The nosy lady at Target
Target is the center of the Universe…if you are going to see someone or have a conversation, it will be there. So what happens when you are trying to get back into the world and venture to Target and someone asks you about your baby?
My ladies, once they suffer a death, seem to all become very polite. It puzzled me for the longest time. People – friends, family, strangers – said awful things to them and yet they still felt compelled to be nice and make others feel consoled at the news of their baby’s death. I’m a brash extrovert and there were times when I thought “Why don’t the just tell that person ____”. I eventually realized that many of my ladies used all their energy to cope and live and they normally didn’t have enough “fight” left in them to tell people who their comments were inappropriate.
I will add that brash comments made in unprovoked anger probably don’t do much to foster communication either. I read a book by a grieving mother who was in a cluster of women who regularly lashed out in public to people who had done them no harm. I was so uncomfortable that I never even finished the book.
I try to encourage a mode of sincere communication for my ladies somewhere between allowing people to pummel them mercilessly and wildly lashing out at strangers.
The first important point is to consider our inner inclination to not speak of death at all. I think this tendency has gotten us all in quite a mess. People feel a pressure to not mention it at all, sort of pretend it never happens or doesn’t exist. A few generations of this has left people completely unaware that death is even a possibility and the damage that does is profound.
When people ask questions about other people’s childbearing, they are delving into areas of significant sensitivity and if people never give them an honest answer to orient them to the reality of how serious it is they will just stay clueless and insensitive. One of the questions newly bereaved moms ask me is “what do I say when people ask me how many children I have?”.
In having many many conversations with women about this – both immediately in the hospital and months later after they had many interactions – I have developed a few “points to consider” on the topic…there are no cookie cutter questions, so there are no cookie cutter answers.
– First, I tell women that they are not morally obligated to say anything to anyone…this is THEIR life, THEIR loss, THEIR experience and they need to do what is best for them. However, when they feel inclined to speak to someone about their child’s death, that person will likely walk away from them a better person than they were before. That person will be better prepared the next time someone they know suffers a loss.
– I believe that babies who have gone onto heaven have perfect intellect, so they don’t get petty or jealous and they don’t want their mother to hurt. If saying their name gives you momentary joy then say it, but if you choose not to speak of your baby to someone you know wont honor them, I am certain the baby in heaven doesn’t feel slighted; I’m sure they want their mothers to protect themselves from pain.
– As much as I don’t advocate lashing our in hostility at strangers, I really do think that nosy people might become a little more self-aware if they got honest, real answers to their questions. I think of people who lost a child of one gender and had survivors only of the other…so at Target some person says “Are you going to try for a girl?” Maybe a good answer could be “We had a daughter, her name is ___ and she died just after she was born” (or whatever circumstances you choose to share). “Is this your first?” could be answered “No, our first child is in heaven (or died). A person would have to be a serious dolt to not think twice before asking that question again.
– This whole questions is magnified for my ladies who are pregnant but they know their baby will die at birth. They have shared a wide range of experiences on this topic and even though there is no perfect answer, I really believe that when the parents feel strong enough to be honest and engage in the conversation, the people you speak to will become better people for having met you. If they are in a hurry, tired or upset and don’t want to share the details of their story with people, there is nothing wrong with giving whatever answer will get people to leave them alone the fastest, but when they feel up to the task, they do all of society a service by explaining that their baby is dear and treasured and not expected to survive.
– For people I have cared for who are extreme introverts, I have sometimes encouraged them to create a sentence about their story that says what they need to say and memorize it until it is comfortable. When they are asked about thier baby, they have that explanation at-the-ready and don’t have to start from scratch explaining their broken heart for the 100th time. “My daughter died just before she was born, I came to learn that this happens to thousands of people a year and science can’t explain a cause in about half of them. Thank you for asking”.
– I think the answer gets slightly easier to answer when kids are sprinkled about as a normal course of life..””How many kids do you have?” “5, one in college, 3 at home and one in heaven”. You can also say “we are raising 4, we have a few small souls in heaven”.
– Among some of the phrases we talk about, I encourage people to step back and look at the “I’m sorry” / “It’s OK” dynamic. Very often when someone hears of a death (or other bad thing) they will say “I’m sorry”. Society has trained us that “Its OK ” is the response. It is obviously NOT OK that their baby is dead and saying so will suck the life right out of them. I encourage them to consider “thank you” as a response.
– If a person you are speaking to gets flustered and says something stupid, it is gracious to appreciate their intent. If it is a brief encounter with a person you hardly ever see, you may not choose to invest in teaching them or not. If a person you speak to regularly is painfully misguided, you may want to have a come-to-Jesus talk giving specific examples of what helps and what doesn’t.
So in closing…communication creates a situation of mixed needs…the need for the parents to be spoken to in a way that is considerate and kind and communication gives us a chance to inform people on this profound topic in ways that they will likely not otherwise get. I want to foster a culture where the average person knows how to respond to an infant death…we may have to teach them one by one…we have our work cut out for us.
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