I wrote this back in September, but never published. Better late than never!
Over the summer I joined a stroller boot camp. We met once or twice a week in a park in my town and an instructor led us in a mix of cardio and strength training. Everyone had a stroller with one or two kids and the exercises often involved the stroller or a song. Even when the exercise had nothing to do with the stroller, it was a place where a crying baby is met with knowing glances and understanding.
I did lots of bootcamp classes when I was pregnant with Mabel and continued after she died into my pregnancy with Felix. I was able to return to a few before they changed their pricing and class structure making it no longer feasible for me to stay a member. Plus with a kids who didnt sleep, my fatigue was making it very hard to find the time or motivation to make it a regular thing.
When I learned of the stroller boot camp- I was thrilled. I didn’t have to worry about childcare. There was a class that met on my day off, so I didnt have to choose between exercise and sleep or worry about childcare. I thought that since it was in my own town maybe I could even make some mommy friends!
The first class was fine- it was a little weird because since Felix had a fever I showed up sans baby and stroller. During our warm up we would circle up and introduce ourselves while we lunged and squatted. The instructor was very nice and super chatty. A pregnant woman was there who was about 35 weeks and pushing a stroller with a toddler. She was talking with the instructor about how she hoped this exercise would help her go early. I chimed in “I ran a road race when I was 37 weeks with my second and he came that night, so you never know!” It’s a fun fact that I hoped would start some conversation. It was well received and talked a tiny bit more until it was time for a new exercise.
The next class we were all lined up after the warm up for an exercise behind the strollers. As we worked, the instructor stood in front of us asking questions, engaging with different people in the group. “How long have you lived in this town?”… “what made you move here?”… then she looked at me. “Who’s watching your older child, Meghan?”
I was caught a bit off guard and I must have shown it in my face because before I could formulate an answer, the instructor felt she had to explain. “You said last week that Felix was your second… so is you older child in day care or at home or….?
It was weird being asked that question, but not unmanageable. I was trying to think of how to best answer without making it awkward. It was also weird to be asked that question with so many people listening.
Finally I said simply, “she died.”
I was ready for the usual response- the i’m so sorry- and honestly was kind of shocked when I didn’t get it.
I got nothing.
The instructor literally was looking directly at me when I responded and she quickly turned away from me and asked another of the women in the class a question.
No acknowledgement, No awkward response. No well meaning but painful platitude. Nothing.
I think it was the worst possible response I have ever gotten. I know that she didn’t know what to do or say and I understand that it was not at all the answer she was expecting. I don’t think it was even in the realm of possibilities for her. A part of me felt sorry for her- sorry that I couldn’t give her a warning, that she was forced to deal with the unexpected response in front of an audience.
But I was also a little frustrated and mad. By not acknowledging what I had said gave me important impression: Talking about my dead daughter was not welcome here. I understand that the group is made up of moms and no one wants to have to think of how it would feel to lose one of their babies, but it’s my reality. I can’t talk about so many of the common mom things without at least referencing the fact that I gave birth to another child. It is interwoven with my every day existence. It is one of the things that defines me- it’s just as important that people know that I am a midwife as it is for them to know I am the mother of two children.
From that class on I accepted that I was not there to make mommy friends, I was there to get exercise. The fact that the interaction was witnessed by most of the class also gave the class the impression that my dead daughter shouldn’t be talked about. But how can I make friends if people don’t know about Mabel? Argh. Another loss- the loss of “normal” parenting and friend making.
I was able to make a connection with one woman towards the end of the classes. She and I used the same midwives and those who choose the midwives I go to tend to be a self selecting group of people- likeminded in many ways. Once I learned that I (perhaps a little biasedly) liked her instantly. We talked for a bit about birth and our midwives; it was nice. What normal friend making must be like. Sadly it was in the second to last class and so nothing more ever grew from there. I suppose it was good practice.
How do you make new friends after loss?