Words That Shouldn't Be Said

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

As much as I don't want to admit it, I'm kind of a jerk.  Like, a big jerk.  And it was worse in the past.

See, I used to see (Catholic) women with their children spaced more than 3 or 4 years apart and think, "Gee, they must have been using contraception.  Why didn't they have their kids closer together?"

Or, "They can't possibly have *that* grave a reason to abstain - why don't they have kids close together like mine?"  

Or I would even ask, "When are you having more babies?" 

And of course there were those newlywed couples - the immediate question that would come to my lips was, "So when are you having kids?"

Because I thought, these are Catholic couples - of course they're open to life, so they'll want to have kids immediately!

Moms would ask questions about weaning their older babies or toddlers and I would jokingly answer, "Just get pregnant again and your supply will dry up - it's easy to wean then!"

Blissfully unaware and ignorant of the fact that infertility is far more common than I might think, and that miscarriage happens more often than one might suspect.

I had no idea how hurtful these comments (and thoughts) were.  None.  And if I've made any of these comments to you, I'm so sorry.  

And I want to plead with you to make sure that you're watching your words.  I know I post a lot about the comments people make about the relatively large size of our family, but it's the comments that come to those on the other side of things that I think are far more hurtful.

There's no way for you to know that one mom has recently miscarried, or is experiencing secondary infertility, or that that newlywed couple has been trying to get pregnant for months with no success, or maybe those parents struggled for years with the health issues of their first child before being able to get pregnant with the second, perhaps she has health issues of her own that make it dangerous to be pregnant, and yet she remains open to life.  

The circumstances aren't immediately apparent to us, and the comments that seem "safe" to make can be far more hurtful than we realize.

Ever since I started reading more and more Catholic blogs (mom blogs and general lifestyle blogs), I've realized what a jerk I've been.  Because I read far more stories about infertility or miscarriage than I'd ever heard in my life.  And I realized that I need to be much more mindful of my thoughts and words.

I think miscarriage and infertility are less taboo topics than they used to be.  And I think that's a really good thing - because how can we ever help another mother (and her family) in her suffering if we don't even know what's going on?

It may seem strange, but miscarriage is a topic I've discussed pretty often with the kids.  My sister comes to visit with prayer intentions for various unborn babies, and we've offered many prayers for other bloggers and their babies, so it's always a little distressing to them (and all of us) when that baby we've been offering prayers for dies.  And yet they seem to deal with it so well - we discuss that the baby's going to Heaven to be with Jesus, and they're always so happy to remind me that this or that baby got taken to Heaven by the angels. They speak of it more frankly than any adult I've ever known, and maybe it would be a good idea to take a page from their book.

For those of you who have experienced a pregnancy loss, my prayers are with you today.  I hope that I can support you and your family, and I apologize if I just don't have the words.  Thank you for having the courage to share your grief.

Others have said it better than I have - read Mary's posts on how to handle a miscarriage for those experiencing and those supporting for more specifics, especially how you can help.  And please join me in praying for all those touched by the loss of a pregnancy or an infant today, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

27 comments:

  1. I think also there is a tendency to see everything in extremes. As in you are either totally open to life and have a baby every 2 years or less, or you are totally infertile and can't have kids at all. When really, I think fertility falls on this huge range...and people can become less or more fertile over time...depending on their health and lots of other factors.

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    1. That's true, and I think that a lot of the time we also feel like we're entitled to have complete control over our fertility, even with NFP! It doesn't help that the contraceptive mentality of modern society teaches us that you should be able to absolutely avoid pregnancy as long as you want to, and that you should be able to achieve the second you want to as well. It's not that easy all the time!

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  2. I remember being at a Diocesan work day and seeing a student's mother there a few months after getting married. We started chatting and she asked when we were going to have kids. I wasn't exactly wanting to get into specifics of anything with her - I didn't know her that well, there were a lot of people around, there were some personal issues, and we had just bought a house - so I said that it would be nice if we could have a year to get used to being married. Not that we didn't want kids or that we were actively avoiding (we weren't, for the record - we were TTWhatever), just that it would be nice to get time to adjust. She immediately started chastising me, saying that Humanae Vitae explicitly states that only just reasons should be used to avoid, etc etc (like I don't know the teachings of the Church). I was so taken aback that I was finally able to squeak out that we'd just bought a house, to which she relented and said, "Oh, well, finances count." I was flabbergasted and, as the day went on, angry.

