Trying to come to terms with friends and family who just don’t get it…..

bird on wireRecently, 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.

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18 thoughts on “Trying to come to terms with friends and family who just don’t get it…..

  1. I understand how you’re feeling, having been told by a friend that I should ‘be happy’ for a pregnant coworker who shares my should’ve been due date.
    People can be insensitive in these situations and I think, sometimes, not only do they avoid the topic because they think we don’t want to hear about it, but they worry they will upset us, that they will be responsible for our pain. The first sign of tears trigger that guilt response.
    I don’t claim to excuse this, I’ve been hurt by a number of people who avoid talking about my loss, as though its not constantly on my mind.
    I hope you find some comfort in knowing that many of us out here in Internet land can understand and appreciate your pain. And we don’t want to change the subject.
    Yikes, comment on a phone is difficult lol

    • Thanks so much, and I totally agree. I saw your post and was going to comment. I’m so sorry about the comment from your friend about being happy for the pregnant coworker. It just shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation, there’s no reasonable way that you could simply be happy for her. Like you said, it’s not as if you’re NOT happy for her, but it will never be a simple emotion without a ton of pain attached.

  2. Sorry you had to go through all that. It is so awful. Unfortunately, I, too, learned empathy through my loss, and I’m sure I was guilty of the things you mentioned when others miscarried, before my own miscarriage.

    Praying for a healing for your heart and body!

  3. Is it enough to say that people suck? I have never been satisfied with how any particular person has handled our losses, ever. But it has made me able to handle other people’s grief better, and I have become a better friend. I wouldn’t wish RPL on anybody, but it does seem to be something you don’t “get” unless you, well, have to.

    Hugs.

    • Very true. I agree, I can’t help but be more understanding of other people’s pain now, and I wouldn’t want people to have to experience it, but they probably couldn’t actually get it unless they did.

  4. This is so true. I find it hard to tell people because they do feel uncomfortable. I wish the realized that I just want to talk about it and they really don’t have to say anything. This post was so easy to read because it’s all so true.

  5. Yes this is a tough one. I too have a friend (one of my best friends growing up) who I haven’t spoken to in almost 2 years. She did call me once on my birthday but I didn’t call her back because I was hurt the she never called, sent a card, or even facebooked me after I lost my twins. Granted I never called her to tell her directly about my loss. It was too hard to make those calls. If she had any interest in what happened with my pregnancy she would have found out sooner or later about my loss. And I would think that she would have reached out to me. I agree that comforting others in pain is a hard thing to and it is easier to pretend it isn’t there. Especially if you don’t show it outwardly. Good luck getting the people in your life to understand and support you sufficiently.

  6. I think that is one of the hardest things I struggle with. I find it hard to forgive those I feel aren’t really there for me. Even after trying to explain how deeply hurt I have been through it all, nothing has really changed in some close family and friends. I’ve come to realize that a majority of people really don’t know how to deal with someone else’s grief. Which sucks because I felt a lot of support when I first announced my pregnancy. Everyone called and texted to see how I was and gave me advice. Truthfully, I didn’t need it then like I need it now. Like stated above, I definitely have more empathy after dealing with miscarriage. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like no one cares about the troubles they are going through. Especially, if they consider themselves close to me.

  7. I agree with all of your points, and applaud your efforts to try to see things from their perspectives, rather than respond negatively. I’ve just been reading about that in Buddha Walks Into a Bar. I would add to your point about other’s pain being scary: when it’s a loved one or close friend, it’s not just a matter of being scared of their pain, but I think we feel their pain, too. Not on the same level, of course, but I truly believe that it hurts them to see us in pain. As you said, avoiding it isn’t a good response, but it does explain the tendency to shut it out, forget it, and try to get us to move on from it.

