Monday, 6 January 2014

It's not me, it's you

I think I mentioned that the holidays, while largely beautiful and relaxing and contemplative, also brought some moments of bitterness. Courtesy of our own family, in fact.

By way of the briefest of summaries, we've struggled with how to maintain family relationships with some of our relatives over the last 3+ years, when their callous, indifferent or demanding reactions to our loss(es) and experiences of infertility have placed extra strain and hurt on us in a time when instead we should have been seeking support and compassion. I knew that a subsequent pregnancy would compound this tension in so many ways. I've alluded to it as one of the reasons why I was reticent about sharing our exciting (but still scary) news for so long.

The visits with H's family over the last three weeks were intended as a kind of olive branch, a renewed effort on our part to let things go and start afresh (albeit with reduced expectations: you don't always get the family you want, but they're still family. Aren't they?).

It kind of worked out that way, but also, not really very much at all. Two vignettes, brought to you from the suffocating depths of our loving extended family homefires:

1) During a reunion in which H and I were making genuine efforts to let bygones be bygones, on the cusp of a new year with all the symbolism that implied, my mother-in-law wanted to revisit the topic of why we had sent 'hurtful' emails to her, oh...two odd years ago? That's right, apparently we hurt her when (you're gonna love this) we sent an email indicating that while we understood their concern for us, some forms of..ahem, grief management advice (and I'm using this term loosely here) were not welcome. To whit: when, on the first anniversary of S's death, H shared his feelings with his mother, her directive was to 'put it in a drawer and forget about it'. Yes, she referred to my son as an it. Still though, who were we, in our naivety, to imagine that we knew what we needed or to have the audacity to ask for it? That was hurtful to her, and she insisted that new year's day was the time to clear the air. New year or not, I guess a bitch of a mother-in-law tiger doesn't change it's stripes.

2) Lest you think that my own side of the family is immune from such gaffs in grieving etiquette (is there a manual for this? Because there should be), I present my sister. Things have not been great between us since, among other things, she blandly stated, 'Why should I grieve for your son? I didn't know him'. Since, on my first meeting with her after my loss - when I also met her son born a mere few days after S should have been - she indicated that she saw no reason to be sensitive in proffering her new babe because 'My first priority is my baby, and if you can't deal with that it's your problem'. Yeah, she is sensitivity personified, that woman. I'm not actually sure what her deal is, given that she had the same happy childhood as I. Anyway, she wanted the holidays to be a time when to reach out to those she so evidently loves and cares for, with the message that 'Family is so important, and as a parent this becomes all the more true when you have kids of your own'. She is extremely family oriented. Obviously. Here's what I would do with her version of 'family values'. Take them and delete, delete, delete not suitable for some audiences!. Just wait 'til she finds out about the little seedling. She's the type who will suddenly have all the love in the world for us.

As I am sure you are all too aware - though I admit to being deeply envious of some of you who seem to have such warm, understanding support around you - dealing with other people, and with community life in general, can be one of the hardest things about being in this already crappy ALI club.

There have been some break ups. The stupidity, insensitivity or just plain careless, this-is-no-big-deal-at-least-it-wasn't-a-real-baby attitudes to my grief on the parts of some people were enough to make me re-evaluate a few 'friend'ships. (This is to say nothing of the people who dumped us, initially on the pretense of 'giving us space', but later because grief is fucking hard, ugly work and they weren't up to the task; or so I can assume. Most just sort of disappeared, never proffering even a lame excuse, and never to return.) I give people lots of chances. If you've hurt me, I always try to talk openly, honestly and calmly about how your behaviour makes me feel (hence the 'hurtful' email to my mother-in-law), leaving a chance to clear the air. However, if your response to those attempts proves even more self-absorbed, sometimes you gotta know when to throw in the towel, if only for self-preservation.

But these people are my relatives. Unfortunately, things aren't so simple here. I can't break up with them. So I come here to vent, to shake a raging fist at the universe for bestowing me with such a frankly useless support system, and to beg your patience with me as I do.

And I know what they say about relationships being hard work, and how it takes two, and yadda, yadda, yadda. That's all totally true. I've worked hard over the past few years.

But still, I'm pretty sure it's not me. It's them.

The ties that bind. Like, literally. Source.

If you've faced similar insensitivities, what do you do to manage? How do you learn to bite your tongue, turn the other cheek, and keep that pasted-on smile upturned?


  1. It is without a doubt them and not you, Sadie! Ugh, it made me so angry to read your family's responses to your losses and struggle, particularly your sister's statements. Your sister and mine sound like they, unfortunately, have a lot in common :/

    I was wondering, have you decided when/how to tell family about this pregnancy? I am still way early to have to make that decision, but the question is already bothering me. I can't help but feel that the people who have disregarded our loss and belittled our childless state over the years don't deserve to know about this new little life, but then again if I follow my mantra of positive thinking, I have to act as though this baby WILL be here one day. And so obviously I will have to tell people about him/her. I'm really interested to hear your thoughts and advice on this problem. It's funny, because you would think we would want to shout the news from the rooftops, but instead I feel very defensive and protective, as though I am guarding this baby from people who I know won't really care about him/her unless this little one makes it to "Official Baby Status."

    I'm glad you managed to enjoy the holidays in spite of those lovely comments from family members :/ Sometimes the best thing about the holidays is that they won't come around for another year!

  2. I agree, totally them and NOT you. I too am envious of the families that have it all together and seemingly float through trials and tribulations with love and unwavering support.

