Think Twice, Speak Once

The cat is now out of the bag for quite a few people: most family, and a lot of friends, now know that we’re expecting our second ‘rainbow’ baby in October 2015.  The problem is, the exchanges surrounding this information coming about are, very possibly, even more awkward than talking about Brock’s death.

Pregnancy after loss is an extremely tricky beast, especially in situations like mine.  I didn’t simply miscarry – if I had, my nerves would likely lessen when I passed into the ‘safe’ zone, because I would still have that lingering sense of naivety – the sense that, if you make it to 12 weeks, the odds are, all at once, overwhelmingly in your favour.  Since I lost my son so late in the pregnancy (when I was actually several days overdue), not only am I going to worry every single day of the pregnancy, because I know that these things absolutely can and do happen (even late in the game), but I am only going to get more and more anxious as I get closer to the point where I lost Brock.  I feel like the longer I have this baby inside of me, the more time I’m giving my body an opportunity to let me down again.  I feel like a ticking time bomb, and I’m sure I’m going to be practically begging to get this baby out by the time I hit full term at 37 weeks.

Understandably, without explaining all of this, it’s a difficult concept for people who haven’t lost babies to grasp.  Probably not helping the issue is the fact that most people don’t know the exact reason why we lost Brock in the first place.  Therefore, the reactions and commentary I’ve gotten about the whole thing have been… mixed, to put it plainly.

And this is why I’m here today: if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are trying to help someone through a pregnancy after a loss, regardless of how early or late their loss was, here’s a few suggestions on how to NOT make the same mistakes that some of my family and peers have.

 

Things you should (or shouldn’t) say to someone expecting after a loss

When they say: “We’re pregnant again.”

DON’T say: “Congratulations… I think.”

Thanks, I think.

I get this surprisingly frequently, and it stings a bit every time.  It just sounds insincere and flighty.

 

DO say: “Wow, congratulations!  That’s so exciting.  How are you feeling about it?”

In my case,  I think I have been getting the poor response so often because it’s quite soon after Brock, so people are assuming that we’re not in this situation by choice.  Come on, ladies and gentlemen, give us the benefit of the doubt!  We’re grown-ass adults.  We know where babies come from, and if we weren’t ready in at least some sense, we wouldn’t have let it happen.

The best thing you can do is acknowledge that our feelings about the situation are mixed. We are excited, but we are also anxious.  If we’re telling you about this, especially before it’s necessary to do so, odds are very high that we are doing it because we’re looking for support and positive thoughts.  If you can communicate to us that you understand this is a conflicting time for us and also make it clear that you are here to support us through this, that’s a huge win.

 

When they say: “I’m very nervous this time around.”

DON’T say: “Don’t worry about it.  Just enjoy the experience.”

Sure, I will get right on that.  How silly of me to be nervous about the outcome.

 

DO say: “I don’t blame you.  I’ll be thinking of you/praying for you/sending you positive vibes.”

Please oh please, don’t negate the severity of our previous loss(es) and try to pass it off like it never happened.  People seem totally unable to wrap their head around the concept that I am most likely never going to enjoy pregnancy again.  I have been pregnant twice; one is ongoing, and the other ended in tragedy.  My success rate is 0% right now.  How could I sit back and calmly expect everything to work out when it has only ended poorly for me right now?

Instead, just tell us that you’re really hoping that we will have the best outcome possible this time.  Just support us in whatever capacity you can and don’t invalidate our feelings, even if you don’t fully understand them – that’s all we ask.

 

And here’s the big one…

DO NOT, for any reason, say: “It’s going to be okay” or “Everything will be fine”

Are you [insert deity of choice here]?  No?  Are you omnipotent?  Can you time-travel or see the future?

You cannot possibly know this, because nobody anywhere can ever know this for sure.  We have already played games of long odds and lost.  While the chances of the same thing happening again are remarkably slim, they’re still not non-existent, so when you say “It’s going to be fine” it’s, frankly, insulting.  This comes back to the invalidating-our-feelings thing.  You do not have the knowledge or right to tell a bereaved parent how they should feel.  Besides, how crappy are you going to feel if you end up being wrong?

 

DO say, at any time: “I am here for you.”

Aww, you’re such a good friend.  We’re going to remember that you were supportive and understanding, and we love you for it.  After all the crappy (but well-meaning) things that other people have said, we’re glad that we know we can rely on you, at the least, to take good care of us.  HUGS!

 

And there’s my rant for the week.  Even if you have suffered a loss of your own, remember that we are all different, and we all process these types of things differently.  Don’t push your own feelings or opinions on others or make light of their situation: just be there for them.

 

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what to say (or not say) to a bereaved parent

I was able to have a heart-to-heart discussion with one of my friends lately where I finally found the courage to admit that I am really frustrated by how most people have been treating me since my son’s death.

When Brock passed, the initial outpouring of support that we got was nothing short of amazing.  I received flowers, cards, hugs, money, keepsakes and condolences from more people than I can count, many of whom I barely knew, or didn’t know at all.  A big handful of friends and family (and again, even a few perfect strangers) made the long journey to his visitation to show their support… there were way more people than I expected, and it was truly heartwarming.  I was really surprised by the turnout.  I think I had assumed people wouldn’t take our loss seriously, since he’d passed before birth, and there had never been a baby to ‘know’, but they proved me otherwise.  I found a restored faith in humanity when I was reminded how kind, caring, and sensitive people could be when they wanted to (or needed to be).

