Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Other People's Pregnancies

I can (almost) remember when pregnancy announcements made me feel giddy and gleeful and SOOOOO excited for people.  I used to be the girl who made diaper cakes and carefully selected themes and invitations for baby showers, and shopped tirelessly for the perfect baby gift.  I co-hosted three baby showers the year Eliza was born, attended three more, and also made a diaper cake for David's nephew.

I am so not that girl anymore.

My cousin had a baby on July 11th--a little girl.  I visited her at her house last weekend and held the baby and it was... fine.  Nice, even.  I marveled at the little-bittiness of this little girl--at 7 pounds and 19 inches, she's littler than Zuzu ever was (refresher for those of you who did not push her out of your vagina:  she was 8 pounds and 21 inches and that resulted in a whole lot of stitches--gag gag gag).

Anyway, visiting my cousin and her baby, I felt so normal and non-bitter/jealous/sad/angry/resentful/traumatized/grief-stricken about it that I was kind of amazed at myself.

HOWEVER, if she had still been in the hospital, I would not have seen the baby because I do not do hospital baby visits, just like I do not do baby showers.  I will now hold other people's new babies, but I have my limits.

So, I guess the baby thing has gotten easier for me to handle.  I have come a long way in that regard.  But I'm still not comfortable getting excited about pregnancy.  I'm glad for people, especially baby-loss mamas who are now expecting again.  But I'm also anxious and worried for them.  And no matter how much I like someone, I always feel a pang of envy when I hear of someone experiencing pregnancy without having experienced the grief and trauma of baby loss.  I don't wish them ill; I just wish I could be like that again.

But I can't undo my experience and the emotional baggage that comes along with it.  And that means that when it comes to other people's pregnancies...  I'm kind of a jerk.

You see, I adore my cousin who had this baby--she's the closest thing to a little sister that I've got.  Even so, I did not attend her baby shower.  In fact, I stand by the proclamation that I will never attend another baby shower.  The mere thought of a baby shower makes me want to puke.

It's really a good thing that most of my friends are finished having babies, because I suck at showing up for other people's pregnancies.  I mean, I really suck.

Here's a prime example of how I am the worst friend ever to pregnant people.  I'll tell you this story not because I'm proud of it, but because it's my reality:

My best friend from high school got pregnant just a few months after Eliza died.  When I say best friend, I mean this is the girl who showed up at my house a week or so after Eliza died and stayed with me during her winter break when my parents had to go home for a few days and David was at work.  She fixed meals and made me eat and told me to shower and dragged me out of the house to walk the dog.  She hugged me and cried with me and distracted me and prayed for me.  She still speaks Eliza's name and acknowledges my grief. She texted or called me every day for months after Eliza's death.  She is Grade-A best friend material.

And then she went and and got pregnant just a few months after Eliza died.

The thing is, she had been actively trying to get pregnant for a long time.  She had to do two and a half rounds of IVF to get pregnant and that process took about nine months (I say "half" because she had one cycle that got cancelled halfway through).  She and her husband are wonderful people (and wonderful parents) who desperately wanted a baby and they went into debt to make that baby happen.

Knowing all of this, you'd think maybe I could find it in me to be happy for her when she got pregnant the April after Eliza died.

Nope.  I'm afraid not.  I just couldn't get past feeling sorry for myself.  I mean, sure, I was hopeful for her.  And also scared and anxious.  But mostly I felt jealousy and resentment bubbling to the surface, no matter what I did.  She was pregnant on MY TIMELINE, just one year later.  And OF COURSE, she was having a girl.

(I mean, I was happy for her because MY GOD I'm not a monster.  But mostly I was just sad for me.  And I felt pretty monstrous about that.)

I dropped out of Facebook for a lot of reasons, but one of those was because I couldn't stand to see her (or anyone else) celebrate her pregnancy.

I was supposed to be her best friend, and I couldn't find it in myself to share in her happiness.

We were each other's maid- and matron-of-honor.  We hosted each other's bridal showers.  She helped to host a baby shower for me, even though it was four hours from where she was living at the time.  She bought many lovely gifts for Eliza in the fall of 2010.  One year later, in anticipation of this much-loved and much-wanted baby, did I throw a shower for her?


