Things you shouldn’t say to someone going through a miscarriage

There’s a phenomenon that surrounds difficult life situations. It’s called People Unintentionally Saying Really Dumb Shit.

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It’s not their fault. We’re not properly socialized to know how to talk about difficult life situations.

Like pregnancy loss.

My husband and I found out at the 8-week ultrasound that our pregnancy might be in jeopardy. A miscarriage was confirmed a week later. Two weeks after, following a lot of anxiety, agonizing, and feeling like a walking mausoleum, I had a D&C. There were no physical signs. No cramping. No bleeding. My body hadn’t caught up with the fact that this just wasn’t going to happen.

And well-intentioned people kept saying the wrong things. It’s not their fault. See above, re: not properly socialized to talk about it.

If it helps (hopefully it helps, a little bit), here are my Completely Unscientific, Unresearched, From-Personal-Experience-Only Tips on Communicating With Someone Going Through A Pregnancy Loss.

(Disclaimer: Not all these things were actually said to me. Some were. Others are conjecture based on what people have said to me.)

1) “It’s so common,” is not helpful.

Up to 25 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage – higher if you’re older than 35. So, not a statistical anomaly.

When you’re going through it, though, it’s not common. It’s terrifying and lonely, and statistics don’t help.

You know what else is really common? Birth. It’s estimated that there are 250 people born every minute. But when’s the last time your friend had a baby and you said, “I know you think this is a big deal, but people have babies ALL THE TIME.” Hmmm?

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2) Some medical words are annoying as hell.

Actress Melissa Rauch of “The Big Bang Theory” published a moving article in Glamour reflecting on her pregnancy and previous miscarriage. In it, she refers to “miscarriage” as “one of the worst, most blame-inducing medical words ever.” The medical term that really galled me was the one used in the “we might have a problem” stage:  “Threatened abortion.”

Frankly, that terminology felt a little too fucking aggressive for my taste, like I was being accused of brandishing a coat hanger in the general direction of my lady business. I know it’s the medical term for pregnancy loss, and I support a woman’s right to choose, but most of us associate that word with a decision. This was not my decision.

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There is no good meme to illustrate this section. Trust me.

 

3) Don’t say it’s “just” anything
There’s enough hooha out there telling women to not temper their speech with “just,” so don’t try to temper my loss with your “justs,” either. To me and my husband, the pregnancy wasn’t a mass of cells. Didn’t matter that it was early, had no viability outside my body, or that it looked, at best, vaguely like a tadpole. It was our baby.

I’m not telling anyone else how they need to feel about their early term pregnancy (#liberalguilt #letscallaspadeaspadeshallwe?). I’m telling you how I felt, and how other women who have chosen to be pregnant, and have perhaps worked to get pregnant, might feel.

“It’s just an embryo” feels a lot like “it doesn’t count.” It does.

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4) To healthcare providers: Don’t jump the gun.

At that first appointment, we heard, “We aren’t going to schedule a D&C right now,” like it was outlandishly optimistic, and “It’s a grieving process” before confirming there was anything to grieve. We were told if there wasn’t progress, we’d “make plans to evacuate the uterus.” If you have a biopsy, does the doctor say, “If it’s malignant, we’ll make plans to cut things off,” or does he generally wait for the result?

I didn’t want false hope, but the whole vibe was a little pessimistic.

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5) Your adorable Instagram posts sting

It’s been hard for me to feel very happy for others lately. In recent weeks, I’ve unfollowed friends who are pregnant/have new babies, and even canceled a visit to meet a close friend’s newborn.

I feel bad about some of it, but right now every baby is a gut-punch.
Look, I’m not telling you to not share your proud parent pictures or your pregnancy updates, but if there’s a friend who isn’t able to adequately celebrate your happiness, don’t take it personally. We’ll be delighted for you, when we’re ready.

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6) Don’t ask the questions we’re already asking ourselves (and our doctors)

I’m 37, a.k.a. “elderly” or “geriatric, ”even “senile” in pregnancy terms. Yes, seriously, and yes, I know. I have agonized over this (and many other factors, real and imaginary), but when someone else asks about them, it just feels shitty. Like do you think you’re coming up with a possible reason that hasn’t been considered?
Or has anyone actually manufactured a Benjamin Button pill? “Elderly primagravida” aside, I would very much like to have my 20-year-old body back. I was cute when I was 20.