    This is definitely not to say that I haven't had my share of sticking my foot in my mouth, but now I generally try and keep questions from that line to close friends only simply because you never, ever know, and while maybe there isn't a particularly painful reason, it's always personal. Kids come from sex! You might as well be knocking on their bedroom door. "Hey! Just wondering how it's going in there!" :-)

    On a sadder note, my husband has a brother that he (and I) never got to meet. He lived 12 minutes. I have learned over the years that while mentioning his existence, even obliquely, might be painful, it's much more preferred to excluding or ignoring. My MIL is the mother of 5 children, not 4, and I have occasionally been corrected on that. Acknowledging the child and the motherhood conferred as a result do go a long way helping some women feel like they are cared for, even if they're not completely understood, in their loss.

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    1. Oy... What an awkward and terrible conversation! I don't really understand why anyone thinks it's their business to chastise people for their family plans - I think the only really appropriate thing to do is pray!

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    2. Yeah. And you would think that she would know better, since she was an older mom (high school kids).

      I had a friend who wanted to wage a war on the phrase "good Catholic family." A good Catholic family is one that has as many children as they're supposed to, whether that's 0 or 1 or 10.

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  3. I really appreciate this post, Rosie. I was really distressed that Lucia and her next sibling would be 29 months apart (and a bit worried about how we would look as a "Catholic family" too). But having lost that little sibling, it seems like Lucia will be closer to three (or maybe four or maybe, who knows, we won't be blessed by any more living children), and I hate that a huge part of my mind is diverted from actual grieving and toward "But what will people at church think?" And this is because, I too, was once judgmental. But now I'm the one that may be judged. I'm already bracing for the comments.

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  4. I experienced infertility for what seemed like forever but really just three years. When people find out that I was infertile and see we have fraternal twins I am always worried they will think we did IVF so I actually feel the need to mention the well known Catholic family doctor and clomid almost immediately. It's a tough thing to be on either end of the spectrum.

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  5. RIP to your oldest sibling, Rosie. It's been 34 years, and my grief has calmed considerably, but I will never forget him or her. If I had a blog that wasn't a cobwebsite, I could write a blog post on how not to react to a parent's news that his or her minuscule baby died.

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    1. And so many of the well-meaning responses are just as painful as the ignorant responses - again, probably prayer is the most appropriate! But thankfully Mary addresses a lot of those issues.

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  6. I appreciate this post. Thank you.
    As the mom of children spaced 7 years and then 5 years apart, I have heard it all. One woman at church asked me about my children having different fathers. Ugh! Some questions should not be asked.

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  7. Lovely post. We've all been judgemental, haven't we? Growing up and meeting all sorts of people really is an eye opener.

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  8. This is all so good. I think we've all been on either side of this, and in that way, God can use all these little moments to help us become more compassionate, more humble, more prayerful, more like Him. But sometimes it's a painful learning process. I appreciate you writing this and the links! I hope my posts can play a small part in helping those who are grieving and whose pain is often hidden.

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    1. I'm so glad you opened up the conversation - it's been on my heart a lot lately as several close friends have gone through this, and I'm never quite sure how to respond...

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  9. Beautiful post. Miscarriage and infertility are a lot more common than I had realized too. I've seen the reality by reading different blogs as well.

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  10. Thank you for this post. I have several friends who suffer from infertility and I think because it's such an invisible cross people underestimate the pain of it. (My mother suffered from it as well.)

    I was talking to my cousin the other day since both of us will have 3 under 3 about how we sometimes feel guilty for being ... well ... really fertile, apparently. (Although I never take my fertility for granted, as my mom had two pregnancies before her PCOS took over.) Those feelings of guilt don't help anyone, of course. I have just learned so much over the past few years about how important it is to never, never judge others, even if you think you know enough to do so.