In fact, I didn't even ATTEND her baby shower.  Nor did I send a gift.  I mailed a check to the friend who hosted it because she'd offered to add my name to the gift she bought if I wanted to contribute.

The hostess was also thoughtful enough to ask me if I wanted to receive an invitation because she didn't want me to feel excluded, though she understood if I couldn't attend.  She actually tucked the invitation inside a "Thinking of you" card with a note about Eliza, which was so kind of her.  I still sobbed over the invitation.  And I don't even know what the gift was.  (Nor do I really care to know, even now.  Too many bad memories.)

When another friend posted pictures of the shower on her blog, I looked at them and cried and cried.  NOT because I was sad that I missed it (although, of course, I was sad that I didn't want to attend).

No, I cried because I was ugly-jealous.  And because I was really pissed off that anyone who knew me and knew about Eliza could be smug and confident enough to have a baby shower ahead of time when she should know full well that SOMETIMES BABIES DIE and there was nothing that indicated she should be any luckier than I was.

(Except, you know, statistics.  F*cking statistics.)

That's the thing about pregnancies--I'm still sort of appalled that people who know babies die, which is ANYONE WHO KNOWS ME, can still celebrate pregnancies.  Logically, I know that they are the normal ones and I'm not, and that it is GOOD and HEALTHY to celebrate pregnancies and it's not that I wasn't happy to be pregnant with Zuzu when she was The Deuce.  It's just that she never felt like a sure thing and I wasn't about to start celebrating a "maybe baby."  It's just mind-boggling to me.  Like, you would set up a whole nursery BEFORE your baby is born?  Who DOES that?  Oh, wait.  EVERYBODY.  Everybody but me.

Fortunately, my friend was able to accept what I had to offer.  Which was basically nothing.  She didn't expect me to squelch the grief and terror and anxiety and jealousy inside me to perform a happy dance for her and fake my way through it.  She was able to wait until I could show up, on my terms, and be genuinely thrilled for her.  We were able to have honest conversations about how hard the timing was for me, how scared I was that I'd never be pregnant again, how hard it was for her to know so much about the world of baby loss.  (Which, by the way, I resented, like she didn't get to be scared for her baby?  Because her baby was going to be fine?  I don't know.  Grief is not known for making one rational or nice.)

I kept my mouth shut about how much I wanted her baby to be a boy.  And then I cried my eyes out when I found out it was a girl.  It wasn't about not being happy for her.  I was simply oh so sad for me.  She was living the life that I'd had just one year earlier (almost to the day), but I had no doubt she'd get the happy ending that was ripped away from me.  It was too much, too close.  We could be friends, but it was thin ice.

When we talked throughout her pregnancy (which was less often than we'd talked before, but also due in part to her crazy busy schedule in her last semester of graduate work), we usually avoided talking about pregnancy.  At a time when it's almost impossible for pregnant women not to be obsessed with all things baby, she was amazing about talking about other things, and that's probably what salvaged our friendship (since I obviously was not doing much on my end).  I could be a friend to talk about school or marriage or her career or the 2012 primaries, but I was not the friend to talk to about getting maternity photos taken or visiting pediatricians or making birth plans (which, you know, is all first-time-pregnant people want to talk about!).  I could not be that friend.  It sucks, because even in the depths of my grief, I wished I could be that friend for her.  But it was absolutely beyond my capacity at the time.

My friend's due date was in December, over my Christmas break (of course--a year after Eliza).  Did I make arrangements so that I could be there for the birth of what could possibly be my best friend's only child--my best friend who dropped everything and rearranged her final exam schedule so she could be there with me in my darkest days?

No.  I went to Mexico.   I didn't even have cell phone reception.

I'm basically the poster girl for Shitty Friend to Pregnant Women.

Two weeks after her daughter was born, I did manage to visit her at home.  This was thirteen months after Eliza.  I stayed for a weekend and was careful to not be a demanding houseguest.  I brought food and gifts for the baby, and I made myself useful, washing bottles and pump parts and vacuuming.  And, yes, I held the baby.  The first baby I held after Eliza died, and the only baby I held before Zuzu was born.  I cried.  I also laughed.  I forced myself to do these things because I wanted to be a good friend to her.  I forced myself to do them because my grief had robbed me of so much and I did not want it to rob me of this experience with my friend and her new baby.  It was not easy.  It was not what it might have been.