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7) The God thing

I’m sure when you invoke the Lord, your intentions are good. But plenty of people have an “It’s Complicated” relationship status with the Almighty. Someone going through miscarriage might be feeling some anger or disconnect in a heavenly direction. So, unless you are being consulted as a spiritual leader, at least wait for that person to bring up God.

And before you ask, no, posting a daily Bible quote on Instagram does not make you a spiritual leader. I know. I know.

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8) “This is why people wait to tell until after the first trimester is over.”

We’re not “supposed to” tell anyone we’re pregnant early on, “just in case.” Then if “just in case” happens, it’s kind of a clusterfuck.

You want to not keep everything bottled up, maybe even get some support, but if you haven’t revealed that you were pregnant, it can feel strange to reveal that you lost the baby. I’ve asked myself what I’m “trying to accomplish” by sharing my miscarriage, or if I’m “just making people feel bad.” And no offense, but why do I need to care about that right now?

“This is why people wait” feels a lot like: Miscarriage …

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Never thought you’d wish for him, did ya? 

 

9) “Move on.”

The day-to-day is a little easier now. I’m not thinking about it every minute. But I’m still sad every day. My mind marks time by what should be happening, and by the plans I had. Too many things cause twinges of pain: A pregnant stranger, a diaper commercial, the copy of “Pat the Bunny” my mother bought after we told her she was going to be a grandmother.

So don’t tell me to “move on” or “get over it” or “let it go.” I’ll move on when I’m ready.

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10) Bonus, because 10 is a nice, round number

In general, don’t ask a stranger about her pregnancy unless you actually see the baby crowning, or unless she’s wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m Knocked Up!” I cannot believe it is 2017, and people still need reminding of that, but they do. Look, if you ask a non-pregnant person about a pregnancy, at best you’re calling her fat. Most women are not fans of this. At worst, you’re rubbing salt in an open wound. I got asked about my pregnancy a month after miscarrying, and I hadn’t started showing, so that was doubly awesome.

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I wish I could say more of what would be helpful to hear. Express your sympathy. Reign in the advice or questions. If you’ve been there, and you’re okay talking about it, that can help. I’m massively grateful to my sister-in-law for telling me about her experience.

It’s okay to admit that you don’t know the right way to handle yourself. I had only told a few people that I was pregnant, and when I let one of those friends know about the loss, she said, “This is new territory for me, and I want to respect your privacy, but I’m here if you need anything.” That was good.

Beyond that, I honest to God don’t know.

The hope, however, is that from now on, if you are speaking to someone who lost a pregnancy, and you find yourself thinking any of the stuff contained herein, you’ll go, “Nope. I read that blog. That is not helpful.”

And then you’ll say … I don’t know, probably some other Really Dumb Shit.

Like I said, we’re not properly socialized to talk about it.

(What, did you think I was going to impart some sort of grand wisdom?)

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Questions from Quindlen

Questions that arose while reading Anna Quindlen’s “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir of a Woman’s Life,”on the morning of my 36th birthday, drinking a cup of hand-poured, Tanzanian dark roast with hints of oatmeal raisin cookie and tangerine, or so I was told. Context, like batteries, not included:

