Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ignoring the Ignorant

First off, thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my feelings. I think the best part is that no one got mad at me, I was terribly afraid I might offend someone and their beliefs. :) I'm glad to know those who consider themselves religious also struggle with the same concerns as those of us who do not. I also like the idea of it not really being God's fault, but I don't know that I'm ready to turn to him to comfort me.

I also like what Brooke wrote about attempting to pull some thread of meaning from the loss of your child, whether it means your child will bring you closer to your husband, appreciating future babes even more, and knowing who your friends are.

And of course there are all of you, the lovely ladies who walk this path with me. I'm so thankful for having met you, though I wish with all my heart it had been under different circumstances.

Anyway, onto my run-in of the day.

I went for my first post-baby haircut. I decided to try somewhere new. My regular place is fine, but I don't really feel a loyalty to any one hairdresser and I kinda think I'm getting to a point in my life I should have a dedicated hair stylist. ha. :) A month or so ago, I bought a Groupon-type deal for a haircut & style, and today, I redeemed it.

That's my girl
My hair was getting really long, like Laura Ingalls Wilder (here's some trivia for you- she's my namesake!!!) long- not quite the look I was going for when I wanted to grow it. I wanted long and luxurious, but with mile long split-ends, it was anything but. So, I got it cut.

Trying to talk me up, the stylist, Joe asked me whether I had children. After swallowing the lump in my throat, I answered yes.  I had hoped this would be all he needed to know... But no, he inevitably asked me how old, and then I told of Jack's passing (what is it with me and doing this? I feel like I have to say yes and would feel guilty if I said no. But it really, truly would be easier to say no and then not have to worry about the follow up.  Gah, one day, hopefully I'll figure out the best response). Obviously this wasn't what he was expecting, so he announced "God has another Angel", and we are really lucky to have "our own angel" to watch out for us. He then continued by saying maybe the baby didn't want to be born into a world where "it's all crazy" and he's better off where he is. He told me I could "have more babies because [I'm] young", "my husband and I can try again".  "It will get better and one day I won't even think of it"... Basically, any stereotypical thing he could have said, he did.

At first, I was angry (and when I'm angry, I cry). Then I kinda figured wtf, he has no idea what he's talking about. Then I realized he was just trying to help, and failing miserably.

Then, he asked me to think about how much worse it must be to lose a child after several years when you loved him or her.  ::cue music screeching to a halt::  At this point, I decided to set him straight, letting him know I wish very much to have had several years with Jack. I informed him I very much loved Jack from the very get go- when he was a single cell, and will continue to do so until my very last breath. I told him that this wasn't the life I had planned, that THAT life included a smiley, chubby little boy, and that indeed losing a child at an older age would be awful, but this was too.

I saw a light bulb go off in his head. He apologized for what he was saying, he actually stopped cutting my hair at this point. He told me his sister in law (his brother's wife) lost a baby at birth more than 7 years ago. He said she went through hell and back, and is now the mother of 4 more babes (including a set of twins). He explained that he thinks she copes now because she is so busy she has no time to think about it (which I can't imagine being the case, no matter how many McBabes I might have). He has a child (despite the fact he's quite openly gay) with his ex-wife, and he couldn't imagine losing his daughter.

As he resumed cutting my hair, we spoke for a while about children in general, and what life with them would be like. He asked me if my husband and I intended to have more, he asked me how my husband deals with this stuff, how our families feel. He actually was every bit the stereotypical hair stylist/therapist I had hoped he might be.

By the end of my appointment I actually liked him. I honestly think he is a genuinely nice guy who was at a loss for words for what to say to a clearly grieving mother. He meant well, and so he spewed out every token phrase he has ever heard in an attempt to comfort me.  I get that. I didn't know what to say to someone like me, I'm still not sure what to say or what it is I'm waiting to hear.

Sometimes, when I comment in other blogger's posts, I worry I'm not saying the right things, or that what I'm writing might not come across the way I intend it to. I worry that my blatant optimism might be misconstrued for ignorance or naivety.  Unfortunately, I know all too well what losing feels like, what hurting to the core is.  And knowing that even I don't know what to say, having been there, and experienced this, how could anyone else? I've decided I'm going to try my best to give people who say silly things to me (except that wench at work)  the benefit of the doubt. I'm going to assume they mean well, that they are just struggling with what the say. I'm going to attempt to ignore the ignorant.

What do you say when people say these cliche things to you? Do you tell them yes when they ask if you have children, or do you say no to avoid the awkwardness?


B. Wilson said...

You're totally right. They mean well and we snap back all too quickly as a defense mechanism when in reality, we're all uncomfortable about the whole situation.

I'm going to work on giving people the benefit of the doubt, too.

