Monday, March 4, 2013

Optimism Bias

I saw her today in the cafe on campus.  I was slurping sipping tomato-basil soup, half reading my book, half watching a rerun of the new Dallas on the cafe television.  She walked in and my stomach sank.

She looked younger than me but older than my students--so maybe 25?  Chin length bob, a big grin on her face as she talked to her co-worker.  She was wearing a pastel colored tunic and khaki pants.  And she was pregnant.

I thought I was kind of over this.  I mean, I had a baby (who happens to be one of the very best babies in all the world, I'm absolutely convinced).  Why do I look at a pregnant girl and feel so. freaking. jealous?

Maybe it's because she probably just had two ultrasounds through her whole pregnancy and she doesn't even bother to do kick counts.

Maybe it's because questions about her pregnancy aren't loaded grief triggers.

Maybe it's because I feel like my smile will never look like that again.

Maybe it's because I'm not 100% sure I'll ever have another baby.

Maybe I was just having a rough morning.

I heard on the radio today that we have an optimism bias.  We are more inclined to accept good news and less likely to believe bad things will happen to us.  The example in the radio story was that many parents are concerned about childhood obesity; few are concerned for their own children.

I know the same is true for pregnancy.  Sure, stillbirth can happen.  Babies can die in the womb for a myriad of sad reasons or no reason at all.  But that only happens to other people.

David and I were in the Container Store over the weekend (just browsing!  because it's fun!) and I said, "Remember when I won that gift card here?  Just for watching a suitcase packing demonstration?  And I bought those suitcase organizers that we took to Italy?"  I smiled at that memory and then added, "That was back when I thought we were lucky."

I was the kind of person who won gift cards at the Container Store and a handbag one time at a Cole Haan store opening.  I thought I led a charmed life.  I guess I did lead a charmed life (I still love that handbag).

The optimism bias is why we buy lottery tickets and we don't fret that we're far more likely to wreck our car on the way home from work than we are to win the lottery.  It's a survival mechanism and the truth is that good things are more likely to happen when we expect them to happen (seriously, that's like a fact... also known as The Secret -- an idea that still rubs me the wrong way, given that my expectations for Eliza were perfect).

But once something happens to you that knocks your whole world off-kilter, once you witness how quickly your carefully laid plans can crumble into nothing, once you come home to an empty crib and you have no baby to put in it, well.  Your expectations are different.

The question is how to reconcile that with everything else in life.  Because my first baby died, do I assume that nothing in my life will ever work out?  Do I walk around in a state of perpetual dread, waiting for the bottom to fall out?  And why?  So I can say I told you so?  But how do I convince myself that things will (most likely) work out?  Probability is problematic for some of us.

Today in the cafe, I was sooooo jealous of that girl and her great expectations.  Absolutely sick-to-my-stomach, green-with-envy jealous.  I don't want her life, her baby, her husband, or her hair.  Or her ugly khaki maternity pants.

But dammit.  I want that sense of certainty back.  I want to be that kind of optimistic.

I don't want the loss of a baby to happen to ANYONE.  But I sure as hell don't want it to have happened to me.

Can't I just be the really nice and supportive friend who helps other people through their hard time?  Why do I have to have the kind of loss that other people won't even recognize as being POSSIBLE for them, based on their stupid optimism bias?

It's funny because I keep thinking that maybe someday I'm going to learn and grow and be nicer or something because of Eliza.  So much of the time, though, I'm just the bitter-and-jaded version of my old self me, all kinds of pissed off that this is my reality and that people will go on having baby showers and buying baby clothes and making cutesy pregnancy announcements with math that adds up (brother + daddy + pregnant mommy = 4!) even though there are no guarantees they'll get a baby in the end.  I want to scream and shake them by the shoulders and say "DON'T COUNT ON IT YET!"

But more than anything, I want to be one of those people who counts on it.


  1. agree with all of this! I see those happy, smiling, oh so certain women all the time. They piss me off because I want that so badly.

