Monday, December 10, 2007

Sensitivity

After reading this post over at Road Less Travelled, I got to thinking about an incident after M died, where I had to see a baby.

It was about 4 months after his death. My in-laws were having a birthday party for my sil's youngest, he was turning two. I thought it was going to be just family there. This sil has 2 other children, who, at the time were 20 and 18. Mr. g's nieces. We were close to them before, and that relationship is one that took a downward spiral after M's death. It started in the hospital and just got worse. One of the things that bugs sometimes about my in-laws, is they have these "family" parties and then let the kids bring a whole bunch of friends. This is more annoying when said friends are all teenagers. (apology to all the teenagers out there, but I hope you know what I mean here). Also, they have let this occur when it is someone else in the family giving the party, meaning not their mom, so party thrower is suddenly providing food and drinks for friends that just showed up.

Four months might seem like a long time to someone not grieving. Sil's house has a long driveway. We parked at the end and were making the long walk down towards everyone when I saw her. The niece's 17 year old, very pregnant friend. Now please don't think I am turning this into some rant on teenage pregnancy. Pregnant woman in general are hard enough in these situations, as most of you reading know, and in some cases you can just add to the pot the reasons why it feels worse. (her youth, bad situation, the unfairness, etc.)

Here is how my brain fired in those seconds: 1st thought-Okay, ms. g, you can handle this, you can just say hello, ignore her and try to stay away.
2nd thought-she has to be almost due, you can tell, everyone will be talking about it. Everyone. In-laws are not exactly poster children for sensitivity. I have to get out of here.

I feel tears start and I freeze, midway down the driveway. Mr. g notices I've stopped and turns to ask what is going on. I tell him I have to go. I nod toward her. He finally notices her and says, okay, if you need to go, go, no problem, here are the keys. I ran up the driveway and drove off. Mr. g called about 3 seconds later asking where I was, he had meant to go with me, he just wanted a moment to tell everybody we were leaving. My mistake, I thought he was planning on staying. I turned around and came to get him. My other sil and mil came out to hug me and tell me it was okay for me to leave. They were very nice, but I know they were somewhat baffled.

I won't lie. I was a little bit angry. I mean, someone couldn't have called and just let me know she was going to be there? I've been part of the family for 10 years at that point. I felt like, duh, get a clue. On the other hand, should anyone have figured that out? I guess because it was so obvious that Mr. g and I were still grieving, I just thought it seemed natural for it to cross someones mind. In my case, I have to admit Mr. g's responsibility in that he never talked the details of grief with his family (they don't do that), he never would have mentioned our jealousy and envy at pregnant woman and newborn babies.

Where is the balance? I accept that we can't totally avoid these situations, and to on some level, we have to put our feelings aside sometimes, but, can't everyone else meet us halfway?

November of 2005, I was very pregnant with M. One day, I pulled up to my parent's home, to see that they had the male half of a couple friend of theirs. He and his wife had lost twins the year before. When I saw that he was there, I could feel my concern form. I actually sat in the car for a moment before getting out, thinking about how I didn't want to upset him with my very large belly. I decided there was really nothing I could do, and in the true fashion of the uninitiated, I hoped that since a year had passed, it wouldn't bother him so much. I decided to make sure not to talk about M in front of him. All seemed fine till at one point, my dad called me out to the living room to have me tell his friend what we decided to name the baby, etc. I remember being annoyed with my dad, thinking his friend probably didn't want to hear, or even care. I quickly answered and moved the conversation to other topics.

I don't tell that story to hold myself up as some wonderful person who "got" it before it even happened to me. Because I still didn't get it. Not really. I tell the story just to illustrate that it is possible for people to be more sensitive to us, even if they have no idea what we are going through. It isn't too much to ask of them not to flaunt their fertility or living babies, or expect us to coo and gawk endlessly at their wonderful children, or to be interested in their thriving pregnancies. Why is this so hard for people? And what is a good balance?

11 comments:

Beruriah said...

You know, I didn't get it either. But even still, when I first started to show with Natan, I was very concerned about the feelings of a friend of ours who had lost a baby to PPROM over the summer. Very concerned. It certainly is possible to be sensitive even when not grieving.

Monica H said...

I remember my first loss. Well, not actually MY loss, but the first loss of another person that affected me. I was in 4th grade and my language arts teacher had a stillborn. I remember, even at that young age how she was hurting, even if I didn't understand what she was going through. I remember hurting for her and wishing I could do something to make her feel better. I made her a sympathy card and on the front I drew a vase with flowers on it. I erased and drew and erased some more until it was just right.

And like you, I don't write this to say how considerate I am, but to say that if a 4th grader (9 years old) can be sensitive to a grieving woman, then other people should/can do it too.

Lori said...

