It happens innocently enough, but with jarring regularity. Someone somewhere asks how many children you have. Straightforward question, with an anything but straightforward answer fraught with anxiety and fears of betrayal. If you’ve lost a child at any age, including through miscarriage or stillbirth, how do you answer?
If you answer with the number of living children you have or say you have no children, are you betraying the child, or memory of the child, you lost? Are you somehow negating her existence or the place she hold in your heart if you omit her from your count?
On the other hand, including the lost child when you say how many children you have can lead to some awkward conversations that may not be appropriate in the setting. You can include the child in the number you give and make no mention that he is no longer living, but that often backfires when the conversation turns to the ages of your children or what they are up to. You can bring up the loss when you give your number, but that can be a real conversation stopper. Do you care?
Does Age or Time Matter
Does it matter if you lost the child through first trimester miscarriage? Stillbirth? Age two? Age twenty-two?
Does it matter how long ago the loss occurred?
Does it matter if you have other children?
Whew… this is a lot to think about when trying to answer a simple question that comes up at least several times a week.
How to Answer the Question
What’s the honest answer to how many children you have when you have lost a child? It seems to me that context and place matter. Do you want to open up and deepen the conversation, or keep it superficial? Depending on the context, it seems to me that all the following are honest answers.
- I have two living kids.
- I have three; two with me, one in heaven.
- Two kids and one miscarriage.
Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:
- Miscarriage: 6 Things To NEVER Say & 2 Things To ALWAYS Say
- Did You Do Something to Cause Your Miscarriage?
- What’s a Miscarriage Really Like?
- The Forgotten Dads of Infertility and Miscarriage
How do you answer the question? How do you make the decision on which answer to give?First published in 2014; Updated in 2016 Image credit: Aaron van Dorn
Add Your Comment
I have 5 grown children. My children and grandchildren have suffered miscarriages. I personally think of these little ones as my grandchildren, that one day I will get to see.
We’re sorry for your family’s losses. Yes, the belief that we will see them again someday brings many levels of comfort to those of us who have lost little ones.
How many children do I have??? Too many to count-I have loved hundreds of children over the years and, hopefully, added a sweet memory to their lives. Children of friends were treated as family by me, my children’s playmates got their share of love and attention when at my house, my Girl Scouts were all “my girls” for a short time. God gave me three living babies and has 4 with Him in Heaven. If He had not taken them back so soon, I would not have any of the children He did graciously give me to raise (all were conceived before the previous miscarriage would have been born!) Eight years ago, God sent me to Russia to become the mother to four orphans who would not have otherwise had a family-they were all older and sibling group). Not only have I been blessed with all these children, but I now have grandchildren who I have loved to the fullest extent of the world. My children have been my world over the years and I am still doing the “Mom” stuff to the youngest from Russia-a 14 year old boy with all the classic diagnosis. What a learning and growing experience that has been! Motherhood is all inclusive in my heart and the love flow outwards from me like from an underground spring-never seeming to go dry! I can’t wait to see what children He has waiting in the wings for me to mother next! (also have a 27 yo who had a traumatic childhood and just experience extensive trauma in the last 2 years living with me and working to heal. He is showing signs of getting things together in his head and will one day be the fine young man he is meant to be-just going to take a bit longer than society usually allows!)
Carolyn – what a touching story and what a blessing you are to your boys!!
Shauna, [SO to be honest, I give different answers all the time depending on the situation and how much I want to reveal at the time. Such a simple question can be SO difficult to answer!!] Amen!
I don’t count miscarriages when people ask how many children I have because they were never born as people. I count my son and my daughter. I say I have two but my son passed away. It’s the truth. So what if it makes the person asking uncomfortable. I keep it light I move the conversation along and focus on my living child but what kind of a mother would I be to say I only had one? What if there was a heaven and he were listening to me forget him? No. I have two children.
For me, I usually say “well…that is a loaded question” before I answer. We have 5 “legal” children. Our oldest is 25 and lives on his own now. He came to live with us when he was 11 and we adopted him when he was 12. We have 2 that we adopted from foster care – ages 14 and 4. We also have 10 year old twins that we “adopted” as frozen embryos. We also did foster care for 15 years and had a foster baby die (in the hospital…he had many medical problems); we would have adopted him if he had lived. And finally we had a foster daughter that lived with us for 3 years that VERY much so was a TRUE part of our family! She loved us as much as we loved her. She returned to her birth family and lived for 4 years before dying from complications of cystic fibrosis. SO to be honest, I give different answers all the time depending on the situation and how much I want to reveal at the time. Such a simple question can be SO difficult to answer!!
