OK so I don’t want to just become known as the ‘miscarriage chick’, but I have had five of them so I think I’m qualified to write on the subject. It’s only natural that since I’ve blogged on this topic once or twice before that people I meet tend to share their own journeys with me. And the issue that comes up most often when people open up on this topic is how much their pain has been magnified by the insensitive treatment of family or friends.
Naturally I can’t give you a definitive list of DO’s and DON’Ts because everybody reacts differently. I’m also not out here to point the finger at anybody. But I think a good starting point would be to tackle some of the common assumptions that people make.
Firstly, don’t assume that you know what’s going on. Infertility doesn’t only affect that couple who’ve been married for 13 years and don’t have kids yet. Infertility can strike anyone at any time. That family you know with two school-aged girls? They could have been trying for another baby for the last six years. That young couple who always joke that they’d rather have a dog – she might have had cancer treatment when she was young and not be able to have children. And then there’s the loss and grief of those people whose circumstances have robbed them of the chance to have children. That friend who recently divorced – she might be overwhelmed by the sudden realization that she won’t have another child. Your single friend, who just turned forty, might be grieving the baby she terminated at seventeen. Your grandmother might hold your newborn and weep over a stillborn baby you never knew about. These are just some of the situations that people deal with in their lives, but here’s my point, people – YOU JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!
What I’m trying to say is this: you may not have all the information, even if you’ve discussed the situation at length. So why does it matter? Because if pregnant women and mums of newborns and people who just popped out four healthy kids without blinking would keep this in the back of their minds, life would be a lot easier for everyone. How so, you ask?
Well it means you don’t pass your newborn baby into someone’s arms without first asking them and giving them the chance to pass if they don’t want to have a cuddle.
It means you don’t assume that everybody wants to meet your new baby. Let them come to you if they want to and don’t take it personally if they don’t. It’s probably got nothing to do with you. You’re in your bubble of joy, they’re in their bubble of grief. Those who are grieving may also feel they don’t want to dampen your happy occasion with their sadness.
It also means you think about who you send your pregnancy, birth announcements and baby shower invitations to and how you word them, knowing that for some people it will be a source of deep pain. If you know your friend is struggling with infertility, you might want to think about telling them in private, giving them space to grieve, rather than putting it up on Facebook or announcing it in front of all your friends at a BBQ.
Recognise that if you are heavily pregnant or have a new baby, your non-pregnant friend might need some space from you. Be patient. Show your friend you’re still there for them by a phone call, a card, a gift, an email, whatever, but understand that they may not want to hang out with you, shop for baby clothes, look at your ultra-sound video or give you big squashy pregger-belly hugs.
Remember also that being pregnant is not a happy state for everyone. For those who have experienced recurrent miscarriage, stillbirth, a non-survivable feotal abnormality or early infant death, pregnancy can be a highly anxious, even terrifying time. For me, whenever a friend happily announces their pregnancy at six weeks I have to steady myself. How can people still believe that what happened to me won’t happen to them?
Don’t quiz your friend about their miscarriage or infertility. For most people, being asked about it is just a trigger for the grief. Give your friend the space to talk about it if they want to, but there’s nothing worse than being asked ’20 Questions’ and feeling like all the other person wants is information. Even though these questions may be well-intentioned, they are often the cause of additional pain.
Talking about these issues is never fun, but it’s at least bearable with other people who have some experience of it too. If you’ve never been through it, recognize that you may not be the best person to talk about it with. It’s always helpful to temper any questions with the prefix, “I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, but how are you going with…” I’ve also been asked if I’m ‘feeling better now’. Frankly, I’m never going to ‘get better’. Holding your tiny thirteen-week son in your hands is not something you just ‘get over’. Just because your friend isn’t weeping into her tea every time you see her doesn’t mean the pain or grief has gone away.
For me, one of the most common triggers for grief is the question, “How many kids do you have?” or “Are you planning to have more children?” Even just asking this question in a way that acknowledges that having kids isn’t necessarily something that just happens easily for everyone would make it less painful. For example, “Would you like to have more kids if you were able to?” includes an acknowledgement that these things don’t always go to plan.
