Sunday, March 2, 2014

Is this your first?

You're sitting in the mall's food court, waiting for your shopping buddy to arrive.  You check your Facebook page, maybe update your status, and play a game of candy crush.  While you're waiting, a very pregnant stranger sits nearby.  She smiles at you and heaves herself into a slightly more comfortable position.  You smile back, noticing her bulging belly and light glow.  Like you, she pulls out her phone, but before she can settle in behind her wall of technology, you politely ask her, "How far along are you?"   "28 weeks," she says with a soft smile.  The next question rolls off your tongue as naturally as the one before it, "Is this your first?"    "No," she replies, "I have a daughter."   "Oh, how nice!"  you say.  And then, "How far apart are they?"  You and she continue this polite and natural conversation for a few minutes until your friend arrives, talking about her older child, how wonderful it will be for her two children to be so close in age, how wonderful it is to be pregnant and bringing life into this world.   As you get up to leave, you say to her with a genuine grin, "Good luck with the baby!" and you walk away.  It's always nice to have a pleasant conversation with a stranger.

Unless that stranger is One in Four, because then that conversation was not pleasant for her at all.   That conversation was absolute torture.  Each moment, she was wishing and hoping you wouldn't ask that next question.  Each moment, she was trying to make split second decisions about how she was going to answer them, trying to quickly judge your character to see if you could handle the truth, trying to gauge her own emotions to see if she was willing to tell it to you.  Should she tell you the baby in her belly is her first and then wade through a conversation of all the joys she will experience once her baby is here?  Should she deny her first born to you for your own comfort and then spend the rest of the day racked with guilt?  Or, should she let you know she had another child, and hope you leave it there?  She knows you won't.  She knows you'll ask about the other child.  Her age.  Her name.  How she feels about being a big sister.  Then what?  Does she tell you her baby died - and watch as you go from a friendly, well-meaning stranger, to a sad and uncomfortable one?  (Of course you're sorry.  Of course, you didn't know)  Or, does she let you assume her first child is still alive and then participate in a very painful conversation where she has to pretend she has a life she doesn't, but wants more than anything?   She never knows which way she's going to go until it happens.  Each conversation is different, yet always the same.   She begins to hate making eye contact with strangers, afraid that, in combination with her welcoming belly, people will be drawn to her.   She knows everyone is just being friendly.  She knows no one means any harm, and that makes it even harder.  She begins to feel even more out of place.  Before getting pregnant again, very few people felt entitled to know about her children.  She could pass through the world unnoticed.  But as soon as her belly began to pop out, it became an open invitation for conversation.  Her business was their business.  It's not that she doesn't want to talk about the child she lost - because she does - but she knows it's not a conversation to have with someone who's just making polite small talk, and she's rarely in the mood to introduce a stranger to the world of baby loss.

When I was pregnant with Kenley, these conversations didn't really bother me to the extent they do now, but I will admit, they did get annoying at times.  I think almost every pregnant woman, regardless of whether they have lost a baby, gets irritated at times with the forwardness of strangers.  Is it truly your business whether or not we have more children or how old they are?   Would you ask a woman who wasn't pregnant these questions?  Do you really need to know if I am planning a natural birth or if I am going to breastfeed?  With Kenley, I didn't mind that much.  I was often taken aback by the personal information people either requested of me or shared with me, but I'm a friendly person and I just carried on the conversation anyway.   

Things are different now.  I can see it before it happens.  The sideways glance from the stranger nearby.  The slight smile.  It's coming.  I brace myself.   It always starts the same..."How far along are you?"  And then it goes from there.  Spiraling down, down, down the rabbit hole, with them looking down and me looking up, answering their questions behind the mask I put on for just these occasions.   And when the conversation is over, I climb back out of the hole, take off my mask, and continue to live the life that is mine but shouldn't be.

I suppose my point to this post is that I wish more people knew about the different circumstances surrounding pregnancy, and that being pregnant is not an open invitation for conversation.   You never know if the woman you are talking to is carrying her second (or third, or forth) chance.  You never know if she's not the epitome of joy and light you think she is, but is instead full of terror for the life of her child, just holding on to every shred of hope she can that this pregnancy won't end up like the last.  You never know if the child she is carrying is "incompatible with life", and she is listening to you ramble on about the joy of having children while she knows hers will most likely only live for hours, days at the most.  One in four women have experienced the loss of a baby.  One in four.   If someone offered you a lottery ticket that guaranteed you a one in four chance at winning, you'd take it, right?  Because those are pretty good odds.   So, there's a pretty good chance that woman you are talking to about her baby is really wishing you'd stop.

I'm not saying to not be friendly.   "How far along are you?" is a pretty benign question and is probably fine.  And really, 75% of women will probably take no issue with the rest of the conversation.   But, pay attention.  Remember, not all of us have known only sunshine.  One in four of us have just walked through a terrible storm.  Many of us are still bracing against the weather, and trying our best to get to the other side with our rainbow intact.   There's a saying I've seen that says "Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about".   Hopefully, this post has given you a little more insight into mine - and the many other women who fight it too.


  1. i love this post. <3 i am so so deeply terrified of these inevitable conversations in my future.

    1. They will happen, Kelly. When I first got pregnant, I was terrified of when they would start. Really, as soon as I started to show. Every one is different. Sometimes, I can walk away fairly unscathed. Other times, it's a little more difficult. Most of the time, I can just skirt the issue. Just know that when you have these conversations, as hard as they are, so many of us have had them too. Even though we are far away from each other, and have never met, we are still in this together. Hugs to you and your own little bean.