the things people say

I was pregnant once before Calvin. Michael and I were so excited, after all, we had both just turned thirty-nine and were beginning to sport some gray hairs.

About eight weeks into it I remember telling Michael, “I don’t really feel pregnant anymore.” A few days later a sonogram confirmed it—the technician searching in vain to find a non-existent fetal heartbeat where it once existed. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I pleaded.

I knew miscarriages were common, but when it happens to you it feels bad, really bad. The first time I knew someone who had one she and her husband named and buried the fetus. My boyfriend at the time thought it odd, exaggerated. I didn't. All I knew was that I couldn't have a clue as to what it would feel like if it were mine and perhaps their ceremony was completely appropriate, necessary.

The doc—who I'd never met before—told me it might take a few days, perhaps as long as a week or more, for the “tissue” to evacuate my body naturally. He said it could happen at any time, even at work, and that it’d be messy, perhaps painful. My other option, he added, was to immediately get a D and C—dilation and curettage—like they do in abortions. Right there in his cold, square office, sitting on the other side of his imposing desk, I imagined trudging around like some sort of walking tomb, knowing that the little hardened grain of rice inside me—the one that was supposed to ripen into my precious baby—was dead. I couldn't do it, couldn't wait it out. So, against my usual preference for noninvasive medicine, I opted for the “procedure.”

It was harder than I thought; sadder, darker, utterly empty while at the same time all-encompassing. In a moment of weakness I called my brother—who didn’t know I was pregnant in the first place—and told him everything that had happened. With little to no pause he said, “so now what do you think about abortion?” My body choked in silence. I was stunned. “Um, it’s not really the same thing,” I said quivering as I hurried the conversation along and hung up before he could perceive my grief, shock and regret for having told him.

Amazing, the things people say.

When Calvin first got glasses he was eleven months old though he looked more like a six-month old. Strangers in the grocery store asked me, “how did they (who they?) know he needed glasses?” Nearing the depths of despair over my son who was missing part of his brain, I found it hard to see that it was any of their business. If I stomached a reply beyond, because he can't see shit, it was never any good. Perhaps I should've responded using my dad’s favorite comeback, “what’s it to ya, cabbage head?”

At times like these I think of my dear friend Lidia, my sister mermaid. She had a beautiful daughter when she was twenty-three. The baby was stillborn. In her memoir The Chronology of Water she writes:

I was listing all the horrible things people had said to me since my baby girl died in me the day she was born.

Things like: You know, it’s probably better that she died before you got to know her. Or: Well what you really want in your 20’s is the freedom to party. Or my personal favorite, from my father’s sister, fascist catholic: The saddest part is that she’ll go to hell, isn’t it, since she wasn’t baptized.

I cannot imagine the hole these statements bore into her already hollow shell. Indescribable, torturous, I’m sure.

While catching up recently on Facebook I read a snippet from a new friend whose toddler has Tay-Sachs disease, a terminal metabolic disorder. She wrote:

Man at coffee shop: What's wrong with your baby? Why won't he smile at me?
Me: Maybe he doesn't like you.
= )

A loved one once told me, in a moment of deep frustration and anger at someone's well-meant, though painfully ignorant, comments and advice, “you need to step back from your anger,” and then, “they're just trying to help, their intentions are good.” Later, at hearing this, Michael reminded me, Christy, you know what the road to hell is paved with.” And though I don't believe in hell I say, “I sure do.”

photo by Michael Kolster

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch


  1. We went thru the same thing on our first pregnancy. My wife felt as you, though I was more clinical about it, especially given the statistics on first pregnancies -- very common. "Misfire, we'll just try again". We did NOT have the insensitive comments, thankfully. That might've made me more 'curmudgeony' earlier, a natural process that is one-way and as inevitable as death itself. It is fueled by nearby acts of selfishness, insensitivity, myopia, and spitefulness. Sadly, these things are in endless supply. I'm sorry you had to go thru this.

  2. thank you stayne for your kind words and empathy. i've learned, from hearing these kinds of things, to consider the source and people's limitations and then it doesn't bug me so much. thanks for writing. xoxo

  3. People can be assholes. Except when they're not. Which sometimes feels rare.

  4. I didn't have time to say much on Facebook because I was on my iPhone, but I wanted to come back and tell you that this hung with me all day like a scent, pulling me back to think. Your writing is beautiful and buoyant.

  5. dear tabitha,
    thank you so much for writing. it makes all the difference in the world. please feel free (i encourage you) to share the blog.

  6. Oh, boy, couldn't we all write a book, or do a pissed off performance piece together. I heard things like, "The strongest metal goes through the hottest fire!" and "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle!" and "Hmmmm, I have to wonder what kind of karma you've attracted..." and "It's not the end of the world, you know!" Probably the top worst comment of all was this one: Right after Lisbeth got sick, a friend of mine told me that she thought Lisbeth had become ill because I had taken a trip with my mother to CA for a week when Lisbeth was 18 months old. Lisbeth's father, siblings and grandparents took wonderful care of her that week, but according to my friend's theory, this was not enough and that Lisbeth had major abandonment issues which were the psychological core and cause of her viral illness and consequent traumatic brain injury. (!!!)

  7. ugh. i've said idiotic things, too, but ever since calvin i've tried my hardest to think before i speak. i think many folks just don't know what to say so they end up putting their foot in their mouths instead of keeping it shut. xoxo

  8. You know, I think we all try to come up with answers and reasons, however idiotic, to ward off the plain and scary truth that shit simply happens that is out of our control.

  9. So true. Both my sons have epilepsy (although no where near the depths of Calvin) and the worst/ funniest thing we had was when my first son Connor was in the NICU having seizures and one of Doctors was comparing our son (who was intubated and on a feeding tube and basically in a coma) to her dog, who also had seizures. My husband and I were appalled that she was putting her dumb dog on the same level as our newborn son. We sat there and politely smiled...hoping for a new Doctor.

  10. i am so sorry. i know the feeling. at times it seems like there is more "out there" about coping with dogs that have seizures than kids who have seizures. i think people still want to turn a blind eye. keep on keepin' on. xo