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Can You Offer Support When You Don't Know How the Other Feels?
a blog by Jay Pal,
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When I was in high school, I had a teacher whom I simply adored. I had heard through the typical town gossip that his daughter had been raped and murdered years earlier, but obviously this was something that was never discussed. One day, though, without him going into the details of the actual incident, he told me about his daughter's wake and how a well-intentioned family member said to him, “I can imagine how you must feel.” He told me that nothing made him angrier, as there was no way in hell they could ever know how he feels. The intensity in which my teacher relayed this story — and the lesson — has always stayed with me. Come to think of it, it’s almost haunted me. I’ve thought of it more often than you know.
When you connect with others in the infertility community, you hear so many different stories of what women have gone through: a chemical pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy, a necessary termination, multiple miscarriages, a still birth, etc. I’ve always been a believer in the strength of women, but after hearing just a portion of what many of these women have suffered, I’m even more convinced that we are fierce warriors who endure more than most men ever could.
In my personal fertility history, I’ve had several timed cycles, three inseminations with Clomid, one large uterine polyp surgically removed and three in vitros. During all of that time, I have never had any chemical pregnancies or miscarriages. I say this because whenever I’ve heard of someone experiencing a loss of their baby whether it was at 6 weeks, 9 weeks, 20 weeks or 26 weeks, I, of course, have always felt heart broken for them. However, I was also acutely aware of the lesson my teacher had taught me: I was simply was not capable of imagining the pain they had experienced as it had never happened to me.
Naturally though, I did give my condolences, thought of them often and continued to wonder and worry over how they were doing. I would guess they appreciated this (I would never want to assume), but again, despite my sincere thoughts of love, concern and support, I never forgot that I couldn’t fully imagine what they went through. Only women who’ve actually gone through it could truly understand.
At present, I am 23 weeks pregnant. This has been my only pregnancy and so far, thankfully, it seems to be going well. Now that I’m here though and actually know what it’s like to be pregnant, I feel even more heartbroken for women who have experienced a loss. We know the sex of the baby, we are picking names, we’re planning a registry and the reality that we may finally be parents is setting in. Plans are being made and dreams are being born. When I think about losing my baby at this point in my pregnancy (as so many women have), I’m even more dismayed on what that must be like. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it. It’s such a cruel, horrible, gut wrenching thought.
Recently, a family member of mine lost her baby in her second trimester. There has been TREMENDOUS debate among the people I’ve connected with in the infertility community, on this exact issue. Do you reach out to someone if they’ve lost their baby when you yourself haven’t? Are you capable of feeling compassion if you can’t relate? And if so, what do you say? How do you put it? How do you not put it?
Some advised me not to contact her as I’m pregnant, she’s now not, and my mere acknowledgment would deeply offend her. Others have advised me that it would be insanely hurtful if I didn’t contact her or recognize her loss in some way. This was something I also wrote about on my personal blog and it sparked an incredible, passionate debate. It also elicited many angry comments telling me that I had no right to even discuss the issue as a pregnant woman giving someone condolences for their miscarriage is the most insensitive vile thing I could possibly do.
When I first heard of my relative’s loss, I did immediately send her a card offering her my sincere condolences. She did not know I was pregnant at that time as it was VERY early in my pregnancy. Then, when we made my pregnancy public, I sent her an email following up on how she was doing and telling her that she was still very much in my thoughts. She has been nothing but responsive and extremely gracious when it comes to my pregnancy (although we do keep talk of it to a minimum). I’m also planning on sending her a card on what would have been her baby’s due date.
As for whether I should have contacted her or not, she seems to have appreciated it, but I don’t really know if there is a complete right or wrong answer. Everyone is different, mourns differently and responds differently. For me though, I simply don’t have it in me not to acknowledge something or someone when they have experienced that kind of loss. That is just not me, and frankly, I’d rather risk upsetting someone for telling them I’m sorry than risk hurting them even more by completely ignoring this profound emotional thing they’ve just experienced. Whether it’s the death of a grandparent, parent, child or even a pet, if I love you and care about you, I’m going to reach out to you no matter what is going on in my life and whether I’ve experienced what you’ve been through or not.
However, as I learned from my teacher, I would never tell them I understand or relate as I don’t and would never pretend to. I’m only telling them I feel badly about what they’ve been through and that I care.
I firmly believe that no matter your situation, if you feel capable of it, we should support one another. I know some people simply don’t have the extra support to give as matters of the heart (and the uterus) can be emotionally and physically exhausting. I also know everyone’s story is different, and some may feel luckier than others, unluckier than others or downright cheated. Still though, if it’s possible, I do hope we could give and receive support no matter the circumstances. Love, encouragement and hope are desperately needed in the infertility community. Even though people may be at different points of their journey, it would be nice if somehow —while always respecting that we may not completely know what it’s like to walk in the other one’s shoes —we could be there for one another. At least that is my hope.