Many people do not know that Jennifer and I had a baby, Leah, who died. She was born Monday, November 25, 1996, and died Friday November 29, 1996, after five days of living only in a hospital. She had breathing problems she could not overcome.
One of the reasons that many people do not know about Leah is that I do not tell them about her. Privately, among our family and close friends, we of course speak of her and remember her. Every November around her birthday, a time of year that is particularly hard for her mother, we recognize her life by lighting a candle or hiking, as a family, up to the hill where we scattered her ashes. We talk about her freely with our sons, who never met her and will never understand the impact she has had on their lives.
Among people I do not know, however, talking about Leah represents an awkward challenge. Whenever a new book of mine comes out, the publisher releases biographical material about me that typically mentions the fact that I have children. I often speak publicly in front of groups, and occasionally do radio and TV interviews. These, too, generally mention my children, at least in passing, and this is where the awkwardness comes in. Do I tell people I have four children, or three?
It’s a harder question than it may appear, especially if your audience is new or expecting parents. When you are having a baby, the last thing you want to hear is that something bad can happen to your child. As this blog post shows, as soon as I start talking about Leah the discussion becomes somber and serious.
So I have generally avoid the subject, sticking with the convenient fiction of three children rather than the uncomfortable truth of four. Until the other day when I was watching TV and saw an interview with a father. I can’t recall his name, what program he was on, or the issue he was talking about. What I remember is that he said he was the father of two children, one of whom had died. “An angel,” he called her. His eyes became teary. The host changed the topic, and they went on to discuss something else.
I was struck by this man’s courage to be open about a hidden hurt. Following his lead, I decided to change my approach. Is a child who is gone still your child? She most certainly is. She always has been, and always will be. I have four children. Their names are Annie, Hank, Gabe and Leah.