Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dealing with painful subjects

It's human to shy away from unpleasantness. We all do it from time to time. But when you yourself become the unwelcome reminder that bad things happen to good people -- that some people have difficulty getting pregnant, that some babies die, that not everyone who wants to be a mother gets to be one -- you gain an entirely new perspective on the matter. 

Yesterday's New York Times "Room For Debate" feature highlighted different opinions on and aspects of the subject of"Turning Away From Painful Chapters."

"What happens when we ignore ugly truths about the past -- when families bury their dark secrets, and nations try to forget their sins?" the summary asks. Well, that sure piqued my interest. ; )

The discussion is mostly related to political themes -- the Spanish Civil War, apartheid in South Africa, domestic violence, Jim Crow in the American South -- but I still found that it resonated with my own personal feelings of having my experiences of infertility and miscarriage, my reality as childless woman in a world where moms and babies reign supreme (in popular culture, if not in terms of power and policy...), minimized and ignored. 

And then I came upon on the segment titled "As a Child, I Wanted the Truth." After talking about his childhood experience as the son of Holocaust survivors who refused to discuss their experience, he writes:
Without truth, children have only two sources with which to understand. The first are the myths which can grow like fungi when sunlight is blocked and the dead matter is not cleared. The second are their imaginations. What either one creates is often more terrible than the truth.
Professionally, I am a neonatologist, taking care of sick newborn infants and their families. Much has improved over my 25 years of practice, including a complete reversal on how we help parents talk to their older children when Mom goes to the hospital to have a baby but doesn’t come home with one. Now, we encourage parents to speak honestly with their children about what is happening, at an age-appropriate level. Unlike in years past, children are welcome to visit the neonatal intensive care unit. The concerns we once had were misplaced; it is actually best for them to see their brother or sister, even looking so different from how babies look on TV. Kept ignorant, children imagine monsters far worse than the reality. Knowing what is going on is, almost always, more reassuring. Knowing helps them to understand what the parents are going through and defuses any existential threat that might be provoked in their minds by parental silence, anger or upset. Studies have shown, and my experience confirms, that it is even easier for a child to accept if the worst happens than if they were kept in the dark about how serious it was.
Tragedies like these inevitably shape our personal histories, and when they occur to a large group, they can become part of our national identities. It is far better to be open and honest about them from the start. Otherwise, if those who had direct knowledge stay silent and take the information to their graves, all that is left for the children is the dragons they think they remember. [emphasis mine]
It was so great to see pregnancy loss addressed as part of this discussion! 

I have to admit I am guilty of staying silent far too often. It's hard to talk openly about what happened to me -- partly because it WAS painful. But also because the whole crappy experience is made even more painful by other people's reactions -- and their reluctance to deal with what happened to me -- with what might happen to them, or someone else that they love. 

I guess one of my new year's resolutions might be to do my part, swallow my natural inhibitions, and try to break the silence -- at least a little more often.

1 comment:

  1. I am totally with you about in part because it was painful but also in part because of others reactions. It is generally received poorly when I mention mine, even in the context of my current pregnancy and fears, or just causally mention them. There are those who reach out to me though, and I'm glad they feel like they can.

    Very interesting articles and loved the bolded quote.