Keep in mind that almost everybody who experiences recurrent miscarriage, infertility or a major fetal abnormality will be carrying around a deep sense of failure over their losses, imperfections or their inability to fall pregnant. Yes, even the most confident person who looks like they’ve got it all together. Nobody wants to be defined by their failings, so remember to celebrate, support and encourage the good things in your friend’s life.
Having said all that, the absolute worst thing that drives me nuts is being told how I should feel about my miscarriages or what I should do. That I should count my blessings. Or that a certain pregnancy wasn’t meant to be. Or that I need to trust God more. Or that maybe I wouldn’t have coped with another baby. Or that they can’t understand what I’m so upset about. Everybody will feel differently about what they’ve been through, even from one day to the next. Telling another person how they should feel about their experiences is almost never helpful. Listening is far more meaningful.
Remember too, that if you’re the person walking this difficult road right now, there is some onus on you to let your friends and family know how they can support you. You can’t expect people to just know what you need and then feel disappointed when they let you down. But having shared your feelings, it is also inevitable that some of those you share with just won’t understand and you will have to find your own ways to cope with that. Gradually you will start to work out who is ‘safe’ to be with.
So these are just some of my ideas about how you can support your friends who might be grieving the baby they never knew or the baby they never had, always keeping in mind that you may not even know your friends are going through this difficult time. I really hope that others will share their thoughts and comments, whether they agree or disagree. And to all my dear friends who have loved and supported me during the past year and a half, please don’t worry that you might have said or done the ‘wrong thing’. After all, just being there is the most important thing. We’re all figuring out how to cope with this in our different ways.
Have you experienced recurrent miscarriage, a stillbirth, fetal abnormality or infertility? What pressures has this put on your friendships with others? Do your friends know about your situation and if so, do they understand? Do you feel you’ve been supported by your loved ones, or has there been hurt on both sides? If you’re single, or recently divorced, how do you cope when all your friends are having babies?
To make a comment, click on the story title, and fill in the form marked ‘Leave a Reply’.
Ok, so infertility is no laughing matter. But for all those of us who know that the term ‘family planning’ is somewhat of an oxymoron, I thought maybe it was time to tackle the issue with a bit of humour! So here’s my list of the best things about having only one child.
- You can walk into a café without sending all the wait-staff into a grommit-induced panic attack that leaves them cowering in the kitchen while you turn their polished floors into a piece of performance art.
- You can still entertain some hope of one day traveling overseas again.
- Your child is so used to adult conversation they’d rather sip babyccinos while discussing film history than go to a play centre (So babyish, Mum.)
- You don’t have to stop the car five times in a half-hour trip to break up the fights and adjudicate disputes.
- You’ll only ever have to attend one game of Saturday sport, one school fete and one parent-teacher night, which should be enough for anybody.
- Christmas is cheaper.
- Everything is cheaper.
- You might have some hope of maintaining meaningful relationships with non-breeding friends.
- Securing a babysitter doesn’t require you to provide safety gear, personal liability insurance or an emergency exit.
- From time to time, if your child isn’t teething, sick, coughing, asthmatic, experiencing separation anxiety, bad dreams, bedwetting or night terrors, you might just get a full night’s sleep.
How many kids do you have/not have? How many would you like to have? What are the pros and cons of your situation? Feel free to come up with your own list to suit your situation or add a few to mine…
To make a comment, click on the story title, and fill in the form marked ‘Leave a Reply’.
The question most commonly asked of new parents is: ‘Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?’ There’s no doubt that dealing with disturbed sleep is a big challenge for new parents, but when people are always asking you this it would be easy to get the impression that getting your baby to sleep through the night should be the first and final goal of parenting. Oh really… hang on… you mean it’s not?
I remember when Birdy was about three months old she started catnapping. I had a copy of Save Our Sleep on the shelf, so I read it from cover to cover, and started Birdy on a feeding and sleeping routine. At the time, I thought it was an absolute lifesaver. There’s no question that her sleeping improved, she seemed more settled and life became more manageable for all of us. She would fall asleep easily, by herself, usually without crying. But I was also fairly strict about not cuddling her to sleep, or rocking her, or doing anything that would be a hard habit to break later.
But now that she’s older, I’ve started to change my point of view on this issue. I remember one night reading Birdy the Mem Fox picture book Time For Bed, which shows all the baby animals going to sleep with their mummy’s. One night, after reading that book, Birdy asked me why she couldn’t go to bed with her mummy. Suddenly I had this niggling feeling that it might be unnatural to put a baby to bed on their own and expect them to always fall asleep. So now if Birdy wakes in the night, I’m much more likely to lay down with her for a few minutes and give her a cuddle, rather than to just expect her to go back to sleep by herself. Don’t get me wrong, I know self-settling is an important skill to teach, but it doesn’t have to be taught overnight. It can and often does take time. And it may not be realistic to expect babies or very young children to consistently sleep through the night without any help from Mum or Dad.
So now whenever I hear new parents bragging about how their little one is sleeping through the night at ten weeks or twelve weeks I find it very hard to stop the corners of my mouth from curling up in a secret little smile. Because what those first-time parents don’t realize is that the baby who is sleeping through the night at three months, ain’t necessarily going to be sleeping through the night at six months, nine months, or even one or two years of age. Again, I’m not saying you don’t need to teach good sleeping skills, of course you do. But if you make ‘sleeping through the night’ the number one goal of your parenting, you’re going to be disappointed.
Because you can teach your child to self-settle at three months, and think you’ve got it sorted, and then at four months they start teething, at six months they want to feed more, at nine months they’re snotty and can’t breathe well, then they’re teething again, and then they develop separation anxiety and wake up just to check you’re still around. At one and a half they suddenly decide they don’t want to go in their sleeping bag anymore so then they kick off all their blankets and wake up cold. Then they get sick again and can’t sleep. Then at two they start having night terrors and bad dreams, then they move into a big bed and they fall out or they find themselves upside down with their head under the doona and their feet hanging out the window. Then they get sick again, then they develop asthma, or hayfever or eczema, and they wake up coughing, or sneezing or scratching, then by the time they’re three they’re toilet trained and they want to get up in the middle of the night and go to the toilet.
So now you can understand why, when some proud parent tells me gleefully at twelve weeks that their new baby is sleeping through the night, I have to turn my face away slightly and bite my tongue. Because I would have said the same thing when Birdy was three months old. And now I get up most nights to a snotty, coughing, itchy, upside down, uncovered or scared little girl who just wants a kiss and a cuddle from mummy. And it’s not really a big deal.
So what is the first and final goal of parenting if it’s not sleeping through the night? Just loving them. And yes, sometimes that means tough love, but sometimes it means finding it in your heart to be kind and patient and loving, even at two in the morning.
Is your child a good sleeper? When did they start sleeping through the night? If they don’t sleep well, why do you think that is? Do you sometimes feel pressure from other family members or friends to ‘fix’ them? Would you do anything differently next time around? How have your expectations changed over time?
To make a comment, click on the story title, and fill in the form marked ‘Leave a Reply’.
Useful Resources (If you really do have a sleep problem)
SMH Article: Baby Whisperers
The Australian Article: Tough Love
We’ve been experiencing a bit of attention-seeking behaviour lately and it’s quite hard to know how to deal with it. You don’t want to reward the behaviour by supplying negative attention, but at the same time, you can’t let them get away with behaviours that are unacceptable.
For example… Last week I had a friend over for dinner, and while we were talking I gave Birdy her evening milk. Now Birdy and I normally sit down together and read stories while she has her milk. But because I was chatting with my friend, I just gave her the milk and kept talking. Then suddenly I noticed that Birdy was pouring her milk all over the kitchen floor in a very obvious attempt to get my attention. I felt I had to deal with the behaviour because she was making a big mess. So I stopped my conversation and made Birdy clean it up. But when we were finished, my friend said, ‘Well she got what she wanted,’ meaning that in a way I had rewarded her by giving her my attention.
I had another similar incident when I was on the phone to a friend. I’d only been talking for a short time when Birdy starts hitting her cousin on the head with a recorder. Again, I felt I had to intervene to protect my niece, but by cutting short my phone call I was giving her what she wanted.
