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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Barren Advice: Thirty-One

This is the 31st installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

What do you do when someone leaves a comment on your blog that just makes you want to throttle them, even though you know they are trying to be supportive?
I had someone leave a comment telling me that my baby angel was in heaven and that it breaks her heart to see how I am carrying on back here on earth. She said I should release my anger with my doctors, body, infertility, etc and stop carrying around this burden because my baby would never want me to live this way.

I...almost came unglued. I know they were trying to be helpful and leave the general platitudes, but how dare they? My initial thought process was "How dare you presume to know what my baby would and would not want? I believe she in heaven too, but how DARE you come in here and tell me what I should and shouldn't do?!"

I know - they were trying to comfort me. Instead, I was unreasonably angered. I have not responded, and probably won't because I don't want to hurt anyone or put them off of commenting or offering support, but still...what do you do with stuff like this?!


Here is the problem with giving comfort to someone you don't intimately know--you never know if your way of giving comfort is actually helpful to them. I know how to comfort Josh; know what he does or does not want to hear. I can't say the same thing about most people on the Internet with the exception of the people that I've connected with off-blog.

Comfort is sticky when it comes from a religious space and religion is sticky because even those who practice the same religion may feel uncomfortable with some religious sentiments. As you state in your question, even if you also believe that your baby is in Heaven, you don't necessarily sound like your Heaven matches the commenter's vision of Heaven (where your baby is watching your angry reaction back here on earth).

And yet we've set up blogs as a conversation--unless you turn off comments on a post, you are tacitly giving a welcome to other people's words. Therefore, when you're happy, they are going to echo your happiness with congratulations and when you are sad, they are going to say what they believe will help you process your grief. Perhaps in her world and within her losses (whether they were pregnancy losses or other forms of loss she has experienced), it is helpful to think that the people lost would be angry with her if they saw her grieving. Perhaps that is what gets her through the grieving process and makes her put one foot in front of the other.

It wouldn't work for me.

It doesn't sound like it works for you.

So what is a way to comfort someone that is a little more neutral? If people only have words to give comfort and cannot give you a hug, what should they say? A simple "I'm sorry" works. A "I'm thinking of you" or "hug" is fine too.

I believe the conversation began on I Won't Fear Love about the term abide, as in "I abide with you" which is a way of saying that you are sitting beside them, waiting for the person to come through their grief. You're not nudging them along or trying to talk them out of it. You're simply sitting with them. It's a term that lacks judgment nor tells the other person what to do. It is a really perfect way to comfort another person that you don't know.

That said, what do you do with the people who choose instead to bring their own way of comforting to the table? Who choose to bring in their religious views, even if they end up causing more pain than comfort because their views differ so greatly from your own? There are only three possibilities here: ignore (easier said than done), remove (though, as you said, the words were never meant to hurt), or close the comment section on a post where you fear the response. Some will take the extra step when the comment section is closed to reach you via email. And while I can't promise that you won't get emails that are unhelpful, you have a greater chance of getting helpful comfort from someone who knows you somewhat well.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice

Bonus Barren Advice coming later today!


Mrs. Spit said...

I think, and perhaps this is dangerous to say, that religious based advice or platitudes are inappropriate on a public forum, unless you are explicitly aware of the person and their beliefs. The problem is that very often, these platitudes don't fix the problem, they only make the sayer feel better. They don't acknowledge where the person is in their grief, they acknowledge the senders need for that person to start feeling better.

I think the best idea about advice is this - to ask, whom are you trying to make feel better. Very often, I have noticed that the platitudes I have received since Gabriel's death are not about making me feel better or accepted, they are about making the other person feel better about what has happened to me.

When you tell a grieving mum that her baby wouldn't be happy with how she is acting, you are more likely trying to change her behaviour because you feel uncomfortable with it.

It certainly is your prerogative to feel uncomfortable, but, and this is an important but, we need to be responsible for our own behaviour. If you are making comments out of what you sense to be a need to "fix" the problem, you need to ask yourself, are you trying to fix a grieving mum, or yourself?

Tash said...

I had a similar comment on my blog but nothing to do with religion -- commenter felt my grief was detrimental to my older, living daughter. But same sentiment: she doesn't want to see you this way.