To tell you the truth, it probably would have been impossible for me to visit her at that time if I hadn't been sixteen weeks pregnant myself by then.

Grief makes me so selfish.

Did I want my friend to lose her baby?  To experience the heartbreak I was living?  Absolutely NOT.  Not once in all my jealous bitterness about other people's pregnancies did I actually wish that this would happen to someone else.  I just wished so hard that it hadn't happened to me.

Did that mean I was able to celebrate her pregnancy with her?  Uh... obviously not.  No way.

So now, I mostly like babies, but a positive pregnancy test is not a baby.  It's nothing more than a huge risk of heartbreak.  Pregnancy isn't safe.  It is scary.  A newborn baby--yes.  I can be happy for you about that, if you're not a douche-bag.  But saying "Congratulations" to a pregnant woman feels so premature to me that it's idiotic.  "Best wishes" is the best that I can do even now.  (Which is sometimes totally awkward, believe me.)

My friend's daughter is the most darling girl in the world next to Zuzu.  I love her to pieces.  But until she was born, I couldn't go to a shower for her.  I couldn't believe in her.  There was no way I could celebrate her until she was here.

(Maybe because I could only celebrate Eliza until she was here?  So I won't give other babies that privilege?  Or maybe it's just my version of grief PTSD.)

I hate to think that my grief could so easily be interpreted as my not being happy for someone else's good fortune, especially a friend I love so much.  But when her life circumstances connected so poignantly to my own loss...  It was a brutal year.  There's just no way around it.  I was happy for her but sad for me, and sadness won every time.  It was too big and too heavy.  Nothing else could measure up.

What it comes down to is that my friend was there for me in my desperate sorrow and I was not there for her in her happy pregnancy.  My absence, my lack of showing up, my poor display of friendship...  that's my fault.  That's me being a victim of my grief and letting it bleed out and potentially hurt other people.

In my defense, I was powerless in the face of my grief.  It was so huge and so overwhelming that there's no way I could have compartmentalized it.

I'm not in such a fragile place now that I'm further out from Eliza's death, and now that I've experienced a pregnancy with a happy ending.  I can compartmentalize enough to behave appropriately and meet social expectations, most of the time.  But other people's pregnancies are still not my favorite.

I still am not interested in reading pregnancy updates (or announcements) on Facebook.  I just feel so far removed from that.  Like I'm on another planet.  You know--Planet My Baby Died.  I'm sorry that I can't live on Planet Earth, where I could read such Facebook posts and even "like" them, and such things would feel obvious and easy and relevant to my life.  But it doesn't feel that way.  Positive pregnancy tests are loaded and scary and dangerous.  They say, "I might bring home a baby in several months, or I might bring home his ashes."  Because, as far as I know, that's how it goes.  And it could happen that way.  For ANYONE.

I am happy for people who announce pregnancies, but I'm mostly anxious for them.  I'm happy for my friends when they have living babies.  But I am always always envious.  To have the joy of a newborn baby without knowing the grief of the death of a newborn baby?  That must be AMAZING.  I'd do just about anything to have that life and to be so comfortable in it that I could take it for granted.  I can't even tell you what a gift that must be.

Instead, I walk my own bittersweet reality, and there's a twinge of self-pity and a pang of envy accompanying my happiness for other people and their pregnancies.  That's just my reality these days, and probably forever.

I know that some people might expect me to be in a different place at this point.  You might imagine that having Zuzu has transplanted me back to Planet Earth, but that's just not the case.  If someone where to expect me even now to be the kind of friend who who makes diaper cakes and hosts baby showers...  I can't.  I'm just... not.

And what really sucks is that while my friend was incredibly understanding about it, I can see why other people might not have been so patient with me.  It was shitty that I couldn't get over myself and be a better friend to her.  It was embarrassing that I had limitations that came across as selfish and ugly (even to me).  I know it had to disappoint my friend that I couldn't be there for her.  I'm so lucky she didn't hold my grief against me.

