Living With Grief

The Hairdresser

Failure (noun): The neglect or omission of expected or required action

I’ve blogged previously about what I wanted to say, the next time a stranger asked me whether I had any children. I wrote a whole blog about what I planned to say, I was as prepared as I could be and yet, I still didn’t do it: I failed the test.

I went to get my hair cut on Tuesday. My usual salon has sadly closed down due to this pandemic, so in a bid to support the local high street, I made an appointment at a new hairdressers instead. (My previous hairdresser was actually pregnant, due one month before me. The last time I saw her, we’d been comparing bumps. It’s why I’d been avoiding the salon since March. I’ve since found out, she had a healthy baby boy – congratulations S).

Within minutes of sitting down at my new salon, the inevitable small-talk ensued, and bam there it was:

Hairdresser: Do you have any children?
Me: No, not yet.

The first time someone has asked me that question since Summer was born/died and I ignored my baby.

When she asked me, it caught me by complete surprise. I replied on autopilot. I reverted to my old ‘usual’ response and honestly, it was already out of my mouth before I realised what I had done.

I immediately felt guilty: “Great Anj, that was it. That was the opportunity to say it out loud, you missed it!”

But then I reassured myself: “It’s ok, now is not really the time and place. This woman is just making small talk, she doesn’t want to go into the whole baby loss thing. Neither do you! You’re wearing a mask, it’s not even physically easy to have this conversation right now, let alone emotionally”.

So I talked myself out of feeling bad about it, but sod’s law, you wouldn’t believe the twist the conversation took later. She started telling me a story about a highly negligent mother she knew, ending the tale with “some people just shouldn’t be allowed to have children, should they!”. You couldn’t write this stuff (except now I am, I guess!).

Wearing a face mask, with only my eyes on display, I glimpsed downwards thinking “No, random hairdresser (I genuinely didn’t even catch her name), NOT everyone should be able to have children. Some people should though, hey. Some people just can’t.”

I ended up kicking myself. If I HAD told her about Summer or hinted at my previous losses, she probably wouldn’t have told me this story, would she? Or perhaps she would have. I don’t know, but it did feel like a “this is what happens when you deny your baby” type comeuppance.

I know I’m being hard on myself, I get that, but when it is ever going to be easy to say it out loud? It is ALWAYS going to be a stranger that asks the question so it is ALWAYS going to be a very personal, deep and potentially tricky conversation to have. It is never going to feel like the right time to say it.

So where do I go from here? Do I vow to just do it? To fight the taboo and just say the uncomfortable yet intended statement “no, I have no living children” or do I just stick to the “no, I don’t have any children yet”. I have no idea. I will have to play it by ear, but woah, it was harder than I thought.

All week, I’ve been thinking about how this situation could have been different. So this is what I’ve come up with: Next time, I hope I can PAUSE. If I can remember to pause, I can have a quick think and then I can make a conscious decision about what to say.

I also think I am going to change the way I myself ask this question to strangers in the future. I am going to try to start asking: Have you had any children? It’s less elegant, a clunky use of the English language, but look what it hints at: losses. It makes space for babies who have passed. The subtle use of the past tense, the “have you had” versus “do you have“. I mention it here, because it’s a sentence you might want to use going forwards too. So let’s do this, let’s make it easier to talk about these missing babies.

I’ll try again guys, and next time, maybe I’ll finally be able to say it. Second time lucky? Here’s hoping.

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(6) Comments

  1. Karen Palmer says:

    “have you had any children?” is brilliant – thanks for the suggestion
    And don’t beat yourself up for missing this first opportunity. It’s tough. And I think you’re right – pausing each time, and deciding what’s best for that particular interaction is so wise

  2. Claire says:

    Well done for not being too too harsh on yourself and reflecting more than being entirely critical of yourself. The problem with small talk is that most of it is done on autopilot so our responses rarely change even when they should. I love your suggestion though and I’m going to try and use it. Cx

  3. Kirst says:

    I agree with Karen, ‘have you had any children’ is a great way to phrase the question, and I don’t think it’s ‘clunky’ English at all – it may seem so only because no one ever asks the question that way (they should, and I will too, from now on).

    I just want to give you the biggest bear hug right now, because as much as I know you’re aware you’re being hard on yourself, I also know it will have upset you.

    My personal take is that not everyone deserves a glimpse into your very special and personal world. I don’t think you ignored Summer at all, it feels to me like you protected her and held her close to you – sharing her only when it feels right to do so. Never doubt your bravery Anj, you are one of the bravest people I know.

  4. Claudia says:

    That is a nice way to put it.

    I had a similar situation.
    Went for a massage and she was apologising she was 5 mins late but she had just been to the gp with her daughter. Which was followed by: do you have any children.
    And in a moment of (not so humble) brilliance, I replied : none with me.

    Which without missing a beat she said: I’m so sorry, how old was the baby?
    So I told her and she said: it will get better, one of my babies also passed away at 5 months.

    So, that will always be my answer from now on. They can acknowledge or not…
    Luckily I got a good first xx

  5. I think the first experience is hard and then we kick ourselves for saying the wrong thing. I had once recently and instead of saying “because our daughter died” I said “because of what happened” instant regret and kicked myself for days! But I now know that next time I’ll pipe up and just say it out loud! It was just a new social situation in which I just buckled. Lockdown has meant that we’ve not experienced many social situations as we would have and now we’re starting to experience them and now we’re learning what to say and why we want to say. I hope I get it right next time.

  6. Brea says:

    “Have you had any children?”
    This is gold! I have never thought about phrasing it this way, but I am going to try to start.

    I’m glad you weren’t too hard on yourself. Summer loves you. And I’m sure she knows it’s difficult to articulate these things sometimes, and forgives you for doing what is best for you emotionally in those moments. I’ve had the same feelings of beating myself up when a stranger asks and I automate my response. I know Lex knows it’s hard, and that I’m just taking care of my heart.

    Sending you love Mama. 💚

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