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.