To tell or not tell?

“And you! I heard you had a baby!” she said to me as I paused to look something up in her chart. I had already given her the half-hearted congratulations that I use to begin each of the New OB visits.

Heart pounded.

Face flushed.

Breath caught.


“Thank you,” I said, softly, giving a small smile. I waited for the follow up question… Something to trigger me to say the words, “my baby died.”

But nothing followed.

I was left with so much unsaid in my head. I finished the visit somewhat distracted, waiting for some sort of question that would spill my secret, but one never surfaced. She left that visit thinking we shared something in common- a baby at home- but I must be shy or private and so didn’t welcome questions about her.

This interaction stuck in my ribs all day long, into the next even.

I should have told her.

She wasn’t a stranger- I had delivered her first baby and I would likely see her again in pregnancy. But she wasn’t close enough to know the real story. She’ll probably find out and then maybe she’ll feel bad that she said something (she shouldn’t) or think I don’t want to talk about my daughter (I do). I have so far always answered questions truthfully when asked, even when it’s awkward. But I don’t volunteer the info. It feels attention grabby or pity pulling. Especially with patients, it disrupts the visit.

What do you do? Do you ever volunteer the info? How does it go?


22 thoughts on “To tell or not tell?

  1. I think you pinpointed one of the problems – if people find out later, not from us, they will come up with all sorts of explanations, none of which likely reflect how we feel.
    I sometimes do volunteer the information – but as I was only 20w along when the twins were born, and my job doesn’t have anything to do with pregnancy, the question is much less common. This and some previous posts had me wonder if you sometimes should share more though – I’ve had overly confident caregivers too often and would appreciate a bit more honesty regarding the fact that things can and sometimes do go wrong. But I’m sure my perspective twists this.

    • I’ve been thinking this too- I need to maybe share more. People invite me into some very intimate moments (whether it be birth or a pap smear). I imagine they want to know their midwife a little too. It’s something I value in my own providers. I guess, I worry that people wont want to hear. (and then there’s the fear of hearing something that makes me cringe)- or worse yet, they’d say something like “yeah, I heard.” which would make me feel awful, like it wasnt a big deal. Ultimately though, I told myself, next time I’m going to try to say something. I just have to figure out how.

  2. I don’t think I’ve had anyone congratulate me without following with questions, so I’ve always had to provide some kind of answer. There have been two occasions that I have pretended like I had a live baby at home (I go back and forth about whether or not I feel guilty about this). The first time was my first postpartum haircut about 2 weeks after birth. I wanted to explain that I was having trouble with my hair because the texture was different than what I was used to, but I didn’t want to have to explain that by baby had died, so I just let the woman styling my hair assume Owen had lived. She didn’t ask any direct questions, but she did ask how things were going and if I was liking my first day out of the house sans baby. The second time was a patient who said “Oh, you had your baby! How’s your family doing?” It was about 3 months after Owen was born. I told her we were doing alright, and I was just getting back into the groove of work. I think she could’ve handled hearing about Owen, but it just didn’t feel right in the moment.

    I don’t really worry with the hairdresser, but I worry that the patient will find out later and think that she made me feel uncomfortable for some reason, which isn’t the case. I’d rather risk that with patients though, honestly, when I can just sense that disclosing is going to change the flow of the visit. I’d rather keep the attention on them.

    • That’s EXACTLY my concern too- I don’t want to bring discomfort into the exam room. But I’m thinking more about my relationship with patients and opening up I think helps the relationship grow. It might be awkward or sad, but in the long run, I’ll feel more satisfied with my interactions with them. More fulfilled. Its risky, because I don’t want to jump the gun, incase they were going to say something, but I’d also have to say it soon enough so I don’t miss my window of saying something.

      I’m going to try to volunteer next time this happens. (y’all know I”ll write all about it!)

  3. I’ve actually just posed a similar question… I know if I’m asked I always say yes, I HAD a daughter. I claim her – she existed. But at the same time had implies past, and people always realize that means she died. I dread the “normal” parent questions like “how old?”… She didn’t get a chance to age. But – she did exist so I tell people I had her.
    My latest issue was with paperwork for a new job that asks about children and their ages… What do I put there?!?! She was still born. She never got older…

  4. I completely understand the guilt and the wanting to say more. This has only happened once to me, and I justified it with myself by saying – you know what? I deserve to be congratulated. Not many people congratulate you when your baby is born so early, and straight to the NICU. You get a lot of “congratulations… I guess?… maybe condolences…?” type of congratulations (i.e., people aren’t sure whether congratulations is really in order). So I think I let myself feel like sometimes, a sincere congratulations is my due for not really getting many back when he was born. Definitely a very difficult call, though, when you’re dealing with patients. Let us know if you have this happen again, and how you choose to handle it!

