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.