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Friday, October 20, 2006

Advice Weigh-in

I am normally not a big fan of the general advice column. I mean, how can one person offer advice on such a diverse range of issues—from relationships to divorce to fighting with in-laws to infertility? I know that while I could probably dole out some advice when it comes to certain areas of infertility (treatments--but not adoption or third party reproduction), raising twins, or just being a fantabulous woman-about-town (by the way--that's how fantastic and fabulous I am--the words just merge when they describe me), most other issues in life are just a guess. I don't know for certain how to help someone through a divorce because I have never experienced divorce. My fallback is just to sit and listen. But that's not really...advice.

But I was pleasantly impressed with Ms. Hax this morning and her recent Tell Me About It column.

By Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff WriterFriday, October 20, 2006; Page C02

Dear Carolyn:
My wife had a string of first-trimester miscarriages over the past two years. Devastated us both. Now she's five months pregnant, gorgeous, glowing, healthy (according to a new doctor we both trust). I am overwhelmed with my excitement; she is numb with fear. She hasn't told anyone but me, and won't even let me be happy for us. I know our baby will be okay and I feel like we're missing out on being the happiest we've ever been. What should I do now that it turns out my excitement isn't as contagious as I thought it was?

Carolyn's Answer: Consider your wife, whose fear hasn't been as contagious as she had probably hoped. This is not a gratuitous downer, it's the truth: You don't "know" your baby will be okay. Nobody does. Most babies are okay but some aren't.

And, someone who has internalized bad news, especially recently, won't buy into a mood that's built on a belief that bad news won't happen. Not only does it directly contradict what she has felt in her own body, it minimizes it. It's like you're saying, "Okay, the fetus is healthy, we're all better now!"

You don't mean to do this, you mean well, I think that's clear. But you're essentially denying her grief, which is no doubt still fresh. In fact, the joy of a healthy pregnancy can actually exacerbate grief by underscoring what she lost in those first babies.

It can also make the specter of loss loom even larger: If she feels she barely made it through those early miscarriages, how will she endure a loss now, or, unthinkably, later on, when the love for her baby grows with each passing day?

This probably sounds like a primer for how you don't want to think right now. But I'm willing to guarantee she's thinking it already, so nothing you say will be persuasive until it sounds like the truth and not just wishful thinking. She might even benefit from talking to others who have been through similar losses, so she can work these things out at her own pace; your obstetrician should have a ready supply of resources.

I think your optimism will help, too -- once she hears that you get it. You get the risks, and you're excited and unafraid to love your baby anyway. Maybe because you're not denying life is tenuous, you're accepting it -- and so you take your joy where you can.

Not sure if Carolyn ever experienced a pregnancy loss or pregnancy after infertility/loss, but I was duly impressed with her advice.

What's your take?


Kristin said...


Katherine said...

I am saving this so that I can pass it out to anyone who needs to read it later. It's clear and honest and she "gets" it. Thanks for sharing the link.

C said...

I tend to think that Carolyn Hax is spot-on with most of her advice. I actually have a quote from one of her online chats hanging above my desk--"Some days are going to suck. Some entire years are going to suck. Seems to me that if you want an attitude that will withstand reality, you need to understand that everything passes, and that includes both the bad stuff and the good."

Ms.Once said...

Yes, I was all prepared to get fussy before I ever read her response, just seeing the first line in the paper this morning, because she's often funny in her cattiness, but it takes a certain kind of humor (hard-earned and dark and being part of this unfortunate club) to work. But her clear-eyed response was right-on, and I'm really glad it will get read by so many people, especially those who might not even be thinking about kiddos and the making of them in anything but the most romantic and fuzzy of terms.

Frances said...

I so love her for that response.

Love you too, btw.

SaraS-P said...

This is by far the best advice I have seen to anyone who tries to force optimism on a woman who has lost a pregnancy!

People think they are being encouraging, but that are really completely invalidating a strong emotional experience.

Bravo, Carolyn!

Dee said...

Exactly right.

VanillaDreams said...

Wow, that is an amazing response! I am truly impressed by her advice. (for once, not assvice!!)


Anonymous said...

Yeah, that sounds good. I wonder if she has experienced loss, or if she's just one of those people who's really good at putting themselves into another's shoes, and then pointing out the flip view to the person they're talking to. Surely there must be a little of the latter, given her job.

Or maybe she's good at researching the other view. Maybe she reads a letter like this and actually goes and asks people who've experienced loss for their take, and then mulls it all over and puts together a thoughtful response.

However she does it, she seems to have done well on this occasion.


Anonymous said...


I am very impressed with her response - how she states this is exactly how I feel right now and I am glad someone was able to put this into print for the entire world to read.

Thank you for posting this - validates what is going through my head as we stare down TTC again.

Anonymous Infertile said...

I can't believe how great that response is. I wonder if she has gone through a similar situation. I feel like people who haven't generally don't get it like.

Ellen K. said...

I've seen other letters about infertility and pregnancy loss in her advice column and online chats, and I've thought that her answers tend to be fairly balanced.

BTW, the s-x advice columnist Dan Savage is very sympathetic to people experiencing infertility, both in his column and in his book "The Kid."

Womb in Waiting said...

After 5 miscarriages - hooray Carolyn. If we ever get pregnant again, my internalised fear & loss will consume me i know - it did for the last few pregnancies & I lost them. It is devastating for women who have experienced such losses that they will not enjoy the innnocence of sheer joy throughout a pregnancy - another loss we carry.

Emmie said...

This really is a great response. I vaguely recall reading something that Caroyln may have had some experience with IF herself, and I know she's the mother of twins now so who knows. Maybe she knows this topic all too well like the rest of us.

sarah said...

I loved her response too -- makes me proud to be a fan. I'm impressed that she took the issue head on rather than telling him what he wanted to hear.