I have a 3 year old daughter and have had 3 miscarriages since trying for “#2”. We just started the “waiting” stage of our domestic infant adoption, so this question is super complicated actually. If a total stranger asks, like at the park or library, I usually say something like, “she is our only one right now”, or (if she is not with us)”we have a 3 year old daughter”. That way I am not saying I have “x” number of children. If a relationship develops, it eventually comes up that we are adopting, naturally leading to the question of why we chose adoption. The children we’ve lost come up then. I want to honor all my children, so I don’t hesitate sharing we had them, but am careful in choosing the appropriate time and place to talk about them.
Thank you that is such a simple and elegant way to handle this minefield I’m going to use your responses in future
I needed this. Having just had a miscarriage I have been trying to figure out how to handle every day life. This is so perfectly said. Thank you.
We are so sorry for your loss. Be kind to yourself while you grieve and heal. Best wishes.
adding to my post – My son (and our visiting boy) knew about our babies because it gave us a chance to talk about God/Heaven. I just don’t get into it around him because it makes him uncomfortable. The only time our son has mentioned his birth mother was to tell me she is dead (and with Shangi – God).
It depends on who I am talking to and if my son is around because he was adopted at 14 in 2012. His English is still very broken due to hearing problems, so people just assume he’s an exchange student and for strangers, that’s fine with me. We lost a son at 26 weeks to a cord accident in 2004 and a daughter in 2009 at 34 weeks to Trisomy 13/holoprosencephaly. If someone asks “why adoption/why China?” Then I will tell them that our bio babies died. Mster is older than these children would be so it’s reallllly complicated.
We had a respite boy staying with us. He was 12, been here 6 months from China. He looked at me and said, “Why you no baby?” so I told him I had 2 and they were in Heaven. We were sitting in the car, dashboard dining. He unbuckled his seatbelt and gave me a big hug. He asked me a LOT of questions. Later he told me he believed he was heard as a crying baby in a trash pile and calls his bio mom “Trash mama”. So glad my pain could help with his.
I think this is a particularly challenging question when you have no living children. Especially since many people don’t consider you a parent at all until you have living kids.
I’m so sorry. Of course you are a parent; you’ve felt parental love and loss and you are right that is a particularly hard and lonely place to be. Thoughts with you.
I have to keep the distinction in my own mind… I know I had 6 m/c but not everyone else needs to know about it. I dread any time one of those dates comes around (2 days from now will be 2 years since I learned of my last m/c and approx the same time, I had my 3rd m/c). Like Beth said, I feel like when people ask how many kids I have, they’re generally asking how many I’m parenting, not how many I’ve been pregnant with, so the answer is 2. It’s not that I don’t talk about my m/c, but usually there’s a reason behind it, just like I talk about adoption but there’s usually a reason behind it.
Sara, I understand. I also think that you aren’t chickening out, but are being self protective.
It really depend on who I’m talking to. For some they are really just making casual conversation and either wouldn’t care about my losses or would just be plain put off by them. Other times I do count them. They are always counted in my heart though.
Terra, so do you include your angels in the count or answer that you have two children. Or does it depend?
I am a mother of 6 though only two of them are here with me. The rest are my angels. I have a 7 yo DD, then a stillborn son who would be 6 this May, my 4 yo DS and 3 miscarriages. Everyone one of my children was very much loved and very much wanted. I miss my babies very much and they are no less my children than the two I get to see grow up.
Cindy, Whole Child, and Beth…thank your for sharing with us about the losses that you have experienced and about sharing about them with others. I have never had a miscarriage, but had a dear family member share about thinking about her child over the years that she had lost in miscarriage (it was her only son and she is the wonderful mom to three daughters). Whole Child… of course you could love the baby that was with you for 3 months, so sorry that people have said that to you!
True Sara. So when asked, how do you answer the question of how many kids you have?
I always love your blogs, Dawn! This is a hard question. I have a 5 yr old son and had a full term loss, a 2nd trimester loss and 1st trimester loss (in that order) after I had him. If a stranger asks, I always just say I have a son. I know they are only asking about how many children I have at home and I don’t want to make them feel awkward. The hard thing is when people talk to me about having a girl to round out my family. I already have two girls in heaven (I did not find out the gender of my 3rd loss although it is on record with the doctor). At that point I am more likely to acknowledge my daughters but even then it is hard to talk about my later losses without acknowledging my earlier one. They are all my babies and wanted desperately.
I think of my friend. She had two children biologically, then THREE miscarriages, then one long, drawn out international adoption where at the last second the US wouldn’t let her come home after like 3 years, and then one baby through surrogate and two adopted.
She’s raising 5 children, but technically she’s the mom of 9 children. 3
Cindy, my heart hurts for you, and thank you for counting the two you are not able to parent…I will always be the mother to a daughter I don’t get to parent…she was with us three months and we fully expected to adopt her from day 1…people try to tell us that we couldn’t really love her in that amount of time, but she will always be our daughter.
i find another awkward moment (on top of this) is when i mention that i named 4 boys. the first was my m/c. the 3rd was the baby we had for 6 mo before he was taken back by his mother. want to talk about the awkward silence when i say that i have 2 boys to chase around.