‘For the four children I never held in my arms but hold always in my heart’

As birthday season approaches for four of my seven children, joy is tinged with sadness

Jen Hogan with her seven children.

We’re coming into the silly season here – and by silly season, I mean birthday season. Four of my seven children have their birthdays within a three-week period, including two on the same day, although they were born 12 years apart!

Excitement is at an all-time high, party planning is in full swing and I’m running out of ideas for birthday gifts. There’s plenty of suggestions forthcoming – but refinancing my home to cover the cost of the latest phone and other electronic gadgets, isn’t something I’m willing to consider.

Nor is the acquisition of a turtle.

It’s always a chaotic time of year and it’s hard not to get caught up in the sense of anticipation. Such is the age span of my family, the celebrations for each child will be different, but the birthday boy or girl will be centre of the entire family’s attention nonetheless – because birthdays are special.


I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of over-sentimentality. At least that’s the excuse I use to explain the rather emotional and lamentful person I become each time a child turns a year older. Each birthday sees me cast my mind back to that day, however many years ago, when the birthday child entered the world. I remember little details, from the outfit I wore going into the hospital, to my concerns about the safety hazard caused by my waters breaking in reception. And I remember how I felt when each child was born – the relief that childbirth was over and the indescribable love that followed.

Dates mean a lot to me. There are two dates in the middle of the silly season that are not marked on the calendar or even remembered by anyone except me. They say parenthood is a rollercoaster. I’ve found that’s true from the get-go. As incredibly lucky as I am to have seven children, I have also had four miscarriages.


Two of my miscarried babies’ due dates also fall within this period. Two of the four dates each year when I especially think of what might have been and who might have been. As clear a memory as I have of my children’s births, I remember my losses too. I remember the joy of finding out I was pregnant and the heartbreak of discovering a heartbeat that had stopped. I remember the devastation that followed and the months spent functioning in a daze, not quite sure if my grief was appropriate.

Some felt it was not.

“You’re not the only woman ever to have had a miscarriage,” one person said to me, I assume in an attempt to shock me into my senses. It certainly shocked me – thoughtlessness has an ability to do that.

“It’s not like you lost a real person,” another suggested.

“You’re so lucky to have your other children,” echoed a chorus of many, most likely in an attempt to make me feel better, but which instead made me feel ashamed of my sadness.

In between all the excitement and noise of the silly season, there'll be my personal and silent thoughts

I suppose that’s one of the difficult things about miscarriage – it’s often shrouded in silence. Silence, because others don’t know how to react. Silence, because the level of grief might be deemed inappropriate. And silence, because it’s altogether “uncomfortable”.

When my book, The Real Mum's Guide to Surviving Parenthood was published, there was never any question in my mind about the dedication. It seemed natural to dedicate it to those who had made and shaped my parenthood journey.

And so, alongside the names of my husband and children, read the line “and for the four I never held in my arms but hold always in my heart”.

Reactions were mixed. “I suppose everyone reacts differently,” was the thoughts of one, on my decision to include the reference. “That’s beautiful,” came the opinion of another whose words meant more than they realised, and I anticipated.

The unmentionable

Even as book promotion followed, discussions within the media saw reference made to “the four”. I was mentioning the unmentionable – and there was support, curiosity and even some of the usual reactions.

The countdown continues.

Each night I’m reminded of the number of sleeps to go. A full “birthday weekend” is factored into the equation and protests are heard as two children put in a request for the same gift. College parties will have nothing on the noise levels that will be heard from my house when the pals arrive and the celebrations are in full swing. Exuberance will be the order of the day – exuberance and fun, as children’s birthdays should be.

But in between all the excitement and noise of the silly season, there’ll be my personal and silent thoughts on the dates no celebration takes place, of two of the four I never held in my arms but hold always in my heart.