One of the most aweful parts of being an academic – professional or otherwise – is that you spend so much time pushing your goals along that you miss out on very important socialization skills.
During the 18th century, especially in London, there were specific social norms that were expected when someone died, or when someone miscarried. When people died, the personal community – the support system – would get together to support the survivors with food, emotional support, monetary support, etc. According to my grandmother, who was widowed in the 1950s, these social norms were still normal at that time. But, I didn’t grow up with these norms. When people died, we sent a card – maybe a check, usually flowers, and then we moved on with our lives.
During the 18th century, miscarriages were so common it was expected. Babies often weren’t named until they reached the age of three. There are more medical records and graves than I can count that just read ‘Baby <insert last name here>’, with no indication even of the child’s gender. They didn’t make a big fuss over miscarriages, unless they were carried to full term. But, even then the child’s death wasn’t treated with the same severity and support that we treat it with today. It was run of the mill. It was normal.
I have been researching the scholarly medicine of 18th century London for nearly 20 years. Over the past two years, it has taken a delightfully macabre turn (for the once and future goth) into premature burial and resuscitative practices of the time. I cannot stand the many many reported cases of resuscitation on newborns and premees. It’s not okay. Just not.
“When you were here before, Couldn’t look you in the eye…” — “Creep”, Radiohead
Recently, a very sweet woman, a dear friend of mine had a miscarriage. Never wanting kids myself, this is a pure assumption. But, judging by what I’ve seen over the course of my lifetime, she and her husband were honest as they posted what I have to assume was the most horrific post a person would ever choose to post. They asked that people not send hugs or flowers. They asked that people not bring it up to them. They asked for patience and acceptance as they processed through their grief.
I was sad for them. They are wonderful people, and they will make fine parents one day. I recalled a time in my life when I was lost – far from home, with a failing relationship, and more sadness than I could handle. This same wonderful woman held me like a child as I sobbed. She didn’t know me very well. She knew I was dealing with more pain than I could cope with. She was (and still is, I believe) a friend of the very ex who I was in that failing (now failed) relationship with. Her warmth, her acceptance, her understanding were like angels work. She didn’t have to do that. But, something within her gave me a safe place to be. Even if only for a half an hour, nearly four years ago.
Now it was her turn to cry. And, I … in all my best wishes for her… did the only thing I could. I stayed silent and never brought it up with her. Ever.
“I want a perfect body… I want a perfect soul.” — “Creep”, Radiohead
The pain and guilt that this decision brings me is deep. It’s hard for me to talk with her – or to envision how I will look her in the eye when we vacation together in two months. The shame that I cannot give her the same safe place that she gave me – even after years of friendship – is extreme.
But, before you cast your stones at me… before you validate the pain I feel, or not… please allow me to explain.
I am an awkward person. I have a big heart. A brain that works too fast for my conscious mind to keep up with, and a big mouth that will say the exact wrong thing at the moment that makes it the most awful.
I’ve lost friends over this. More than I care to count. Every word I speak (unless I’m very comfortable with the situation) is carefully calculated. I still make mistakes, but they don’t tend to be as severe anymore. I am safe in my silence. More specifically, you and those I love are safe in my silence.
My grieving friend recently made a blog post about how to handle the situation. She unfortunately suffered from what is called a blighted ovum. This means that she had the pregnancy without an embryo. She wrote about the situation in detail. It was the most horrible story I have ever read. My academic brain is already trying to put the words ‘case study’ on it, just to separate myself from her pain.
She also gave tips for those of us who have not had a miscarriage. I was appalled at the things people would tell her and her grieving husband. “You can always have another one.” “But this one wasn’t really there.” Are you kidding me? The latter is something even I wouldn’t say.
Let’s see what I would say… I would ask what it was like. (none of my business) I would ask if she’s okay. (Stupid question, of course she’s not.) I would tell her that I’m sorry it happened to her… and likely say at least she can try again. (Yup, I’d be that person.) I’d equate it to a lost character… characters in books and online boards that I had written for years, but whose consciouness was no longer in my head. (Like it’s even similiar… and that one diminishes her pain.)
I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here. — “Creep”, Radiohead
I am blessed with the most kind, wonderful, awesome friends. They are generous and delightful and oh so smart.
They are blessed with me… I have my good points – I really do. But, dealing with death and especially miscarriages are not on that list. Not even by extension.
So, in my awkwardness… in my knowledge of myself and my limitations… I stay silent. Because I don’t want to cause any more pain.