be grateful to find another mom who understood? I expected to be able to somehow see the loss on her face, and I couldn’t.
Eleanor and Henry ran to play in the same area as her kids. I took off my sunglasses.
“It is you,” she said. “I couldn’t tell for sure with the sunglasses.”
She was with a friend, and she said they had just been complimenting my hairstyle. She asked about Henry, who had been a tiny nugget the last time she saw him. I pointed him out. At this point, the question begged to be asked.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but the last time I saw you, you were pregnant…” I began.
“Yes,” she said, starting to laugh. “We sold her off!” she joked. “No, she’s at home with my husband, napping. She’s 15 months and doing all sorts of adorable things.”
I smiled and got out of there as quickly as I could. I almost told her that my own daughter had died. I stopped myself. The implication would be clear. How ugly that would sound to her, my assumption that her daughter had died.
Sometimes I do feel like an ugly person for hoping to find other parents who have lost a baby. But then I also like to find parents with 6-year-old children and with boisterous toddlers, people who can understand this phase of life. I’m not wishing for babies to die. I’m merely hoping to find resonance.