Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ms. B's Advice on Baby Talk

An actual, real-life submission!  Ms. B feels very official.

Dear Ms. B.,

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?
A New Mom

Dear New Mom,

Ms. B. recognizes the stress that comes along with being a new mother, and but she simply cannot agree with your assumption that your friend "doesn't care about [your] baby at all."  From what Ms. B can tell, you have no evidence of this whatsoever.  In fact, your letter suggests that your friend does ask about your son, just not as often or as extensively as you would like.

Ms. B would wager that this alone is sufficient indication that your friend cares deeply about both you and your son.  The problem is that every conversation about your baby is a brutal reminder of everything your friend has lost with the death of her baby:  the day-to-day experiences of parenting, the milestones of a baby growing up, the small victories and big celebrations, even the frustrations and sleepless nights.  Your friend feels isolated and set apart from all of that, and it was just five short months ago that all her hopes and dreams were suddenly and tragically thwarted.

While the collateral damage of close friendships in the wake of baby loss cannot be denied, it would behoove you to keep in mind that your friend has lost all the same things you've lost this year--the closeness of your friendship, the conversations about milestones and parenting strategies, the ease of talking to you every day.  On top of that, she has lost her child.

Five months may feel like a long time, but it's not.  Ms. B has been around long enough that she can assure you things will not be like this forever. Your friend must work through her grief at her own pace.  Five YEARS from now, it's quite likely that you'll be able to call up your friend and brain-dump about everything on your mind without thinking twice about upsetting her with the mention of your children.  But the question is whether you can be there for her in the meantime, so that when your friend's life is easier and she's back in the swing of things (and she will get there, eventually, in her own time), she will actually be interested in maintaining a friendship with you.

Ms. B wants to be very clear that as a new mom, you are undoubtedly facing challenges and struggles for which you need and deserve support.  You absolutely deserve a friend who can give you the support you need.  But your friend whose baby died?  Sweetie, she is NOT that friend.  She cannot reasonably be expected to provide support for you (or anyone) when she has been gutted by grief.  
Moreover, the last thing she needs is for you to make her feel guilty about not being the kind of friend you wish she could be.  Ms. B hopes that your friend is seeking out other people who can support her in her grief (online, in support groups, etc.), and Ms. B hopes that you are seeking out people who can be the kind of friends that you need as well.

Even though she's not capable of being the kind of friend you need at this time in your life, it's NOT okay for you to check out and not the be kind of friend that she needs.  Why?  Because she is dealing with the greatest unfairness EVER:  the death of her baby.  You are dealing with the MINOR inconvenience of not being able to crow (or bitch) about your good fortune.

Good friendships are all about give-and-take, and in this instance, it's your turn to step up and give.  Although Ms. B. would never downplay the stress and anxiety that comes with being a new parent, she can assure you that your friend's emotional needs are far greater than your own.  Your friend is still struggling to get through each and every day without her child.  She desperately needs the emotional support of friends who will assure her that her baby won't be forgotten, friends who will remind her that her grief has not transformed her into someone unrecognizable, friends who will extend a modicum of human kindness and do everything in their power not to cause her further pain in an already impossibly difficult time.

As for a solution to your "stress" problem, Ms. B would like to kindly suggest that before you call your bereaved friend, you call someone else so that you can chatter for fifteen minutes about your son and how great (or difficult) things are.  Then, when that's out of your system, call your friend.  Ask her how she's doing.  Ask follow-up questions to truly express your concern.  Talk about work.  Talk about your husband.  Talk about your wardrobe.  Talk about your in-laws.  Talk about current events.  Talk about celebrity gossip (anything but Beyonce's pregnancy, please).  Talk about home improvement projects.  Talk about what to get your sister for Christmas (assuming your sister's not pregnant).  Talk about the finale of Project Runway.  Talk about work.  Talk about yoga or Zumba or Pilates.  Talk about a new recipe that you think she'd like.  Talk about the new haircut that you hate (or love).

Ms. B would also like to quietly observe that if you find it stressful and/or difficult to avoid discussing your son, it may be that you need to expand your horizons.  In fact, she wonders if perhaps you shouldn't be feeling stressed out as much as you should be feeling dull and boring.  For heaven's sake, read a book, read a blog, turn on NPR, subscribe to a (non-parenting) magazine, leave the house.  If you fill your life with interesting things, you'll have interesting things to talk about.  Ms. B believes that this will help your sweet little cherub be one conversation topic among many, and she also hopes you'll gain the perspective and the wherewithal to consider your friend's needs above your own.

