Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Speaking of Henry

Today at the baby massage class I've been doing with Kathleen, Henry came up in passing. The woman teaching the class commented on how bulky cloth diapers are. I agreed and said that with Henry we had stopped using them on the recommendation of his PT. We were working on getting his legs into a neutral position and I could barely manipulate his legs into a neutral position when he was in a cloth diaper, so there was no way he was going to get himself there.

Later after the group, she said that it was nice to hear me talking about Henry, saying his name.

I do talk about Henry often and freely with family and friends who knew him. Its when I'm talking to other people that I hesitate. I like talking about Henry, but I hate explaining about him. I hate saying he died. I especially hate explaining these things when they are not relevant to the conversation. How and when I talk about Henry has felt more complicated since Kathleen was born. Before, I usually just kept quiet during parenting conversations, but now I am part of them and part of my experience is with my first baby.

I realized that group discussions actually make it easier to talk about Henry. I can say things like, "With Henry" or "With my son" or "With my first baby" and the discussion simply flows on. The next person shares their experience. But in a real conversation, with back and forth between a few people, comments like that usually elicit a response like "So you have another child? How old is he?"

It's not that I want to spare people, avoid making them uncomfortable. Maybe it is that I don't want to make myself uncomfortable—at least not when all I was trying to share was that babies are different (my son hated baths but my daughter loves them) or a suggestion (Henry really hated tummy time, but he'd work at lifting his head up if he was lying on top of one of us) or something similar. I want to just be able to talk about Henry, not about the fact that he is dead.

Of course, sometimes I do want or need to talk about the fact that my child died. And I struggle with how and when to do that too. Today, I slipped him into a group discussion where one person in the room knew I had a son named Henry who had died and nobody else knew any of that. Later, on a walk with two other moms, I mentioned him and that he died. They made sympathetic comments and we continued on our conversation about what we do for work and when we go back and what we are doing/planning to do with our kids when we do work. It didn't feel like avoiding the issue, just like continuing with what we were saying. And now two more people, two people I did not know when I had Henry or when he died, two people I've met because of Kathleen know about Henry so when I say, "With Henry" or "With my son" or "With my first child," I won't have to explain.

I don't purposefully hide Henry. I don't avoid talking about him, because I do like to talk about him. But perhaps sometimes I think too much about talking about him. I'm working on this, because I don't like people not knowing.

I have a son. His name is Henry. He was with us for 6 1/2 months. He's been gone for about 15 months, and oh, how we miss him.


  1. I'm so glad he is present in your conversations - he is certainly a resounding member of your family.


  2. This is a beautiful post Sara, brought tears to my eyes. While I don't share your experience of having these conversations in the context of having a living child, now that it's been nearly 7 months and I'm back and functioning in the world, I struggle with this too - how and when I share Ezra with people who don't know of him. I want the world to know of him, but I don't always want the followup conversation.

  3. Talking about Liam flows easily with some and not so easily with others. Some people don't even know I am a mother since Liam is my only child. I think that is where I cut myself off. I want them to know, but the long followup is not always possible, and I feel Liam deserves somewhat of a full story to those just finding out. Or at least I need to explain for me. There are people at my new place of work that know of Liam, and I may make comments here or there about him or my pregnancy. But others don't know, or at least have not said they know about him, so I tend to cut short something I may say or a contribution I may have. I don't like it, but that's how it is sometimes. My heart is always urging me to say "I am a mother, my son is Liam, I love him with all my heart and he would be 18 months old today!"

    I am glad you are finding ways to let Henry into the conversations more often.