Are you pregnant?

The tailor asked if I was expecting.  I could have simply said ”No.”  Then would come the awkward beat of silence followed by an even more awkward apology.  I’m used to this.  For years I have been asked if I was pregnant when I wasn’t.  I think I’ve been asked more times when I’m not than when I actually was.  I have a little belly and I slouch which can emphasize it.  You would be surprised how many people ask that question without thinking.  When I was 5 weeks pregnant, a patient asked me and that was the only time I lied.  I told her no, because she was not going to be the first person I told!  After a question like that when I’m not pregnant, I often spent more time making the other person not feel so bad, “it’s ok, it’s ok,” when I should have been the one being comforted.  I was just called fat!  As if I weren’t self conscious enough about it.  And to be asked if I’m pregnant at less than 6 weeks postpartum, when I’ve lost 25 lbs (9 more to go til pre-pregnancy weight), having exercised almost daily (sometimes twice daily) since 2 weeks post birth, is a little cruel.  I think I’ll add a pair of spanx to my shopping list, thank you very much.

For once I had a real legitimate excuse for how I looked.  I wanted to justify my body, give myself credit for the loose skin and pouch of a belly.  So I said, “No. I just had a baby.”  Well that invites some natural follow up.  “Oh! How old is the baby?” she asked.  And then I paused, unprepared, my eyes welling up.  I was sad for two reasons.  First, the obvious, I had to admit to a stranger that my baby died.  And second, I didn’t know off the top of my head how old she would have been.  When I was pregnant, I new to the day how far along I was.  And I feel like a new mom would have that answer ready.  It highlighted again how I have no baby.  I finally responded to the tailor “She would have been one month.”  It’s almost painful to see how people react- I don’t think she even said those simple words “I’m sorry.”  She instead said, “You lost the baby? Oh, I don’t have any kids, but a long long time ago, I lost one too.  I had a miscarriage.”  How do I respond to that?  To a stranger?  I just left it.  I wanted to scream- don’t ask people such inappropriate questions, especially if you don’t want the answer!  And a miscarriage is not the same thing!  I in no way mean to minimize the sadness that comes with a miscarriage- it can be truly heartbreaking- but I simply can not compare it to carrying a baby that you know will likely die, hold her for too short a time and then tell the doctor to remove her vent so she can die peacefully in your arms and not in a warmer hooked up to a machine.  A different kind of mourning accompanies those who watch their babies die.

I know people’s intentions are good.  They want me to know that they sympathize.  They are at a loss for words, so they fill the space with things they regret or don’t even know are hurtful.  There are a lot of websites out there that tout What not to say/ What to say to a bereaved parent.  I think these in general are good.  And the babyloss community often likes to vent about the careless things people say to us.  There is some good to this sharing- it is cathartic to write what you would have liked to say in response and to be the recipient of sympathy for the careless things people say.  But just don’t get caught up in it.  I continually try to remind myself that people are simply trying to be helpful.  They don’t know what else to say.  I didn’t either until I was on this side of things.  They are sometimes making themselves feel better, because my loss affects them too.  These words are what help them make sense of this tragedy.  I’ve had a few- but not a ton- of hurtful comments so far.  I know there are more to come.  But I try to tell myself that they are trying.  And trying but saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all.  At least when they are trying they still recognize that my daughter existed and the loss is real, rather than pretending it didn’t happen at all.  That said, there are some things that I hope even the most good intentioned people keep to themselves- things like: it’s better this way, be thankful for what you do have, everything happens for a reason, at least you’re young/can have more kids.  Please hold your tongue if these phrases are at the tip of it.  If nothing else, say “I don’t know what to say.” Or “I’m sorry.”  You can’t go wrong with either of those.

But Seriously?  Are you pregnant?  I am having trouble seeing what good intentions are behind that remark.  I almost wonder if that’s the worst thing someone will say to me.

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13 thoughts on “Are you pregnant?

  1. I appreciate when people can just say “I’m sorry,” or “I love you,” or at least something encouraging and validating about the baby (like, “What a special baby to be surrounded by your love its whole life) instead of the opposite, like, “Well you can have more.” Which means of course that we replace people with other people and everything goes on perfectly normally. I have to agree that asking if someone is pregnant is definitely the worst question ever–especially when it’s being asked because of how you look. I get the question a lot, too, but at least it’s mostly from kids so I cut them some slack. The wedding is in two weeks or so, right? Because otherwise maybe the tailor wanted to know if she needed to give you some growing room? :/

  2. How awful for you. I was asked “Are you due?” With a quizzical look, 2 weeks after I lost my little girl, on Mother’s Day! The last time this person saw me I was 6 months pregnant, but when he saw me on Sunday I most certainly did not look ‘due’. I almost wanted to tell him the brutal truth and dare his response, but I just said ‘no’ and walked away, letting someone else deal with it. I admire your strength in standing there, not running. Its strange to be terrified of the careless words of others isn’t it?
    You are brave. x

