A Way with Words

I am known for having the “right words.” Can soothe angry customers, diffuse heated conversations, bolster efforts. I often think about how to craft my words to elicit the right response. But for all the diplomacy, I have never been more at a loss for words than when I became pregnant again and needed to start revealing that information.

In Sharing HOPE, we often talk about how scared we are to announce pregnancy. The immediate reaction seems to be “Congratulations!” and the women in the group somewhat universally agreed that this is painful to hear. So what is the right response to a pregnancy after loss? Best wishes? I’m praying for you?

I thought about this quite a bit after it came up at our last meeting. “I’m praying for you” doesn’t always sit well with me, though I know it is well-intentioned. I was on the receiving end of that phrase a lot when I became pregnant with Iris, and then I lost her too. Hearing those words often invokes feelings of futility or unworthiness, that the prayers “didn’t work,” though I know that they hold meaning for the person on the other end of the conversation.

One of the best responses I received upon telling someone was “How do you feel?” Not “How are you feeling?” in terms of physically feeling, but “How do you feel?” How are you handling this, emotionally? It gave me a chance to say “I’m anxious and scared.”

Timothy J. Lawrence writes:

“Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.”

The safest thing to say to a pregnancy-after-loss mom, upon hearing the announcement, might be “My thoughts are with you.  I am with you on this difficult journey.”

It became almost a running joke in Sharing HOPE that I had not yet announced my pregnancy at work. People knew – I told the other members of the executive management team, and am friends with several on Facebook. But there was a good third of the all company that had no idea. I work from home, so there was no visual and no obvious absence in the workday with extra appointments or early morning sickness. At meetings when I was 24 weeks, 28 weeks, 32 weeks it was “still haven’t told work…” Now I’m to the point though where I have to make others aware of my upcoming leave. Compounded by the fact that Ger and I work for the same company and there is overlap in our interactions with one department.

As “announcement day” loomed, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say “maternity leave” – because I knew it would prompt “Congratulations!” from those that did not know previously and possibly “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” Everyone is aware of the losses; not everyone is emotionally intelligent enough to understand why a pregnancy after loss would be difficult.

I finally decided to just say “medical leave.” I will be on an extended medical leave. Once the baby is born healthy, I can email out a photo and that will provide the explanation, but I don’t have a good reason to say “maternity leave” in advance when it will only provoke the wrong response. Might be a bit suspicious when Ger is on a corresponding leave, but I don’t really care about speculation that occurs out of my earshot.