This past week I was at a psychologists’ conference in Minneapolis (hence my photo this week from the sculpture garden in Minneapolis). I am walking away from this conference feeling grateful for this warm, supportive environment focused on connecting over shared experiences and getting to know people for who they are.
This is my third time attending this conference, and I have been pregnant for each of them. Since I am relatively new in the organization, not everyone knows my story. I only interact with these colleagues in person once a year. There was no reason for most of them to know what I have been going through related to pregnancy and pregnancy loss.
At first I was nervous to be back at this conference, visibly pregnant again. I worried about whether anyone would remember that I was pregnant last year. I am not sure if I thought it would be better if they remembered or if they didn’t remember. Either way I had to acknowledge that yes, I am pregnant again, and I lost both of my babies, 3 weeks after last year’s conference and 9 weeks after the conference 2 years ago.
When people approach me with joy and celebration, assuming that I also have that joy because I am pregnant, I have to break their heart a little when I tell them my reality.
I chose this year to participate in an activity where members can share about their identities. I was able to authentically share about my identity as a loss mom, a courageous mama, and a woman who is pregnant after two 2nd trimester losses. It is incredible the shift that happened for me when I was able to be authentic about my experience and get my story out there, whether individually or in the time I was sharing with a larger group of people. It feels different for people to look at you and assume joy (as they do in grocery stores, at the dermatologist’s office, etc.) as compared with them fully seeing your pain too.
I am feeling incredibly grateful for this space to be authentic. I don’t mean this to sound as though I don’t have supportive spaces to be authentic and honest about my experience in my day to day life. I do. I am incredibly grateful for the family, friends, and colleagues who are there for me day in and day out for whatever emotional place I am in. This experience at the conference, however, was especially poignant. It was incredible to be in a space where nearly anyone I shared with reacted with empathy, warmth, and understanding of the pain I must have gone through and how scared I must be now. This is not a natural response in the culture we live in. Being surrounded by highly trained professionals who know exactly how to communicate validation and understanding was unique. Despite the immense support of my family and friends, I have never been surrounded by so many people who could respond authentically and supportively without having experienced this pain themselves.
We as a culture are not good at this. We do not fully understand the impact of death and how this kind of grief never quite leaves someone. We aren’t really taught to listen, truly listen, with our emotions and our hearts along with ears and our heads. We are taught to make people feel better by looking at the positive and reassuring rather than by validating their emotions.
I am afraid to make others feel uncomfortable, so I often feel a need to tie a pretty bow around it, to look for the positive and push it away. I often feel the need to end on a positive note and make people feel better after I bring them down, by saying something like, “Yes, it’s been hard, but we have a lot of reasons to be hopeful.” We do have a lot of reasons to be hopeful, but I am still scared. It’s okay to end with “Yes, it’s really hard” or “Yes, it’s really scary,” but social mores make this hard to do.
Others worry about making me feel uncomfortable. They want me to look on the positive. They are afraid to make me think about the pain or the fear when I am not already thinking about it, but the reality is, in some way, I am always thinking about it. It is not like I ever forget this pain or this fear.
As I have shared through this blog and in other avenues of my life, I feel the validation and understanding of my experiences. While I haven’t been closed off about my experience in any way, something about me sharing more in a space where people just listen and can’t respond right away has helped others understand better.
For that, I am so grateful. It makes such as difference to be able to be authentic about where I am at and have others reflect and understand that, rather than feeling my inner need to make others feel better or tie it all up in a pretty bow. I am glad I chose to volunteer as a Bump Day Blogger. I am glad I chose to share about my experiences with my colleagues at the conference I was at, and I will continue to strive to be open in as many spaces as I can be, even when it’s hard.