Talking About Owen

Someone asked me how my baby was doing last week. Naturally, it got awkward. I don’t remember meeting this person while pregnant, but apparently she had been training with a coworker of mine and had spent a day at my old office back in December. We spoke for a few minutes back then but I can recall literally none of this interaction. It’s not surprising. In December, I was going back and forth between various specialists trying to get answers about what was wrong with my baby and whether it was lethal, debilitating, or only slightly disabling. To put it mildly, my mind was elsewhere. When I met this woman again yesterday, she kept trying to jog my memory. “You were about to leave for an appointment. It was a really busy day. It was just a few days before Christmas. You were wearing a red shirt.” Nope, sorry, I replied. I usually have a very good memory for names and faces, but I couldn’t remember her. I apologized and just asked her to remind me of her name and position. She did, and I thought we would proceed with our business. But no. Of course.

“So how’s your baby doing?” Very upbeat. It would have been uncomfortable enough if it were just the two of us, but we were in a group of people who also didn’t know I recently lost a son. I hesitated, knowing I was about to drop a bomb and she had no idea. I spoke very quickly, “he died very soon after he was born.” She apologized appropriately. I thanked her. I could feel everyone looking in my direction. Pity, curiosity, confusion–all of it directed right at me. What I really wanted to say was that I had a son whose name was Owen, that he lived for a few glorious hours and then he died, that he was magnificent, but what I did was direct my attention back to work. No one acted inappropriately, but I know talking about Owen usually makes other people uncomfortable, so I moved on quickly with what we were originally doing.

To make it clear, I love talking about Owen to almost anyone. Love it, love it, love it. I can tell you about his feisty personality, his chubby little cheeks, his brown (!) eyes, his fluffy hair, his extra pinky fingers…anything, really. Ask me anything. I will talk about my baby like any other mother. I don’t even mind talking about his death, although that’s a much more intimate conversation. At the same time, not everyone is prepared to receive the news of a dead baby. I’ve had to tell unsuspecting people that my baby died before–medical providers, other coworkers, patients (not often)–but it is usually one on one, and I am usually prepared for it. I have typically readied myself to do the hand-holding required (it’s okay, we knew he was sick, yes I’m fine/it’s fine/we’re all fine, and so on).

I had no reason to suspect that the coworker I mentioned above had any idea that I had ever been pregnant or had a baby, so I was completely taken aback. She was very nice, and she didn’t do anything wrong. There are just some days I don’t feel like carrying the burden of comforting someone else while I’m having to tell them something that pains me, so I was probably a little cold or standoffish. I felt bad at first, and then I felt irrationally angry. This woman did nothing inappropriate and said all the right things (aside from being a little insistent that I remember her), but just…it is not my responsibility to help anyone else deal with this or figure out what to say! I was anticipating the need to comfort her the moment she asked about my baby, so I got my hackles up preemptively and reacted before she even had a chance to show me how she would have really responded beyond “I’m sorry.”

That’s when I realized my anger is my fault. I have always assumed I bear the responsibility for comforting the other person in these conversations, and I resent it almost every time. I hate hearing myself say “It’s okay, we knew he was sick” because it is not okay at all ever. Sometimes I don’t talk about Owen when I want to because I’m worried it will make other people ill at ease, which truly sucks…but no one has ever asked me not to. I pretty much stopped referencing Owen on social media after he died because I didn’t want to be attention-grabby, which actually sounds kind of absurd now that I’ve typed it. So after today, no more. My baby died. And since I have to live that reality every day, I think I should get to live it as I want to, not in reaction to how (I think) other people perceive it.

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5 thoughts on “Talking About Owen

  1. I LOVE this post. You absolutely NAILED it. That’s exactly how I feel, all the time, from the preparing myself to hand hold, to feeling guilty when I’m blindsided and have to “let people down” by telling them that my son died. I then resent feeling guilty – because their discomfort will last a moment, while mine will last a lifetime. I also am very careful to not over-post about my son on social media, for the same fear! I can’t wait to keep reading about how you’ll live your reality.

  2. You are so right that ” it is not okay at all ever.” But it is so easy to beat ourselves up for how we react to unplanned baby-related conversations. I try hard not to apologize for what i just said or worry too much about the other person’s feelings, but it is a recurring challenge.

    And i agree with how delicate it is to share anything having to do with the death of a baby on social media. I have done so a little bit — as i had shared the good news of Paul’s birth on facebook — but i always feel worried about what my post might trigger (even though all the people posting baby pictures and complaints about their babies not sleeping through the night do not seem to worry as much…)

  3. yes. yes. yes. This is sometimes an everyday struggle. wanting to connect with people, encourage them to ask the questions we want to hear (what color was his hair? who did he look like? what do you miss most?) but sometimes I feel like the only way to to do that is make them feel more comfortable (“it’s ok…”). How do we balance the two??

    i like how babylossmamma put it “heir discomfort will last a moment, while mine will last a lifetime.”

    I’m the same way on fb. I was super concientious during my pregnancy- I think I posted three times (my original plan was just the announcement of pregnancy and the birth, but then things got complicated…). because I knew people out there might be struggling. I didnt want to rub it in their faces. Now I feel like no one wants to hear, its attention grabby like you said! but people get to post about their babies? shouldnt we get to post about ours? its too sad? well, its our life. they don’t know how to respond? learn. (end rant.)

    yes.

  4. OMG!! Yes!!!! No it’s not ok because I was *only* 23 weeks, or because we knew she was sick, or because we made the devastating decision to say goodbye early. I hate comforting other people!! It’s not fair because not only are they not the ones who have to carry this grief and pain everyday, they get to walk away from the conversation and forget about it, I end up giving them more sympathy then they give me because I’ve ruined their day with sad news. And then I replay in my head the conversation and realise they didn’t even give my any sympathies at all. It’s such crap.
    I’ve so given up writing my own blog because every time I think to post something the exact same thing appears somewhere else. Good to know I’m not alone.

  5. Yes! I have the same feeling so often. My anxiety has worsened by having to think about how people will react when I tell them about Hugo (what if they dish out awful platitudes, or an ‘at least’) and I hate the thought of having to comfort them, having had to do that too often. That said, some people do respond very well, and appropriately. I post things about Hugo on social media – I figure if parents post things about their live children without a thought for others, why shouldn’t I share photos of my beautiful son and how amazing he was? x

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