Friday, August 31, 2007

How much to tell?

A comment left by Niobe on my last post got me thinking. She asked if my new boss knew my history.

No, not exactly. She knows I had a child die, because she asked if I was pregnant with my first and I gave my stock answer, "no, I had a son who passed away" Most people don't ask for details after that. Some do, but she didn't. So she doesn't know that my son that died related to pregnancy at all. And therefore, can be forgiven for not understanding why I don't want to yet put in my leave for maternity at this time.

But, how much to tell? It is a tough question. In this case, rather than get into my emotional reasons for not wanting to do what she asked, I filled out the leave slip. It just seemed easier. However, in lots of conversations, I do tell more details. Most people at my old work branch knew I lost my son during pregnancy, even though I wasn't at that branch at the time. It came up during conversations, and they got more details.

Being pregnant again, it seems more of an issue. People ask about if you have other children. Yes, but not here with me. Do they need to know more? And in what instances should I say more? At work, it seems appropriate because I will be spending a fair amount of time with these people, and if they know, then they may be more understanding of any at work pregnancy freak outs that may happen. What about strangers? There have already been a few instances where I can tell the stranger speaking to me about my current pregnancy thinks it is odd I am not more excited. And lots of times, I feel the urge to explain why. Other times, I feel exhausted by my history. I don't know you! Go away! Quit making me feel like I need to hand you my medical files!

It might be easy to think I never have to say a word. It isn't easy for me though. I swore I would never not include M, in any way, when talking about my children. I would feel worse if I didn't mention him, avoiding the whole issue altogether. I have to include him, he's my baby.

I also swore after a stillbirth happened to me, that I would talk about it, because I truly believe our silence it what keeps it happening. Keeps money from being spent on research, keeps women alone with their grief. I want to educate, and sometimes education means just putting something out there, something people have never heard about, unless it happened to them.

During a walk around a local park a few weeks ago, I started talking to two women. Of course, we had to talk about my pregnancy. In that talk, my history came out. One of the women told me in return about her multiple miscarriages, and how she was taking a break from trying, and maybe looking into adoption. I hadn't until that moment mentioned my miscarriage, just my loss of M. We then talked about how hard it was, how people didn't understand the heartache, how strong the urge is to have a child. I will probably never see this woman again, but for that one moment, she remembered she wasn't alone in her struggles, and I remembered I wasn't either.

So there are lots of reasons to talk, to tell the whole story. But I can't always figure out when. Sometimes it seems like too much info, you know, the person was just asking how I was! Or in the case of my work, it didn't seem to follow a natural flow of conversation at the time, but then I ended doing something I didn't want to do yet. So, when and how much to tell?

I feel the need to admit something here. As much as I truly want to educate about stillbirth, I have found myself not always using the word "stillbirth". I have faced a lot of ignorance over that term,people don't know what it means. I say, "died at birth" or "died just before birth" even though, that doesn't really accurately describe my personal experience. This issue might be another post. Maybe I am a wee bit of a hypocrite? Mmmm...introspection for the future....


niobe said...

I don't think there's a good answer to this question. But you already know that. I made the opposite vow to myself. I told myself I would never, ever mention the twins unless there was some very good reason to do so. I find myself reluctant to talk about them even when people who are aware of my circumstances ask me a direct question.

But I don't think you have to be consistent or have specific rules about what you'll say. If sometimes you want to talk to a stranger about M, but other times you don't, why not do whatever you feel like doing at the time or whatever seems easiest at the moment? Or you could make a vague statement, if you don't want to go into details. Like "One reason I'm not that excited about my current pregnancy was that in my prior pregnancy I had a very difficult time" without specifying why it was difficult.

On a completely unrelated topic: Yay! You got the links to work!

Monica said...

What a topical post! Well, for me anyway. Just today a new teacher at work asked me when I was going to have my baby shower. Of course, to make matters difficult, it was in front of other co-workers, most of which had attended Jimmy's memorial service. I told her that my last pregnancy was "unsuccessful", therefor I did not feel comfortable in having a shower. I paused to find the right word, and unsuccessful was what finally popped into my head. It would not be my first choice, but the pause, coupled with the pained look on my face kept her from asking anything further. But I know what you mean. Sometimes I think it just feels right to talk about Jimmy, other times I just do my best to make a quick exit without making myself feel guilty. Do what feels right, and like Niobe says, it may be different depending on the situation.

Carole said...

This is something I struggle with as well. For the most part it has come down to who the person is and if I plan on getting to know them. Joseph is such a part of my life...but a very private part...and sometimes I don't feel like sharing him. I working on coming to peace with that.

Julia said...

I have been thinking that if/when I am visibly pregnant again, I might have to deal with more questions. I have no real advice except to do whatever feels comfortable in any given situation, as others have said already. It must be very difficult for you either way, though.

meg said...

Hey Ms. G! Thanks for delurking. I have started to read some of your back history and I will be back to read the rest, for sure.

When you wrote about wanting to cut that tag out, I totally understand. And reading you say that makes me feel like less of a freak. I know it makes no sense, but looking in my closet and seeing regular clothes in there makes me feel calmer.

I'm sorry that we're both in this difficult place--I actually think you are just a little ahead of me, but I'm not sure. I will be checking in on you and please check in on me, whenever you like. Take care!

The Nanny said...

thinking of you... :-)

Beruriah said...

Like Niobe, I don't think you have to be consistent.

I haven't had so many opportunities to answer "the question." I usually would say, "no, but our first child died at birth," or some version of that.

But yesterday I was in the waiting room of the hospital lab getting my glucose test and it was a very full waiting room, mostly of elderly folks, and I just didn't want to converse. A woman asked, and I sensed that if I answered fully, she would bother me more. I just got the sense that she was a nosy woman. So I just said, "Yes, he's our first." Of course she didn't leave me alone, but at least I only had to listen to banal babbling rather than talk more or get advice from a stranger.

I don't think I'll feel the same everyday though.

Lori said...

Well, so far, four years later, this hasn't gotten a lot easier for me, I hate to say. For me, it very much depends on the situation, and what I feel up for in that moment.

I can understand your reluctance to use the word "stillborn." I think you instinctively know that when you give a title to something, it actually makes it easier for the listener to assume the loss to be less than it was. For me, to just say a baby was stillborn, somehow takes away the humanity and the reality of what took place. Instead, to say that your son died at birth, reminds the listener that this loss was intensely personal, and life altering.

I know that for me, one of the reasons I hesitate to share my loss with people, is my fear that they really won't understand. And, I can't really blame them. So, rather than setting myself up for a reaction that will leave me sad, I just keep my story to myself.

froggy mommy said...

For me it depends on the person and situation. Some days I'll answer that I don't have children, other days I will explain that I have a little boy, but he passed away. Sometimes people will ask for more information, other people will express their sympathy and move on. You have to do what feels right FOR YOU. I do agree with Lori that using the word stillbirth allows people to assume the loss was so much less heartbreaking that it was.

I do understand the desire to educate people. Stillbirth is something no one talks about. When it happened to me, people were coming out of the woodwork telling me their stories. Society still treats it like a dirty little secret.