I have mixed feelings about this Guardian post.
The couple in this piece are so terrified of a certain question that they call it The Question and furiously text one another whenever someone asks it.
One day, it happens. The wife is chatting in the corridor at work about how their four-year-old son is already a seasoned connoisseur of Blue Planet.
“Even if she is boasting” writes the husband, “it is just casual office chat; the kind we all fill our days with”.
Another colleague, Sarah from Marketing, overhears and “butts in”: “So, are you guys thinking about No 2?” she asks. Cue angry, pounding heart and text to husband. Being quizzed about having a second child when you’ve had four miscarriages is torture; of course it is.
But it got me thinking: how to resolve this endless cycle of unwitting offence-giving? How do we make the offence-givers more aware? How do you change a world?
Sometimes, what doesn’t even register with one person can be a real source of grief to the next. You can be suffering and, at the same time, unwittingly offending someone else.
In my late 30s, that mum “boasting” about her charmingly precocious child, or any “casual office chat” about pregnancy, or queries about whether I had any kids could made me scream inside. I stewed in fury for months over flippant comments. I was told by two best friends that a miscarriage at 39 was good news as “it means you can conceive”. I was embarrassed, though, to admit I felt so mad: I didn’t want pity or to be seen as desperate, or to field platitudes, or to just be dismissed. I was fiercely private: it was my business, no one else’s.
And perhaps that’s the problem. It’s fine to demand that people stay out of your reproductive plans, that your uterus is no one’s business but your own and all that, but it’s a fact of life that many people just don’t know much about infertility. Rightly or wrongly, they simply believe that “are you thinking about no.2?” is an innocuous question to ask someone who’s chatting about their child. They don’t read the articles about miscarriage, the blogs about infertility. Maybe Sarah from Marketing is just a 22-year-old without much life experience, or even with too much, which gives her empathy gaps. For me, at 22, not much could compete with watching a close family member die in pain. It took me years to learn not to compare.
We want people to be sensitive and aware, but we want them to respect our silence because it’s our business. Because painful things are too painful to talk about. Because we don’t want the unsolicited advice and the “at least…”s. The red face and the awkwardness. The scab picked off the grief. We lambast unthinking, prying idiots like Sarah but we don’t want to tell them the truth, because why should we have to? They shouldn’t have asked the question in the first place. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, really.
I can guarantee Sarah would think twice about ever asking that question again if someone told her they’d had four miscarriages.
Infertility, miscarriage and childlessness shouldn’t be taboo but does taking the taboo away rely on people like this anonymous writer (and anonymous, hypocritical me), being brave enough to ‘educate’ people with truthful answers? Or is it our business and no one else’s?
Do you just wait for the anger to stop coming (it does, I haven’t felt it for ages) and let the next shift deal with it?