  1. Why are the older, wiser people in my life the ones who are focused on money and business card titles?
  2. How much will I think of who’s not there?
  3. What friends can I imagine being there, in this kind of way, in 30 years?
  4. What piece of furniture do you wish you had?
  5. What will really make you happy? Not what looks good to others, or what will please your parents, or what will let you keep up? Just you.
  6. What mistakes do I think my mother made? Where do I think she went right?
  7. And when you’re the daughter who prefers boyshorts and high waists, with the thong-wearing mother?
  8. What good thing would you give up to have another good thing?
  9. What if you worry, but are too tired to figure out how to fix it?
  10. What do people see when they look at my face?
  11. Where’s the cat?
  12. When do you stop trying to make the checklist, or how do you get beyond it when some of the most important people in your life tell you you haven’t done well enough at it?
  13. Do women find loss of fertility a relief?
  14. To whom are we obliged? Those closest to us or those looking in the proverbial windows? How much do we do because someone really needs it, and how much because of a desire to make a more certain impression?
  15. Why am I the one seeking job leads or advice from women younger than me?
  16. Shouldn’t I have more time?
  17. I’m so tired and I know exercise will help, but I’m too tired and I hurt too much — how to stop the cycle?
  18. What is my personal symbol of opposition to pernicious pessimism?
  19. At 36, struggling for strength feels pathetic; perhaps in 30 years it will feel noble?
  20. Does the “big is beautiful” culture celebrate unhealthiness?
  21. Will being physically strong make one feel more emotionally strong?
  22. What’s your headstand?
  23. Why wait?
  24. Who is stopping us?
  25. No, seriously. Who and what stops you from being happy?
  26. How can you define someone else’s happiness?
  27. How can women of 60 communicate this lesson to women of 30?
  28. What is old?
  29. Why do you choose to change or keep your name?
  30. How old do you feel?
  31. “Fine” is not five years away: Why bother?
  32.  This only addresses being beholden to your immediate sphere. What about the larger world?
  33. Even before kids, do women feel crazier than men? Perhaps in preparation?
  34. How do you balance independence and safety?
  35. How much did you keep to yourself? Did they know you disagreed with their choices?
  36. Is there that past-80 place where we can celebrate youthful optimism?
  37. What is “security” anyway?
  38. Would you rather settle down, settle in, or just settle?
  39. Are these really the cosmic questions? Will they be happy? Generous? Good?
  40. Do you enjoy being a parent? Did they enjoy it? Will I enjoy it?
  41. Do we make our parents laugh? Do our kids make us laugh?
  42. Do you want to be like your children? Is this the ultimate sign of parental success?
  43. Are you able to see the glass both ways?
  44. Who does the guilting?
  45. What examples of feminism were set for me in my family?
  46. Would you give up your place in the sun if it meant another critical mass of women were being recognized?
  47. How good or bad are the golden era, the good old days? What’s the tip of the scale from bad to better?
  48. Do women opt out? (Ally McBeal)
  49. Are older male partners not retiring?
  50. Why have I never been able to ask for a raise or promotion without feeling like an asshole?
  51. How is this need being communicated to men if women are far likelier to read this book?
  52. Is this really “normative”?
  53. But again, would you give up your success?
  54. Yes, women have to work harder to even get a chance to try, but the ones who succeed, who do earn a spot for themselves, would they give up their places if meant more women could be on the front page, in the boardroom, on the ballot?
  55. What does it mean to be of a faith?
  56. Because of what you learned, or because of rebelling against what you learned?
  57. How does Judaism foster a searching approach, or even a relationship, to spirituality?
  58. Ignorance is bliss, who whose?
  59. If you regularly attend religious services, why do you? If you did, but stopped, why did you stop?
  60. Can you substitute family, or culture, for church?
  61. What do you believe in?
  62. What about great women?
  63. Who has had great thoughts about you?
  64. What does it say that we see our usefulness primarily in our professions?
  65. Does equality mean women feeling less harried/oppressed and men feeling more?
  66. What’s better: To have a dream that never comes true or not to have a dream at all?
  67. Better question: What’s worse?
  68. Does it make someone less than if the “big things” haven’t happened yet?
  69. What is your plan B?
  70. If your career is your passion, aren’t you one of those people?
  71. Did I blink and miss my chance?
  72. How many old friends do you have who know you? How does friendship evolve over the years? How does age, marriage, family, moving, affect it?
  73. If someone is destined to die young, but is not yet on the way, do you ever speak of it?
  74. Not everyone wants to plan for the worst. Do I?
  75. How would you want the people you love most to die? Quickly, painlessly, and in their right mind, or slowly to give you time to do and say the things you want, even if there’s never really enough time?
  76. How well do we know our family members?
  77. Does my mother think I can be generous for its own sake?
  78. Do we need to have experienced loss in order to value something?
  79. Should we not take precautions?
  80. How do you stop someone being like me, choked and bruised by fear of what might happen?
  81. Living longer than your parents did — What perspective does that offer?
  82. “The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future” — Boon or curse?
  83. I always appreciate old people who exercise, but why do I wait?
  84. How far into your past can you truly feel?
  85. Is choice always a good thing?
  86. What can we still do? (Don’t say “anything.” That’s a lie)
  87. Do you want to die before or after your spouse?
  88. Which one of them will be harder to take care of?
  89. Do I still have the time and room in my life to become more before the spectre of my life narrows?
  90. Imagine yourself at 85. Who are you? What does your life look like?
  91. How do you want to die?
  92. When it’s not how you imagine, can you see what’s beautiful about it? Can you quiet the voices inside, shut out the ones outside, the ones saying shoulda, coulda, woulda, and appreciate the place you are, the day, the life you have?