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  11. Thanks for this.

    We're obviously not Catholic, so I know the context is different, but you never know what people are going through.

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  12. My best friend suffered through miscarriages for 4 years, and when unknowing people would remark on their lack of children it would really upset her. I know how easy it can be for our passion for a way of life to become judgement toward others. I find it helps to remember to start first with love.

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  13. As a Catholic mom who has and continues to deal with infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss, I appreciate your courage in this post. I have heard all of the lines you mention and they do cut to the core. As much as I would LOVE to have the big, Catholic family that I always dreamed of, I am sure that God has called me to this life instead. This one with 2 living children, 3 angels, and 6 God-children. I wouldn't change it for anything in this world.

    I think we could all stand to grow in our compassion for others, regardless of what things may seem to be on the outside. Thank you for putting this to words.

    God bless.
    Maria

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    1. Felt a little exposed with the full text of my original comment. I basically told my whole life story, haha.

      But to combox passersby wondering what happened, I was expressing the fear that I am thinking of my fourth child (who has yet to even be conceived) as my ticket to being "seen" as Catholic.

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    2. It's been a source of pride that I've struggled with for ages, the whole "big Catholic family" stereotype, and being overly proud *solely* because we have an easy time conceiving and carrying to term. I'm so thankful for the women on the other side of the fence who are willing to share their stories and be patient with people like me who don't get it!

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  15. Thank you! Ray and I always joke that people probably think we are using contraception or something along those lines because it took 3 years to have our daughter and then the others are spaced 2.5 and 3 years apart. What they don't know is we tried to have kids for months after getting married, conceived after 9 months of trying, then miscarried at 9 weeks. My body was never the same after that, it just doesn't always ovulate. It took a little under 2 years to conceive again, after trying basic fertility treatments and then giving that up and moving on to an actual fertility doctor, only to find out at our first appointment that I was 7 weeks pregnant with our daughter! We then were blessed with our son, born 2.5 years after our daughter, and our 3rd is due after my son turns 3. We don't use NFP because I'm so all over the place with everything it became pointless. We literally just live our lives following God's way and trust in his plan for us! Nothing bad about NFP, although it was rather freeing putting everything in God's hands! All our children have been wonderful, miraculous surprises, and we have always managed just fine. Despite our positive attitudes, I still find myself feeling self conscious in church when it suddenly strikes me that my youngest child is 2 and I am not pregnant yet. I have been fortunate that I haven't gotten any comments, but I know most people receiving the comments understand that those commenting don't know the whole story or do not understand and forgive them.

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    1. That is such a beautiful outlook, Alison <3 I feel like it can especially be hard at our parish, where there are so many large families with very closely spaced children! Before artificial contraception, I imagine people were a lot more understanding about child spacing, because it was always natural. I hope we're reaching a point where we can all be that understanding again!

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  16. I guess I must have learned this lesson early on, because my first though whenever I see a couple is, "I wonder if she's ever miscarried," rather than, "They must be using contraception." I did have one friend suffering from infertility scold me when I was complaining about the pain of pregnancy when I was about to welcome my third in diapers that I should be grateful/happy/feel blessed about having children, so I think this can sword can unfortunately cut both ways :( Perhaps not very many people have had that experience, but I think it's a thing.

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    1. Beth, I just saw your comment from this time last year. I just want to say I get what you are saying. Some people who are in pain are unwilling to acknowledge the validity of someone else's different suffering, or are critical about the degree to which someone struggles to manage their pain. I have been struck with how people experiencing grief sometimes obssess over a hierarchy of suffering, for example (i.e. "you may have lost your wife but that is not as bad as losing your fill-in-the-blank, like I did!"). This comes from their pain, but it's really misguided and can be hurtful. The reality is that for some women, pregnancy is 9 months of intense suffering for which we are also immensely grateful. Being grateful for the gift of the baby does not mean the suffering isn't also real!

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