    My only advice is to work really hard on boundaries. From my experience, a whole new level of crazy emerges once the baby arrives... And your mama gut will tell you to keep the baby away from hurtful people. With family, I have wanted to give my daughter aaa sense of where she fits in and feel loved by this great big mesh of people, but we've had to work hard at setting limits and monitoring conversations around her.

    Families are tough and the reality of it is that we're not all blessed with healthy, emotionally intelligent clan members.

  3. I am all too familiar with those types of issues with family when it comes to grieving and what you're going through. Sigh. Some people I cut off contact with, family or not, because the hurt was too severe. Some of them, I just remind myself that they're idiots and chug a long knowing I barely ever have to see them. Others we try to have an open dialogue. Some are hopeless, and all you can do is bear through it. There really should be a freakin' manual, I totally agree. I've been saying that for years! I really don't have any advice, but I totally sympathize.

  4. You are doing the best you can - when someone says something that is hurtful and not helpful, I just tell them! "I feel _____ when you say ______. What I need from you instead is _______." If you are already doing that (and it sounds like you are!), that is all you can do!! After that, you just have to step away from some people - either temporarily or permanently. I am sorry that you have to deal with this!

  5. I can't believe the things that people will say. How can they not know those things are hurtful!! I'm so sorry you had to deal with that. I don't have any good advice for you. I've had a couple of hurtful things said to me about my miscarriage but I didn't handle it the way I wish I would have. I just listened and then walked away, rather than addressing it.

  6. I can actually feel my heart pounding in my chest reading how dreadful your families have treated you and H. Why is it that people don't understand that to us, the grieving parents, it was not just a baby, but OUR BABY that we lost.

    For the most part, I have been quite lucky with my relatives. But there is an email exchange of my own that I will share with you in its entirety (I have alluded to it on my blog) from someone in my life who I really expected more from -- my mum. I have since learned to minimise my expectations. She never asks about how things are going, so I don't volunteer. I think she's in denial until the day she can get excited about a grandchild being on the way. (When will that be, I wonder?) I just try to focus on being glad for my wonderful husband and grateful that I live so far away from the people who can't give me the emotional support I need...

    I don't know if my anecdote counts as wisdom, but I sure am sorry that you have it on both sides. I know it doesn't mean much, but pushing you away really is their loss...

  7. Wowwww. I just can't believe anyone would actually say things like that. I have no advice because I've had no experience with this (though I keep waiting for it to happen, figuring it's inevitable), but it does sound like you handled yourself as well as possible in the situation. I think the hardest thing to remember (well, for me) is that you can only control yourself and your actions, not the words and actions of others. So beyond telling them how you feel when they speak that way, there's really nothing to do.

    I truly hope that the insensitive family members learn to be a bit more compassionate in the future, especially since it's so much harder to cut family out of your life.

  8. I try to tell myself that people say things like that because of their own fears about/around grief. I think for people who have never lost a baby/a loved one, even thinking about it scares them re their own families, their own lives, their own futures. They sort of just want us to shut up about it so they can pretend the world is safe and cosy, that awful, heartbreaking things don't happen.
    And it SUCKS. It is cowardly, it is insensitive, it is self centred, and we shouldn't have to deal with.
    Grief management - of ones own grief and others - should be bloody taught in many people get it so wrong.

    That is one of the gifts our lost ones give us - we can now always be compassionate to those who are also grieving. We can really be there and really listen.

    It still sucks though.

  9. You're right, it's them. :)
    It sounds like you've been as direct and not-passive-aggressive as you can be and their reactions have been, put simply, immature and tone deaf. I'm so sorry, Sadie. It's totally bonkers that your sister may well get all warm and fuzzy only after she finds out you have a baby on the way - family values, FTW! - but, on the other hand, maybe it will provide some common ground and a place to move forward. In the meantime, I think 2014 is gonna be a good year for you, H and this little seedling!

  10. Sometimes, family does suck, and just because you're related by blood, it doesn't mean you have to like them or let them be involved in your life...or be involved a lot.

  11. Oh, man. I think family is sometimes more insensitive because they know we're stuck with them. But there's no rule saying you have to like it (or even put up with it if it happens over and over again). I'm sorry some members of your families can't be more supportive, despite you telling them exactly what kind of support you need.

  12. It's definitely them.

    It's so awful when family makes things harder, not easier. I know where you're coming from. My sister never mentioned my pregnancy and has never mentioned our baby dying either. It's as if it never happened. We've lost or drifted away from so many friends. Some we just never heard from. Some did things like invite me to a baby shower two months after my baby died and then couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to attend.

    Sometimes it's all so exhausting!

  13. It always amaze me when family that should be the most supportive make such hurtful comments. How can you not know it's totally out of line! I'm so sorry you have to deal with that. I have no advice here but you can only do and explain how you feel and if that hasn't worked... that's their loss, really. The thing with family though, is that if you don't make boundaries or cut the contact, they will always be there, at least a few times a year.

    Hope you are well and that baby is growing away like a champ :) Am really excited for you.

  14. Ugh, I have family like this too.

    As sad as it sounds, I just stopped telling them where we are, and keeping my journey to the few people who I know support us. If my family wanted an update (which they never do) I'd give it to them, but I've stopped expecting them to be supportive. They're all ridiculously "look at a guy and get knocked up" fertile so they can't even begin to understand, nor do they try. So I've stopped trying to explain.

    At first I found it sad and frustrating, but now it makes everything so much easier that I'm actually glad I stopped telling them about it all.

    Congrats on your little seedling and I hope you have an uneventful, healthy pregnancy the remainder of it!


Don't be shy, leave a comment. Your words brighten my day!