 

let’s create an old white man sexist jackhole bracket, and other good ideas

Huffington Post senior political reporter and politics managing editor Amanda Terkel today tweeted about a disturbing conversation she had with a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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Ms. Terkel has not, thus far, named the professor. There are many calls for her to do so and I echo them.

However, should she choose not to, as is her right, I suggest we create a bracket of all the male professors at Medill (and for good measure, probably white and of a certain age) and let students and alumni vote to narrow down the candidates.

(Grammarly wants me to replace the period at the end of the previous sentence with a question mark. No, Grammarly, that is not a question, it’s a declarative statement. Adding a question mark would make it upspeaking. Clearly, you have a sexist algorithm that wants to force me, a woman, into upspeaking). 

Obviously, said bracket would group all men (again, presumably white and of a certain age) under the collective umbrella of rude, sexist, unenlightened, unaware of privilege, etc. etc. so on and so forth.

But we’re all cool with that, right?

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(just gonna assume you’re all doing this. don’t know who that blonde is, but she can take off).

My first instinct was to tweet this idea, but I figured some people just wouldn’t appreciate a good* sexist white man joke/feminist barb**.

So I decided to blog it instead.

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* The definition of good being subjective

** Is it a feminist barb or a barb at feminism?

 

your name is not always your destiny

I participate in various listservs, including several from my almae matres. One of them had That Person. You know That Person. She (in this case, it was a she) was the one who was always stirring up trouble, needling people, just generally being horrible. So, like any normal person who cannot abide that shit would do, I blocked her. And then I didn’t think about her for four beautiful years.

Her name popped up yesterday on LinkedIn, under “People You Might Know.” That site really needs a category called “People You Do Not Care to Know,” but I’ll pitch Reid Hoffman later. Let’s stay on track.

Under this person’s “About Me” section were the words “I just want to create beauty and encourage love, peace and kindness…” For those who struggle with short-term memory loss or reading comprehension, I refer you to the first paragraph.

Ironically, and I think this is actual irony, not Alanis-irony, this particular person was named for a virtue. Suffice to say the name did not befit the personality.

This is why it’s vital to be prudent when choosing a baby’s name. Prudence, as it happens, is one of the four cardinal virtues, and is a name best given to a child who will be raised to practice a great deal of common sense. And preferably one who is born with a faint moustache, rheumatism, and a fondness for Yorkshire terriers and classism.

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honesty isn’t the best policy?

I am currently seeking work, and as any of us who have ever looked for a job or assignment knows, it’s an incredibly time-consuming, tedious process. Nearly every book, article or expert I’ve consulted on networking, however, advocates for the “informational” conversation: “Dear So-and-So, I’m so interested in hearing about your career path…” Often the advice is to not even mention a job possibility in initial correspondence. As someone with a fondness for efficiency and a low tolerance for bullshit, I find this advice suspect.

Can anyone provide legitimate insight as to why a more direct approach is not generally advised? Not “Hi, we went to the same school, will you hire me?” of course (though that would be really nice), but “Dear So-and-So, I am interested in Position X at your company. Would you be willing to have a conversation with me about your experience and my background to determine if there might be a good mutual fit?” or some such.

Frankly, any time I say that I am interested in “learning about your experience” or “finding out more about your career path,” I, A) am certain the recipient can see right through that claptrap, and B) feel as if I’m representing myself as a wide-eyed “newbie,” rather than as the experienced professional I am.

We often talk about being straightforward and asking for what you want, especially “as women,” but there’s so much advice out there to beat around the bush. What’s wrong with saying “I would appreciate your help/advice/insight in service of a goal?” Isn’t a direct approach more efficient and productive for everyone involved?

studies are important

Just received an email with the subject line: “Study: Freelancers Are Undercompensated.” I would like to commission a series of equally worthy studies:

– Do Cats Like Shiny Things?
– Are Men Fond of Fellatio?
– Are Horsies Pretty?
– Is Drinking Water Good For Your Health?

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talk. faster.

Beau: There’s a mouse!

Me: WHAT?!?!?!?! *has heart attack*

Beau: In a cape!

He was looking at a copy of Jenny Lawson‘s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” on our coffee table. It looks like this:

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Lesson: When exclaiming about a picture of taxidermied mouse in a cape on a book cover, say it really fast: “Ataxidermiedmouseinacapeonthatbookcover!”

Or learn CPR.