A few years ago I miscarried while attempting to conceive my second child. My firstborn was conceived through IUI on our first attempt, programming me to believe that although it probably won't happen naturally, we won't have much difficulty providing our child with a sibling once we decided we were ready. Instead, my second-born was finally conceived after one year of fertility treatments and five failed IUI attempts, the last one ending in a miscarriage.
Over the years I've watched friends and acquaintances struggle through early pregnancy losses. My understanding of what they've gone through and how to support them dramatically changed after experiencing my own miscarriage. This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and I thought it a good opportunity to offer some tips. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
First, don't assume that since miscarriages happen early in the pregnancy they are easier on the parents to be. We do not live our life on a scale or "in comparison" to other people. Our tragedies don't become more palatable simply because somebody else we know may have had a more traumatic experience.
In addition, an early pregnancy loss may seem like a "beginning of the road" to us, the outside onlookers, but we never know when exactly did the parents to be start this journey. As I've mentioned ours included four previous rounds of IUI.
Don't assume that the sentences: "At least you know you can get pregnant" or "at least you already have one healthy child" are helpful. I don't mean to sound harsh or dismissive. I've actually used the first sentence myself. It is SO hard to find something comforting to say in this situation and these choices seem like no-brainers. Being on the receiving end of these words of comfort, I realized something important. When you're hurting and grieving the interactions you seek are not about getting an "instant remedy" they're about being around those people who allow you to be you, when being you means broken and shattered, those people who allow you to express what you're feeling and are willing to listen.
Do let your friend know that you acknowledge their loss, by saying something as simple as "I know it's a really difficult time for you."
Don't get offended if your friend seems to be avoiding you. It's possible that they are, but it's not because they're not happy for you and your growing family, it's because of how they feel about themselves. At this point in their life they feel betrayed by their body, inadequate, and maybe even like a failure. Spending time with other young families may trigger that. Give them time and let them know that you're patiently awaiting a sign from them, when they're ready to resume the relationship. Don't be blunt or too direct about it, remember they're very sensitive right now. Express the understanding that they're hurting and that they need time to heal. Promise that you'll be there once they do.
Don't assume that it's okay to express your fears of miscarrying around someone whose personal history you're not too familiar with. I was once involved in a work situation where this topic was brought up by people who didn't realize I had gone through this. I wasn't hurt since they clearly had no way of knowing my story and since I could very much relate to their fear – I was them a few years ago -- but I didn't know what to do in case I'd be brought into the conversation not wanting to lie or embarrass my counterparts.
Don't assume that if you do know that a person's been through this the most tactful thing to do is to behave like nothing happened.
Do mention that you realize they've recently gone through some hardship and let them know that you are open to listening and supporting them in any way they find appropriate.
And finally, a note to medical staff:
I realize that you've had to develop thick skin. It's probably not easy conducting an ultrasound and knowing that the hopeful parent in front of you is about to receive devastating news. I also know that you have perspective. You've seen some of those shattered parents come back and proceed to have healthy children. Your perspective, experience, and ability to see the end result may diminish your empathy for the parents as the situation unfolds. I've seen and experienced this with at least three different medical professionals. Please DON'T trivialize our losses.
Today he's turning six and he's got the card to show for it.
He doesn't know that it was picked out reluctantly. This card with a big bright red six on it and hyper-realistic superhero characters may be just the right thing for this newly six year-old, but his mom feels like it doesn't tell their story – not with its words, not with its colours, not with its synthetic and impersonal feel. The card is generic and doesn't represent the event that redefined her life nor the way she wishes he lived his.
She is going to have to explain to him that superheroes are not guys and girls with capes and big muscles. Heroism is not measured by physical strength, or readiness to jump off a building but by behaviour. Superheroes can make mistakes but they strive do the right thing always. Even when it's difficult.
She wants to make sure he understands that Bad Guys won't announce themselves by sporting three eyeballs and a shaggy blue fur like the monster on the card and the fire they spit at you may not be visible. The good news, she'll say to him, is that there will be other tells and learning to recognize them will help you stay out of trouble.
Maturity is not represented by a big bright red six. There's always going to be someone older than you, she'll tell him, but they may not be more mature. Maturity is not about age, it's about taking responsibility and being held accountable for your deeds and I'm SO proud of you for doing that.
The card we gave you is cheerful and shiny and bursting with primary colours. Things aren't always so cut and dry simple in life. There will be lots of grey zones, where your course of action won't be that clear. As you grow up you'll gain more experience that you'll be able to rely on but until then consider our experience yours. Mom and Dad have a little bit more of it.
You'll notice we've added our own words to the card. Don't let others do the talking for you, if what they say doesn't reflect how you feel. Following rules and guidelines is important and necessary but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Outside the box is where great ideas, stories, inventions and sometimes even history are born.
And if there's just one thing you'll remember out of all of this, I'm hoping that it's this: the words “happy” and “birthday” are almost synonymous to a child, I know. Birthdays make you happy. So do cakes, balloons, new toys and your friends. Cherish your birthdays, every moment of them and the memories that you're left with, but remember that your happiness doesn't have to depend on others – people or events – happiness is a decision and as such it's always with you, and this is great news.
Take all the cards and letters that were ever written by mothers to their children and I still love you more than that. More than any card could ever contain.
Happy sixth birthday, Ben.