Survivor’s Guilt

Friend A – we’ll call her Ashley – has had two healthy pregnancies that resulted in healthy babies. She has never had a miscarriage or any difficulty conceiving. She told me that during her first pregnancy, two of her coworkers had miscarriages, and she tried to hide herself from them so that they wouldn’t have to see her and be reminded that she was still fine while they had lost babies.

Friend B – we’ll call her Bonnie – had a miscarriage the week before I did and told me that a pregnant coworker was being really weird and avoiding her, and it hurt her feelings.

Friend C – we’ll call her Candace – has also had two healthy pregnancies and no miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. She emailed me the other day to express her sympathy, but we also had a really good discussion about the guilt she feels about so many things regarding her kids. When so many of her friends have lost babies, she feels guilty for getting pregnant easily and never miscarrying, for having her tubes tied when she and her husband felt that their family was complete, for experiencing joy when so many others are experiencing pain, for feeling frustrated with her kids when she knows how incredibly lucky she is to have them, for posting Facebook statuses about her kids, and for being unable to relate to her friends who have experienced the heartache of miscarriage or infertility.

When Bonnie told me about her miscarriage, I was still pregnant, and I said to Will that I felt a little guilty that we had conceived so easily (without meaning to, really) while she and her husband had been trying for several months, and that things had been going so well for us while they had had a terrible loss. And then the next day, my water broke, we lost our baby, and I felt guilty for that too.

Here’s the thing: You can feel guilty for so many things, whether everything is going well or you wonder if you did something to cause a tragedy, but the truth is that there’s no need for guilt. If you had babies without ever having to deal with miscarriage or infertility, you didn’t do anything wrong by having healthy kids, and you aren’t doing anything wrong if you share your joy with others in person or on social media. I didn’t do anything wrong in my pregnancy, and I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong by sharing my pain. People are meant to live in community and share their lives, both good and bad. My hope in sharing now is not that people would feel guilty for never having gone through a miscarriage, but that people who have suffered in silence would feel less alone and more a part of a community.

But now that this has come up, I feel like we need to talk about it. Communication between women breaks down completely around the topics of miscarriage and infertility, and I think there are a few things going on:

  1. Women who have had miscarriages or difficulty conceiving feel ashamed or embarrassed, or they simply don’t want to bring everybody down by shedding light on their misfortunes, so they don’t talk about it (like the dozens of women who have told me privately about their miscarriages over the past couple of weeks).
  2. Women who have only had healthy pregnancies are trying to be sensitive toward their friends who have had difficulties (like my friend Ashley and possibly Bonnie’s coworker), and they feel guilty for their good fortune (like Candace).
  3. We stop talking because we don’t know what to say, or we think saying anything at all will cause pain.

So let me just address all of that now. There is nothing for any of us to feel ashamed of or guilty about. Can we please just love and take care of each other instead of worrying about how we’ll be perceived?

Friend, if you’ve lost a baby, I promise you that people who love you are not blaming you for it. People who are idiots will say stupid things because that’s what idiots do (and even good people are idiots sometimes), but people who love you will only want to hug you and be there for you. They may not know what to say, and everyone will feel awkward standing in your living room while you can’t stop crying, but it’s ok. It’s really ok. Your tears are appropriate and good and beautiful. And I know you feel guilty (and ashamed, embarrassed, confused, angry, hopeless, sad, and lost). I know. Feel it, but don’t become it. You are not at fault, you are not less than, and you are not hopeless or lost forever. You just feel that way now. And you are entitled to your feelings.

Friend, if you’ve never lost a baby, I am so happy for you. Seriously. In the midst of all of this horribleness, I am nothing but thankful that you have never had to go through the same horribleness. Seeing babies makes me sad sometimes, but some friends’ babies are so darn cute, they actually cheer me up. I can’t help it. And seeing pregnant friends is hard for me right now, but their friendship is so important to me. It would make things even harder if they avoided me without any explanation. If you are pregnant and have a friend who is dealing with a miscarriage, it’s ok to ask what you should do. And if your friend isn’t up to seeing you just yet, don’t take it personally. Just give her time.

We need to keep talking. A few days after we lost Ella, we had a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor said that no matter what people said to us, it would probably hurt for a while. Even if people said very nice, comforting, loving things, they would sting. He said it’s like an open wound, and no matter what you do to it – even if you’re doing healthy things like cleaning and bandaging it – it just hurts. And he was right, but that doesn’t mean we should stop talking just because it hurts. That’s like saying you shouldn’t touch a wound – even to clean it – because it stings. Yes, it stings, but it’s necessary for healing.

Author: beth

I'm told that I'm cleverly stupid, and that's why people are friends with me. And here I thought it was because I was so dang cute...

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