A lot has been written about what NOT to say to someone who has just lost a pregnancy. Goodness knows I’ve read variations on that post many times, on various infertility blogs.
But now I’m getting them said at me, and PH is hearing them a lot at work.
And it’s funny, because all those bloggers are right, they are very unhelpful things to say, and they can be hurtful to hear. PH especially gets angry when he hears them, which is unfortunate because his workplace is being much worse about this whole situation than mine is.
I try to take them in the spirit with which they are offered, and ignore the actual words.
I know that the person saying these things is trying to be sympathetic, trying to make me feel better. So I try to shut out the hurt, because the words DO hurt, and just appreciate the sentiment.
Because the thing is, most of those things that people shouldn’t say but do… are TRUE.
I try to remind PH of this when someone comes out with one. “We’ve said that to each other, remember?” and he’ll grudgingly say “yeah…”
But being true does not make something helpful.
For example, here are some common platitudes that always show up on those “things not to say” lists, and which PH and I have both had to hear many times:
“At least it was early in the pregnancy.”
It’s true, it would be worse if it happened later in the pregnancy. It was among the first things we said to each other on our drive home from that dating ultrasound, trying to adjust to the change in our universe.
As hard as this has been, at least I hadn’t seen a heartbeat, felt tiny elbows nudging me, or maybe even learned the gender, maybe even named the baby. At least I couldn’t feel the corpse lying still within me. At least I didn’t have to go through a full labour to expel it.
All of that would make it worse. The pain would be worse, from every angle.
On the other hand, I never saw a heart beat. I never felt tiny elbows nudging me. I will never know what the gender of the baby was, and it will never have a name. There was no body to bury, nothing to say goodbye to.
My pain is a different pain, a pain of lost dreams and questions that will never be answered.
“You’re young; you can have another one.”
I am young, and I have been told that I stand a very good chance of conceiving again quickly and having a completely normal pregnancy. So there’s that.
It would be worse if I was 43 and this was the result of a $10,000 IVF treatment. Absolutely. I am definitely grateful that I don’t have to see this as the end of the line, but a bump in the road.
Once upon a time, that was not considered young for childbearing. In fact, on the single appointment I had with the midwife, she talked to me about my increased risk of trisomies and birth defects, and we discussed blood testing to screen for abnormalities.
So I’m not THAT young. There is a higher risk of this happening to me again than if I was, say, 21.
Nor does that take away the pain of THIS loss.
I didn’t want another one in March or April or May of next year. I was expecting one at Christmas. I want that one. Will I love the one who comes next? Of course. But that baby doesn’t exist yet, and no one can tell me FOR SURE that there WILL be a next one.
So right now, I am grieving this baby – the one that I lost.
“At least you have Owl.”
Agreed. I am very grateful for Owl. His tiny face brightens my day, and he makes me laugh with his funny little speeches. I kiss his smooth cheeks and hug his thin, constantly-gyrating body, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for him.
I think the pain would be worse if we didn’t already have Owl. At least we are parents. At least we HAVE a child. At least I know that I can have a healthy pregnancy.
This baby wasn’t Owl. This baby was meant to be its own life, and I can love and grieve that child who will never be.
I am told by those who have two that your love isn’t split between them, but doubled – that you can and do love the second every bit as much as the first. So why should my sadness be halved when the second is lost?
When PH was a toddler, he nearly died of epiglottitis. An insensitive coworker said to my mother in law, “well, at least you have four more children,” and she just LOST IT ON HIM. She gets mad even now, telling me about it. As if her other four could ever replace PH, as if he was worth less because he had siblings.
Owl is a comfort to me, and I am grateful to him. But he doesn’t make this loss less of a loss. He doesn’t change the fact that my arms will feel empty this Christmas, because I expected to hold a newborn, and the newborn will not be there.
“This is very common.”
Yes, yes it is.
Well, actually, What To Expect lists my miscarriage type as “very rare”.
It’s relatively rare to think your pregnancy is going great only to discover a dead baby on a routine ultrasound. Usually people have cramping or bleeding or some other sign to warn them. Most people’s bodies NOTICE when their babies die.
But miscarriage in general is very common. In fact, based on what I’ve been hearing from people since my miscarriage, most women over a certain age have had at least one. In fact, every woman at my work over the age of 35 had a miscarriage to tell me about.
It makes sense – if there’s a 25% chance of any one pregnancy ending in miscarriage, and if the average woman has two or more pregnancies in her lifetime, then around half or more will have lost at least one of those pregnancies.
The fact is, if you get through your childbearing years without a miscarriage, you’re lucky and possibly in the slight minority.
So it’s a commonplace sort of loss.
But that doesn’t make it less of a loss.
After all, MOST of us will lose at least one parent in our lifetime. In fact, for the sake of the parents, I HOPE that most people will outlive their parents, and not vice versa.
But will the fact that everyone loses their mother make it easier for me when my mother dies? Hell no. I’ll be devastated. I dread the day.
It doesn’t soothe my loss to know that it’s common. In fact, it just makes me more afraid because I know it could happen again. It’s not a crazy rare one-off thing.
All the commonality does is take some of the tragedy out of it. After all, losing your mother at age 80 is much less tragic than losing your mother when you are only five years old,although you will weep and go through the stages of grief no matter what age you are. One is sad and difficult, but to be expected – easier to accept. The other is tragic because it shouldn’t be.
So it does help to hear the stories of other people’s miscarriages – one of the many reasons why I believe that miscarriage can and should be talked about rather than kept secret. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and that others have gone though what you are going through.
But it doesn’t make my loss less painful, or less of a loss.
It is nice to know that I am not alone, but it doesn’t make me stop grieving.
The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Say Those Things
Really, the truth of the statement doesn’t really matter. It could be true, or not true. The reason that comments like the above hurt is because their aim is to convince you that your pain should be less.
And no one wants to hear that.
When you suggest that someone should grieve less, you are minimizing their loss, and that’s just not helpful. A hug is helpful. Offering to take my child for a couple of hours is helpful. Flowers and cookies are helpful.
Platitudes and minimizations aren’t helpful.
Our grief is real.
It could be worse, absolutely.
But for now, it is what it is, and it will fade with time, and only time.