Tonight my husband and I were at a party for his dad's birthday. We were surrounded by people who I'd never met before and, for the most part, people who my husband himself had never met before, either. Ethan and another little boy were splashing in the pool and, as little kids tend to do, garnering a lot of attention. "Is he your only one?" The question was fired at me first and I felt my stomach tense up in the way it does moments before you vomit. You know the feeling. When your flesh feels clammy and your stomach is squeezing itself together ready to expel everything. "Well. I mean. Sort of. I guess. Yes." It was the yes that did me in. A wave of guilt flood over my body. I felt lightheaded in that moment, fighting back tears as I remembered my pregnancy with Wylie and her silent birth. I remembered holding her in my arms, staring down at her with sadness and pride as I memorized all of her features. A year and change later, here I was at a birthday party for my children's grandfather saying that Ethan was my only child. The question came again, twice within five minutes, both times directed towards my husband who stumbled for an answer as uncomfortably as I did. We discussed it on the way home, the guilt, the sadness. I thought about how if only things were different, we would have a one year old splashing on the step alongside her brother. Instead, here we were, trying to validate our daughter's brief life.
I never want people to walk on eggshells around me. Sometimes it gets said without thinking that Ethan is an only child because his behavior is that of a child who doesn't have siblings to share with, who is used to being the center of attention. It's true that Ethan is the only child living in our home. It's true that he doesn't have to share toys with a sibling, true that he's used to our entire schedule being dictated by his. But an only child? He isn't. I carried his sister in my body and delivered her tiny body as I did his. Her stillbirth certificate remains tucked in the same safe that houses Ethan's birth certificate. Ethan may be the only child living in our home, but he isn't our only child.
If you're lucky after loss (I know, those two words hardly seem to go together), you'll find yourself a support group where they really get you. I found that. And as my husband made small talk and I played Thomas trains with Ethan in the foyer of a crowded house, I was able to vent my heartbreak and guilt to people who face that question every day, too: "is this your only one?"
Tonight, with the help of those who have walked this same road, I made myself a mental cue card with my answer: