On Wednesday, while I got my hair cut, a the woman sitting next to me announced she was pregnant. Suddenly everyone, let me stress this, EVERYONE in the place was talking about pregnancy. So I’m sitting in the eye of the storm as nine women wax philosophical about how amazing pregnancy is and how you’ll experience this and that and this isn’t that bad and that kind of is, but it’s worth it. I just sat their, staring at my face framed by my mop of wet hair and tried to keep back the tears.
When I saw Mi.Vida later that day and told him about my experience, he asked what would happen if I had participated in the conversation. I needed him to clarify if he meant for me to make like-minded comments in an attempt to fit in, but he said no, he meant for me to share my side of the pregnancy story. Oh no, I could never do that, was my quick response, but upon further consideration I was intrigued by his question. He continued to ask me why it would be inappropriate and I found myself very captivated by the conversation that followed.
Of course people don’t bring up pregnancy loss when someone announces that they are expecting. Infertility and miscarriage are a terrifying reality and no one wants to instill uncertainty or fear in the person who should be celebrating. Also, dropping a melancholy bomb on a moment of merriment is in bad taste and rarely appreciated. I mean, when someone announces their engagement your retort is not supposed to involve your recent, and messy, divorce.
But Mi.Vida, bless his heart, was not convinced. Sure you don’t taint the promulgation of a joyous event with your upsetting anecdote, but pregnancy is not only an event (the birth) but a process. And, according to Mi.Vida, comments on life processes need not be subjected to the same rules as those of big events. I mean, pregnancy loss is so common we’re not supposed to be troubled by it, right? And infertility is just a matter of accepting that everything happens for a reason, or so I’ve been told. So why can’t one bring up either along side quips about sore boobs and morning sickness?
Still, I was less than convinced. I couldn’t imagine having said something about my ectopic pregnancy or infertility issues at that hair salon on Wednesday. I’m someone who can speak very freely about what happened to me, and will bring it up totally unprovoked; I do not feel comfortable pretending that it didn’t happen and keeping people I know ignorant of my experience. And still, I could not imagine alluding to my ordeal amongst those bubbling women and their chirping about all things positively pregnancy.
There are a lot of reasons why I couldn’t imagine declaring my devastation to those women. First of all, our culture does not condone the sharing or upset or tragedy. We don’t have the words for it, especially when it involves death. We hide death very well in our culture. We dress up the dead, and store old people away in homes while we strive to look ever younger and ever more vibrant. We must be the ageless adonis or we risk utter worthlessness. To bring up death or dying is a true faux pas. That is one of the reasons miscarriage is such a taboo subject in this country. We are scared of death, and we don’t appreciate being reminded of its inevitability and indiscrimination.
Mi.Vida understands this but he is still perplexed. How are the people dealing with pregnancy loss and infertility ever going to be noticed, if they aren’t allowed to discuss their situations? The reality is infertiles and people who have lost pregnancies pass totally unnoticed, so they experience a kind of quiet discrimination in our pregnancy-obsessed, family-centric society. And that will never change if they continue to go unnoticed. And they will continue to go unnoticed until they make themselves known. But if they make themselves known, they have to deal with the consequences.
Those consequences are both obvious and unknown. Of course it is difficult to talk about infertility or pregnancy loss, because they hurt us deeply. By bringing them up, you are forced to deal with them all over again. Then, in your already weakened state, you must protect yourself from the line of fire. People will not be grateful that you forced them to acknowledge the reality that yes, sometimes, bad things happen to good people. They will not thank you for putting a damper on their day. They will feel somewhat uncomfortable; they will not know what to say; they may even leave with an itch in their brain that can’t be scratched. And when they lack a script, you’re left in the crossfire of doozies like, “It will happen for you, just maybe not on your timetable,” or “don’t worry about it, the next one will stick,” or “if you just relax, it will happen,” or “it will happen when the time is right,” or the best one of all, “What happened was meant to be.”
These are the real reasons that most women do not insert their stories into the hair salon conversation. These little fortune cookie bits of flotsam do nothing to validate the experiences of infertility or pregnancy loss. In fact, they trivialize them. And that is unforgivable. It’s painful, and it’s upsetting and it’s absolutely unforgivable. Not receiving validation for what you’ve been through is a truly harrowing experience, and one the infertile or miscarriage survivor is cautious to avoid. It can deflate a person right down to their core; it can sting their spirit and scorch their soul. It has brought me to tears time and time again.
The reality is, the infertile or miscarriage survivor, or woman who bears both burdens, would have to be a spokesperson for their cause. They would require the strength, patience and stamina to educate the people around them with every encounter. So much ignorance surrounds these issues; so much incomprehension exists. To force infertility and miscarriage into public view would be a brutal enterprise, and would achieve very meager results. That is why so many women suffer in silence. That is why the secret sisterhood endures.
So back to Mi.Vida’s question, Is there a way to incorporate infertility and pregnancy loss productively into public conversation so that people who suffer from them do not have to remain invisible? The answer is yes, it is possible. But it’s also an arduous and unrelenting endeavor, that will surely yield very meager net gains. Those who shoulder the burdens of infertility and pregnancy loss already bear enough burdens, few have the heart to take on an insensitive world as well.