The pitfalls of “normal” pregnancy conversation

It’s really hard for me to talk about this pregnancy without talking about, or at least thinking about, my first pregnancy.  This has made “normal” pregnancy conversations surprisingly painful to navigate.

Now that I’m almost six months pregnant and starting to look like it, more people are starting to talk to me about pregnancy.  I probably have an average of 1-2 pregnancy conversations per day, about half with people I don’t know well (or strangers).  But it’s so hard to have these conversations without also talking about our experience with our first pregnancy.  I mean, just think about how a standard pregnancy conversation tends to start…

“When are you due?” – This one is pretty easy to respond to.  I can just say “February.”  But there’s always that painful deja vu moment as I think about how many times I’ve told people that my due date is “February” over the past year and a half.  My daughter was due in February too — whenever I got the question during my first pregnancy, I’d gush about how she was due on my birthday, and since my husband is born in February too we’d have a February family, isn’t that great!  This time around, I keep it short, but all the rest of it goes through my head anyway.  So I mostly just say “February,” and then follow it up with a silent “… I hope.”

“Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?” – Again, pretty easy one-word answer: “Boy.” But having given the other answer last year, I pay attention to people’s responses, and I notice the differences.  When I told people I was having a girl, I’d get responses like, “Oh, girls are great,” or “I recommend girls — I have two of my own,” or “Oh, you’re lucky, I’ve always wanted a girl, they’re so much easier than boys!”  When I tell people I’m having a boy, the responses are never as unambiguously positive.  “Oh, you’ll have your hands full!” or “Cute!” or the ambiguous one from my primary care doctor this week, “Oh, stop!” (I still have no idea what she meant).  I have yet to hear anyone tell me “Boys are great!” or “Boys are easy!” or “You’re so lucky!”  Aside from freaking me out a little, these responses are anthropologically fascinating to me — are we really in such a girl-positive culture these days?  Or is it mostly because I have these conversations far more often with women, and women tend to want daughters?

“Is this your first?” – First emotional land mine!  Nope, not my first baby.  But I can’t really say that… If I tell you about my daughter you’ll think I’m an oversensitive weirdo and we’ll both be awkward and uncomfortable (or you’ll tell me how common miscarriages are and that you’re sure my current baby will be fine, since you don’t know that I had a placental abruption and am now going through a high-risk pregnancy).  But if I just say “yes,” you’ll tell me all sorts of things that are awkward for me to respond to.  I’ve had people give me labor and delivery advice (I’ve actually been through L&D once, thanks, even if I didn’t have to dilate all the way), or tell me that my next pregnancy is going to be totally different from this one (actually, both my pregnancies have been remarkably similar), or they’ll start giving me parenting advice — at least that last one is something that’s theoretically relevant, if still not exactly a conversation topic that I have much to contribute to.

And it goes on from there.  The more detailed things get, the more I feel I need to skate around the subject of my dead daughter.  Maternity leave?  Oh, yeah, I requested that last year and then had to cancel it.  Got a nice handwritten sympathy note from the university provost, but then a couple months later she had clearly forgotten, and asked me conversationally about whether I have kids — ouch.  Daycare?  I got off the wait list for campus daycare last spring no problem — but unfortunately my daughter had already died and it’s not like they could hold the spot.  At least they tell me my odds are looking good again this year!  You get the idea.

Sometimes I do tell people, but more often I don’t.  They’re mostly just trying to be excited for me, or they want to tell me about their experiences with pregnancy and birth, and all of that is great.  I get it.  But somehow these pregnancy conversations when I don’t bring up my daughter make me feel lonely and sad.  I miss her, and these conversations make me miss her more.  Even when I talk with people who know what happened in my first pregnancy, most of them get really uncomfortable when I refer to it, so I feel bad about it and stop.  The few precious people with whom I can have uncensored conversations that include full answers about both my pregnancy are just awesome, but they’re rare.

Oh, well.  These are really good problems to have, since they’re the kind of problems that come from being visibly pregnant with a kicking, rolling, growing little baby.  It’s just one more way in which pregnancy after a loss is bittersweet — the sweet outweighs the bitter, but there’s plenty of pain to go along with the pleasure.

It’s been a while since I last wrote, so here are some assorted bulleted updates:

  • At our 25-week MFM appointment this week everything looked great on the growth scan and we got a peek at our son’s cute little face and saw him waving a fully-formed hand at us.  Ultrasound is really magical, and one of the silver linings of a high-risk pregnancy is getting more frequent glimpses of our growing baby boy.
  • I’d started to wonder about the end game for this pregnancy, so this week I tentatively asked the MFM what she recommended about how late we should let the pregnancy go before inducing.  She recommended inducing at 39-40 weeks if I don’t go into labor on my own before then.  I’m pretty OK with that, since it matches up with the research I’ve seen in recent studies showing that once you’re full-term the risk of a C-section is no longer higher for induction than for spontaneous labor (which our MFM confirmed during our conversation), whereas the risk of stillbirth starts to increase after your due date (still low overall, but having had one placenta mega-fail in our first pregnancy I’m still terrified of something going wrong with the placenta in this pregnancy too).  I think I’d probably try to ride it out to my due date (so, push them on the 40 weeks instead of 39), and obviously I’ll hope for spontaneous labor before then, but it’s reassuring to me to know that they don’t want to let me go past my due date.  At that point, I feel like the kid is safer out than in, and as long as the risk of a C-section is no higher, I’m willing to put up with the more painful contractions and the higher risk of non-C-section interventions that comes with induction.
  • We started childbirth classes on Monday.  We’re not wild about the instructor, who is sort of scatterbrained and has a lower information-per-unit-time style than we’d like, but I think it’s useful enough that we’ll keep going. Honestly, I don’t have much to say about it other than that!
  • At 25.5 weeks, I am officially carrying a “viable” fetus.  I’m honestly not sure how to feel about that — I know that if he was born now, he’d face a so-so chance of survival and a high chance of lifelong disability, so I’d really rather not test the whole “viability” thing.  It’s also scary because I know that if I have another abruption, viability will be a moot point since he could very well just die before I even know what’s happened.  But I guess it’s a milestone of sorts!
  • The third trimester is in sight!  I’m having more pregnancy symptoms, like a bothersome back and waking up in the middle of the night.  But bring it on!  I’m mostly excited for all the new stuff I’m experiencing, even if it is uncomfortable, and just want to plow through to February and meet our little guy.

12 thoughts on “The pitfalls of “normal” pregnancy conversation

  1. My Perfect Breakdown

    I just wish people could undrstand and truly be supportive of those awkward conversations that inevitably occur after loss. I’m sorry you are stuck navigating those conversations.
    And yet, I’m thrilled that this pregnancy is going so well that you get to continue to have pregnancy after loss conversation. Does that make any sense?
    Sending you lots of love my friend. I hope February gets here quickly and whithout any drama! ☺

    1. lyra211 Post author

      It does make a lot of sense, and I am thankful too. I’m getting more used to it as the conversations become more and more frequent. It is really nice that everyone is so happy for me and wants to talk about pregnancy… I just wish I could put up a sign that said “please tread carefully… pregnant lady is a head case.” 🙂

  2. sewingbutterfly

    I’m sorry you have to have awkward conversations, people are not good with loss, especially pregnancy and infant loss. I am like that with my brother, sometimes I say I have 5 siblings, other times I say 4. He passed away at 13 days old due to a heart condition. Some people I explain it to, others I just keep it to myself. He is always in my heart though and it does make me feel a little guilty when I leave him out of the list.

    I think boys are fun! My nephews are so full of energy and curious about everything. They can be rough and tumble, but they can also be sweet and kind.

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Oh, I’m so sorry about your brother. And you really do get it — every time you get asked the question, you have to decide, and whichever way you decide is painful.

      I’m glad your nephews are great. 🙂 Thanks for the boy positivity!

  3. theskyandback

    I completely understand this. I’m a lot earlier on than you are, so I can mostly avoid telling people. But when I or Tim do tell someone I almost cringe at their excitement. I have to keep reminding them (but really myself, I guess) that it’s still early. I so get your silent “I hope.” This is me every single time. It’s scary and sad. You are doing a great job, though!

    I find people’s reaction to a boy to be very puzzling. I have no experience with boys, but everyone I know that has one is completely obsessed with them!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Thank you. Yes, I know that you get the silent “I hope,” and I also totally get the internal cringe when people are happy for you. I’m afraid I’ve been a little off-putting sometimes when I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm to reply in kind, but oh well… we’re all just doing the best we can. I’m so glad that things are continuing to go well for you, and am looking forward to updates!

  4. hopingforatakehome

    I’m so glad you have some people in your life, with whom you can be your complete, uncensored self, and talk about both pregnancies. I have only had early losses, so I can’t compare, but I still sometimes stumble when people ask if this is my first pregnancy. I say simply “yes” out loud but in my head I’m saying “no, there were two others, but this is the first that has made it this far”. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well! Also, I totally did not understand either your primary care physician’s comment to you having a boy, “oh, stop!” Huh???

    1. lyra211 Post author

      I know, right?! That was a weird one. 🙂

      Yeah, that question is the worst. If there were one question I could strike from our collective cultural vocabulary it would be “is this your first?” I wish people would recognize how often that question causes pregnant women unintended pain.

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Indeed… February feels so tantalizingly close, but at the same time as though it will never get here. I love reading about how your pregnancy is progressing, and knowing that you’re out across the pond going through all the same experiences in parallel!

  5. Wifey

    I’m glad things are still going well and so sorry that all of the “normal” pregnancy questions bring up the pain of the past. I will tell you, however, that little boys are the absolute sweetest! My nephews, while wild at times, are the best snugglers. So, I’m so glad you’re gonna have a precious momma’s boy to love on!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Aw, yay for snuggly nephews!!! That’s lovely to hear. Thank you.

      I hope things are at least stable for you right now. I’m thinking of you and your sqirrtles often and hoping that things go as well as possible!


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