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!