As we quickly learn after living through something like this, there are people who respect your grief and make space for it.  And there are people who recognize your grief, but they resent it as an ugly appendage they wish you could lose already.  Another kind of friend in her position could have said to me, "I was there for you in your grief, now you should show up for my happiness."  And while I can see that point of view, that's just not how it works, you know?  Because the flip side of that is always "Eff you and your happiness.  My baby died."  The argument that trumps everything.

I think of the way things seem now, two and a half years later, when I have so many things to be grateful for and these things add up to a beautiful life.  But I will never have Eliza.  The collateral damage that her loss caused some of my friendships is really, really sad.  Losing a year of my life, and all of the little things that went along with that is sad.  The fact that pregnancy has lost its fun and is now a source of jealousy and fear is also sad.  But nothing is as sad as losing her.

It's hard when the best thing in your friend's life is an enormous grief trigger for you.  If only people could just win the lottery or get engaged or get new puppies or get promoted at work instead of getting pregnant.  I could be SO HAPPY for them.

But when it comes to other people's pregnancies, people who haven't experienced a loss, it's just not that simple anymore.  It's not the grief grenade it once was, but I'm not making any diaper cakes, either.  It's more like...  Good luck with that.  Now let's talk about the last two episodes of Game of Thrones.  Can you BELIEVE that sh*t?


  1. Thanks for writing this--it is good to know that I am not alone. I am feeling totally jealous these days! The jealousy is so palpable...You are lucky to have such a great friend, and she is lucky to have you as well!

  2. I am EXACTLY the same way. I get very quiet in the face of other people's pregnancies. I can't even bring myself to say congratulations, and walk away from the 'how are you feeling?' conversations. It's just too painful. I feel like an absolute shit, but I just can't pull out of this mindset. And maybe I shouldn't be expected to? I'm not sure. I think loss changes us. At the very least, it makes us less naive, and way more cautious. And jealous? Hell yes! Of course we're jealous. But I'd be jealous of anyone who had something that I want but can't have- a job, a cool vacation, etc. Why should a baby be any different? I think it's natural. And it's sooooo nice to know I'm not the only one! So thank you for posting this!

  3. Grief does things to people that nothing else can. And those feelings, whatever they are, they are VALID. Thank you for sharing this. You are not a monster and I don't think you're selfish. Grief is all consuming. You do the best you can, but you still have to protect your heart when possible.

  4. Holy crap, everything about this...Is so so very right my eyes.

    So we lost Luke last September. Literally a month and a half after...both my sister AND my sister-and-law told me they were pregnant. ONE DAY APART.

    And then guess what? Both of their babies were just born this past weekend. ONE DAY APART.

    I'm 10ish months out right now, and I know I'm in a different place then I was that day they told me back then, but every single thought you mentioned having...I had.

    The jealousy and resentment--I hate myself for feeling it. But mostly, all of it just comes back to me feeling sorry for ME.

    We live on Planet My-Baby-Died. And I honestly don't think anyone can understand what that's like unless they live there too. I hate it, because it makes me feel like a shitty person too, but it's what we've been handed.

    I'm almost 18 weeks along with Luke's brother or sister right now, and honestly, I don't know what I would have done or how I would have felt this past weekend if I HADN'T been pregnant. I know for sure the bitterness would have been riding much higher. I hate that I will never be excited about pregnancy announcement again. My husband wanted to do something special to announced ours a few weeks ago...and I just broke down crying because I just can't go there. This is ME--I'M pregnant again, and I can't even make a happy announcement about myself, because all I can think when ANYONE posts these types of things is exactly what you said--"GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. GLAD YOU THINK IT WILL ALL BE FINE."

    I'm pretty proud of how strong I've been for my siblings, and I'll admit that seeing their babies this weekend was the hugest relief ever--and probably the best lesson life could teach me right now--that MOST babies ARE born alive and fine.

    So I guess it was a good run-through for what I have to go through in December to have this baby.

    But I'll never have Luke. No matter how much happiness life brings me. And that will always make me sad for me.

  5. When I first started reading this post, it kind of surprised me. The more I read, though, the more I understood (although I'll never understand it completely). You are so brave to be so honest.

    My best friend is newly pregnant right now. She has some medical issues that make her slightly more high-risk. She was talking to me yesterday about her fears. Before I knew you and my three other friends whose babies have died, I would have told her that it would be fine. But I didn't. We had a conversation that was somewhat jaded yet still hopeful. And I DID think of Eliza (and Makenna and Griffin and Brielle) during that conversation.