So I’ve been trying to find out what the experts recommend. There’s a lot of expert advice that says you should just ignore attention-seeking behaviour, to remove the fuel for the fire so to speak, but not everyone agrees with that. (Louise Porter, for example, thinks the whole paradigm of attention-seeking behaviour is unhelpful.) The problem is that if you ignore the behaviour, then you’re teaching your kids that they can get away with anything when you’re on the phone or busy. So I think you have to deal with the behaviour with whatever discipline you would normally use, but not by reacting emotionally or getting upset.
One thing most of the experts agree on is that it’s useful to redirect the child towards a positive activity, and to let them know that you will be available when your task is completed, for example, by saying ‘After I’m finished talking on the phone we can all go to the park.’ And while there’s been a lot written on the importance of giving your child positive attention when they are behaving well, it’s no guarantee. I’m sure we’ve all had days when we’ve taken our child out somewhere special, they’ve had our attention all day, but they still misbehave when they get home. And in those times it’s almost impossible not to respond emotionally or get upset.
Most parents will witness some attention-seeking behaviour around the birth of a new child. That seems to be quite normal and should pass after the first few months. But if attention-seeking behaviour becomes the child’s normal way of relating to adults, then you may need the help of a child psychologist. Either that, or just put away all your recorders. That should do the trick.
Is attention-seeking behaviour a problem in your family? How do you deal with it? When should you ignore it, when should you intervene?
To make a comment, click on the story title, and fill in the form called ‘Leave A Reply’.
I want to tell you about last Saturday morning.
We’ve had a massive week, Daddy’s at work and I’m in desperate need of a break, so I decide we’ll stay at home and have a quiet day.
Needless to say, Birdy’s getting bored. She asks me to do painting. After putting this off for most of the morning, I eventually get the painting things set up and we sit down on the floor to do painting.
At that point, I discover a puddle on the floor. Yes, it’s one of those puddles. It must have happened while I was in the shower. But it’s landed on a pile of pencils that Birdy has unpacked. So I leave her to the painting while I clean up the puddle and all the pencils that are lying in it.
Now leaving a two-year-old semi-unsupervised with a pile of paint can’t be anyone’s idea of a good idea. But what choice do I have? I can’t leave wee all over the floor, and I can’t cut short the painting when we’ve only just begun. It doesn’t take Birdy long to realize that she has free reign with a pile of paint. ‘I’m just going to do some handprints,’ she says, putting both hands deep into the paint. ‘OK,’ I reply, ‘but just your hands.’ Sure enough, next thing you know she’s taking off her shoes. ‘Birdy, not your feet, just your hands,’ I’m calling out, halfway through cleaning the accident, and not in a position to intervene. ‘Birdy, stay on the newspaper. Birdy, don’t move off the newspaper.’ She’s walking her paint covered feet all through the kitchen. I’m physically trying to put her back onto the newspaper. She’s kicking and screaming. She’s confused. I’m exhausted. This painting thing is so not turning out to be fun.
‘Right, that’s it, Birdy, you’re going in the bath.’ I throw her in with a washer. ‘Now I want you to clean yourself up.’ ‘No, I won’t.’ ‘Birdy, clean yourself up.’ ‘No.’
Tears. Crying. A major tantrum brewing.
I wash her and quickly get her out of the bath. The house is a mess. There’s newspaper and paint everywhere and the wee is still only half dealt with. Birdy’s crying. I’m totally over it. This supposedly restful day has turned out to be anything but. The lectures start… how painting was ruined because she didn’t listen to Mummy etc etc.
Then at the end of our little talk, when I’m feeling like a complete failure and she’s wondering why she’s in so much trouble, she runs at me for a cuddle, calling at the top of her voice.
“I want more love.”
Distress pours out from her as she reaches up for me.
“I want more love.”
I sweep her into my arms and hold her close.
I know how you feel, Birdy. I know how you feel.
Yes, it’s sometimes draining spending all day, every day with a two-year-old. But maybe being one ain’t that easy either.
Hi, just wanted to let all my regular readers know that this blog will now be featuring gorgeous new photos by Lisa Jay. Lisa specialises in children’s photography and her photos capture the natural energy, exuberance and joyful spirit of children at play. Since I want this site to be a celebration of parenting, I think the photos will really enhance the experience. I’ll gradually add more pics over time and a link to Lisa’s photo blog when it’s ready. Please feel free to comment on any pics, just as you would on my stories. I think these images will really enhance the site, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.