Ms. B.


  1. Bravo Full stop

    This was awesome. x

  2. you should have a newspaper column. this was great, informative and to the point.

    was this question really submitted?

  3. Seriously, you are so good at this! LOVE IT!!

  4. Terrific advice until the final paragraph. New Mom's baby is only six months old. Perhaps the reason she has little else to talk about is that babies are all-consuming. Especially in the first years, they exhaust one's ability to do or think about much else. Even when they're easy babies, even when mothers have active fathers parenting with them, even when the parents employ plenty of sitters, it's exhausting. And, anyway, what would she be more excited to talk about than her new baby? The rest of your advice is spot-on, but the last paragraph is a bit unfair to New Mom!

  5. I remember a good friend called within the first week of Sam's death and said "I hope this doesn't mean that I can't talk to you about my children". I stammered out an answer saying that of course she could, but truthfully, I resented the fact that she even asked. Our friendship didn't recover - it's still there, but not nearly as close as we were. In opposite fashion, my other friend (who was 6 months pregnant when Sam died) outlined that she would not talk about children, pregnancy or any other sensitive subject until I said it was okay - she took my lead and I'm forever grateful for that. Hers was the first baby I held post-loss and we are good friends today and we chat about babies (and lots of other things) to this day.

    Good advice!

  6. Expert advice, totally spot on. XO

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  8. *sigh* i just saw that this was a real submission, and for some reason that makes me angry. idk, i guess i'm hyper-sensitive, but it just makes me so sad for the BLM that she has a friend who thinks so selfishly.

    before we lost Julius my dear friend lost her baby girl at 23wk pg. he had been with us for a month when that happened. i never once brought up Julius in our conversations because i felt that *I* would not be able to hear about all of the things/happiness that goes along with mothering a live child if i were in her situation (which happened to be the case a few months later). i never thought that she didn't care about me or my child. i just knew that she was in the worst pain of her life. i would never cut her out of my life because she was in pain. that is when she needed me the most. so it seems to me that this person is not really a friend to even suggest cutting her grieving friend out of her life. :(

    and i disagree (respectfully) with erick. there are ALWAYS other things to talk about.

  9. I see where Erick is coming from but I'm with Tiffany, find something else to talk about. And I think when you've lost a first baby and you can't even relate to any of their baby stories anyway, it makes it all the more painful. I went through this EXACT situation with my best friend who had a baby girl five months after Hope died. I am sorry to say, our friendship didn't survive.
    This all sucks.

  10. What a fabulous post. Whether the original question was real or fictional (based on very real things that are said/done by non-BLMs), your response is fantastic. Thank you.

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  12. Loved your advice! Although it was much nicer than what I would have said. My two friends from my childbirth class with Addi only talk about their babies when I ask (both first children) they are sensitive that it isn't easy for me and while they want to talk about their babies, they have other friends that they can do that with. This person gets to have their baby with them every day, the last thing they need to do is rub it in to their friend. This BLM is missing out on so much she shouldn't be bombarded by *cute* baby facts from her friend.

    ps I agree with Tiffany too

  13. I agree with Hope's Mama -- I too see where Erick is coming from, but my vote goes with Tiffany & the rest of you. I think New Mom is being pretty self-centred. Overall, I think your answer rocked. :)

  14. Grrrrr.. this one struck a nerve.. for many reasons. You answered welll.. in all honesty though I wish more people could just 'get it'. What bereaved mamma would want to talk baby just a few short months of losing their own? The one person I knew in a scenario like this had her child about 2 weeks before Cullen died. She later told me she was 'hurt' that I did not answer the phone and talk to her the day I learned he died. She now exists in my life only on my shit list.. that was one friendship I will never miss.

  15. Wow - best advice column ever! Brilliant.

  16. I have always loved your posts because your such a great writer, but wow do you give amazing advice also:)

  17. Thank you for a wonderful response to a terribly insensitive question!

  18. I'm just catching up on blogs so I missed this on Tuesday!

    Oh my goodness what a perfect response! Thank you so much for writing this- you said way better than I ever could have!

    And I agree with Tiffany as well- there are always other things to talk about!