And like Mrs. Spit said, I think this says oodles more about the commenter than it does me. I think some people, religious or no, also get sort of a superiority complex when they read about people going through problems and imagine how they'd react -- and surprise, it's usually *better* than how the blogger is actually responding to issues. (This is, incidentally, also how a lot of people justify that the very bad thing in question happened to the blogger, and not to them -- and sort of unrealistically makes them immune.) Instead of embracing the blog as a place to grapple with how real people are going through trying times, the yukky commenter uses the distance and anonymity to judge how situations should be dealt with in an ideal world within their head.

I responded to my commenter, but I was in a mood that day. I always try and aim for taking the moral high ground, but I think a reply from you in the comment section in this case would be warranted. Firm, but polite. You have nothing to apologize for, and that you feel x, y, and z about heaven and your child's place there.

I'm really sorry this happened in your comment section.

Chickenpig said...

Everything Mrs. Spit said.

And frankly, whatever belief system you have, the idea that a baby can be looking down from Heaven with disapproval is totally weird. Whether on Earth or up above, the idea that a baby can do anything other than make gummy grins at its mom while counting its toes is ludicrous. From what I can tell, babies only have one emotion when it comes to their mom's, and that's total love and need. Disapproval? not so much.

luna said...

echoing mrs. spit, which makes it much easier for me to comment!

and as tash said, the 4th option is a thoughtful response about why such a comment is not helpful, both to respond to that particular commenter, should she return, and to ward off other similarly hurtful comments.

Julia said...

I was just getting ready to open up with a long and thorough on how and why this is inappropriate, and look here, Mrs.Spit and Tash have done the their customarily thorough job. So all I have for both of their comments is ditto.

There is only one thing I have to add, and it is this. From my own point of view. I do not have any problem whatsoever with any way that any grieving parent chooses to process their grief, as long as they do not assume that I process it the same way, or that I should. I absolutely respect everyone's right to think of their baby as an angel, or not; looking down on them, or not. But please do not assume that you have a right to tell me where mine is and what he might be up to. It hurts, and it's unnecessary. And more than that-- it doesn't matter. We all still love them and miss them. We are all still their mothers (and fathers). Shouldn't that be enough?

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry a poster made such an insensitive comment as well. I'll qualify myself to say I've never had a m/c or infant loss, but have struggled with similarly rude comments about my IF. I'm a very committed Christian, and yet have my own negative reaction when someone gives me a 'It was God's will' or whatever platitude. How do THEY know?

What I finally came up with, when people would make 'feel betterism' remarks to me is to say this to them:

I know you mean well, but saying that provides me no comfort... (and adding if necessary)...and it also makes me feel I'm doing something wrong.

I've walked away with mouths open that I would 'fight back' when they were 'just trying to comfort me'...but I could care less. I figure maybe, just maybe, they might not say the same thing to someone else in the future. And they most defintely won't say it to me again.


battynurse said...

Mrs. Spit says it well.
My thought also is that even in nursing school they teach never to make a comment such as this because to someone going through loss it will most likely not be helpful. A response of thank you but that's not helpful would be appropriate. I don't know if I would be able to hold back on something more direct though.

Natalie said...

I totally agree with the other ladies. I try whenever possible to educate people on why something is inappropriate... and it totally depends on how the person came across in their comments. There are people who really are sincere, but just... don't quite get it. Those I try to be polite to, or ignore. The ones who come off as judgemental, who try to tell me how I should be processing my grief, I'm not as polite to and usually respond to.

It is NOT someone else's place to put judgement on us. That's not why we blog. It's not why we talk, why we share our journey. We need people to walk beside us and hold our hand sometimes. And I always say, if someone doesn't want to listen, they are under NO obligation to stay and read. That's the thing about blogs... there is NO excuse for posting something showing that you are unhappy with what you are reading.... if you are unhappy with it, why are you reading it?! So I'll point that out to people too. You're welcome to leave if it makes you uncomfortable.

kate said...

I think my only bit of advice is to make your beliefs well-known in hopes that they will be honored. I make it clear, over and over again, that while I respect religious beliefs and while I may practice some form of worship (and while I have my own very well educated background in a specific religion), I do not personally practice any form of deity worship, which means that comforting me by saying that you are praying for me isn't comforting to me at all. I perhaps haven't made it as clear that it doesn't bother me if someone prays for me, but it does bother me when someone presumes that prayer is the only answer. So far, I haven't gotten any suggestions along that vein, but I know others who have.

So, presuming that you are abundantly honest with your readership about those beliefs, your readership shouldn't leave comments that hurt you.

Then again, religion is such a beast to be so specific about. I mean, there are so very many nuanced flavors of belief that it's hard to be specific enough, perhaps.

