Recently, Coral Blooms wrote a post that hit really close to home for me. Basically, the issue is about friends and family who know what we’ve been through and yet choose to ignore it. Maybe they’re kind and supportive at first, but as time goes by, they act as if it never happened, or as if we should obviously be over it already.
In my case, this is about 90% of the people I’ve told about my situation. The one huge exception is my parents, but everyone else displays this pattern to some degree. I have two close friends who will always listen if I bring it up, but they certainly don’t ask about it. In fact, one of these friends actually forgot I was pregnant last time and never asked how it turned out. We are very close, but sometimes a few weeks go by without having a chance to talk, so when I told her I was pregnant I was already 5 or 6 weeks and bleeding. It was over email and I think what I said was “I’m most likely having my fourth failed pregnancy”. So, maybe it didn’t come across just how depressed I was about the situation (I have trouble showing how I feel about this because I hate the idea that people will think I’m weak). She wrote back and said sorry, but not to give up yet because it could still turn out okay despite the bleeding (HA!).
I didn’t hear from her again for another month or so, until right after I had surgery. She actually emailed to ask me a favor, and never mentioned anything about the pregnancy. She had completely forgotten. This broke my heart a little, both that this friend I thought was so close could have so little concern for what was happening in my life as to forget a pregnancy, but also that the state of my life was such that me being pregnant was basically a non-event. She certainly didn’t forget the first time I told her I was pregnant, or even the second, because those times she thought it meant something. By the fourth time, it was most likely just another miscarriage, which clearly I shouldn’t be too upset about (since I’d already done it three times, duh!), so it didn’t register as important on her radar. I don’t say this to defend her because I really was extremely hurt and angry.
I completely ignored her first email (passive aggressive much?), and we didn’t speak for another month. Eventually, she wrote again and asked if everything was okay. My first instinct was to pretend nothing had ever happened, I have issues with conflict. But, ultimately I decided that her friendship was important enough to try to be direct, rather than just secretly resenting her. So I told her I was really hurt that she hadn’t asked how the pregnancy turned out. She admitted that she had forgotten, apologized profusely, and said she promised she would never be that inconsiderate again. And to be fair, she hasn’t been since then. But the message is still clear. A pregnancy or miscarriage in my life just does not come across as a big deal anymore. As a statement about the current condition of my life, this hurts as much as anything else.
Sadly, this type of thing is the rule not the exception. My SIL (who has had two babies since we started trying) said she was sorry about my loss the first time I had a miscarriage, and I’m fairly sure she has not said ‘I’m sorry”, or anything similar a single time since. In fact, after miscarriage #3 she said “well it’ll happen when the time is right”. Luckily I managed to resist screaming or throwing something (at her?). In the interest of not writing a 20 page blog post, I won’t give all the examples of things like this that have happened over the past 2.5 years. In general, the rule has been that people say something once, then never bring it up again, or if I bring it up, they tend to say something in passing and change the subject as fast as possible.
Now that I’ve complained about all these people in my life, I do want to say that the point of this post was not to talk about how awful my support system is. In fact, I do think I’m pretty lucky over all. My mother is possibly the most amazing person on the planet, and I can always count on her. G (my husband) was not terribly emotionally available for the first year and a half, but he (and our relationship) has come so far and now he is as understanding as I could ever hope for. The actual point of this post was supposed to be that I am trying to find some understanding for where these people (who I do believe care about me) are coming from with their inconsiderate behavior. Especially when it comes to family members, I won’t be able to just shut them out (although I REALLY want to at times), so it can only help to try to give them the benefit of the doubt and understand where they’re coming from.
I think it comes down to 3 things. 1) They don’t know what to say, or think I don’t want to talk about it. I understand that when bad things happen, it makes people awkward and uncomfortable. I’ve definitely felt this way myself, wondering what to say to someone who has lost a family member or pet. I know the feeling of wanting to just move on and talk about something less uncomfortable. All I can say though is that if you care about someone, you HAVE to try anyways, no matter how uncomfortable you may be. Just say something!! ANYTHING is probably better than nothing. I think this applies to a number of friends, and ultimately, I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain a friendship with the people who have never once asked me how things are going after the first miscarriage (we stupidly told a number of people the first time we were pregnant, so quite a few people new about that one). It’s too hard to care about their happy lives when they don’t seem to care in the least about mine. If they can’t be bothered to make an effort, then I’m not going to make an effort to give them the benefit of the doubt.
2) They just don’t understand how hard it all actually is. I think this applies to my SIL and the friend I mentioned earlier. They do care, and they probably want to help, but they just don’t have any idea how hurt I really am by all of this. I definitely share some responsibility here, because I’m not great at showing emotion. I have this idea that I need to appear strong, but people will obviously know that inside I’m hurting desperately (because how could I not be), and act accordingly. Honestly, it’s probably not fair to ask them to just intuitively figure out how upset I am. This is really tough though because I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully show them how I feel. I don’t want to have to. But they may never be able to really empathize if I don’t.
And finally, 3) Other peoples’ pain is really scary. This is the factor that really got me thinking about all of this. I was recently reading an article about someone who had a stillbirth. I could feel myself starting to get caught up in her pain, and my instinct was to run like hell. Close the article, bury it under a stack of other magazines, and never ever think about it ever again. The idea of that much suffering was too scary for me to think about, and I wanted to just put up a wall and pretend it didn’t exist. It’s at least possible that people might have this kind of reaction to hearing about all the loss in my life. Maybe it’s just a natural instinct for self-protection.
I don’t say these things to excuse anyone’s behavior, it still hurts and I badly want to react in some negative way. I don’t even know that I’ll be able to do anything about it if I understand. But in the case where I can’t get away from people (my SIL for example, I think I’m rather stuck with her), maybe it will help to try to understand where they’re coming from. I want to have relationships with these people, but it’s so hard to get over the resentment. If nothing else, it’s teaching me how not to act when someone I care about is going through a rough time.