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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ask a Dead Baby Momma: Debut Column!

April 9th, 2009

Dear Slightly Disgruntled Dead Baby Momma,

How much longer am I allowed to openly grieve for my dead baby among friends, family members, and other people in my life? I'm updating my Outlook calendar right now, and want to make sure I mark that grieving cut-off date with a red flag.

-Trying to Stay Organized in Seattle

Dear Trying to Stay Organized,

Ancient scholars have been studying this perplexing question since the very first human pregnancy loss in the world. The current, commonly accepted answer is perhaps best stated by Deborah Davis, author of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: "there is no established length of time for the (grieving) process." This implies that it is socially acceptable to keep talking about your dead baby in public forever and ever.

Have you ever seen the cartoon movie Bambi? Remember the part where Bambi's mother is shot and killed, and Bambi runs away scared? And wasn't it depressing and disturbing to witness that scene as a young viewer? But then mother, or some other caring adult, probably told you something soothing like, "it's okay, honey. That wasn't a gunshot. That was a drumbeat of love from the happy fairy, and Bambi's mother didn't just fall to the ground bleeding, she collapsed in a fit of joy. The red stuff is, um, actually a pile of cherry Lifesavers that fell out of the Lifesaver delivery truck."

You felt better when she told you that. The world seemed okay.

That's what Deborah Davis is doing: telling you that to sooth your soul. What she's not telling you is the unspoken secret: there is a cut-off point. That is, not a time line for your actual internal grieving, but a rough period of time after which other people in your life will expect you to have internalized and moved on. They won't ever tell you this outright; that's why we call it the unspoken secret of our society. It is safe to say that if you push the boundaries of these cultural and societal expectations, people will think you're a self-pitying, unstable, self-centered ball of yuck. I know that seems harsh and unfair, and it is.

The good news is that there's an easy way to calculate your own PGCU-Date (Public Grieving Cut-Off Date)!

Simply follow the steps below.

First, ask yourself: did I have what others perceive as a miscarriage, or what others perceive as a stillbirth? Then, look at list below. "Miscarriage" answers will be first, "stillbirth" will be second:

LEVEL 4 PEOPLE (acquaintances, distant Facebook buddies, the man behind the counter at the deli, colleagues who hardly know you): 1 Week / 2 Weeks. Note: longer is possible, with risk of having people suddenly, mysteriously drop you from their Facebook friends list, tired of reading your depressing status updates.

LEVEL 3 PEOPLE (guys in general; friends who you hang out with regularly but rarely discuss emotions; close-but-not-too-close family members like in-law and cousins, the 1-2 colleagues who know some detail about your personal life): 3 Weeks / 2 Months. Note: longer is possible, with a risk of a sudden decrease in invitations to cocktail parties.

LEVEL 2 PEOPLE (Really, really good friends that you see every day; people who you vent and emote to on a regular basis; most likely to be female; closer family members, like parents and siblings): 2 months/6 months. Note: longer is possible, with risk being given a pep talk, a loving plea to move on with your life, a subtle push to find out if you're suicidal, a gentle prod to find out if/when you're planning to try again, because it might be a good idea.

LEVEL 1 PERSON (your spouse or boy/girlfriend, also known as the Other Person Who Helped Make This Baby): 6 1-2 Years. Note: longer is possible, with risk of possible relationship erosion and loss of libido, so be careful.

LEVEL 0 PEOPLE(women who have gone through your exact situation, or men who have gone through your exact situation, more or less the same amount of time ago; that one best, best, best friend who still lets you vent about it and asks how you are; your mother; your dog; maybe even your spouse): Eternity. Note: longer is not possible, because there is no such thing as longer than eternity. Not even in the cartoon movie Bambi.

My recommendation is that you print this handy guide, Scotch tape it to your refrigerator with your own PGCU-Date highlighted in yellow. This way, you can always refer back to it.

Thank you for your question, Trying to Stay Organized in Seattle! I am pleased to open up my fountain of knowledge on your behalf, and hope I've cleared things up for you.

Stay tuned for next week's column!


Molly said...

This is both funny and completely true, I think. What's surprised me the most, though, is how many people I would have mislabeled before. I thought I had more level 2 friends, and I would have thought I could sort people into one category or another. But I would have been wrong about most people.

Katie said...

LOVE IT! You're so wonderful! Can't wait to read more columns!

m said...

This could be one of my favorite posts.

I have noticed that perception of our loss, and of us, often changes when I (sometimes) explain that no, it wasn't a miscarriage; I gave birth. We held live babies in our arms, if only for a few moments. Then that, "ohhh" happens and people get quiet and some how that opens the window for grieving a bit longer. Because their perception of the loss changes.

Strange, though, I'm finding that right now at this moment, I am actually worried about people thinking we haven't grieved enough. At least, not where they can see. I guess we just like to deal with our angst privately, and would rather not be those folks that get cut off from cocktail invites. Because goddess knows I don't want to hang out with those folks, esp. when "those folks" are us.


So true. I especially loved the description of level 0 people. When you meet someone like that, you don't need words...just a look and they get where you've been and where you are.

NY Stillbirth Bill

Annette in mke said...

Mo, keep on with your musings. Beautiful job on this post. Miss ya.

Monica LeMoine said...

M: I know what you mean. I still, to this day, fear people thinking I've not grieved enough.

Molly: Yup - makes you think about your friends, and which category they fall into.

Barbara said...

Might print this out and send it to a few people... or would that be mean?

Monica LeMoine said...

Barbara, there's nothing wrong with the gift of knowledge.

Brenna said...

This explains why I've pretty much cut out the Level 4s from my life and limited the Level 3s. I'm not sure if it's healthy or not, but for now I've made an effort to surround myself as often as possible with the Level 1 and the 0s--I need that understanding right now, though I'm sure eventually the Level 3s and 4s will be easier to take.

This post is so dead-on accurate and true. Including the Bambi part (I can't remember what my mom told me, but the woman who called passing gas "fluffies" surely came up with some explanation involving something close to cherry lifesavers).

Viktoria said...

Dear Disgruntled Dead Baby Momma,
You are right on target as usual. I love your breakdown into levels the people in our lives. Like Molly I have had to reassess my relationships. Except for 3 people (including my mom) my relatives have been down graded to 3's and 4's; and yet even over a year later this still shocks me. Who the hell are these people I've known all my life? Luckily my friends (chosen relationships) fared much better. So I congratulate myself that I have good taste even though I'm related to crazy people. ;)

Michelle said...

I love this article. You hit right on!
Can't wait to see more.

Austen said...

This post seems right on, but I would expand it to be for all major life tragedies and losses. I cannot speak for baby loss directly, but I can speak for other loss and this is accurate for that loss too. Even previous best friends expect you to move on in a shockingly short time frame, considering the world has just opened up and swallowed a significant part of you. Well put, Monica.

Mirne said...

Sadly, this is so true :-(

Wynn Anne said...

A little over a year ago our 15-year-old daughter attempted suicide. It was a hugely traumatic time for us, though we are forever grateful that she did not succeed. How does this connect to your blog? Well, I encountered the same "unspoken rules" when it came to who I could talk to and for how long after the fact (while we were still healing).

Our culture has a lot of baggage around loss and trauma. We all walk around with our heads in the sand pretending these things can never happen to us. Someone else's loss threatens to pull us unceremoniously out of the sand. It is uncomfortable and we just want it all to go away.

Those few souls (the 0's and the 1's) who can hear us and comfort us are gems to be treasured.