Unfortunately, 2 and a half months later, I need to admit that I feel a bit neglected.  For the first couple of weeks, people would check in on my husband and I pretty often, and every time someone said that they were thinking of us or asked if we needed anything, I felt a little bit better knowing that others cared so much about our well-being.  Since then, there’s been radio silence from most everyone; it’s pretty much only been close friends and family that have continued to make an effort to help us through things.  And, to be honest, I feel like I need the support now more than ever.  The first month whipped by me in a shell-shocked blur, and now that things are really setting in and my life deviates further and further away from what I thought it would be, now is when I could really use the comfort and reassurances of friends and family.

I don’t blame people for being a bit awkward around me; after all, before this happened, I would have had no idea how to deal with a bereaved parent, either.  Two days before I found out Brock had passed (the day I had my bad NST), another woman I knew lost her newborn to an illness, and I remember sitting there, crying for her and her family and her little girl, thinking about what a horrible tragedy they had suffered and wondering what I could possibly do to help her.  It’s such unfamiliar territory that you just freeze up, and I felt so helpless, like I could never possibly fathom what she was going through (which, in retrospect, is terribly ironic).  I had no idea what to do, and, therefore, probably did far less than I should have… but I was so petrified of saying or doing the wrong thing and making things worse.

With that said, here’s what I’ve realized in the last few weeks:

In most cases, if you mean well, that’s more than enough for a bereaved parent to appreciate.  As long as you are showing an appropriate emotional reaction to our situation and not making light of things, even if you say or do something that I don’t agree with, I’m not going to inexplicably fly off the handle and lose my mind.  We are still sane, rational people most of the time, and I appreciate pretty much any effort to help.  My great-grandmother-in-law – 93, and with fairly advanced dementia – took one of my hands in hers, and said, with tears in her eyes and grief on her face, “I’m so sorry.  But, you know, at least you’re young and healthy.  You can have another.”  Was it a horrible thing to say?  Yes.  Was she legitimately upset for us?  Absolutely.  (It’s also worth noting that, in her youth, prenatal and perinatal loss were things that nobody acknowledged or talked about.)  Even though she said the wrong thing, knowing she cared enough to make the effort to console us was something, at any rate.

Let me reiterate: it’s far better to say/do the wrong thing than it is to say/do nothing at all.  I learned a lot about who I could and couldn’t rely on based on who reached out to us after our loss and who didn’t.  Some people offered more than others, and some people were less awkward than others – that doesn’t make their compassion worth any more or less.  I know a few people who I am certain know what happened and have not said a word to me, and I no longer consider them to be my friends, because I find it so insulting that they couldn’t find thirty seconds to tell me that they lament this horrible tragedy that we’ve suffered.  Putting in the effort is more than enough.  How hard is it to briefly call with your condolences?  Heck, even if you just send a text of sympathy, at least it’s something.

Additionally, don’t feel bad about not knowing how to react.  A lot of people came up to us, clearly distressed, and simply said they had no idea what to say.  Of course you don’t – it’s such a messed up scenario that it would be kind of strange if you had all the right words for it, wouldn’t it?  Saying “I don’t know what to say” tells me that you understand the gravity of our loss, but you also wish you knew the right things to say to console us.  It shows acknowledgment, sympathy, and caring all on its own.  That’s more than enough.  Thank you! 

The last thing I’ll say on the matter, and the subject of my discussion with my friend, is that I really wish that more people would continue to reach out to me.  Just because I am bereaved doesn’t mean I want to sit at home all day and stew in my grief.  On the contrary, I am more than open to the idea of getting out and spending time with people.  Someone eloquently mentioned in an article I read recently that ‘sad people need parties too’.  I promise, if you invite me out for a cup of coffee or we go and see a movie together, not only will I be infinitely grateful for the company and the distraction, you will find that I’m still the same person I was before in a lot of ways.  I still like the same things I did before, including spending time with you.  If we hang out together, that doesn’t immediately mean I’m going to force you to talk about my dead son (but, if you are comfortable with discussing him, don’t be afraid to let me know that you are open to talking about it – that’s also a very grand gesture).  I don’t spend every second of every day in mourning, and I’m happy just for the companionship.  The best thing you can do is be there for your grieving friend(s), in any capacity that you are comfortable with.  I guess I can summarize this concept by suggesting that you carry on as usual: don’t treat us like we are lepers or assume we are too busy being sad to enjoy company.  If in doubt, just ask.  If we do want time to ourselves, we will let you know, but we’ll also recognize and appreciate you reaching out.  It never hurts to try.

And there’s my rant for the week.  I apologize that this got a tad wordy, but it’s a difficult concept to summarize.  Other bereaved parents may disagree with my opinions, but I truly feel that it is better to make the effort, and potentially make a mistake when doing so, than it is to avoid bereaved parents simply because you feel awkward.