Except that wench. ;)

Shell said...

When comments come up I just try to think they are not sure what to say and just trying to comfort me. As for the children question, I have had it asked twice by the same person. I was applying for a job and the woman who took my application asked my if I had children. First, employers have no right to ask this question but I told her no as I didn't want to share. And then earlier this week I was at another interview and the woman shared with me that she was pregnant. Now she was not showing and probably would have never bothered me before but now I am wondering how I will handle this person should I get the position. I would only work with her several weeks. Ugh.

I am sorry your stylist asked you that question and then divulged everything. It sounds to me like he just went on with everything else. I am not sure I would have been so cool about it. I might have asked him to change topics or the conversation.

Rachel said...

Your post was wonderful. Everytime I comment on someone's blog post I worry that I have said the wrong thing or it will come across different than I intended.
I really think the answer to the child(ren) question is on a case by case basis, depending on the situation and the person. I think it is best to do what you feel comfortable with. I understand feeling guilty if I don't answer to include Emily, but sometimes I am just not strong enough to deal with emotions of telling someone else about losing a child.
So, for me, when asked if Maddie is my only child I often say, she is the only one with me right now. And then either change to subject or walk away if that is appropriate.
I think what you said about ignoring the ignorant is very wise. Most people mean well, and just often say the wrong thing in the moment, or just really do not stop and think how it will affect the person they are talking to.

Kelly said...

I get angry too, but I try not to say anything. 1. I hate confrontation, and 2. They just don't know what to say. I once ignorantly told a friend that had a miscarriage that it wasn't meant to be or something alone those lines. I kick my own ass when I think of it now. I didn't know. I was trying to offer support and ended up being an ass. I hate the cliches anything about God or time healing...that's what I hear. I just don't say anything. Nod and smile. If I was in your situation where someone kept saying things over and over, I hope I'd speak up. I'm glad you did.

I don't get a lot of questions about how many kids I have. It's always just me and Natalie out and about, and she's young and I look young so people probably think she's it. I've thought about this a lot. I don't think I could ever say I only have one. The explaining is hard but I think the guilt I had after saying there's only 1 would be harder. He was here, and to me, I just cannot not acknowledge it.

Angela said...

Yes, yes, yes. Wonderful post! Whenever someone says something insensitive or thoughtless I think of all the times I've struggled to form the right words and I'm living through life without my baby. I have experience with that kind of loss and words still fail me sometimes.

When people ask if this is my first pregnancy or if I have any kids I say I have a baby girl in heaven. That leaves it open for them to ask for details or drop the subject if it makes them uncomfortable.

Tiffany said...

Just last week I got asked for the first time, how many children I had- I answered two and hoped he would drop it. He said, boys? girls? ages? I just said two years and nine months. I guess Ellie will always be nine months so... I didn't know how to answer. I don't want to say one. But I don't want to spill by life story to a stranger. I now live in fear of this question.
I am glad you said something to the stylist. Hopefully you clued him in on what's helpful and what's not. That way maybe next time, he'll handle the situation better. My heart started pounding when I read that story. I was anxious for you! Thank you for sharing your worries about this, sometimes I think I'm crazy for thinking too much about these things!!

Molly said...

Omg!! Will comment on this post via a post of my own tomorrow! Lol! I had a similar experience today. Not as bad though. You handled that situation well and have the attitude I will try to adopt. :)

Brooke said...

I still marvel at the fact that I am living in this and I still don't know wtf to say to people who are also experiencing it. Partly because what I want to hear myself depends on the day and the person talking to me. I think you're right to give him the benefit of the doubt--I've tried to do the same, and I've been fortunate not to have to tell the story too many times. I guess my social circles are small enough that word got around, so I haven't faced the "Do you have kids" question yet. You handled it amazingly well.

New Year Mum said...

Those situations are so difficult... sounds like you did really well to tell him how it is and not shy away from his potentially innocent but hurtful comments... that takes a lot of courage xoxo

Becky said...

I am trying really hard to give people the benefit of the doubt also. I wish I could just smack people for the stuff they have said but most of the times I just shake my head and figure there is no point in saying much or anything because then I end up more mad at their ignorance.

Most of the time I tell people "yes" when I get asked if I have a child, there has been a few times though that I was caught off guard and only got out a "ah, ah, ah", But of course once I say anything other than no more questions follow.

I love writing comments on people posts also but always wonder if I have ever offended anyone, because that is something I never intend to purposely do. I mean well with every comment and hope it never gets taken the wrong way. I hope you let me know if I ever say anything to upset you.

Becky said...

