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.