  2. Speaking my language. I'd be green with envy, too.

    I generally have optimism bias when it comes to everything BUT parenting/gestating babies. I try to put my life in perspective when I hear of a 30-year old with a terminal illness or something quite damning as well.

    My baby may have died, but I don't have cancer. My baby may have died, but my husband is amazing and loyal and all I've ever dreamed of having. My baby may have died, but I live in a first-world country with 30 types of bottled water to choose from at the grocery store.

    I guess it's good to battle these thoughts out once in awhile.


    I went to a baby shower this weekend (I know... I know, but she's really nice and tried for 18 + months before becoming pregnant and she totally isn't one of "those" assholes, KWIM) and I guessed the correct number of jellybeans and ate/won the whole thing. I then won another contest and people (strangers) at my table deemed me lucky... And I had the exact same thoughts- "people think I'm lucky...". Ugh.

    Brandy's right- there is so much to be thankful for- babies who lived, warm houses, loving/hot husbands, careers, etc... And yet the thing we wanted most in all the world has been denied to us. And it just freaking sucks. But that optimism bias is what got us here, with THESE babies even though we couldn't have their big sister/brother, too. Because at some point the hope for a living baby > the fear of losing another. But damn if it doesn't suck that some people get their happily ever after, bad maternity pants and all.


  4. Word.

    My dad was talking to me the other day and said "boy, you've got a great life huh?" he meant no harm and said it after I put Finn in the phone to say "Pop!" and told him about my dad. I just said "well, some aspects of it"

    I recently helped out a family who lost a baby. I hated that I knew what to say, how to empathize. I want to be someone that is supportive but not because I have first hand knowledge!

    Miles works with a guy who just got a vasectomy. His wife is 7 months pregnant and I thought it was so premature to do that now. Maybe wait a bit dude. See if things go well....cause ya know, sometimes they don't.

  5. I have these thoughts way more often than I'd like to admit. Way more often than my husband can stand to hear me say. Before I had my rainbow, I read another blogger who said she hated baby showers, and this was after her rainbow and I thought just what you said at the start of this post: "but you have a baby now." Isn't it all better? Ha! I envy pregnant women all the time, especially the young ones with two other little kids. I envy people with four and five kids, or 19 kids, or eight at one time. And why? I don't want 19 kids!

    These thoughts are just a reminder that we BLMs are different, because we all feel this way, but no one else understands how we can be so lame by having these thoughts. Sigh.

  6. Brooke, I have been reading for awhile but have rarely commented except maybe when you had Zuzu :) I often feel I don't know what to say as I haven't experienced a loss such as yours (I have had 3 children after male factor fertility issues and 2 miscarriages in between children is my history.)

    My grandfather lost his first wife AND child to what is suspected eclampsia in the 1950's. Of course he never forgot them, he went on to marry my grandmother and adopt my mom 10 years later. He never had any children with my grandmother as he was afraid they would die. When he died (and believe me he was the most wonderful Grandfather in the world) my mom found his wife and child's obituary in his wallet. From at least 50 years later...he carried it every day. When he received her life insurance policy ($500 was a lot back then) he mailed the money to his wife's parents. He took my mom and grandmother to visit them at the cemetery.

    Your writing shows me what he went through Brooke. How I wish I had known more about her and his baby when my grandfather was alive. I would have asked about them, and listened and cried with him.

    Your precious Eliza has touched many lives.


  7. I'm always so grateful when you continue to write about how losing Eliza continues to affect your life every day. I'm not even 3 months out from my loss yet, paralyzing, horrific times... and sometimes I go to your blog and go back and read your writing from when you were "2 months" out, or 1 month.

    Loss has not made me a better person, although I feel like it should. It has only, so far, turned me into a seething rage when I see pregnant women, or hear about baby showers.

    How can anyone be so presumptuous as to have a baby shower???

  8. I was just talking about something similar with my mom tonight. It does stink. And I definitely eye pregnant women all the time and get jealous (although not as of late!)

