Social norms are a funny thing. There are certain interactions that are supposed to be pretty rote, and it really screws people up when you don't give the expected response. Case in point: last week during a (probably ill-advised) foray into public to get some food at Wegmans for dinner, I ran into a teacher from my district. We exchanged hellos and how are yous and then he asked me, "Are you having a good summer?" Easy question. And the socially acceptable answer is YES, HOW'S YOURS and then change the subject if inside you are screaming NO NO NO. But I couldn't do it. My answer was an emphatic, "No, not really." And then I realized I had no followup and he looked uncomfortable and so I followed up my gaffe with, "How's YOUR summer?" since explaining that this is the Summer Of Miscarriage for me probably wasn't the way to move the conversation into a better, less horribly awkward direction. And that poor teacher couldn't move on to grocery shopping, far, far away from me, fast enough. But this exchange got me thinking. How many times to we answer questions with the acceptable response rather than how we're really feeling? The answer: ALL THE TIME.
For instance, "How are you?" is a fairly innocuous question. You're supposed to say "I'm good, I'm fine, I'm okay" with "I'm okay" being the most negative of answers. Think about the last time you had something sad or disappointing happen and someone said, "Hi, how are you?" You can't stop yourself! You say "Fine/Good/Okay" even if you're SO not. It's the polite thing to do. Except lately I'm having a problem with this. Because I can't answer in the positive. And I feel like there's an expectation for me to do so, because if you answer "Not great, actually" too many days in a row people get concerned. But why is it so uncomfortable to hear someone answer "How are you" honestly? At what point, really, am I supposed to be okay? Okay is relative. Is the definition of okay that I got up and showered today? Or that I made it through a day without gut-wrenching sobbing at one point or another? Is it that I'm no longer sitting on the couch, unable to concentrate on books or magazines and just sitting in my disbelief that this pregnancy didn't stay? All last week I could not say "okay." I played around with honest answers, because I believe in being honest even if it makes people feel a little uncomfortable. You asked (and, by the way, THANK YOU for asking), and I assume you really want to know. I am not going to paste a frozen smile on my face and pretend everything is okay because somehow I'm supposed to be well on my way to healing from this loss, and my obvious pain is a little hard to observe. So I've said, "Not good," I've said "oh, I'm just awesome," (don't recommend this one so much, as even though I adore sarcasm it tends to be alienating, since asking "How are you?" is as rote as the glib answers we typically give) and lately I have been using "I'm as good as I can be right now." That's my favorite, because I am a little better each day, but it sets the expectation that I am going through something that will stay with me for some time. The physical effects of this miscarriage alone are nowhere near completion, and the loss of what we thought was our hard-won forever baby is incredibly hard to take. So no, I'm not okay.
And, while we're at it, it's not okay. That's another horrible rote response that I'm working hard to train myself away from. Whenever faced with a loss or personal tragedy of whatever proportion, people say "I'm so sorry." Which is a lovely response. This experience is hideous, and frankly it is something to feel badly about and empathetic about and when people express this to me it is so appreciated. I'm sorry too. But the rote response to "I'm sorry" is "It's okay." And it's not. It's decidedly, 100% NOT okay! But it's so hard not to say that. Bryce's response to this one is "It's not your fault/You didn't do anything," which is a little on the humorous side but also not my favorite. Because when I say "I'm sorry" to someone, I'm not assuming blame for their troubles, I'm expressing that I feel a sadness for their pain. It's a different kind of "I'm sorry" than if I were to accidentally back my car into your light post, for example. So my response, that I actually have to think about so that I don't slip out a "It's okay," is just "thank you." I want to thank you for expressing that you feel for my loss. It's not okay, I don't think somehow you caused this, but I appreciate so much you telling me that you're sorry this happened. Because that's what "I'm sorry" in this context really means--not "My bad," but "I'm sorry this is happening to you."
I don't know why loss makes people so uncomfortable. Maybe it's a reminder that these horrible things could also happen to you. Maybe you honestly just want the person to be better, and when they're not and you can't control that or make it better it puts you at a loss for what to say or do. But I can honestly say that this loss that we are experiencing is the most difficult loss we've had to deal with so far. It's not disappointing, it's downright devastating. It shattered a dream of what the next year was supposed to look like. I keep waiting for the landscape of our lives to shift and change and evolve to this next step we desperately want, and we keep getting little tremors but nothing lasting. And it's hard. I may not be crying all the time anymore, I may not be staying in bed or on the couch, unable to face a world where I'm not pregnant anymore, but I'm pretty firmly entrenched in my grief and my loss. I'm sad and angry. I am crossing into more hopeful territory as we discuss our next steps and what we'll be doing after we take our break. I am finally feeling like a semi-functional human being. But I am still not "good." I am, however, better. I am on my way to okay. And that's...just fine. Thank you for asking.