“Is this your first child?”
I know it’s a harmless question. I have even asked it of other pretty pregnant moms in the past. But now, as a mom expecting again after a loss when asked this question I get stumped. A nice elderly lady or a curious young mom in the grocery store might ask, “Is this your first pregnancy?” I usually have a brain fart and end up looking like a deer in headlights. Sometimes I will answer, “No.” but that door opens to other questions such as, “Oh, how old are your other children?” or “How come you never talk about your older child?” When that happens I don’t know what to say, so sometimes my answer to the same question is different. I simply reply, “Yes. This is my first.” or “No, I don’t have other children.” But these responses, those words hurt my soul when I hear them sneak out of my mouth. My body twinges and tenses in repulse that I can betray my first daughter’s short life by not acknowledging her out of my own personal discomfort or worse, out of sparing the discomfort of perfect strangers. I often walk away from these conversations feeling like I want to throw up.
There is so much emotional energy that goes into these fraction of a moment conversations. It’s exhausting and at times, hurtful to me as the pregnant lady. So today I want to remind others that even though I’m pregnant and my middle sticks out, this does not mean that my belly ought to be the center of discussion. I know it’s an easy conversation starter; a way to connect with me. But honestly, there are some things you just don’t ask or say to a pregnant woman, loss or no loss.
Here is my list of top 10 worst things to say to an expecting mama, and I added five things not to say if you know the pregnant mama is also a loss mom.
- “Is this your first?” You don’t know what their past pregnancy history is. There could have been miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, terminations for medical reasons, and yes, even children that have died. Just don’t ask this question.
- “How many kids do you already have?” Again, don’t ask this. From a pregnancy loss mom, this question is mindboggling and painful to answer to someone who doesn’t know you well or even if you’ve never experienced a loss, depending on how the question is asked, it could really mean to the expecting mom, “Are you sure you want another one?” Oh, and don’t say that either.
- “You’re how old?” As women we know the older we are during pregnancy, the higher the risks are for pregnancy related complications. We don’t need you to remind us.
- “Are you having twins?” So you’re implying that I’m huge! I got asked this at thirty six weeks with baby No. 1 by a very large man who was selling us a treadmill. I thought there was some real irony in this. Oh, and I didn’t like it one bit.
- “Do you want a girl or a boy?” A healthy, living breathing child is all I really want. Besides, if I say boy and get a girl, I might feel bad later when I have to answer this question to my child someday.
- “Will you have more children?” I’m not done having this one yet. Pleas just let me enjoy this pregnancy.
- “You’re going to do _(Fill in the blank)_ right?” If “fill in the blank” is breastfeed, homebirth, C-section, or whatever, saying this to a mom implies that if her decision isn’t the same as you, then it’s not the right decision. Every mom’s choices about pregnancy and parenting is her own, you only make me feel guilty about my choice when you ask this question in this way.
- “Are you excited?” Yes. I’m excited, and scared, and terrified, and fearful, and confused. My whole life is about to change (hopefully for the better) but it’s okay if I’m not always excited. It’s a lot to process.
- “Stay positive, it will all work out.” Again, I know I should stay positive, but pregnancy is hard and I can feel how I want. Also, if you’ve experienced a previous loss it is really hard to believe that “it will all work out.”
- “You’re out of the danger zone.” Meaning you have made it through the first trimester. For me this statement means nothing. My daughter died at 40 weeks pregnant. Also, all of pregnancy is scary. There are so many milestones, steps, and places to get to. It all seems scary and like a “danger zone.”
And if you know the pregnant woman you are talking to has had a previous loss please don’t say the following. (These are real examples of things said to moms expecting again after a loss, I’m not making this up.)
- “Maybe you’ll have better luck this time.” This is just rude. Please don’t say it.
- “You’re getting a perfect replacement.” Ouch! No child can replace the one that died.
- “Well, you know there was probably something wrong with your last baby. This one will be different.” You don’t know if there was something wrong or not. Unfortunately, the truth is that healthy babies die too. Oh, and even if something was wrong with my child, it doesn’t make losing them easier.
- “Are you doing anything differently this time?” Which implies that my baby’s death was somehow my fault? Again, don’t say this.
- “Are you excited to become a mom?” I’m already a mom! Did you forget? Also, another version of this question not to say, “Now you’ll be a real mom.” (Cringe) These words hurt.