    My ob said to me at my 8 wk postpartum visit that I am one of her favorite patients (haha-I swear she did), because so many people bitch and moan about going for an NST, etc.etc., while I take it all in stride and would do anything she asks above and beyond because it's about my baby. I just don't get that- I didn't need to lose Olivia for that lesson- I was happy to have every test and u/s and would have done whatever they wanted without much question (other than delivering at 23 wks). Not that I would wish this on anyone either, but why me and not one of 'them'?

  9. When celebrities get outed on their pregnancies I feel so awful for them. What if shit goes down and EVERYONE is watching?!!
    I wonder what it's like to have a stress free pregnancy. I had one with G and it's like that was a past life. Christmas cards announcing our joy 2 weeks after we found out.
    Beyond my conprehension.

  10. I miss the days when I thought babies could be made easily and arrive without complication and alive! I know it "should" be that way but those women who can do it the old fashioned way, or better yet accidentally, seem like the lucky flukes that are a rarity. After I do some internal grumbling I always think "please let their baby live."

    I also find that disappointment feels like the's not a surprise when something goes wrong. I never used to be like this. I just wish I had a greater appreciation for when things go right/smoothly.

  11. Aw I wish we could all count on it!

  12. I remember being pregnant the first time and how my husband would console me when I freaked out once coz of braxton hicks. He would say "pregnancies are normal things. That is how the human species has evolved and come so far". Oh those old days, when life was in fact a disney movie, although I had my share of complaints about weather and being far from my parents. All those things seem soooo miniscule now. its like nothing else seems worthy of complaining. Like my threshold of enduring pain has gone to a whole new level. Thats the only good I see in this whole process. Not that I really needed to be that person.

  13. That comment from Kelley nearly sent me into tears. What love.

    My God. What love.

    And this is why you need to keep writing forevermore.

  14. Yes, yes, yes!! Thank you for this post! I can't tell you how similar I've felt to this recently. It seems like so many people I know are now pregnant with their second child and they are all so sure and optimistic. And I am SO jealous that they don't worry like I do about all that can go wrong. I so wish I had that innocence and certainty, it's all so maddening at times!
    I feel like I'm the crazy one at times because I'm so hypersensitive to all that can go wrong! People are just so clueless sometimes and it drives me nuts!

  15. Yep, that's exactly it. Our innocence is gone when it comes to pregnancy. We now know what can go wrong and we are often convinced it will. Reality is probably somewhere between our expectations and the general public's expectations, but until we're proven wrong, we usually feel convinced that we'll lose our next baby because we lost our first. I'm so sorry for your loss, sorry about your encounter with the lady in the khakis, and sorry for the fact that you can never again be blissfully ignorant about pregnancy.

  16. I so get this. It was a really sad day when I realized that even if we resolved our infertility that we were in many ways going to carry the burden of it forever. Every baby shower would be tinged with a bit of jealousy. So many memories loaded into moments that other people would never even think twice about.

    Great post.

  17. I wrote about this lately too on my blog. How even after having the `rainbow` baby (who just barely survived), I`m still massively jealous when I see cute pregnant women doing every day things. It`s like they are a foreign species to me. There is no bridging the gap between us.

  18. That's just it - recently talked about this my support group. If you think you're lucky, you create luck. But how the hell am I EVER supposed to feel lucky again having been so amazingly unlucky to lose my baby girl? Isn't that pretty much the sh#$tiest luck ever? How do you ever get past such bad luck?!?! How could I ever call myself or think of myself as lucky again!??!

    Thanks for writing what is in my head.

  19. Bingo. Couldn't have worded it half as well myself!

  20. I completely get it too. I haven't had a living baby yet, but I know that I've lost the ability to just be happy and pregnant. I think back about that person I used to be, and miss her. And when I see pregnant women - happy and so sure that things will work out - I'm mainly mystified by them.

    I lost my little girl a year ago last March. I've been trying hard to find things to be thankful for lately, and it's not easy. It changes your whole world view.