Simple Questions Don’t Always Have Simple Answers


Ellie Bean

How many kids do you have? That seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?

Surely everyone can give a simple answer to such a simple question.

However, for those of us who have lost a child, it is not such an easy question to answer.

In Oh Joy, What a Family, I told you about Ellie, Ike’s twin sister. Our Ellie Bean was born with multiple medical conditions. She fought hard, but her medical conditions proved too big for her to overcome, and she passed away at eight weeks.

For a while, whenever someone asked me how many children I had, it resulted in an overwhelming sense of grief. More than three years later, with Max having joined the family, the difficulty comes in the guilt that I feel whenever I answer, “I have two boys.”

I say this because it is the easy answer, not because I have forgotten Ellie. Saying that I have three children leads to confusion and questions. If I explain that Ellie passed away, it often makes others feel uncomfortable – they don’t know what to say, and I find myself having to comfort them.

I understand the discomfort that others feel. I have found myself experiencing that same discomfort when told by someone that they (or a loved one) have been diagnosed with a significant illness or have suffered a terrible loss. There really is no “good” way to respond, nor is there a “right” way, because everyone deals with suffering and loss differently. However, while our time with Ellie was short, we have many happy memories of her. Some days, I just wish that I could share those memories and talk about her as if it is perfectly normal.

Ellie passed away prior to the finalization of her adoption, and the law generally doesn’t allow for deceased children to be adopted – even if the adoption process was started prior to death.

Our lawyer said that she would have to appeal to the judge to consider issues other than just the law (I am not a lawyer, so I cannot explain this any better than to say she was going to ask the judge to consider what was morally right).

When our lawyer asked us why we wanted the adoption finalized, through our tears, we answered, “We want there to be proof that she existed and that she was a part of a family who loved her.”

For those eight weeks, she was ours – no matter what happened, she would always be ours – nothing would have changed that. It seemed so unfair to us that, legally, she would have existed in this odd state of limbo. An original birth certificate with one name on it, a guardianship document with a different name, and a grave marker in a different state for someone who, on paper would not appear to have existed.

We are so lucky that our lawyer fought for us. Ellie’s adoption was finalized posthumously. Legally, she will forever be a part of our family. Some day, Ike and Max will be able to look at their sister’s birth certificate showing that they all have the same parents…us.

Despite that battle, when asked how many children I have, I still answer with the words, “I have two boys.” But, my heart will always scream, “I have two amazing boys and one beautiful daughter.”

Have any of you had a similar experience? How do you answer the question?


  1. Meghan says

    Beautifully written. Though my heart will always scream three amazing kids, to an acquaintance I will simply say two… Because it is simply too much to explain and the sad look they reply with is too much to handle.

    • says

      I understand that! I love to talk about Ellie – she made a huge impact on us in a very short time, but I often feel like I have to console the other person if I answer “3” and tell them about Ellie… they get so sad and apologetic.

  2. says

    I am so sorry for your loss of Ellie. On days you feel up to it, you should share your story with other people. You might learn that someone else has gone through a loss and needs someone to confide in. I have a girlfriend that lost her baby a few days after it was born and when asked how many children she has, she often includes the one that is no longer with her. It really just depends on who she’s talking to, whether they’re genuinely interested, and how comfortable she thinks the other party would be about discussing this sort of thing.
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