by Grace O.
It’s almost inevitable after we’ve ended a wanted pregnancy. We will be invited to the dreaded baby shower. It’s comes with the territory. We’re of childbearing age, and so too are our sisters, sisters-in-law, cousins, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Somebody else will be pregnant, and we’ll be invited to her baby shower.
Before we were forced to choose between two terrifying options, we may have found baby showers fun, or tolerable, and if not tolerable, we could at least look forward to ice cream punch and cupcakes. But after EWP, a baby shower invitation can feel like an invitation to emotional Armageddon.
There is no social situation quite so exquisitely painful to us as a baby shower. Everyone will fawn over the new mother-to-be in her maternity clothes, oohing and ahhing over ultrasound pictures, lavishing her with adorable baby gifts, praise and advice, gushing out their successful birth stories in excruciating detail and even complaining, yes complaining, about the process of birthing a healthy baby…. while you sit there, no longer pregnant, fighting tears with all you’ve got and probably losing. At best you may find yourself in a sympathetic and supportive group, at worst, you may serve as a resented reminder that not all pregnancies have fairy tale endings.
Social obligation vs. self-preservation
More than likely, some guests at the baby shower will have no idea what to say to you, so they’ll pretend like everything is normal. Or they’ll sympathize, which although well-intentioned, may make you cry. Or they might not have heard about your loss and they’ll ask you about your pregnancy. If they’re really insensitive they may say things like, “You can always try again” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” or “You’re lucky you found out” or (that last one was actually said to me at a shower, while the guest bounced her own healthy infant on her knee.)
You do not need to to be exposed to any of this. Further, you are not obligated to expose yourself to it. After EWP, the dreaded baby shower is a matter of social obligation vs. self-preservation.
While showers can be the worst, they aren’t the only social obligation we might be dreading. There are also toddler or young child birthday parties, or any event centered around parents and little ones.
At the time of my loss, I had obligated myself to holding La Leche League (breastfeeding support) meetings in my home. LLL has a policy that four consecutive meetings must be held in the same location over the course of four months. I was stuck with having 15-20 new mother/infant breastfeeding pairs converge on my home each month. It was like having invited someone to plant landmines under my wall-to-wall carpeting.
Permission to not go
What to do about these inevitable events may seem like a no-brainer: just don’t go. That’s my A-list advice. Give yourself permission not to go. Really. It’s okay. If you don’t feel you can give yourself permission to not go, take my permission. You do not have to go. Repeat after me: “Grace said I do not have to go.”
Seriously. I promise you it’s fine not to go. A few months from now they might not even remember. They’ll forgive you eventually. And if they don’t, I dare say they aren’t worth your time.
If the thought of not going floods you with relief, then please, do not go.
If they question your reasons, just tell them you didn’t want to rain tears all over their parade. Make your excuses all about your consideration for them and not wanting to be a dark cloud over their happy day. Let them marvel at how thoughtful and selfless you are.
The obligatory gift
If you’re obligated to give a gift, don’t put yourself through the torture of shopping for baby items. I couldn’t walk through the baby section at the department store without bursting into tears for at least a year after my ending my pregnancy—if I’m honest with myself it was probably closer to two years. Trust me, the last thing you need right now is to look at anyone else’s Babies ‘R’ Us gift registry.
If you can’t get away without sending a gift, pick up a gift card from someplace baby-neutral or order a gift card online. If you feel obligated to give more than a gift card, have a trusted family member or friend do the shopping, wrapping and gift delivery for you. It’s the least they can do after what you’ve just been through. If they won’t do that for you, it’s time to think about finding some new friends.
Another option for fulfilling the obligatory gift mandate is to offer to “go in” on a gift with someone else. Just fork over some cash and let them do the rest without your input. They can even sign your name on the card.
If you must go
Suppose you’re really stuck going because the shower is for your twin sister, your lifelong best friend, your drama queen sister-in-law, or your tyrant boss and the consequence of not going will be serious. (Or because when you still thought everything was okay you generously offered your home for the party or, you know, something like monthly LLL meetings.) Here are some tips to get through the experience:
- Go with a “support buddy” who understands your situation, is 100% supportive, and who promises ahead of time to stick with you throughout the duration of the event and shield you from nosy or insensitive people, protruding bellies and squalling infants.
