“How many children do you have?”
This question (and its variation, “Do you have any children?”) sounds simple enough. In fact, it’s one I often find myself asking strangers or others while making small talk. But as both a birthmother and a mother of loss, I’ve begun to dislike this question. I never know how to answer it and am often left feeling sad or even guilty afterwards. It’s a question that years ago, before becoming a birthmother, I never thought could be so painful. It’s just one of the many little things you don’t think about before placing a child for adoption.
The truth of the matter is I have three children. I have the son I parent, the son I placed in an open adoption three days after his birth, and the daughter who died before she was born. Each time I’m asked the question “How many children do you have?”, there is a very quick internal struggle that goes on in my heart and mind. I love each of my children the same, yet differently. They have each brought different things into my life and taught me different lessons about a mother’s love. They have each helped me grow tremendously as a person and mother. But it’s complicated. Especially if the person asking only sees me with one child.
I know I am not alone in struggling to answer this question. I have talked with many birthmothers who have had the same struggle. Some of their answers depend on how open they are about adoption in their everyday lives. Personally, my answers will vary depending on my mood and the situation. Will I tell a stranger at the grocery store that I have three kids and leave it at that? Will I say ‘two’ since I have two living children? Do I say ‘one’ since technically I am only the everyday mother of one child? Or do I say ‘three’ and then briefly explain?
More than likely I’ll just say ‘one’ to a random person making small talk. But afterwards, I feel sad because I have denied my placed son. Sometimes, I’ll just be completely truthful and share my story. But often the person is just left staring at me, not knowing what to say. If it’s someone I am just getting to know, I will usually share my story in bits and pieces. I often feel judged for placing my child for adoption. So typically I like them to get to know the real me before I share something so intimate. I’m not ashamed of my decision or of my (placed) son. But I know how our society views, portrays, and stereotypes birthmoms. So I am choosey over whom I will share this info, which is odd because I am so open about it online. But it is different (yet still vulnerable) when you are sharing in a blog post versus face to face with someone in daily life.
My friends and family, the people that I love and that matter most to me in this world, know exactly how many children I have. And they know my heart. And that’s all that truly matters to me - not what some random stranger in line at the bank thinks. And now that I know how complex this question can be, I make small talk over the weather or the news. Not how many children someone has in tow.