Grief Girl goes to a party

December 15, 2008

There were two parties, in fact.  One for N’s department, a nicely catered event with a riotous White Elephant exchange that we really enjoyed and a nice selection of alcohol that apparently overwhelmed one of the grad students who ended up making several speeches that evening.  We came home without the farting phone (whew!) and with a lovely paper airplane kit.  Everyone in N’s department knows our story, and they were very kind to us without pitying us, at least in any obvious way.

The second party, which took place Saturday, was thrown by one of my friends from work, and is usually attended mainly by people from the University Libraries, though it isn’t really a work party.  This is the party we attended last year when I felt a sudden and overwhelming desire to be a mommy, the party that took place, I’m convinced, on the day Teddy was conceived.  This year is was a quieter affair, but still fun.  A couple of the partygoers were faculty in the College of Communication here.   One of them I knew fairly well, and the other I’d never met.  Since I work with them, it was nice to see them in person and to be able to hang out instead of explain why we could or couldn’t, say, subscribe to the new journals they wanted.

However, the question of why I’d been gone during the beginning of the year came up, and I explained very briefly that we’d lost our baby.  They talked with me a little about it, which was lovely of them, but after I’d explained (probably not very well) about the congenital defect that was so detrimental to Teddy’s lung development, one of them said that when she was pregnant, last year, someone had told her that if something happens to the baby inside the womb, it’s almost a blessing as the baby wouldn’t be strong enough for the outside world, and that she found that comforting.  Now, I realize that people who have miscarriages are told this kind of thing, though I can’t personally imagine that it would be especially comforting then either.  As these words were coming out of her mouth, the face of the other woman, the one I know a bit better, grew slowly horrified and a bit embarrassed, and she said something to the effect of, “I don’t know that you should say that.”

There was absolutely no ill intent and while it didn’t precisely roll off me like water off a duck’s back, I wasn’t traumatized, and I really appreciated the sensitivity of her friend, who then talked to me a while of non-baby things while I regained my bearings.  I also very much appreciate that the person who spoke those words caught me on my way out of the party, apologized, and gave me a hug.  But, since this seems to be the place where I think these things through, here is what I wish I’d said:

Well, I’m glad those words were comforting to you when you were pregnant, but you’re a mother, so maybe you’ll remember a moment like the one I had, once Teddy was born, when I fell incredibly and absolutely in love with him.  I wanted to hold that baby, kiss that little face, touch that little nose, and memorize every wisp of hair, every line and roll of baby fat, the exact angles of eyes and eyebrows, the exact shape and beauty of tiny finger- and toe-nails.  So imagine a moment like that, when you are besotted and exhausted and your baby holds onto your finger that first time.  Then imagine that s/he is hooked up to ventilators, all kinds of tubes, and watched over by a team of worried doctors and nurses.  Imagine that s/he loses ground as the night passes, and that in the morning you are told you need to say goodbye to that child who now seems to be the sun around which you orbit.  In that situation, would the words you spoke still comfort you?  They might, we’re all different.  But for me, they just don’t seem to apply.

After a little less than two hours, Grief Girl escaped with Sad Dad, out into the winter air, which was strangely refreshing, and back to the safety of  home.



  1. I just love your writing. I script conversations after the fact all the time- it feels good to get out what we “should have” said.

    Congrats on surviving two parties- I have no ambition to try. You’re braver than I. Small talk and I do not get along anymore, mostly because almost every time, we get comments like you did, which even though there was no harm meant, it’s still so painful.

    Good for you. You did great.

  2. You are something else. You have such an amazing way with words. I love what you would’ve said to this woman. I think things like that ALL the time. All the time… The one that gets me the most is, “Think of the child you DO have who is still alive. You are so lucky to have her.” Yes, of course I am, that’s a given… but does that take away from the fact that I lost the other child I loved just as much? Sigh… it’s hard to get it unless you’re here.

  3. Gal is right: It’s absolutely hard to get unless you’re here. I felt, at one point, that maybe mothers who hadn’t lost could understand what this feels like, because they are mothers afterall. But over and over again, one hurtful comment after another, I’ve learned that unless you’ve been here, you cannot possibly understand the depth of heartache that losing a baby encompasses, regardless of whether you’ve birthed a previous child or not. Most have no idea…and lucky for them.

  4. I’m so glad to be done with the year’s small party circuit, and I’m deeply grateful that we’re staying home this holiday – no big family, no need to pretend to be fine if we aren’t. I can hide from other people’s babies (if I turn off the TV, anyway) and from other people’s well-meaning words of non-wisdom.

    I wish I could think of what to say when I need to say it – these things come to me hours and sometimes days later, when it’s too late and usually after I’ve inanely assured people that whatever they’ve said is fine.

  5. While that was a very insensitive comment, I’m glad you are able to recognize it was not intended to be so. I was just telling my husband the other night that strangely I always understood that most people’s unfortunate choices of words were just their bumbling attempt to say something. Although, like you, I have imagined many, many responses that I should have said, but never do.

    Small talk and socializing is so very hard when you are feeling so sad. I remember. I felt out of place in the world for a long, long time. Every once in awhile, I still do.

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