    I'm sorry that you have to endure these feelings. It's really not fair.

  6. Yup, Exactly. All of it.

    Though I can go to baby showers which kinda surprised me. I'm going to one this weekend in fact. For a girl who has always been very kind and sympathetic which I know factors in, but yes - still seems ballsy to do before the baby is born.

    I usually don't say much to pregnant women, unless I'm feeling nice and just say "you look great" and sometimes I say "I hope everything goes well" and every time someone has a baby my standard reply is "congratulations on the safe arrival of your baby" because THAT is a big deal. That some people just don't even realize.

  7. I feel like I should possibly announce on facebook (you know, if I wanted to be apart of facebook... which I don't) that I don't participate in pregnancy announcements. Like I didn't participate in the blast of happy birthdays.

    The other day, I actually saw a button that linked you to facebook to "announce your pregnancy to family and friends". Are you kidding me?

    I'm right there with you. Every last word.

  8. You're so very spot on with all you're feelings. I could have written this in my own words with my own set of examples (well, I could have written a more rambled disjointed version!!)

    It's just such a different world I used to live in. And yes, it's not illwill I wish (usually), but just the wish that I could be where I used to be with all my healthy typical feelings about pregnancy and new babies.

    My sister is pregnant - due mid September - and she went through a bout of depression in her first trimester, and after grabbing my balls and manning up, I asked her what she thought was getting her down. And she said it s the fear that her pregnancy would result in a loss (mainly, among other things too) and I had to bite my tongue like never before. I couldn't even ask her about how she was doing after she so smugly announced her pregnancy to me the day after she peed on the stick...and it wasnt until Theodore was out and alive was I even able to ask her where her "depression" was stemming from. My first thought was, "bitch if any one should have been depressed, it's me! Not you! You're life is effing perfect!". But I didn't.

  9. Grief has made me really selfish. I will not be attending baby showers and other people's pregnancy announcements often feel like a kick in the gut. I've certainly been a crummy friend. Maybe some friendships would have changed anyways. It makes me feel bad, but I try to be kind to myself and just be where I am at. And of course, "my baby died" does trump everything else. A change in friendship could never make me as sad as forever missing my son.

    There are times though that I really do want to celebrate pregnancy and the growing babies because I want Bear and Eliza and all our other babies celebrated and remembered for the people they were (and would have become) and not just thought of as their death (or my tragedy) or even worse as the loss of a pregnancy. The naive assumption that all babies will be born healthy at full term is what feels so hurtful. It is a tough balance. All of our babies were wanted and loved even before they were born. And they were our babies even though they did not get to sleep and play in their perfectly planned nurseries.

  10. I too appreciate you writing this out. I have no intention of going to a baby shower ever. I also do not attend birthday parties either unless forced too. That is my personal hang up that no one seems to get either. Why even though V would have such a great time playing with the other kids, but mom just can't get over herself. When I'm positive that I won't have to leave the room to break down into a giant ball of tears, well then that's when and I just can't make any guarantees... Bleh! Just what I needed a place to vent my grief crazy. Thank you for this! ~M

  11. Love this post and love how you always seem to have the right words to how I'm feeling. Selfish feeling-yes, jealous-oh yeah, no desire to go to baby showers-yup yup! I have been thinking a lot about how friends and family can get pregnant and be happy and have no worries when they know me. Sometimes I feel like they should be scared because now they know for sure that babies can die, but then I think "oh wait, of course they aren't worried, it happened to me. I was that statistic, so they will be fine". Hope you don't mind but I have been trying to put a few things like this into words on my recent blog post and never can very well and may just put a link to your blog because you say it all to well.

  12. Yes to all of this. So glad I'm not alone. Like Caroline I can do baby showers depending on the person. But life will never be the same for me when it comes to pregnancies.

  13. Yes. Thanks for putting words to this. I am trying to figure out what to say to a cousin who is pregnant now. What do I want to say balanced with what I might need to say, with what they actually should or shouldn't hear. It sucks.
    -Burning Eye

  14. Thank you- thank you. You said the things I have tried to be able to articulate. I love all your posts and totally love your pics, but this is a TOP post! Thank you Brooke!!