I will also say I would feel bad if I said "no" to having any children. Liam is my baby and I want it known even though it hurts me to hear peoples comments.
Glad that you set your hairdresser straight also.
Oh and I love Laura Ingalls. I could watch repeats of Little House on the Prairie over and over.
Sorry so long. Take Care

My New Normal said...

Well I'm the big chicken in the group then. When random strangers ask me this question I say no. Mostly because I don't really want to get into it all and also because it's really none of their business.

I do tell new friends or people I haven't seen in a long time. But with strangers it's different for me.

little vitu's mom said...

I have hardly gone out & met anyone after my baby died. Except for a hairdresser. When she asked the question, 'I said no'. She probed a lot, how old are you? how long have you been married? why no kids yet? I was adamant and stuck to 'I may have, soon'. But didn't tell her that I had a son who died. I feared that, if I tell her, I'd need to confront lot of things like you mentioned, so I stuck to 'no'. But I have feeling very bad and terribly guilty about it. I really don't know what to say when the next stranger asks this question. One thing I do is avoid going out, talking to strangers altogether. I'm a chicken anyway, and don't have the energy to deal with random people in addition to my ever lingering grief.

But its good you set the hairdresser straight. Sometimes you need to do that. I admire your strength.

lissasue3 said...

You handled him better than I ever could!

I am avoiding a hair cut for this very reason. I got one two days before I delivered Charlotte, so I'm due for one desperately but I know that awkward conversation will happen. I'm not ready for it. Ever.

Keleen said...

I feel like when people say those things to me it is "my duty" to set them straight. I feel like if I can help them undterstand even a little then maybe if they meet someone else like us down the line they won't say that same thing again. I try to be gentle and understanding as most people are TRYING to say something comforting even though it isn't. Afterall, had I never experienced this baby loss thing first hand I might have been the one to say something dumb...who knows!

Sherri said...

Big applause for you for setting him straight (lol.. well he's still gay, but... sorry, couldn't help myself :P ) Anyway, good for you for saying what I would love to say to people when they spout the cliches... That it still HURTS no matter what the circumstances.. grief is grief, and it's awful!! I've answered both ways depending on circumstances... but feel AWFUL if I don't include Kristen in the conversation. Wish I had the strength everytime to tell people, even when it's not what they want to hear.

Melissa said...

I remember when I used to feel like this too. I felt as if I needed to include Mikayla to validate her life. And eventually I realized that it wasn't necessary, that she will always be an important part of our lives and that I don't need to validate that to a stranger. Now I tell people if I feel like it and if they are someone I forsee being in my life, otherwise I find someway to answer the question in a way that answers the question but might just omit the WHOLE truth. I honestly don't know why people say the things they do, and why they can't realize that they could be hurtful. I wish I had the answers. I do believe that most people want to say the right thing, but they are just at a loss of WHAT to say.

LookItsJessica said...

I am so impressed with how you handled that! Also I never ever thought about how getting a haircut may mean questions about kids. So either now or years from now, I will have to face those dreaded questions. I may never get a haircut again. Ha.

litlsuprstar said...

It has taken many attempts to come up with my 'script' to answer the ever-present question of how many children I have. Many of my trials ended in error. Fortunately, I have found that short and sweet works best for me.

I reply, "Yes, I have one little boy in heaven."

Short and simple. I have practiced it enough that I don't get choked up anymore and people generally don't feel the need to poke and prod any further. They usually steer clear and gracefully change topics, only the brave few (whom I have decided deserve to know the story, they asked for it) continue on with the line of questioning.

I am so very proud of my Johnathan and I have found honesty is the only policy for my conscious on this one.

sarah said...

It took me probably 6 months to navigate the waters that surround being asked this question, and it took me a few stumbles and few big bumbles and a few "almost got it"s before I finally settled into a groove that I feel pretty comfortable with in being able to give an answer. An answer that gives my son his due respect and place in the world, and an answer that doesn't try to "protect" the person doing the asking, but also an answer that doesn't send me into tears immediately..

And funny that it's always hairdressers - when we were in Maui my husband went and got a haircut and she just rattled on and on about children and he tried and tried to avoid answering her directly and finally he was like "LOOK..." and explained. But she had her foot wedged well down her throat by that point.

It really is a test of our strength, as if we didn't already have enough of those, that we have to deal with navigating everyone else's ignorance, naivete, and (sometimes, yes) stupidity around the experience of having a child die. I would love to have compassion all of the time, to be able to say/do the right thing always, even to the people who act out of such ignorance, and say the most hurtful things (even when the hurt is completely inadvertent). Sometimes it's easy, and the compassion is right there for me, other times it feels impossible.

(See now even I'm second guessing my rambling comment here!)

My point (I guess) is that I am impressed with the composure with which you handled the conversation, and I learned a lot about how I hope to carry myself from reading about your interaction and your approach.


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