  3. You’re right. A miscarriage & a neonatal loss are not the same. I never got to hold my babies. I will never know what they looked like. I never got to hear their heartbeats. I didn’t get to spend hardly any time with them. And while people are uncomfortable (unreasonably so, I might add) with your grief, they don’t even think I have any right to grieve. After all, they were only miscarriages. It’s not like they were babies or anything. More like periods. Two of them were flushed down the toilet. They couldn’t have been babies, because in what horrible world do you flush babies down the toilet. Heck, I wasn’t even entitled to a day off for my D&C. I was told to “be cognizant” of my call-ins.

    You’re also wrong. They are the same. Like you, I love my babies with every fiber of my being. Though my time with them was considerably shorter than your time with Mabel, I too, struggled daily with the knowledge that something was probably fatally wrong with them, but hoped that they would live. I too, will never have a pregnancy I can just be happy about, without the constant fear of loss. My daughter also had a Trisomy (16, and yes, I am thankful that it wasn’t 18, because 16 meant she didn’t have to suffer). Like you, I go to the cemetery to visit my daughter at her grave.
    Like you, my milk came in. Like you, I lost not only my babies, but an entire lifetime of possibilities with them… first words, first steps, first days of school, birthdays, graduation, love, marriage, their own children. Like they do to you, people say incredibly insensitive things to me, and I bite my toungue, and tell myself that they mean well. Every simple task is a new minefield. Like you, I never know how to answer the question, “So, do you have any children?” When people try to engage me in small talk, I want to scream at them, “Can’t you see that I’m dead inside?!” Like you, I will love and mourn my children for the rest of my life. I hear your silent screams, and I understand that part of what you really need is to is to have your grief and pain acknowledged and validated. I need that too.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not comparing my pain with yours. I don’t believe in the Pain Olympics, and I hope I never have to go through what you’ve been through. It is my worst fear. My heart bleeds for you. I would never tell you to be grateful for the things you got that I didn’t, because that’s a load of codswallop. Your baby died, and that f’ing sucks. Nothing good will ever make up for that. Not ever. I just wanted to let you know that you and I are more alike than you think. I read this over and I hate that it sounds like a guilt trip. That’s the last thing I want to do to you. I just don’t know how else to say what this entry made me feel. I enjoy reading your blog, and I feel a kinship with you, but it saddens me that you evidently wouldn’t feel a kinship with me.

    • Oh, autumn I’m so sorry I’ve made you feel this way. I’d written this much earlier in my grief and at the time was more upset at having to say the words – my baby died- than being compared to miscarriage. I know she was trying to connect, say something to make me feel less alone and perhaps have the chance to verbalized her own grief. As my grief progressed I have learned something’s I have been grateful for (I hope you’ll read further). I literally cry with my patients when they are miscarrying. My bereavement group is made up of those who have had loss at all stages and they are very dear to me. These days I feel a lot of kinship with those ego struggle with infertility (miscarriages or not). At the end of the day, we all are without out babies.

      I’m so sorry about your losses. I won’t say “I can’t imagine” the pain, because I think that’s a cop out. People just don’t want to imagine, because it hurts. Reading your words I am trying to imagine what it’s like to say goodbye multiple times. You are right, it is not the pain Olympics. I don’t know what it feels like to have multiple losses, nor what it’s like to lose an older child. You are very right that it f*ing sucks! Please forgive my words from earlier on. I did not mean to offend- I was processing and it’s not always pretty. I have had some great discussion in the comments on “puppy clothes” about things people have missed out on regardless of stage of loss. It’s been a honor that people have shared their experiences and I am so grateful you have shared yours. I hope you continue to do so, so we can all learn. Thank you for reading and your well written comment

  4. I’ve had some truly cruel things said to me, even by health professionals, after my son’s death. Mostly that was early on and I was too stunned to reply at all.

    More recently (we are approaching 2 years now) when people ask or compare to miscarriage I say “no, full term neonatal death”. I’ve had early miscarriages, and that was worlds apart from what I went and continue to go through with the loss of my son. I’ve also been through years of infertility, including failed IVF cycles which adds yet another dimension.

    I think more recognition needs to be given to differences too. I lost my third child. There is so much that differs in that experience to losing one’s first child (such as having to continue to parent throughout devastation, trying to help grieving children, the knowledge that not all my babies die). I’ve had good conversations about that with one loss mom, but most seem too focused on “a loss is a loss” to delve deeper into the intricacies.

