This morning Chet and I were standing among a small group of moms and toddlers whom I hadn’t met before. We were in a park at a playdate that was kindly coordinated by a mom leader in our community to give us something fun to do on a Monday morning. The topic of birthing came up. The moms were swapping stories of epidurals, home births, and whether or not it was actually true that you forget the pain. I could feel my pulse rising. Was I feeling triggered by the topic of birth? No, I don’t think so. I love talking about both Ginny and Chet’s birth stories. I searched my brain for why my body was reacting. I think I was nervous because I had to decide whether I should drop the bomb of stillbirth on this perfectly pleasant morning. I really wanted to. For me, it wasn’t a bomb; it was my motherhood story. I wanted to talk about my beautiful but invisible daughter. When would be the right time? Maybe I should let everyone else share first. I knew that once I spoke, the faces of laughter would transform into faces of compassion and concern. No one else will want to share their birth stories after that. I could feel my heart beating as I was summoning the courage to drop the bomb. But before I was able, someone changed the subject to carseats or preschool or something else for which I have no Ginny story. I felt both relieved and disappointed.
One of the hardest parts of leaving North Carolina for Alabama was leaving our friends who were with us when we lost Ginny. With those friends, there is an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) understanding of how our lives were impacted by Ginny’s life and death, and that is comforting. When our NC friends see me as a mother or Daniel as a father, they see as us the parents of both Ginny and Chet. People here in Alabama only see Chet.
Now with each new person we meet, we need to figure out the best way to share our story with them. I love talking about Ginny. I love sharing memories of her pregnancy and birth. I love sharing about how God was with us through our sorrow. I love including her as part of our family. She is such a huge part of who we are. But it is not always an easy topic to bring up.
One of the first friends we met here has a daughter named Ginny. What a great segue! – “We have a daughter named Ginny too!….” Opportunities don’t normally present themselves that easily. One of the next friends we met was 33 weeks pregnant; that was trickier. Although I don’t believe my story should require a trigger warning, I also want to be sensitive to the heightened hormones and natural fears that pregnancy brings. We held off on telling that friend until after her baby was born. It was hard to wait and sort of felt like lying.
Being a stay at home mom, I often find myself standing among groups of moms at the playground, in Chet’s nature class, or in our stroller group. The other moms may ask me, “Is he your only one?” or “Is he your first?” I usually hesitate, which is awkward because it shouldn’t be a difficult question. I may have literally met this woman just seconds ago. I try to make a quick assessment based on who else is around, how much time we have, the likelihood I will ever see her again, etc. I may answer a quick “yes” with a smile and return the question. In these moments, my heart breaks just a little more and I feel a tinge of guilt. I feel like I denied Ginny and a huge piece of myself for the sake of comfort or time. I try to give myself grace and remind myself that it is okay to answer this way. Other times I respond by saying, “He’s actually our second. We had a stillborn daughter before him. He has a big sister named Ginny in heaven. We talk about Ginny a lot.” I also deliver this reply with smile. I try to show that we are hopeful and comfortable talking about her. That is completely true, but it also helps minimize their discomfort or regret in asking a usually harmless question.
The responses I get vary. Most people say, “Oh I’m so so sorry. How hard! I can’t imagine.” This is perfectly appropriate. Some others don’t say anything and might just nod, which is not ideal but understandable. It’s hard to know how to respond, and I am not offended. I love when I get follow up questions about Ginny or my experience. I also love when people share their own stories of loss or friends’ losses. It helps to talk about this to know we aren’t alone and to dampen the stigma.
It’s amazing how much I can tell about people by their response to my sharing Ginny. I can usually quickly tell if this is someone that I will be able to have a deep connection with or someone who may want to stay more surface-level. There’s a place for both types of friendships. I can usually also quickly tell if someone has experienced hardship or sorrow in their own lives. Most of the time, when someone has experienced grief, they receive the gift of empathy. You can sense the difference between true empathy and more common sympathy. When I sense the empathy, I wonder what sorrow that person has had to bear. Sometimes they share, and sometimes they don’t. When I receive sympathy, they remind me of myself four years ago. I’m happy for them that they haven’t had grief, but I also know it will eventually come to them. Maybe my story and the hope I share will help them when it does.
The more time we spend with our new friends, the closer we get and the more they understand how much Ginny is a part of our lives and hearts. I’m seeing it already. This weekend we had a sweet friend and her little girl over to watch football and play with Chet. We were talking about pregnancy, and she asked me about my pregnancy with Ginny. It meant so much to me to be able to talk freely about my daughter. It made her (and me) feel much less invisible.