Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Survivor’s guilt

I’m in that season of life now where just about everyone I know is making babies, having babies… and losing babies. It’s a beautiful, exciting time, but also fraught with unexpected scares and sadness. Making babies is not always so easy.

I know a number of people lately who’ve had losses. My heart just breaks for them. Despite the fact that it’s been 4 years since I lost my first baby, I can go right back to that moment, those days, and feel that pain. That gut-wrenching, always-just-below-the-surface pain. I approached a friend at a party the other day to express my sympathy, and I saw it in her eyes. I wanted to tell her that I knew, but I didn’t. There was something between us, literally and figuratively. My belly.

I am now a big, pregnant lady with an adorable toddler. I don’t look like someone who’s suffered in the baby-making department. Even friends who know my story probably wonder if that part of my life is even on my radar anymore. (My inattention to this blog serving as evidence that it is not). But the truth is that I care more about women who are suffering from infertility and experiencing loss than almost anything else. No other time in my life have I felt so alone and so not understood. For those women now, I want to be one who understands.

I think the hard part for all of us, pregnant or not, is knowing what to say to these women (and men…they need acknowledgement, too). Or how to say it. Knowing how to be compassionate and sincere without being patronizing or hurtful. It’s such a fine line. I think that’s why people tend to ignore it. We’d rather err on the side of silence than say something completely stupid. But having been there, I know that there’s an ache to feel acknowledged. To feel like your loss is real, valid, in other people’s eyes. To believe that those around you get it – to some degree – why it’s not over for you yet. The pain persists longer than anticipated.

So, what can we say? I’m sorry. I’m sad for you. I know how much you want to be a mother. I’m praying for you. I believe this will happen, and I hope it happens soon. How are you? Do you want to talk about it?

Of course some people will want to talk and others won’t. Many will consider this a very private matter and wish to keep it to themselves, even as they feel so alone. Respect that, but don’t use it as an excuse to disappear. Stay available and in tune. I think that’s all you can do. Expect that your friend or co-worker or sister will be affected by this for a long time. And be aware. Be aware of the woman struggling to get pregnant attending a baby shower. Be aware of the couple who’ve recently had a loss at a party filled with babies and pregnant bellies. Be sensitive to their struggle. And even if you can’t find the words, send up a silent prayer or intention on their behalf.

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2 thoughts on “Survivor’s guilt

  1. Maggie

    As someone who is struggling and has been for a while, this post hit the nail on the head. You said exactly what I feel on a daily basis. And as happy as I am for the people in our lives who are expecting or already have children, the pain is ALWAYS just under the surface, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. But getting a card in the mail, a quick phone call or text or just a warm glance helps me know that we are in people’s thoughts and prayers and sometimes, that’s all the support we need. That being said, although this post is coming from a pregnant woman who I would have a hard time not being jealous of constantly, well said. 🙂 I know you know how I feel.

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  2. Tanya

    Thanks for this, Lisa. It’s true that people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all. And although I understand that, not saying anything feels more hurtful to me than saying the wrong thing. The time thing is so true, too. I was doing better, but after my follow-up visit with the midwives the other day, it brought everything rushing back to me and sent me to a dark place again. I don’t really feel like I can talk to anyone about it except for my husband because everyone expects it to be “over” by now. It’s a lonely place to be.

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