- Drive there yourself so you can split early if things get unbearable. At the very least, have a prior agreement with your support buddy that she’ll take you home the second you want to leave. (For the LLL meetings, our leader understood my position completely and I was not obligated to stick around my house. I spent a few hours at the mall instead, browsing the bookstore and eating soft pretzels.)
- If your emotions are getting the better of you, slip into the bathroom or better yet, outside for some fresh air. If you can’t pull it together, leave. It’s okay. You have my full permission.
- If you do leave early, take French leave: this is the social nicety of departing secretly, with no explanations or goodbyes. If someone questions you on the way out the door, just say “I’ll be right back.” When leaving a social event early, French leave is the polite thing to do. It prevents your departure from resulting in a mass exodus where everyone decides the party is over early. (Believe me, you won’t the be only soul yearning to escape the tedium of a baby shower before the last fuzzy electric diaper wipe cozy is unwrapped.)
- If you’re questioned later, you can always make an excuse about the chicken salad giving you a gastrointestinal emergency. Nobody’s going to insist you go into detail about something like that.
Here are some more things to keep in mind when attending the dreaded shower, kiddie party or parent-baby event.
Negative feelings are okay. You may be filled with anger, resentment, sour feelings, sadness or other unpleasant thoughts and emotions. It’s okay. Really, it’s okay. You’re still a good person! This kind of reaction is natural and very human. You have every reason to feel these things, and every right, especially when you’re expected to celebrate someone else’s good baby fortune. Life and chance and bad luck have put you through any parent’s worst pregnancy nightmare and left you bereft. You’re devastated. Allow your emotions to be fully authentic to yourself and your grief. You don’t owe anyone a false smile or phony excitement. Be yourself. Don’t try to fake what you don’t feel.
A pregnancy isn’t over until it’s over. It’s a risky proposition no matter how great everything looks from the outside. No one knows this better than you and I. It’s been 13 years and I still make a point of wishing people “a very boring pregnancy.” This holds true for the guest of honor and other pregnant guests as well. Everyone may be assuming they’ll go on have safe childbirths and healthy infants. Let’s sincerely hope they do, and when it’s our turn again, let’s hope they wish the same joys for us.
Most people have hardships, even when we’re sure they don’t. Shortly after I ended my wanted pregnancy I was talking to an acquaintance who was pregnant at the same time I had been. She went on to have a healthy baby, her third. I assumed it was so easy for her, and frankly I was envious. But one day we got talking about pregnancies, and I learned a lot. She’d had miscarriages before and after each successful pregnancy, including a late miscarriage of twins. Five miscarried babies total. During labor with her last baby, she suffered a uterine rupture and nearly died of internal bleeding. She was transported to a teaching hospital far from home and was clinging to life in intensive care for 10 days after giving birth.
For someone who looked like she “had it all” with maternity, she’d been through one nightmare after another. I no longer assume that just because someone has a houseful of kids that family building was easy for them.
A neighbor was pregnant just one trimester behind me. My pregnancy was over while hers went on. So unfair, right? Then she lost the baby around 20 weeks. I found out through a mutual friend that my neighbor, too, had ended her wanted pregnancy because of a rare chromosomal anomaly.
No matter how much we might envy another’s pregnancy, we don’t wish this pain on anyone. EWP is one misery that does not love company.
Try to keep your heart open. The single most “healing” moment I had following my abortion was about two months after my loss, when I held the newborn of a friend at an LLL meeting. That little guy was so new, tender and vulnerable, all I felt holding him was love and gratitude that somebody’s baby was actually okay. And he smelled good. His name was Markie, and he alone gave me hope that I too could go on to have a healthy newborn. That child is in middle school now, but I still get teary eyed with gratitude over that shared moment when he was only a few days old.
I’m not saying you should hold a newborn. Just go with whatever feels right. Allow yourself to feel. You might surprise yourself. And if you don’t, that’s okay too.
Luckily, eventually, I actually did have a healthy “subsequent” baby. And if that’s you’re dream, I sincerely hope you do as well.