I think are right to think that time played a factor in the lack of sensitivity. A few months go by and to everyone else the loss begins to fade into the distant past. Oddly enough, I think there were even people who thought that for some reason I would be comforted by the sight of other babies or pregnant women. Like, it would give me hope or something. But again, that is only because most people miss the point that babies are not anonymous and interchangeable. Just because I had hope of another baby, didn't mean that I didn't still miss and want the two I had.

I can look back and remember some moments of insensitivity that still shock me. But, over time, I have let them go. The thing is that it still hurts me to hear of, or see, twins but I also know that it isn't realistic to expect people to censor their conversations just because of my own lingering sadness. At least not now... four years later.

Wabi said...

Before my loss I think I "got it" enough to realize that talking incessantly about my pregnancy would not be welcome around my friends who struggled to have children. But the part I didn't get was the anger that comes with infertility and pregnancy loss. That bewildered me until I experienced it myself.

For instance, pre-loss, I remember debating whether I should invite a friend who was struggling with infertility to my baby shower. It felt like I couldn't win, because not inviting her would be isolating and that seemed wrong, yet inviting her might also be viewed as insensitive or hurtful.

Now that I've gone through loss myself, I feel like the obvious answer was to just call her and say, "I have no idea what is best to do, so tell me what you want and let's do that." And if she got mad during the discussion, I should have been able to see that the world didn't revolve around me and my big pregnant belly all the time, and not take it personally ...

So yeah, I do think someone should have called you and warned you, if they knew in advance the pregnant teen would be at the party. But I am not surprised they didn't. Unfortunately, it seems like you only learn how to act in these situations after you go through it yourself.

Monica said...

I cringe at how insensitive I probably was pre-loss. Nothing really sticks out, and I did not have any friends who had had losses or where IF when I was pregnant with Jimmy. However my pregnancy with Andy was different as I had made several friends with people who had lost babies. I hope I did not upset them and I tried to be sensitive and not talk about my pregnancy too much. Truth be told, I never thought I'd end up getting Andy anyway. I think though, that the commenter that mentioned the aspect of time is on to something. Even the people who went to my memorial service to Jimmy moved on very quickly. He wasn't their son, their pride and joy, they never held his lifeless body. They moved on, but I didn't.

Carole said...

This really hits close to home for me. SIL is the most unsensitive person ever...unless it happens to her...and then it's still worse than when it happened to you. And that's just about everyday stuff.

Family parties are family parties. 4 months is like a blink of an eye in this grieving process. They should have told you she would be there and let you make the choice.
~Carole

niobe said...

I know I've told this story a zillion times, but there's just no way for people to understand the feelings of someone who's lost a baby.

Three weeks or so after the twins died, I went to my niece's first birthday party. No-one thought to mention that they had also invited another SIL (it's a complicated blended family so there really was no reason to think she'd be there).

As it happened, this SIL was very, very pregnant with a baby due within a week or so of when the twins were supposed to be born. Everyone was annoyed that I failed to be friendly to pregnant SIL and that I went upstairs, cried, and didn't participate further in the party.

Even now, a year later, my mother still brings this incident up as an example of how selfish I am and how I don't care about anyone except myself.

Projection, much?

Julia said...

People close to me have not been this cruel, well except for the MIL. But I just mentioned two of my friends in my post today. The upshot is that most people I know personally may be careless at first, but are apologetic if called on being insensitive. And I also believe that it should be fair to ask for sensitivity, to even count on it. Unfortunately, I am also fairly sure it doesn't often work out to that in real life.
I am sorry about your family/ILs.

Tash said...

I had infertility and a miscarriage prior to my loss, so I like to THINK I got it. I certainly got never, ever, ever asking couples, "So, when are you having a baby?" And since I hated talking about my own pregnancies knowing full well they could end up in the shitter (I should 've seen this coming, eh?), I didn't bring mine up. Ever. I always let other people bring up the subject, answered as quickly as possible, and moved along. Now I don't talk about kids, period, which is probably too much in the other direction, but you never know, do you.

Also meant to say, I read the first part of this entry and thought, "wow, that's me." I still feel that way.

wannabe mom said...

something similar happened to us. it was about 6 mos after our twin girls died and we were invited to an aunt's bday party at a restaurant. our cousins showed up sporting their newborn baby girl, and everyone was falling over themselves to take a peek or to hold her, completely insensitive to my husband (i wasn't there; i was driving home from work and taking my sweet time). he was horrified. apparently it was difficult for my aunt to tell us they were coming so we could bow out.

and i was that insensitive person pre-db: my friend was struggling for years to get pg (plus two miscarriages) and i made a quiet announcement among other friends, in a noisy bar, she overheard. (she had a baby last month, but that doesn't excuse my behavior.) during the difficult phone call she made to tell me she was pregnant earlier this year, i did apologize to her for my previous insensitivity.

loribeth said...

I was catching up on some blog reading & was flattered to see that you cited my post. Thanks! Sounds like many, many of us have encountered similar situations (sadly). I'm sorry. (((Hugs)))