Were You Born First or Second?

Yesterday at our youngest son’s sports physical, the nurse asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

He said, “One, a brother.”

She said, “Were you born first or second?”

He sat for a minute on the edge of the examining table, paper crinkling as his legs shifted, trying to think how to answer, looking down, then looking at me.

He mumbled, “Um…I don’t know.” And, the nurse looked at me, confused as to why my 12 year old didn’t know whether he was born first or second.

I waited a moment, as he sat quietly. I have stumbled on that uncomfortable silence, myself, wondering how to answer similar questions. It is something altogether heart wrenching to watch your child stumble in that agonizing silence.

I sighed, then said, “We lost babies in between the boys. He is having trouble answering you, because he is actually our fifth child. We had twin daughters who were stillborn from twin to twin transfusion syndrome, and a newborn son, who died six hours after birth from Potter’s Syndrome.”

He kept his eyes on me, thankful for the rescue and unsure what would come next. And, she said, “I’m sorry.”

I said something to try to make the moment easier, telling her “it is ok, we talk about our babies. We have a ministry for grieving parents. It’s ok”.

And, we went on.

All, these years later, their presence and their absence still speak volumes in our family.


  1. ugh. I would probably start crying at the uncomfortableness my child was going through. it never gets easy, does it?

  2. I feel that talking about the loss is so much healthier than ignoring it. The grief doesn’t go away if you don’t talk about it. But, I have found that the burden of caring it is lightened when shared.

  3. Oh those moments….you did a fab job. You showed your son that it is ok to talk about them.

  4. Wow.

    I ache for James, but selfishly, I’m glad this happened and that you shared, if only so I can be prepared for when this question comes to my own babes.

    Love you guys.

  5. This breaks my heart for you, and for your James, and Timothy, too…and for my living boys as I know they will all too soon be confronted with those impossible questions and awkward reactions. For now, my oldest doesn’t notice the heavy silence or uncomfortable looks when he talks about his little sister. I know soon enough he will notice. For now I am thankful for his innocence.
    I think too often people overlook the grief of siblings and how difficult it is for them too. Today I keep all of those children with siblings in heaven in my heart and prayers. Many hugs to you, Kelly.

  6. That would be a hard question for a young boy. He obviously knew the answer because they are part of your family who you talk about often but he just couldn’t get the words out when put on the spot. I am sure he loved your rescue and will now be better prepared for the next time he gets asked a question like that. ((HUGS))

  7. Anne Hoeksema says:

    We have 5 children, 4 here on earth with us. I have 4 living boys and our first child was a daughter. My boys are constantly asked “don’t you want a sister?” And my beautiful boys, although they never met Mackenzie, answer “we do have a sister, but she’s in heaven”. We have seen wait staff cry with this answer, baggers at the grocery store, etc… It’s hard to answer myself at times, how many children do you have? So unfair, yet I allow myself Grace to answer differently per the situation.

  8. It took me a while to work it out, since I thought he might have been a twin and the brother he was talking about was the other twin who died. Only when I added up I realised that this family has lost 3 children out of 5. I can’t even start to imagine what they must have gone through, despite having lost our only child and then having gone through 7 failed cycles of IVF afterwards.
    The question “Do you have any children” is a straightforward Yes or No for most people, but I guess it’s a question that will be answered according to the situation.
    The one who should have learnt most from the situation is, in my opinion, not the boy, he did very well, but the nurse. As somebody in the health profession should be aware that about 1% of births result in stillbirth or neonatal death.

  9. I feel you here- I have children who are older and younger than the baby I lost. But she was my first girl…. I have since had my rainbow baby, who is also a girl.

    I stumble when people ask if she’s my only girl. And I can only imagine how this will be focused on as she grows older. Being my “only” girl in a family of boys.

    You’ve made me think about how I will approach this in the future- thank you so much, yet again, for everything you do.

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