A Lesson on Empathy: Why You Never Ask About an Age Gap

Family dynamics are one complexity that nobody will ever fully understand. Families come in all different shapes and sizes. Families have different stories that link them together. When someone questions your family dynamics it can bring up trauma from the past. The age gap question is a topic so fragile to those who have experienced it and so far fetched and uncomfortable for those who have not. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has lost a child or a sibling and truly think about how your questions can hurt them. When I was eight years old my mother lost my baby sister full term. This was her second full term loss. This will forever be the worst day of my life. When asked why there's such a big age gap between me and my little brother (nine year gap) or older sister (six years) it is often really hard for me to answer. The real issue I have here is why do you feel obligated to know? I want to expose some questions, all of which random strangers have ask me, that can be really hurtful to people going through some of the things i’ve been through:
  • Are your parents divorced?
  • Did your mom have a baby before she got married?
  • Are your sister and brother from the same father?
  • Is your sister your half sister?
  • Was your brother a mistake?
  • Did your parents plan to have such a large gap in your ages?
  • Are you his mother?
  • Were any of you adopted?
When written out, some of these questions seem so ridiculous. I beg you to really think before you speak. I challenge you to think about how you might be more sensitive. I don’t only want to expose these questions, but I want to share some responses that I think can help parents and siblings respond to some of these ignorant questions. The best answers I could come up with include:
  • My child/ sibling is my family’s miracle baby
  • We are a rainbow baby family
  • Actually, my family background is not something i’d like to share with you right now
  • My family struggled with infertility/ child loss and it's not something we really share with the public
  • The age gap may be large, but its perfect because it's us

I also wanted to share the experiences of someone else who has been through this before. Dylan, whose younger brother passed away from SIDS, shared some really impactful information with me. Dylan wanted to share this:

My whole life everyone has asked why my 12 year old sister Emme and I have such a big age difference, or if we have different parents. Or even worse, if she was an accident. In reality, she was a rainbow baby: a child born after a family loses a child. My brother Ryan passed as a baby, and my mom was nervous to have another child for many years after. Emme is a blessing in our lives and represents hope. While I know the people who ask these questions do not have bad intentions, the question can bring up a lot of feelings for me and I’m not always ready to share the answers. I often stutter and explain that there was a child in between us who passed, but I’d much rather tell that story when I’m ready”.

I think Dylan opens up about a really important point here. It is not that siblings and parents who have experienced loss are not prepared to answer questions or to share their story. The issue is that we want to be able to have the respect and privacy to share that piece of ourselves when we are ready to do so. Having a random person in public question your past can make you feel as though you have been forced to share a very private piece of your life. I urge you to replace this line of questioning you may be used to with words that are meant to lift people up. I urge you to help us feel comfortable sharing what we want when we are ready. Let's end the stigma around pregnancy and child loss. We can do this together with the help from those willing to step up and listen.

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