Things I cannot say

June 23, 2009

I had a lovely talk with N’s sister yesterday evening. She is six months pregnant and is finding her second pregnancy very different from her first. There are physical differences, but she is also a tremendously empathetic and giving person who was with us during the days Teddy was born and died. She’s seen what can happen, and it has marked her. She told me that she is trying hard to shake the feeling that she and her baby are next.

I have to admit that part of me finds it strangely comforting that she feels this way, that she gets it so clearly. I hate it that she’s worried about this, but (my brain screams at me) there’s so much to worry about.

And yet, I wish – desperately – that she didn’t have to carry these worries and fears. It makes me deeply sad that these days have been shadowed for her. While I appreciate the understanding so very much, I also feel strongly that no woman should ever have to fear losing her baby, that the world is all out of joint when these fears make sense. I wish my SIL could be relaxed and trusting and happy, the way she was before and the way I was in the first months of my pregnancy with Teddy. Fear is not the legacy you dream of your beloved child leaving behind. And fear of what absolutely cannot be controlled is such a hard burden to bear.

I want to say, Of course not. You’re not going to be next. You’ll be fine. You’ll both be fine and healthy and wonderful. I can feel these words rising up from my belly, ready to bubble out. But they catch in my throat, every time. They won’t come out. I can’t say them. I can’t say these things because I don’t know if they are true, much as I want them to be. I believed I was fine, once upon a time, and look what happened; now I cannot say these words. Instead I make sympathetic noises and stumble over words of reassurance and wish I could tell the universe how to behave. Not all the time, you understand, just when it’s life-and-death important.

I can wish her and the new little one to be healthy and well with all my heart. I can send soundless pleas out into the universe and rouse my hopes and try to send vibes of the most positive sort in the right directions, but there are so many things lurking out there that can go wrong.

We are all so vulnerable.

If I say, You’ll be fine, it could be a lie – or worse, a temptation of fate, a big, throbbingly brilliant, red target sign painted just where it could do most harm. So I don’t say it. And part of what I miss about the person I used to be is the ability to say things like It’ll all be fine, and believe it.

Believing is out for me, at least for now, and I think I can learn to accept that. But I’m hoping like mad over here, and hoping that this, somehow, helps.



  1. i struggle with this. i was never a big believer, though i also hate fretting and so might have said “you’ll be fine” to stop someone freaking over a hangnail or whatnot, but to be honest, i’d never heard someone fear the death of their child aloud before mind actually died.

    i know that now, i don’t like to hear “you’ll be fine” in any context. it feels like dismissal, or like ignorance. rather, “you’ll get through this” is what i try to say – for what it’s worth, i realize it might not be the right thing for your SIL to hear – but for me, at least it lets me be honestish while trying to be supportive.

  2. Agree with everything you have said wholeheartedly, Erica. I have the same internal dialouge when it comes to speaking with pregnant women. I appreciate those who can voice their new found fears to me, fears that only occurred to them after they watched our baby girl slip away from us in the safest place when we thought we were in the clear, but then like you I feel bad, that it had to be me and my baby who taught them those valuable lessons.
    I want my innocence back, and I want the innocence back for all of my friends who were hit so hard by Hope’s life and death.
    Still, most of my friends who are preg now with me, are still able to talk about WHEN. They can still go out and buy baby things and plan for the future. I am frozen with fear and can only ever think IF, as hard as I try to push those thoughts aside.

  3. I know. And I know I also cast a shadow over others and I so loathe that.

  4. I think it’s the need to say, “you’ll be fine” that’s the hardest. If we didn’t know the difference, if they didn’t know the difference, the conversation wouldn’t happen.

    I don’t say it either. Just can’t.

  5. “a temptation of fate” you called it … I never believed in fate, and I still don’t really. Yet I will not buy a single thing for this baby growing inside me. I will not order anything that we might need. Because it might tempt fate … even though I don’t believe in it.

  6. Of course you can’t say those things, nor could your SIL believe them if you did. I found it irritating rather than comforting when people told me everything would be okay during my second pregnancy. While I am jealous of the innocence of many pregnant women, I am also sorry for the fear and anxiety felt by not only baby-loss moms, but also those close to them. My sister said when her daughter was born, three months after Henry died, she kept asking if the baby was okay, and didn’t realize how anxious she had been until the baby was born.

  7. all we can do is hope

  8. you are right erica, you can’t say that everything will be fine. because as uncomfortable as it is, it’s the truth. and even though most of the time it is ok, we know how not ok it can be.

    it’s one of the ironic things i constantly think about for myself. because i knew deeply that things could be not ok. my mom had a baby who was born disabled. so i had a lot of fear and prayed all the time for a healthy baby, while everyone told me everything would be fine. and while i had fear of not having a healthy baby, my husband would say ‘we’ll love you no matter what’. i felt upset by this but looking back it makes more sense. b/c we have no control at all. i also really wanted to let go of my fear and not pass it on to my child…but that sure didn’t work out in any direction.

    it’s tough. it’s like pregnancy is a taste of how much is unknown and uncontrollable in life.


  9. Yes! A hundred times yes. Last week a friend went into labor… a long labor… with her first child. The whole time a part of me wanted to scream out, “Get thee to the hospital, now! Lest you get an infection or your placenta gives out or your baby’s shoulders get stuck or s/he loses oxygen or…” You know, the thousand things I now know about that can go wrong and take a baby’s or mother’s life.

    Contrasting with that were my own memories of Dahlia’s labor, my first, also long, full of confidence in spite of the pain and endlessness of it, never once doubting that in the end she would be fine and so would I. And we were. She’s the one that is still here with me in her radiantly healthy body.

    I held both of those at the same time and I kept silent. Shared my worries with Dave and no one else. I recognize that she and her baby were not the 100s of women and babies I now know from this corner of cyberspace, that it was not up to me to project their reality onto my friend. That each of us has our own journey. And I kept close to my computer to hear the outcome – which of course was a healthy baby who came out easily, all are safe and well together at home now. No drama. Nothing beyond the simplicity that they anticipated. All I was able to do was send out my positive hopes and thoughts and love, and leave the rest to that much bigger thing that I am just a tiny part of.

  10. Ah yes, that guilt (and a little bit of comfort) to know that your experience and loss has indeed impacted the way others see it. I find that even though some people say they are now fearful b/c of our son’s death — I don’t think they can nearly comprehend the fear I/we, for instance, had with the pregnancy of my second son (who survived). And the fear does not suddenly disappear after he/she is born alive and healthy. I am still often plagued with fear, though as I’ve been wearing my new understanding, I find it is morphing into an uncomfortable acceptance that so much is out of my control as it pertains to the sustainability of life (whether in utero or not).

    Generally though, I find most people have an “it won’t happen to me” attitude, which makes me feel so damned unfortunate and alone. So, I don’t mind when I hear that someone has become a little bit more aware of how wrong things can be.

  11. This is tough for me, too. Sometimes I feel like the harbinger of death for the women in my life, those who are currently pregnant and those who haven’t experienced pregnancy yet. It makes me feel guilty, and then I have to remind myself that I have nothing to feel guilty about…that I most certainly didn’t ask for life to take this turn, for my son to die.

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