I’ve been reading a lot of posts and blogs lately that usually start with “10 Things You Should Never Say to…” and each one always leaves me thinking one thing: Wow. As a society, we’ve come a long way in terms of technology. But our hypersensitivity about everything is, in my opinion, also at an all-time high.
When I was pregnant with Ophelia, I read some of the “top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant person.” I worked at a construction company at the time, and the contractors constantly walking in and out of that place were not all sugar and spice, I tell you what. A lot of them were crass and a lot of them said things tongue in cheek, and most all of them said at some point either one or nine of those things that people aren’t supposed to say. I had construction guys come in with their hard hats and dirty fingernails asking to touch my belly (one of the 10 things, for sure). And you know what? I let them do it. Pregnancy is awesome.
When I was going through my first, my second, and my third miscarriage, I read some of the “things you should never say to someone who has miscarried.” I fielded comments all the time that were on the list: “My baby died right around that time!” and “You should do this – you will for sure get pregnant!” and you know what? I wasn’t so nice all the time, but for the most part I think I realized that people are not trying to be jerks.
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
When I was married before, and going through the fertility testing and all the fun stuff that goes along with that, people made me pretty much insane with all of their comments. “When are you going to have a baby? I think it’s time!” and “You’re not getting any younger.” Someone told me in church once that “If you don’t have your babies now, your eggs are going to die.” Great, thanks. Again, I didn’t see it at the time and was likely far less than gracious about those comments, but looking back on it, I see that mostly, people are trying to help.
So I have a list of my own. I’ve been through it all. I’ve done the infertility thing. I’ve done the pregnancy thing. I’ve done the new motherhood thing, the parenting only one child thing (10 things you should never say to a mother of an only child is another one–for real), the miscarriage thing, and the pregnancy-after-miscarriage thing. And now I’ve got a list of things you should never say to someone who is perfectly fertile.
1. Be grateful that you can get pregnant! When I was going through infertility treatments, when doctors were targeting my nether regions with things that just don’t belong up there, I always balked at women who were perfectly pregnant and used to get so steamed that they couldn’t just be grateful. Now I’m on the other side. We are grateful. So grateful. After what it’s taken to get here, you bet your ass I’m grateful to be 16 weeks pregnant and spending the first hour of my day dry heaving. Infertility sucks. Miscarriages suck. Believe me. I get it. But you know what else sucks? Being pregnant.
When you finally do get pregnant, I promise to be the last person to tell you to just be grateful because when you have a creature from the deep trying to kill you from the inside, life just gets a little rough.
2. What I’m going through is none of your business. Alright, let me explain this one a little better so people won’t reach through the interwebz and shank me. We get it. We don’t really want to know what your sex pattern is when we ask you if you are trying to get pregnant. We aren’t just being nosy if we ask you if you’re pregnant and you’re not. After my fourth pregnancy/third miscarriage, I gained a lot of weight. I saw some people I had known for 20 years but whom I had not seen in about ten years. They said they didn’t recognize me because of my pregnant belly. I explained it was just grief fat, and then I started working out.
Do I think that these people were being jerks? No. Did they have to say that? No. But I didn’t have to be polite about it. I could have gotten mad and said something snarky but what would the point be? Their remark, which they probably felt pretty awful about, was innocent enough and it helped me realize I needed to make a change. That’s pretty cool.
3. What works for you won’t work for everyone. Yes. I know that. But please, if you know someone who has experienced infertility, who has experienced miscarriage, who has gone through anything that resembles what you’re going through or have been through, why not listen to what they have to say? You never know when you might learn from someone else’s experience. We’re all here learning from each other anyway, and one person’s pain is not going to be exactly the same as yours, but the solutions to two similar problems might be.
I remember getting an article in the mail from my sister when I was going through my infertility many years ago. It was all about how processed foods make getting pregnant super hard. I was livid. What business is it of hers what my body was doing? Well guess what? We care. I know first hand how hard it is to pull yourself out of your grief and just acknowledge another person’s helping hand. They reach over to pull you out of the mud and all you can see is someone else reaching into your personal space.
That’s not what we’re doing. For me, I realized I was fat. I wasn’t healthy. I remembered something that my physical therapist told me when I was recovering from surgery. She was trying to get pregnant too, and just said, “The best I can do is try to make my body as healthy an environment for a baby as I can.” So I cut out processed foods, chemicals, sugar. I exercised regularly. And then I got pregnant. So if I suggest or even mention the benefits of cardio and eating whole, natural ingredients on a person’s ability to get pregnant, it’s not a personal attack on you. It worked for me. It might work for you. It might not. We’re just trying to help.
4. I don’t want to hear about your situation. When I was pregnant with Ophelia, I made the announcement on Facebook and was super excited. Mostly the responses were pretty great. Mostly people just expressed enthusiasm and excitement for us. And a couple people said things like, “Oh you are so lucky! My daughter just miscarried her baby and she was as far along as you are now.” During this pregnancy, I tested positive for Group B Strep at 12 weeks (they don’t test for this that early, but the doctor said I had an extra bad case of it that was pretty impossible to miss–it’s usually tested through the blood but in severe cases can show up in urine samples, as in my case–fun fact). At church a couple days later, I mentioned it to another woman who told me, “Oh gosh, that’s the same thing that killed my baby at 12 weeks too!” I said, “You’re not supposed to tell me that!” and then assured her I was on a round of antibiotics and my doctor wasn’t worried about it, and life went on.
That’s the thing. Life goes on after comments like that. If people stopped being sensitive to comments like that, protesting that “It’s none of your business!” or “Why would they say that to me when our situations are so different!?” and started just realizing that people are just trying to be empathetic, life would be so much easier. There is so much to get stressed about in this life. We have so many worries. Why make offhand comments that people make that are in no way damaging or meant to be offensive more than they are?
5. You don’t know what I’m going through. On this point, you are absolutely right. None of us really know what anyone else is going through, regardless of the life experiences we may share in common. I’ve been through miscarriage and I’ve been through infertility. I’ve also been through an unexpected pregnancy. But these situations are not going to affect me in the same way that they are affecting you, so no, I don’t know what you’re going through. But saying something has to be better than saying nothing, even if it is the “wrong thing.” Let’s just stop giving each other a hard time for not knowing what to say, or saying the wrong thing, and give each other a little more credit for having the courage to reach out at all.
I just feel like maybe what we ought to do is acknowledge the good in people a little bit more often. Maybe we can all stop to realize that people aren’t trying to be jerks. They aren’t trying to be insensitive. Maybe people are just trying to relate, or be a friend, or tell you they’re sorry for what you’re going through. Maybe people don’t know your whole story. Maybe they have never experienced anything remotely similar to what you are experiencing. Maybe people make comments and they don’t know what you’re going through. But maybe that is the best time to let someone help. The way I see it, the best way to eliminate the needless worry over people saying the wrong things is to help them know what the right things are.