What is the most appropriate way to answer seemingly benign questions that actually stab through to your heart center? How do you make people feel comfortable after you answer their penetrating questions?
For me, I’ve started to try to a) be honest b) know my limits, and c) be kind. And, as a wise woman reminded me lately, “We are not responsible for other people’s happiness [read: reactions to things].” I am working on wording and length/depth of revelation, but I also realize those items might have to be spontaneously decided in the moment each and every time by the nature of things.
For instance, this morning I went to a volunteer meeting and someone I casually know asked how our adoption is going. She is currently 16 weeks pregnant so she was excited to talk about all things baby. In her enthusiasm, after we had mildly discussed our adoption progress and her current pregnancy, she asked if we have considered having biological children.
Did I skip a few beats in the conversation – or just internally?
I think I played it off smoothly. I have started to be brave enough to speak with truth when asked point-blank questions like this. I responded by telling her we have had some trouble. People never seem entirely satiated with that answer, so I went on to almost whisper that we have had some losses. (This is probably a good time to tell you we were surrounded by others, all eating lunch after this meeting, having conversations that could, at any time, veer off to join ours. This wasn’t my ideal setting to have this conversation, but I also am tired of having to hide my miscarriage history by lying, all for the sake of making someone feel comfortable with their questions.)
After I divulged we have experienced loss/we lost one at 17 weeks/doctors have told us we are just “unlucky”/we’ve always wanted to adopt/we are still working out whether we will ever try again/but probably not, she – like most well intentioned people – tells a story about her one friend that tried for years and now has a healthy baby. She tells me that it will probably just happen when we are not trying.
Now this part is always baffling to me. I know people mean well, but those who don’t have experience with the loss of babies confuse it with pure infertility (the lack of an ability to get pregnant). I always want to correct them, saying, “Well, but I know I can get pregnant, remember? So that’s not really my issue, you know?” And how do I explain, for example, the tracking for the correct timing of progesterone because to “just see what happens” will most likely mean “fetal demise” for my conclusion? And how do I translate the dropping out of my heart and the pain in the deepest part of my soul when I entertain the thought of another miscarriage? So…I just recognize the intention of her story and nod.
Then she asks, “How many losses have you had?” Yes, over lunch after a meeting. The nearby tables are full. I shyly hold up four fingers and give her a shrug. Then, as the setting invites, we get interrupted and the conversation is lost altogether.
If I ended this blog post up there, that gives you a good feeling of how this conversation ended for me. Very incomplete. I felt generally okay giving her the information I did as I am not ashamed of my miscarriages and think it is vital for women to start talking openly about these things. However, personally, after telling someone I’ve lost four tiny people, I could definitely have used a bit of closure. Just one more sentence, like, “Wow, that must have been hard,” or “I am so sorry.”
But, you know what? She is not responsible for my feelings either! She probably felt very uncomfortable and not sure how to bring it up again. She may even have been a little stunned, thinking of her little 16 week old baby in utero and mine that didn’t make it much past that point of gestation. My gut tells me to just write her a little note so I feel closure, and then move on entirely.
When we open ourselves up for connection, it isn’t always smooth, timely, or plain comfortable. But, I believe honesty, knowing our limits, and kindness will get us through most family planning questions. I intend to keep telling my story – at varying degrees of detail – and I will get better at the delivery, making people more comfortable with the true answer to what they have – somehow unwittingly – asked.
Ugh with these people asking these questions. I am sure it was done innocently but it still pisses me off. Lack of closure I think is totally on her. If I had been in that situation I would have found you and made it a positive interaction somehow. Anyways. I am glad you handled it well. I love your attitude and willingness to share. You are helping remove the stigma. Brave lady!
Thank you for your loving and supportive response (always). You are such a positive cheerleader! I always feel like I am getting a giant hug from you when reading your responses!
Yes, we clearly lead parallel lives!