Either way, I'm going to step out on a limb here and just say that despite the intent, I personally feel like that comment was pretty crappy. It isn't because the commenter didn't honor your belief system, it's because they made presumptions about the best way to grieve. They hid their judgement behind the guise of an angel child. They took what was clearly their own personal beliefs and put them in the mouth of YOUR child. And in doing so, presumed that they somehow knew how your own child would or wouldn't respond to a given scenario. And that is the HEIGHT of hubris to do so. Good intent or not, I would have been far more angry than I think you were.

And there's the difference. If I had committed the same offense as your commenter, I would have just told you how angry you should have been because that is the way I feel, and thus the way I think everyone should feel. Telling you how I would handle a situation is one thing. Telling you that you are handling a situation incorrectly because you aren't handling it the way I think your deceased child would handle it is just... urgh... trying to be polite here, but it's twenty kinds of wrong, despite the intent.

I, personally, would contact the commenter, explain my belief system, thank them for the intent of the comment, but ask that they try not to ever put words in your child's mouth again. To me, just as I wouldn't tell you how to raise your living child, I would NEVER presume to tell you how to process the grief of a child who was not living, and I would flatly not tolerate someone who did, regardless of intent.

Man. I feel like a real jerk for being so intolerant of someone's attempt at kindness- I just have such strong feelings about making claims on the validity of someone's process. I suppose that this format is an advice scenario where telling you what I think is appropriate, but still. Feels weird to be so harsh.

I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this situation.

Cassandra said...

I think the comment was totally out of line. Aside from the religious aspects, presuming to read the mind of anyone, much less an angel, is bound for failure.

But Tash's comment raises a separate issue that I've struggled with sometimes (though it sounds like the comment she got was also quite presumptuous): what do you do when you see someone living in such a way that they're hurting themselves or others?

If I had a friend IRL who had lost a child and after a long time another living child seemed to be paying the price, I would like to think that I would gently try to help them realize that. My threshold for bossiness would be lower because a child's well-being was at stake, but in a situation like Anonymous' where the person is only hurting themselves, even IRL it would take a lot for me to say anything. And if I did, I would talk about my concern for them and my dilemma in bringing this up because I want to respect their grief process.

In the blogosphere it's another story. Every day I see people make different decisions than I would, but I don't say anything because they are entitled to live their lives how they want -- and who am I to say that everyone should do everything exactly the way I would.

Sometimes I can see disaster coming around the bend for someone (e.g., a partner who is treating them poorly and I can tell that it's just going to get worse), but I hold my tongue because I don't think it's the place of someone on the internet to say, "Hey, maybe you should leave your husband now because it will only get worse." But it's not always easy to be silent and watch disaster unfold.

When someone outright asks for advice, I give it. When they seem to have an inkling that something is amiss and half-ask for advice, I sometimes give it. For example, I've read blogs where REs seem to be mismanaging care, and the blogger asks, "Does your RE do this too?" Readers sometimes say "no but there are so many protocols and styles that it's hard to say" even when they think it's bad, or "no I've never heard of that something seems to be very wrong."

Some people in my IRL support group, who sit somewhere between IRL friends and blog buddies, get their fertility care from someone (not an M.D.) who I would never go near, who I think is practicing totally outside her element even though she claims to be a "fertility specialist" and who does many things that are clearly against the guidelines that REs follow. Have I said, "She's a quack, you should go to someone else"? No. Do I send knowing sideways looks to the other IF veteran in the group? Yes. Should I be letting them make their own decisions, or should I speak up and save them from wasting months/years of TTC and potential harm? I have no idea.

Perhaps I should submit my own Barren Advice question!

Mrs. Spit said...

I think Cassandra, you raise a real point. I have watched some mums who may not have been ready to try to have another baby, try to have another baby. And I have watched them crash and burn.

I guess, I would say, in a blog, we are only seeing glimpses of people. And just because I write something in the depths of despair, doesn't mean that I'm in the depths of despair all the time.

What a psychologist might call complicated grief is a hard call. I think it's proabably, given the limited interaction we truly have with a blogger, hard to diagnose through somone's writing.

If it was a friend, well, I might be much more likely to intervene. Gently and factually. Statements like "I've noticed that you seem to be struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Or, I've noticed that you seem to struggle with caring for your other child."

And perhaps, the answer there is to find concrete ways to help - be that through a medical doctor's intervention, through family assistance, help with the cleaning, etc.

areyoukiddingme said...

