Zack and I are introverts. We prefer inward-directed activities such as reading, thinking, listening to music, doing house and yard projects. It’s not that we don’t like people; it’s just that a lot of times, we think silence is rather nice.
We’re also fairly private. I didn’t announce Luke’s pregnancy on Facebook; Zack isn’t even on Facebook.
We joke about this, make fun of our nerd-dom, endlessly ponder how we ended up with a Chatty Cathy like Zoe. But it turns out when you’re violently dropped into an ocean of tears on Planet I Delivered a Dead Baby, being an introvert can really bite you in the ass.
When you normally don’t talk a lot and are usually private, people assume you don’t need or want to ever talk. They don’t realize this isn’t normal. It’s not usual. And so that puts the introvert in the painful position of having to Reach Out. Of having to say, hey, guess what? I’m still here. Still suffering. Still feeling shitty. I need to know that someone still cares. Can we go to lunch?
It’s hard. And somewhat embarrassing. As much as the regular planet is not made for introverts, Planet I Delivered a Dead Baby is a thousand times worse.
Don’t get me wrong. Many people showed us acts of kindness in the days after this happened. There were cards and countless thoughtful notes, including from people I hadn’t spoken to for years. Flowers. Colleagues set up a meal delivery service and a cleaning service. A high school acquaintance sent a gift card. A new friend made soup. Another new friend took hours out of her afternoon to share her own tale of heartbreak. People came out of the woodwork detailing their secret histories of pregnancy and infant loss. These messages brought more tears but reminded us we are not alone. My parents check in every day. My mother-in-law sent a beautiful necklace and gave us a memorial bench. We placed it in the garden, and later added a solar angel sent by an aunt. Now we have a peaceful spot right by the house where we can visit Luke.
But then, as the days stretched into weeks, the well wishes dropped off. The notes stopped coming. The chorus of sympathy faded into the silence we once cherished and now dread. On Planet I Delivered a Dead Baby, everything is upside down.
It turns out that a stillbirth can make you a bit of a pariah. It makes some people uncomfortable; they do not know what to say to someone in my situation, and so they don’t say anything at all. I can see this in the eyes of Zoe’s teachers when I drop her off at day care. They’re thinking, I saw her nearly every day of her pregnancy, for 37 weeks. Her baby was full-term, so close to being born—alive. What in the hell do I say to her?
One of her teachers—the only one to say anything at all!—got it right. She simply said, “How are you doing? I know it’s hard. We’re here if you need to talk” and wrapped me in a hug. I could tell she wasn’t phoning it in, either. Wasn’t faking it. She meant it. She really cared.
If you’re wondering what to say to someone in my situation, the above will do just fine, I assure you. Also—you’ll need to say it more than once. Maybe many times. Some people just do not feel comfortable Reaching Out and letting others know they are still hurting. So they suffer in silence. The only way you’ll be able to help them is by saying, again and again, How are you? I know it’s hard. I’m here if you need to talk. You’ll need to do this for weeks. For months. For YEARS.
It’s like they’re stranded on a raft in a sea of grief on Planet I Delivered a Dead Baby. Each time you reach out, you’re throwing them a lifeline. When the chat ends, when you hang up the phone, when the visit is over, you take the lifeline with you. You need to keep tossing it because they’re still out there. Still drifting. Trying to get to shore.
P.S. If you’re reading this and you know me, don’t feel awkward reaching out and think I’ll assume you did it just because you read this. What I’ll actually think is wow, they read this post; they really care.