    • And there’s nothing quite like learning that your baby is sick, agreeing to remove life support, holding your baby as they die, then having to walk away from them forever, only to have to go home and wonder what to do with the car seat, the crib, the clothes…

      • yes- this. I get many “at leasts” at least you got to meet her. at least you got to hold her. at least you were with her when she died. at least you knew it was a possibility. there are no at leasts. no matter what age (and I”ll throw in there what gestational age, because being given a fatal diagnosis prenatally or after birth is both hard in its own right), having to agree to let your baby die so she wont feel any more pain is nothing to be grateful for. no. it’s terrible. i’m so sorry you had to do it too.

    • THank you so much for sharing. There is most certainly a difference as there are similarities. There are both. I think all of us in the loss community strive to have our grief acknowledged. Some grief is more silent, some is more socially acceptable. I recognize that a neonatal loss is more acceptable (in a weird way) to discuss in society than miscarriage (though no one really likes to hear about a dead baby), but at the same time, I struggle with wanting my grief to be acknowledged, you know? she only lived for a few hours, people didnt meet her, so she seemed less real. she was sick, had disabilities, so people might think she was worth less. I knew ahead of time that she might die, so people might expect me to grief less or better. these are where I struggle.

      I think three is some truth to loss is loss, but there is also some validation that there are differences- the grief over a miscarriage at 5 weeks is different from the grief over a term stillbirth (not that I’ve experienced either- this coming from people who have experienced both). the are both grief, but they are different kinds of grief.

      And yes, recognizing the family dynamics are important too- pushing aside your own grief to help your children is a struggle as is having no children and no knowledge that there will ever be children is a struggle too. different but both valid.

      • Oh dear, I’m afraid of opened a can of ugly all over these comments. I’m so sorry. That was not my intention. Meghan, thank you for your kind reply to my earlier comment. I wasn’t so much offended as hurt. I was really just trying to offer my perspective. I totally get that processing grief is messy. I’ve had plenty of messiness myself. I also have good days and bad days. On bad days, I’m mush more likely to take things personally (and I’m having kind of a bad month). I also wanted to mention how much I respect and admire your bravery in openly writing this blog. It’s something I’ve been considering doing lately. Before my losses, I used to have an infertility blog, but it was anonymous. Since I’d really like to help break the silence around both infertility and pregnancy loss, I’ve decided anonymity is no longer right for me, but it’s a scry leap to take.

        And Always, I did not in anyway mean to minimize your loss, and i’m very sorry if I made you feel that way. I think what I was trying to say can best be described with a comparison to the pain scale we use in healthcare (0 being no pain, and 10 being the worst pain you have ever experienced in your life). It’s actually quite subjective. A person who has had a kidney stone, for example, probably has a much higher 10 than someone who hasn’t experienced anything worse than a bad cut. That doesn’t mean that the cut isn’t a 10 for the second person. Also, if that person with the cut goes on to break a leg, they suddenly have a new 10. So on an emotional level, before I had a miscarriage, infertility was my 10. The fact that my 10 is higher now doesn’t mean my prior 10 wasn’t valid. And my grief doesn’t invalidate someone else’s unique grief. I hope I’ve explained it better now, and again, I’m so sorry if I made you feel your pain isn’t allowed to be recognized as unique.

      • Autumn, I think your comment sparked some great conversation! I’ve had some difficult comments on others posts that have done the same thing. I’m glad you’re working on breaking the silence around infertility and pregnancy loss- I agree, it is too hushed. I also understand the scary leap that comes with honesty when not anonymous. Your pain scale reference is so right on. I see it all the time- people say they are a 10 because they’ve never experinced anything worse, so it’s a 10 to them. When I was in labor I never said I was at a 10- only a 9 because, with my healthcare experience, I know that it can always get worse. Even now, with the pain of loss sitting with me everyday, I still think I”m a 9 emotionally. I’ve tasted loss and know that no one is exempt from it-not even those who have already experienced it. Thank you for sharing!

        what field are you in?

  5. Meghan, I work as a clerk in a tele-ICU. Currently, we remotely monitor 10 ICU’s at 6 hospitals. I’m kind of a jack of all health trades though. I’ve clerked on a medical floor and in an OR. I’ve also worked as a medical office assistant and an EMT. I think I eventually want to be a bereavement doula, because I want to be someone who wasn’t available for me. I’m not yet at a place in my journey where I’d be able to help others in this way, but I’m hopeful that I will be able to someday. Unless something changes before then, I’ll be the first in my area.

    • you and I have some similarities! I’ve been a medical assistant in a doctors office, a nurses aid in a nursing home, a labor and birth nurse and now a midwife! I think being a bereavement doula is a wonderful way to give back. and to be the first- wow! keep me posted on your progress!

  6. Pingback: How old is YOUR baby? | Expecting the Unexpected

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