A Way with Words

Since October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, throughout the month, I have posted statistics, facts and articles to our Kyleigh’s Gift Facebook page about pregnancy and infant loss. Most of what I posted had to do with miscarriage. I was hoping to do more around stillbirth, but the month caught up to me and it just didn’t happen. If you have not seen the beautiful photos of candles lit for October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, check them out. I was overwhelmed by the love, support and sharing on that day.

This post is meant to wrap up the month of awareness. I can share all the statistics, facts and articles in the world surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, but if people don’t think before they speak, all of that information is worthless.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

How many times have you heard that phrase? It has been awhile for me, but one that I heard and recited as a child. Back then, it was just a silly rhyme that I probably repeated on the playground at school or at home when my sister and I were playing Barbie’s. I never really stopped to think about what it meant.

I sure know what it means now.

“Don’t worry; you can always have more children.”

These words were spoken to me more times than I can count after I had my first miscarriage. What people did not know is that we had been trying to have a baby for over a year before I got pregnant. What people did not know is that I have an endocrine disorder that causes infertility. What people did not know is that we were told it would be difficult to have children without the use of fertility drugs. What people did not know is that we couldn’t afford fertility drugs and we decided against using them. This pregnancy was our miracle. For all we knew, this pregnancy could have been our one and only. We didn’t need people telling us, “Don’t worry, you’ll have more children.”

“Maybe next time you’ll be healthy.”

I was standing in the sanctuary at church when someone told me this; again, referring to my first miscarriage. I remember the moment and I remember the person who said it to me. He expressed his condolences, of course, followed by a few statements regarding my health and how I’ll have to make sure I stay healthy next time. I don’t drink alcohol or even soda when I am pregnant. I don’t smoke or do drugs, ever. I don’t partake in risky behavior. I get plenty of sleep and eat healthy. I was not sick with the flu or other illness when I miscarried. So what was this man talking about? Was he implying that I did something to cause my baby to die at 11 weeks? Surely not. Surely he didn’t mean what he said.

“How has your summer been so far?”

I was teaching elementary art when we found out we were expecting our first child. It was early spring and contracts were coming out for the following year. I had to make a choice: sign my contract and take maternity leave when my baby is born in December, or resign from teaching and stay home with my newborn. I had always wanted to be a stay at home mom, so even though I was early in my first trimester, I resigned from teaching. I kept my reason quiet because we had decided to wait until the end of the first trimester to tell most people. Family and close friends knew we were expecting and as we neared the end of the school year, and I got closer and closer to my second trimester, the word started getting out. I had shared the news with a handful of teacher friends, but decided to wait and tell my exciting news to all of the staff at the end-of-year teacher luncheon. It was also a celebration for those teachers who had resigned or retired. I was 11 weeks pregnant.

Three days before the last day of school, also the morning of the celebration, I awoke to some pregnancy complications. I called the doctor and the only time they could see me was during the luncheon. I had to go. I had to make sure everything was okay with my baby. I taught my morning classes, made a brief appearance at the luncheon and then left for the doctor’s office. Our baby no longer had a heartbeat. I was having a miscarriage. I never returned to school again that year. The staff was told I was sick and a substitute finished out my school year. My mom and a dear friend packed up my room. When I returned later in the summer to pick up my things, a teacher commented on how ill I looked that day at the luncheon. I don’t blame her for her words. She had no idea what had happened.

It was someone else I knew that did know what had happened that spoke the words, “How has your summer been so far?” only a week into summer. A week after I miscarried. A week after I left my job because I thought I was having a baby in December. This person knew every detail of what was going on in my life and asked this question like I had spent the week on the beach enjoying the sand and sun.

“Have another baby; it will take the pain away.”

Someone actually said this to me after Kyleigh died. The end.

“How is your incision?”

Lunch was brought to us the week after we buried Kyleigh by someone that we used to be very close to. After everyone ate lunch, the kids went outside to play. As we sat and watched, everything under the sun was talked about, except Kyleigh. The reason why this person was at my house was not even mentioned. This person who at one point was one of my closest friends could not even say my daughter’s name. In what turned out to be close to a two hour visit, the only reference to Kyleigh or anything to do with what had happened were the words, “How is your incision?” She was referring to the incision from my C-section. I have not communicated with her since.

*****************************

I could keep going. I could continue a list of the things people have said to me that hurt. These are the top five, if you will. These are the words, the moments, in my grief and pain that stand out as being hurt by someone else. I remember each of these instances as if they happened yesterday. I don’t replay them over in my mind, but if asked about them, I can give you details, obviously.

I am not writing about these hurtful words to call people out. I do not hold grudges against these people. You may disagree based on my words, but what I have done in many of these instances is removed myself from unhealthy relationships. If people whom I consider close friends cannot acknowledge my loss and pain, why should I subject myself to the hurtfulness?

I give you these real-life examples so that you can see how what some would label simple words can be so hurtful. It wasn’t until Kyleigh died that most people found out we had had a second miscarriage in 2008. We didn’t tell people because the words spoken to us after our first miscarriage were so painful to hear, we didn’t want to hear those words again.

Be aware of what you are saying to someone when they are grieving. If you don’t know what to say, say that! It’s better to acknowledge that you don’t want to cause the person any pain by your words than to ignore the pain or sit in silence. If my friend had said, “I don’t know what to say,” instead of, “How’s your incision?” our relationship would probably have sustained that.

I have only touched on words that are hurtful to bring awareness. Trust me, for every hurtful word, I have had a hundred kind, gentle, compassionate, loving words spoken to me. They are written in cards, sent by email and spoken in word. Take a minute and think about your words. Think about how what you say affects the person you are speaking to. This goes for all areas of life, not just pregnancy and infant loss. I recently had a conversation with a friend about stepping out in faith and pursuing what God has called her to do. She hesitates because of hurtful words spoken to her in her past. Words that told her she wasn’t good enough. That she couldn’t do it. She knows this isn’t true, but the words have stuck with her after all these years. They creep back in and rob her of feeling like she can do anything God calls her to do.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Bones heal. Harsh words hurt.

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