  5. You know what, we can only do what we can handle in the moment. My husband has had this happen SO many times in the course of his client work. It usually starts out with…. How’s that baby? or, Did your wife have the baby? And, so often, he starts the story out positively. Because Zachary’s story WAS incredibly positive for the first 8 days. He was supposed to feed and grow. Had passed all of his scans and tests. Then, he gently brings them up to speed on Zachary’s illness and death and it definitely has an effect on the conversation. There are still a few people he has not told about Zachary’s death. I don’t blame him. When it’s the right time, and if the person should know, he will.

    You are clearly going to run into this a lot with your work, and I just hope you can offer yourself the same grace/forgiveness that you give your patients everyday. Hugs…

    • interesting to h ear about it from the husband’s perspective. Most people chris works with didn’t even know I was pregnant (its the nature of his work to not have a closely knit team he knows much personal info), so they certainly don’t know about his loss versus me, it was so public. they would see me pregnant or call for an appointment when I was on maternity/bereavement leave and wonder what would be keeping me out indefinitely. such a contrast for us. so it’s interesting for me to hear about your husband’s experience

  6. I usually tell people right away that he died. I deposit cash every day at my job, so I suppose I get to know the bank tellers pretty well, but even if I didn’t, when I’m asked, “So do you have any kids?” (which inevitably happens before a holiday or a weekend so I know they are wanting to know if I’m doing anything fun with the kids) I say, “Yes, a son, but he died.” If that seems off-putting to someone, they don’t have to ask more, but sometimes they do. I don’t feel like I’m lying then.

    • I’m pretty much the same- if I’m asked. It’s the volunteering part that’s a hard. I try to answer honestly- I’ve tried “i had a daughter.” but I like your response, i might try it out- “Yes, a daughter but she died.” somehow seems more complete!

  7. it is hard to know what is best for others. I guess whatever you feel like to say at the moment, maybe the best for now. I tell myself and forgive myself, not mentioning about my loss, if I do not feel connected to the other person.

    • the forgiving myself is the hard part. but I”m learning I do what I feel in the moment, like you said, and see how I feel after. that’ll help guide me in the next moment like it.

  8. How much I say can depend on the situation, the person asking and how I’m feeling at the time. Mine and Hugo’s story is long, complicated and takes a lot to explain, so I’ll only do the full version if I’m feeling up to it. Otherwise, I’ll say Hugo died at the age of 35 days because he was very premature.

    • Yes, I too have a long complicated story to tell, and I dont mind telling it. But my short one is that she died because of birth defects- her lungs were too small. Though I much prefer the longer version. I’ll tell anyone who asks!

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  11. When my baby died I wanted to tell everyone. And I wanted to talk about her all the time. But I had read a book by Mike Meyers about his brother who was tragically killed. Meyers painted a vivid comical portrait of his mother and how she couldn’t stop telling strangers about her son who was killed. I already felt like I was losing my kind — I didn’t want to be seen as the crazy lady whose baby died so I stopped myself from constantly telling the story of my baby girl who was undiagnosed with Trisomy 18 who died when she was 5 days old. But I have learned how to weep gracefully when telling my story to a few trusted souls.

    • Karen, I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I have felt the same way- in the beginning needing people to know, to hear. With time, the need has grown less and most recently I find myself sometimes telling, sometimes not. It’s amazing what time does and how grief evolves. For me I worried about being pictured as the crazy lady Elizabeth McCracken described in her book An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination. Interesting how literature has also shaped us. On a side note- another CNM in the babyloss world? My, my, we are few and far between- and from what I could garner from your site, you too are still in practice? I’m floored!

      • I actually became a CNM because of my experience losing a child. The whole event left me with an awakened desire to prevent the suffering of other women caused by providers who don’t listen, or who don’t provide thorough, hands on prenatal care, or who are simply suffering from the unpreventable death of their baby. I am currently practicing and love taking great care of the women I serve. I named my practice after my baby–Olive Branch Birth and Family Wellness.

      • amazing! I”m glad you were able to take your loss and work something beautiful from it. What a lovely way to honor your child and help women in general.

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