As a still mother for the last almost six months, I have encountered quite a few instances of awkwardness that have taught me I am the only one who can teach the world how to approach me. While awkwardness may not be the correct term to use, there are times when interacting with someone else is less than comfortable. Let me explain…
My husband and I attended his office Christmas party back in December. We had a great time and spent the evening gathering advice from his colleagues and their wives on parenting (It was not until January when we found out everything was going wrong with our pregnancy). My husband’s firm always throws a party after the end of tax season each year also. Fast forward to April and we had already been through the stillbirth and grieving for almost two months. His colleagues knew this due to the time he had taken off, and I was fairly confident their wives knew too. Yet, when I walked in it seemed the room paused. I spotted my husband at a table across the room and made my way over. This was one of the first occasions I had actually put on makeup and done my hair for, following the loss of our daughter. The whole evening was spent in semi-awkward conversations. No one dared ask what I was doing for work now, or even how I was doing. These women with whom I had spent discussing feeding routines, which diaper brands were best, and whether or not to breast feed just a few months prior to this, suddenly stayed far away from me.
At that point, as if I did not know enough already, it was reassured to me that life was forever changed. People no longer knew how to approach me. And when they did, their remarks were sincere, but not something I would have ever said to someone. I have struggled my whole life with my “poker face”, and my true feelings can usually be read straight from my facial expression. It just was not something I was gifted with. However, you learn quickly to find your best poker face impression when the last thing you want to hear is “God has a plan” or “Another baby will be in your future”. I’ve even had someone approach us and just start discussing adoption as if becoming pregnant and bringing a healthy baby to term is completely off the table! I wished she’d realize I didn’t want just any baby; I wanted that baby girl we were so excited for and ready to love.
I am a true believer that people genuinely have the sincerest intentions in mind when trying to offer positive thoughts. But I am also a believer that no one can truly know what to say to a still mother until they have sat in that type of unexplainable grief. Do I believe God has a plan? Yes, but to all the people who have thrown Bible verses and gospel songs at us over the last six months, it is the last thing I want to hear.
And then there are the people who have no clue what the last six months of your life have looked like. Which leads to the often scary question we get asked, “When are you two having kids?” Yes we are young and have been married for two years. Apparently, when you are Catholic, live in the South, have a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom home, and have been married for two years you obviously are at the point when kids are supposed to start arriving. I have read so many articles about what to say and how to answer that question. The responses vary. I told myself I would try the “none living” answer the next time I was asked that question. Eventually, next time came and I froze. I could tell I suddenly looked like a deer caught in headlights and was making the person uncomfortable. I always have some kind of answer but I literally could not make any words come out of my mouth. “None living” is a great answer, but it also then makes the person wonder. The last thing I want to do is make someone feel guilty about asking what seems like an innocent question. And yet, the absolute last thing I want to do is forget about our daughter. Not mentioning Devin seems like a disservice to her and the impact she has had on our world.
I can talk all day about striving to be your own advocate when the world does not know how to approach you. One thing I have yet to master is how to answer the “kid” question without falling apart or making someone uncomfortable. It is such a chore to be at social events and family gatherings now. People want to walk on eggshells around you and avoid talking about your child or how you are doing. Being your own advocate just means letting people know that it is okay to ask questions. It is okay to want to know more. If society was informed, they would know that most still mothers wish more people talked about stillbirth and the grief that parents feel afterwards. Everyone knows what to say when a grandparent passes or your dog dies. We have to be our own advocates in order to help society know what to say when our children pass without having experienced life. Do not be afraid to let others know what you need. Let them know what you want to hear, and do not be afraid to politely let them know what you are tired of hearing from everyone. That is being your own advocate. And in a society that would prefer the topic of stillbirth and grief be placed in a closet, our only choice is to be our own advocates.
Mary Katherine Catignani is mom to Devin Reese Catignani, born still in February 2017 due to CMV. Her daughter’s story and the road she and her husband have traveled can be found on her blog Caritas You Me. She has also used her writing as a way to offer information and raise awareness about CMV.