“Which ones are yours?” asked the man at the picnic table to the left of mine during soccer practice.
“The one with strawberry blonde hair and freckles.”
I was getting ready to ask about his family, but he interrupted.
“Only one? Why? Why don’t you want more kids than that?” He asked with an unblinking stare. Confusion and a demanding look of inquiry overtook his face. He seemed to think he had the right to know.
I can usually shut down conversations like this or deftly change the subject, but he wouldn’t let it go.
“I’d rather not discuss that part of my life. My husband is running a few miles and will be back soon, so perhaps you can talk with him.”
I took out my earbuds and pointed at my laptop, indicating I had work to do and was finished talking. All the other seats were full or I would have moved somewhere else. Besides, I wanted to see my daughter’s team practicing. This man would have to join another discussion. But he persisted, even after my earbuds were in.
“Wow. That’s really sad and terrible. Just think, back in Bible times, and even after that, there was a huge stigma attached to your problem. You would have dealt with embarrassment, grief, and shame. People would have judged you. It would have affected your marriage because you would have been less desirable to your husband….”
And he just kept going with infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss.
I stopped him.
“Sir, I’ve struggled with many of those fears and feelings, even in this modern age. I don’t want to discuss this with someone I don’t know.”
I just stared at him, my eyebrows raised in surprise, because instead of stopping he felt the need to explain that, “even women like me are normal and valuable.”
Women “like me.” Wow.
I’m usually not caught off guard easily, but in that moment I was. My husband noticed when he arrived after his run. A quick look of understanding crossed his face as he heard what the man was talking about. Daniel hadn’t witnessed the entire scenario, but he guessed correctly that the guy wouldn’t stop talking and the subject made me uncomfortable, so he intervened in the best way possible at the moment. He sat next to him, engaged him in conversation and threw a meaningful glance of reassurance my way that said both, “I’ve got this and are you okay?”
I nodded and put my earbuds in again, cranking the volume a little to drown out the stranger’s voice. I was so frustrated. I didn’t know how to respond. Did I feel like crying? Punching the guy in the face? Showing him the definition of self-awareness and recommending the Miscarriage Category of my blog?
I decided to let it go and was grateful for Daniel’s help. An observer would have noticed, as I did, the guy clearly was not trying to be mean, but seemed interested in airing his opinions instead of understanding my situation. I didn’t feel I owed him an explanation or that an explanation would have even made a difference.
Only days before, I had a doctor’s appointment in my new city, where yet another physician, after studying my medical history, wanted to discuss my body’s “anomaly” that causes difficulty with fertility and carrying children. The doctor was capable and kind, but I’ve heard the same suggestions before— so many times. On top of that, it was the week of a missed due date for my son—my third child I miscarried. With too many thoughts running through my mind already, this man’s words, whatever his intentions, were an unwelcome blow.
So were a woman’s words at a school event a few days later:
“You only have one child? So you’re all done then?”
To me, her look was full of unspoken judgments. Her attitude seemed unrelenting and incredulous. Combined with the fact we’d met only seconds earlier, my anger rose, but it was clear she had no idea she was wounding me. I suppose asking how many children I had was a normal question since we were at a school function, but her response was thoughtless. She was in wonder at why I would choose to deny myself a joy she cherished.
She seemed to feel she deserved an answer, but I didn’t give her one. I replied, “How many do you have?”
“Several. And it’s been the greatest joy of my life.”
I thought, “Good for you lady.”
I smiled, nodded, gave a “nice to meet you”, and moved on to talk to someone else.
The icing on the cake was when, only ten minutes later, another woman innocently asked, “So you’re only picking up one today? You don’t have more?”
“No” I answered softly, but I know the look on my face was screaming, “What is wrong with people?!,” because that’s what I was thinking. My thoughts were spiraling downward fast and I could not even conceive of the fact she might be referring to something other than the size of my family.
She must have read my expression correctly because she replied gently, “I only meant that if you don’t have to pick up any other students, you and your daughter are free to go home early.”
I offered a genuine smile, slightly relieved, but also a little embarrassed at having misunderstood. “Oh. Thanks. I appreciate you letting me know.”
©2018 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
As usual, I’m beginning a new topic with a personal story. And it’s not to make readers feel angry and shocked at what others have said. Especially since there have been times when I’ve accidentally been insensitive or said the wrong thing. When I decided to write about this subject, I didn’t want to end up with something like, “10 Things NEVER to Say to a Mom who has Miscarried” (although I think those writings can be helpful and informative sometimes). I wanted you to see a situation from my perspective so you would know how it can feel to be asked “that question.” I don’t always feel the same when I get “the question” but I always have to decide what’s worth sharing in a particular situation. Then I prepare myself because I never know what someone’s response will be. In the next post or two, I want to discuss my responses to the many inquiries I’ve had over the years about fertility problems, miscarriages, and the size of my family. My responses have never been perfect, but I’ve learned some things. One thing being that people are going to say whatever they want. I can’t change that, but I can choose my response. I’ve seen what has worked well and what made situations worse. I’m not a fan of trying to come up with formulas to “guarantee” perfect results in these situations, so I’m not going to go there. But I’ll share my perspective and thoughts. Every month I pray for my writing to encourage, help and inform. Maybe the next few posts will do that for someone.
Thanks for reading!
To read my stories of Motherhood, Miscarriage, Changing Expectations, and flying on an airplane in labor, check out my book, Flying in Labor, on Amazon.com. My stories are set in the beautiful countries and cultures of the Himalayas. Available in Paperback & Kindle.