I’m sorry you had to deal with this interaction and I’m always frustrated by people like this, I just don’t get why they need to ask. The stories of how others just got pregnant when they relaxed also drive me crazy, like you, I realize people are trying to be empathetic, but my issue isn’t getting pregnant it is staying pregnant. Telling me a story that simply doesn’t relate makes no sense. Or the other one I get from time to time is on their 10th pregnancy it finally worked, so maybe you just need to try a few more times. I feel like saying, well, I hit my limit. Nearly losing my life and losing 5 babies was enough for me. Maybe someone else has a different limit but that doesn’t diminish or change mine. Oh, and let’s not forget that the doctors have told us without substantial medical intervention my body will just continue to kill our babies, so ya, not really worth aimlessly trying. Arg, now I’ve started venting on your blog, sorry. 🙂
Anyways, I think you handled this is supreme class! And I hope with time I can be as graceful as you in these situations.
I dislike the “just try again” sooo much for all the same reasons. Thank you for the encouragement! We will both keep trying to respect our story while not alienating people who mean well and are lovingly curious. Xo
I too have had people tell me (after I’ve told them I have miscarriages) about people that couldn’t get pregnant and then adopted and got pregnant and I’m always just like, that situation doesn’t really apply to me…I know they mean well but it’s frustrating.
It is frustrating! But, that is one reason why I am trying really hard to be honest about it even when it is uncomfortable. If more people are aware of how often women go through this, it will be easier for the next women – and then maybe researchers will start funding more money into finding causes so this type of loss can be prevented! There is always hope!
I meant to reply to this. I HATE that this happened to you and I hate that there are some of us for whom those questions are always going to be pain-filled.
I completely admire your honesty in trying to raise awareness of this. I am sometimes very open and honest about it (there’s nothing like throwing miscarriage into a conversation to take the wind out of their sails…!) and sometimes I just gloss over it. Like I don’t think people say stuff like that in a purposefully hurtful way – they just don’t think. But to be honest I still found it hurtful to be asked when I was going through infertility and not loss.
The other part I hate is the whole dismissal of loss – the kneejerk response that says “Oh it happens to most people” etc. I mean: I don’t care if you think it’s a really common occurrence. That doesn’t diminish the loss! But again, I think people say that because they don’t know what to say. I don’t know what it’s like in the US but in the UK, people often have difficulty talking about grief. There’s the whole awkwardness around death. So I do understand, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
I like how you thought about this. Personally I don’t think you owe the pregnant lady any explanation. People have told me in the past that I shouldn’t mention certain things around pregnant women (as though I’m somehow more stupid for not having had a child!) but I think that if people ask awkward questions then they should be prepared to have awkward answers. It’s nice of you to want to resolve any ambiguity with her. I’d probably just leave it, or if I did say something I’d want it to be an informative experience… People do need to realise when they are acting insensitively. I think it’s fine for her to be happy about having a baby but not fine to start delving into people’s personal lives, but that’s just me. Sending you hugs! x
Thanks for this! You know, I actually never did write her a note and I decided not to follow up. I think it was something Mamajo said right away about the ball being in her court (or something to that extent) and I agree. It was super awkward, I felt a little bad telling her all of that when she was currently pregnant, but it was true and she asked – and kept asking! I saw her the day after, actually, and she didn’t even look my way. Not sure what to think of it but I will see her a lot this weekend because our volunteer event is happening…I won’t expect anything but we will probably get through this awkward time by the end of the weekend. Although, it may just be awkward for me and that is okay too! I, like you said, just wanted to be truthful and allow for awareness. Hugs received! Xos to you too!
On reflection, I actually feel really angry for you. I’d have sought out that woman again and told her exactly how that line of questioning made me feel! And tell her to think about what she’s saying next time. Jeez.
Thanks, Nara. I am pretty over it though. I have gone through a LOT of these situations! One time I thought about writing a post about all of them but decided maybe I would just be spreading too much negativity around! At that meeting the next day she did keep asking all these questions that clearly were to remind everyone she was pregnant and had special needs for the event…like she was really concerned about when she would be able to eat breakfast (you can always stash a granola bar in your purse if you are really worried!) so it was kind of comical. It made me realize she is so on the other side of things…it would take something happening to her personally before she would really understand I think. Having said that, I actually like her. I think she is just naive in this area and didn’t have the gumption to follow up with me.