  15. I have to make my niece to be born in September a baby blanket. I used to lovingly make one for every baby born to people I know. Not so much now. Have a gift card to target. There's drinks at this party right?

  16. I'm here from the Round-Up, and I just had to respond. Grief changes us, and changes our reactions to things. And whilst we heal, we always have scars, and sometimes the wounds remain open, or very close to the surface, for a long time. I've certainly seen the way I react to friends' pregnancies, and their relationships with their children, change. It becomes so personal. A cruel reminder of what we have lost, or will never have. And that's normal.

    So I have to say, I think you are being incredibly hard on yourself. You and your friend talked during her pregnancy, and she understood how tough it was for you, and she accepted that. Of course, both of you wished it could have been different. But it wasn't. It couldn't be, in the circumstances. But it wasn't your fault. And you have seen progress. And as long as your friend understands, who cares if anyone else does or doesn't? They aren't you, and they aren't her.

    Grieving the loss of Eliza and the impact of her loss on your life is very normal. Just don't beat yourself up for doing what is, sadly, normal.

  17. I think I kinda covered this in my email, but I can do some showers, like Natasha and Caroline mentioned- it depends on the mom and how she and I interacted after Jack.

    And you know what? I kinda think your friend knew you were jealous, and I think it's perfectly okay. I am still so insanely jealous of people who have beautiful baby boys and I know the thought never crossed their mind that their baby wasn't there to stay.

    I HATE, above all else, that I will never have the confidence to believe babies are born alive and stay that way... I have to bite my tongue all the time from warning people about what I feel the real risks in pregnancy are... They aren't that sip of wine or that sliver of cheese... The real risk isn't that xyz causes autism... The real risk is that you baby may never have the chance to be born alive... And the risk is that even if your baby is born healthy, he might still die.

    bah. Happy baby shower!

  18. Thank you so much for this post. Sharing your thoughts and feelings going through what I simply can never imagine will help me and others like me who do not know, to make space for your grief and find understanding.

  19. Thank you so much for this post. I relate SO much. And PTSD does some incredibly strange things to us, doesn't it? So much that I didn't even want to TALK about my subsequent pregnancy much less set up a nursery or announce it on FB or my blog or pretty much anywhere ever. I still get judged for that, but when you're merely trying to survive, judgment doesn't bother you. After William made his safe arrival, I finally announced on Facebook (and my blog) and pinned a bunch of ideas for his nautical nursery. I was literally sitting in the hospital doing this. There was no doing any of it prematurely. Now that he is six months old we are finally finishing his nursery.
    When other people announce pregnancies, I always remind myself that they have a RIGHT to be happy and excited and all of those things that I was before I experienced loss. Then, I even feel grateful that they shared the news with me, that they didn't treat me like an alien species and leave me out. It's such a fine line between wanting people to treat us "normally" but then also wanting people to be sensitive to our situation. ~Lindsay

  20. I'm just catching up on a lot of blog reading. I love you. And you've always been a great friend to me. Always. I'm still so sorry for you and I still miss Eliza as much as anyone who isn't you or David could. You'll always be my bestie. And I think that real friendship happens when we are there for people in the shitty times. Not in the good times. And you have walked through the shit with me and you will again, I'm sure. And I will for you. But I hope beyond hope that it's never ever that shitty again. Love you, friend.

  21. This is so completely right on. I've been wanting to write a post about how much other people's pregnancies bother me, and I just haven't been able to do it justice. This is so perfect and completely and totally how I feel. Thank you so much for helping me to feel slightly more sane.

  22. "Because the flip side of that is always 'Eff you and your happiness. My baby died.' The argument that trumps everything."

    This phrase summed up my grief so well and I thank you for it and the entire post in general!

    It's so hard to put into words how it feels to lose a child. A woman that I planned a wedding for is now pregnant with her first child and wants to invite me to the shower. I gave her my address but knew in my heart that it would hurt too much to attend. I envy the confidence of newly pregnant women; Their joy, their absolute certainty that things will work out alright and they will have a healthy, living baby at the end of the experience.

    I am sad that I will never have that experience but will be instead waiting for the other shoe to drop every minute of every day.

    I mourn for the woman I used to be.