Friday, July 18, 2008


In the entryway of Target I spotted her. An old...acquaintance, Kathy and I had grown up in the same ward. She was four years older than I, so as Young Women, we'd never really been peers. Yet here we were at the entry of Target with a couple kids each in our carts.

I peered in the baby seat at her newest addition. The baby was tiny. "Oh, Kathy!" I exuded, "A new one."

Kathy nodded with appropriate motherly pride. I asked how old the little girl in the cart was. She was 3. Did Kathy have other kids? Yes. A kindergartner and a baby between the two she had with her who had died.

My heart ached for her. A lot of people would say, I can't imagine. But I have a good imagination. And the thought of losing a little one is horrifying.


At girls camp, I stood in the shower shivering in the mountain cold water. I always sang in the shower and this was no exception. No one was in there, just me and the freezing cold water. After I shut the water off for the final time (mountain cold water requires shutting the water off and regular intervals so you don't go hypothermic.) I pulled my towel off the curtain rod.

Mom would never let us pack good towels to girls camp. We had to pack the worst, threadbare, tiny towels we could find. This one didn't quite reach around me. As I pulled the towel around me, I had a huge slit exposing one thigh and up past my hip. No matter, though, I only had to step out to where my clothes lay on a bench and step back inside the shower curtain. Once modestly sequestered, I could dress.

I stepped out the shower. My clothes were gone, as were my shoes. Everything was missing. I stepped back in the shower, my mind racing. Was it some kind of mistake? Someone accidentally taking my clothes? My bigger problem was how to get back to camp with bare feet and in a towel that barely covered my bottom.

I hadn't gotten very far in my thought process when I heard a voice. I peeped my head out of the shower and was relieved to see a girl from my own camp. Someone I knew. I don't remember how the conversation started, but I do remember begging her to go for help. Please get my sister. She could get me some clothes.

Trickling into the bathroom, faster than made logical sense, the girls from my ward congregated around my shower stall with me in my tiny towel. Suddenly, my clothes had arrived. I was thankful. I didn't even have the presence of mind to be angry.

Only later did I learn that Kathy, my youth leader, had asked Karen, who was the same age as my sister, to steal my clothes. Kathy found me sassy and wanted me punished.

The practical joke she played on me at girls camp is always the first thing I think of when I see Kathy. I earned The Emperor's New Clothes award at the final camp meeting back at home. I laughed till I cried when I got a clear plastic garbage bag as a memento.


Some time later, I ran into Kathy again. I had had a baby since I'd seen her last. I had heard she might have too. "How many kids do you have now?" I asked without thinking. She didn't answer directly, but instead named her kids one by one in birth order, reminding me about the one who died. Mentally, I got lost. Had she had another baby or not? What were the ages of her living children? I had no idea.

I wanted to ask these questions, but they were so obviously insensitive that I couldn't bring myself to do it. She was still aching for the loss of this child (a boy maybe?) and his position in the family. My seemingly innocuous question was almost impossible for her to answer.


Hannah said...

Oh that would be so hard. I can't imagine loosing a child!

Nancy said...

That is so hard. I never quite know what to say when someone is really suffering a loss, even though I've gone through one myself. It's hard to know whether to bring it up, and let them talk, or just avoid it.

dh said...

Oh my goodness, Jenna. The same thing happened to me. I ran into an old college friend last year and we chatted. I asked her about any additional kids she had had and she introduced her youngest, and stated she had lost one in between.

A few months later, I was taking a class and I met her younger sister. I told her how I knew Nancy and I asked how she was doing... I can't remember how we got on topic, but I asked her directly what had happened with her little one, and she shared the story with me. I wept for her.

Since then, I've run into Nancy yet again during a food storage class and she was expecting again. I didn't get a chance to speak with her, but I was very excited for her.

My aunt lost a little girl to a tragic accident, and a year ago, my cousin in Lehi lost her infant daughter as well. In some cases, I think it helps some mothers to talk about loss, but maybe not everyone is the same...

You just helped me decide to write Nancy a kind letter thanking for her dear friendship.

zippy said...

I have a dear friend who lost their second little girl last August shortly after her birth. They knew early on in the pregnancy that she wouldn't last long after delivery but decided to carry her to term, despite advisement to do otherwise by her doctors. My friend is SUCH an example to me of strength, courage, trust, and testimony of Heavenly Father's plan for each of us and Christ's atoning sacrifice. I stand in awe of this friend daily...especially as she is now expecting baby #3 due in December. I don't know that I'd be ready to be pregnant so soon after such a loss. All I can say is Heavenly Father knew exactly when and whom to send that special little girl to.

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

This is hard. I never know what to say when people ask me. Do I say 5, but 2 living? Do I just say 2? Do I list off when we lost who? It usually depends on how well I know the person and whether I feel like talking about it at the time.

More often though, I don't get asked "how many kids do you have?" I get asked things like "Hmmm, your kids are 3 years apart, aren't you overdue for another one?" Or, "Wow, if I *only* had 2 kids, I'd have so much more time/money/freedom..."

Jenna Wood said...

Kathy made me realize what a difficult question this can be for many people.

I do know two women who answer, "I have ________ living children."

People really should butt out when it come to how many kids someone else has and when. At best, it's disingenuous to assume that people have a small family for selfish reasons.

The decision on kids is between the husband, wife and the Lord.

Laurie said...

Very good post! You are a great writer! Funny camp story! Sorry about your friends loss. Somedays I feel overwhelmed with my family and the size and then I hear something like this and I am thankful for all that I have been blessed with.

Jenna Wood said...

Laurie, Amen.

Alisa said...

Its interesting to hear so many different perspectives on this. As someone who has lost a child I am totally fine with being asked this kind of stuff. It will be 8 yrs in November, so it may help that its been a while. I do know it is very individual. I just get that people can't know if this is what has happened to you. About 5 days after I had Andrew I was somewhere with my mom and Ashlin and someone admiring her and talking to me asked if she was my only one. I wanted to cry and I wanted to tell them, but did not want to tell them too, so with a lump in my throat I said that she was my only one. That person had no idea and I knew they meant no harm. How crazy is a world where you can't ask someone how many children they have? It may not be their business, but it is suppose to be complimentary and show they have interest in you as a person and maybe its because they think you make cute babies.