To add to what's already been said...Maybe blog readers see blogs as a window into another person's life, when they should instead be looking at the blog as snapshots - a series of particular moments in time.

So, if Anonymous posts at 2:37 pm every day, and at 2:37 pm every day, he/she is miserable - there is no indication that the situation is the same at 3:00 pm when life is slightly different.

Maybe the post is the release of anger - maybe that's better than huddling on the couch crying and wondering what could have been done differently. And once those keys have been pounded, normal life goes on.

Also, doesn't the assvice extend to every area of life? It's not just ttc, pregnancy, and parenting - it's driving, and shopping, and cleaning, and (obviously) grieving. So, as sure as there are bound to be idiots who tell you to relax and it will happen, there will be idiots who do not approve of your manner of dealing with a loss. Throwing in mention of Anonymous' baby angel was a well placed spear - they were not trying to comfort, there was some other agenda entirely.

Anonymous, I don't think you were unreasonably angered. I don't know how to respond to asinine comments on a blog - or whether it's worth it to do so. You may just consider that it's someone who's a clod like me (OK, I'm only like this occasionally these days. I've matured.) who doesn't know what to say and so, manages to say EXACTLY the wrong thing.

Julia said...

Cassandra, I am sorry, but I must take exception with something you said.

but in a situation like Anonymous' where the person is only hurting themselves...

Whatever gave you the idea that Anonymous is hurting herself in any way, shape or form? Because the commenter in question said so? Unless you know who Anonymous is and that she actually engages in any self-hurting behaviors, this particular formulation of your thoughts is rather hurtful-- it seems to accept without question the premise that grief is excessive.

Grieving is natural. Grieving one's child deeply is also natural. Others being not ready or willing to witness the depth of that grief usually only means that the others are unwilling or unable to handle the reality, not that the bereaved is hurting herself.

Bea said...

We can talk on about how appropriate the comment was or wasn't, but the real heart of the matter is in Mel's last paragraph. What do you do with those comments once they've been made? Let's face it - they're bound to crop up from time to time around the blogosphere.

And Mel's right in that there are no perfect answers, and limited options, but I also wanted to chime in to concur with Kate and her advice to head things off at the pass by being clear and specific and upfront about what you want from your readers. It's too late once the comment's been made, of course, and it's no guarantee, but hopefully it will reduce the amount of overall wanting to throttle people you need to do.


Hillary said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful and well written post. I've also very much enjoyed the commenters' advice and opinions. I have learned so much about grieving with others through IF and this community!

Tash said...

I hate to be a nudge here in Mel's comments, but I fear a few of the above commenters are missing the point of Mel's post regarding ABIDE. Anon in question was being very specific: she was sad, and grieving. And that is the time when commenters abide, not tell her that her dead daughter in heaven must be very disappointed in her (I mean, really). Ditto: When a blogger writes about being on her very last nerve due to not sleeping, that is not the time to barge and say, "Well maybe if you just hold and love your baby more -- worked for me." When a blogger writes about her umpteenth failed cycle with PCOS, that is not the time for a comment "Maybe it's time you give up and think about adoption." No. These bloggers are being quite specific and asking you to just be there with them. When they have questions ("How do you parent while grieving?" "What worked for you in regards to getting a child to sleep?" "If you've had PCOS, how long did you go before giving up? what else did you try?"), THEN you can gently respond in kind.

This gets back to Cassandra's hypothetical IRL question: the answer is not to step in and say that they're harming their children (doubtful. And if you ever see anyone -- non grieving moms included -- actually doing harm (not feeding, abusing) their children I would hope you would step in). The answer is to say, "I cannot imagine how difficult it is to grieve and parent at the same time. If you ever want to cry in the shower or bath for a few hours, I'm more than happy to take your kids for a spell. You don't have to answer today, but here's my number. And I hope you don't mind, but I'll ask again. Because I care about you."

JuliaS said...

I have nothing brilliant to add, just wanted to say that this has been an excellent discussion to read - some very excellent points.

I do completely agree with Mrs. Spit about spouting platitudes (I use to call it "pouting splatitudes") - they are empty, useless words that really only sound like a good thing to say but are for the benefit of the person spouting them. Not one platitude I have ever received ever made me feel better. Ever.

Most of the time I just shrugged and said, YMMV - your mileage may vary.

A lot of it boils down to manners and etiquette though - as hostess and guest.