  8. Great post. I couldn’t agree more with pretty much every word you’ve written here. I’ve had so many encounters with people that behave like this, it’s taught me a lot about “the human condition” (if I can go that far – ha!) and how we struggle to respond to others’ pain and grief adequately. I actually reflected on how poor my own behaviour had been prior to my own losses when I got to thinking about a friend this past week who lost her baby at 23 weeks a couple of years ago. I had written her a public note on her timeline saying something like: “happy birthday mama, this is going to be a fabulous year for you, etc.” and she had messaged me back to tell me that they had lost the baby and she wanted to let me know that she appreciated the note, but had deleted my post because she didn’t want any questions. Anyway, I went back through our correspondence and read that I had written (I’m copying and pasting: “Oh my. Sarah, I am so, so sorry, for your loss, firstly, and for the post. I should have double-checked your facebook before writing that. Wow. Jeez. I hope this hasn’t put a damper on your day – you deserve a wonderful birthday!! big hugs and love to you.” Not horrible, but definitely not what I would have written now. I really think I had absolutely no idea what to say, what I could possibly say to acknowledge her loss properly. I have a much better idea now, but that came as the unfortunate side effect of personal experience. I think our best bet is to give people the benefit of the doubt and to continue to be (at least somewhat) public about our struggles, if we are up to it.

    • Yeah, I think a few years ago I probably would have said the exact same thing. It sucks that you have to go through it to really be compassionate, but I think if we can be open with people (as hard as it might be), it can only help people to understand and handle things differently in the future.

  9. It’s wonderful to see a post that really thinks about why people behave in what we percieve as an insentive way over MC and recurrent MC. I think most of us can probably look back and recognise past behaviour and lack of understanding/empathy in others now that we know what recurrent pregnancy loss feels like. I’ve had 5 early MC and yes, it hurts like hell, but my older brother and family lost their little girl at 9 years old to Cystic Fibrosis and a baby boy at 6 days old (he has 2 surviving children). My younger brother and his wife had a still born baby last year at 30 weeks (no children). Oh boy does all that give me perspective on my loss and lower my expectations of how others should handle my feelings over my MCs. I never met my babies, they were just a projection in my head and I grieve for what might have been rather than what was. It’s so very hard to be rational about other people’s behaviour when your emotions are raw and your hormones are still out of whack, but perhaps we also need to realise and understand that society won’t ever see an early miscarriage as the same thing as losing a baby late in pregnancy or losing a child, and forgive that, because it’s not of the same magnitude. Our grief is no less real, but it is different.

    • Hi there, thanks for your comment :). I’m so sorry about all your losses, and your siblings as well. It sounds like your family has been through so much. I agree, its a very different kind of pain compared with loosing a newborn or an older child. I don’t kid myself that what I’ve been through is anywhere near as awful as loosing a child, or even a later term miscarriage, but the pain we have to go through is more about the loss of our future. It’s definitely different.

  10. Thank you for writing this. I have a friend who confided in me about six months ago about an 8-week miscarriage, and I have been profoundly uncomfortable since then asking her about any successive pregnancies or attempts or the like (beyond, of course, a more generic, “so how are you feeling/doing?”). Part of it is that I assume she’s like me: reluctant to talk about “bad stuff” for fear of dwelling on it or stressing others out. But part of it, obviously, and you touch on this, is that I’m just plain afraid to ask. What if she gets pissed because she IS trying again, and doesn’t want to jinx her luck or something? (In my own defense, she is an extremely sensitive person who is prone to really angry outbursts.)

    Anyway, thanks again for making me think twice about this particular situation.

    • I can definitely understand where you’re coming from. Of course I can only speak for myself, but for me saying something (even if it turns out to be the wrong thing) is definitely better than nothing. I’m always always thinking about it, so someone asking about it isn’t going to make me think about it more than I already am. When friends ask me how things are going (ie, are we trying again, how are we feeling about the situation at this point, something along those lines), I’m usually extremely appreciative that they thought about me enough to ask. Honestly, just listening is all it takes, you don’t have to say much at all besides I’m sorry. It sounds like you’re a good friend for thinking it through before saying something :).

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