Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ms. B. Reeved's Advice Column

I'd like to introduce Ms. B. Reeved, my alter-ego who will occasionally be dispensing advice on this blog, intended to give well-meaning strangers some idea about what to expect and how to deal with a bereaved parent.  She has experienced the loss of her infant daughter, so she knows whereof she speaks, but she also is able to respond objectively, since these are situations and questions posited to her by readers and NOT necessarily from her own life.  She will accept letters and queries sent to bythebrooke (at) gmail (dot) com.  Or she will just make shit up and respond to it.  Either way, here we go.

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Today's letter:

Dear Ms. B. Reeved,

My college roommate had a stillborn baby about six months ago.  We had not really been in touch very much, and we live in different cities, but I e-mailed her right after I heard about it to offer my sympathy, and we've been e-mailing occasionally back and forth since then.  I am now fourteen weeks pregnant, and I am going to "come out" on Facebook.  My friend is no longer on Facebook, but I guess she might hear about it through mutual friends.  Should I tell her before I make the Facebook announcement?  Should I send an e-mail or give her a call so it's more personal?  I don't want to cause her pain, but I don't want her to think I was keeping this a secret from her either.  What should I do?

Sincerely, 
Trying to be Tactfully Pregnant


Dear Trying to be Tactful,

Kudos for you for considering your friend's feelings and wanting to do the appropriate thing.  In my experience, bereaved parents feel many conflicting emotions when they hear about other people's pregnancies (particularly other people who have not suffered a loss).  They are happy for their friends (at least for those friends who have not been douchebags); they are jealous of those who have healthy babies and/or easy pregnancies; they are worried because they know that not every pregnancy ends in a healthy baby; and they are sad for themselves.  Although a pregnancy is a joyful thing, and a bereaved parent would never want to diminish that happiness, it's also a reminder of what the bereaved parent is missing, and it may make her feel like she is falling farther "behind" her group of friends.  In other words, it's a difficult matter, and the way you handle this will make all the difference in the future of your friendship.

In my experience, the best thing you can do is to send a brief e-mail to tell your friend your news.  Avoid exclamation points and phrases like, "I'm going to be a mommy."  (A problematic expression for mothers who have given birth but don't have a baby to show for it).  E-mail may seem impersonal, but it's kinder to your friend to let them absorb the news privately, without feeling obligated to put on a happy face for you, or be embarrassed if they can't control their tears.

Do not give more details than absolutely necessary.  Your due date is fine.  Anything else is superfluous.  Your friend does not need to know if this pregnancy was planned, how long you tried, whether you're feeling nauseated, whether your baby is a boy or a girl, or whether you're planning to quit your job and stay home when the baby is born.  Your friend may feel up to asking you those questions, in which case you can certainly answer them.  But you should follow her lead and only mention the pregnancy when you're responding to a direct inquiry.

After telling her you're pregnant, and when you're due, let her know that you wanted her to be informed because you are going to start telling people outside your family and you didn't want her to hear from someone else and be surprised by the news.  As you close the e-mail, mention her baby by name, and express your sympathy again, and let her know that you continue to think about her and her baby.  You've probably already said this to your friend--that's okay, go ahead and be repetitive.  It doesn't get old.

Don't worry if she doesn't respond to you immediately.  Don't worry if she responds and doesn't mention your pregnancy.  In all likelihood, she will write back and congratulate you, but she's probably not likely to comment further or ask many questions about your pregnancy.  As you continue to exchange e-mails, remember to only offer information about your pregnancy if she asks for it (this may be really challenging, as your pregnancy will be the center of your world, but push yourself here--read some celebrity gossip or browse on Pinterest so you have something else to write about.).  Things may feel a little sticky or forced, particularly if your friend struggles with infertility as well as loss, but you cannot blame your friend for having complicated emotions anymore than she can blame you for having a baby.

Above all, remember that your friend's sadness is for her own situation, and it is not a reflection of how much she cares about you or your baby.  As long as you're kind and respectful about her emotions and her boundaries, your pregnancy should not be an obstacle for your friendship.  You will need to proceed with caution, but I hope that you consider her friendship to be worth the effort.

Warmly,
Ms. B.

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Dear Readers,

Is there anything else I should have told "Trying to be Tactfully Pregnant"?  What advice would you add?

Thanks,
Ms. B

14 comments:

  1. This is awesome Brooke. I think you summed it up well. I can't think of anything else to add but I am going to think of some questions to "ask" Ms. B.

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  2. You are hilarious. I loved your advice. :)

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  3. You're fabulous. As usual, I wish every friend of mine is real life actually read your blog-- but I doubt they'd appreciate me sending them all an email with the link. ;)

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  4. Lmao...great idea! Will send u some topics for sure!!

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  5. Brilliant idea. Can't wait for the next one. Sometimes I wish I could have an alter ego in different situations, where I could just state what I think without consequences or judgement.

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  6. I would mention that she should mention how her friends daughter reminds her to cherish each and every second of her pregnancy and something along the lines of how she understands that she's not guaranteed to have a baby at the end of this, and that being pregnant makes her EVEN more sympathetic for everything her friend went through.

    But this was fabulous. Can everyone I know be more like you please?

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  7. Love this and I wouldn't change a thing about it!

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  8. This is absolutely wonderful. You better watch out, you may have the workings for a second career...

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  9. Freaken. Loved. This. Perfect, nothing to add. I wish I could have sent this to a few people on certain occasions...
    xo

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  10. Love, love, love this! I recently had one of my college roommates call me and I immediately knew when I saw her name on my phone that she was calling to tell me she was pregnant. I didn't want to answer the phone b/c of exactly what you wrote! I can't fault her too much because she was thinking of me and wanted to tell me personally, but it was still hard. I think you said it best with "you cannot blame your friend for having complicated emotions anymore than she can blame you for having a baby". Can't wait to see more of these!

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  11. This is awesome! I wish my IRL friends/family members read your blog.

    How about this for a topic- "I had a baby a month before my friend whose child was stillborn 5 months ago. I wish she would ask about my baby more because I really want to talk about him but I don't know how to appropriately broach this topic. We used to be so close (talked daily) and now I feel like she doesn't care about my baby at all. I'm about to just tell her I can't talk to her anymore because it's stressing me out to have to watch what I say about my son but I'm wondering if that's the right approach. Can you help?"

    Would love to have you use this in your column :)

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  12. Ms. B. Reaved! ha! So clever aren't you? I bet you got a real kick out of thinking that one up! You have me cracking up over here.
    I like: especially the ones who haven't been douche bags. :)
    I will have to think of a question to ask her! :)

    I had a friend tell me the other night about her sister in law and long time acquaintance who is pregnant with her first baby (2 months pregnant) she isn't sure if she should have told people that she is pregnant yet because she could still miscarry...I said "or her baby could die at full term"
    I mean really...what makes my friend think I want to hear this happy news? I told her I am a little jaded about pregnancy right now. UGH!

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  13. You answered that really well. Wouldn't change a thing about it.

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