I remember a close friend of mine paying me a visit while I was over a month into the 100 day-long stint of bedrest with my first child. I had just gotten discharged from hospital-mandated bedrest at UVA & was able to do the remaining 6 weeks at home. She was also pregnant; only 2 weeks ahead of me. And also pregnant with a sweet little girl. I was glad to be out of the hospital, but still frightened of very real possibility of pre-term labor and many months of NICU. I remember she seemed preoccupied at the beginning of the visit; meanwhile our husbands were heard laughing in the next room.
Eventually, she spoke up*:
“I need to be honest with you. I have been avoiding you. I didn’t know how to be around you because things are going pretty well with my pregnancy. And I didn’t want to make you feel sad or trigger any negative emotions in any kind of way. I figured me staying away was more helpful.”
This led to us having the talk that pretty much solidified our friendship. I’d already known her for years at this point, but it was then that I figured out she deeply cared for me. She called me out that day, even. Told me that she recognized how I was trying to cope — by putting up a wall and trying to do this alone. She told me she would not let me. And that once she realized she needed to come clean about her maladaptive ways of giving support (her unprompted distance), that she would try and offer what we both knew I needed: genuine support.
I’ll never forget that day.
Fast forward over 4 years, I am finding myself somewhat in HER shoes.
I am pregnant again with an, albeit unexpected, miracle, but cannot stop thinking about those I care for whom this news may be triggering. I find myself wanting to do like my friend did: stay away. Stay silent. Not post pictures or make conversation.
It’s like these months may be constant reminders to someone I love; serving as a string of unintentional, insensitive provocations. Without words or social media posts; simply my presence can sting. And I want to be present, so desperately.
So, almost instinctively, I have chosen to hide. Out of respect and love.
Today, I had a gentle, but tearful, epiphany. And it prompted this post:
I work majorily, with those who have experienced trauma, loss, and grief. I know good boundaries are necessary –lest I overempathize and lose myself in their experience.
But that’s professionally….
How much harder is it when you are sitting across from, not a client, but a friend?
So, what is needed is what my friend took the chance to do on that day: she effectively came alongside me in genuine support by recognizing her individual position. How my pain was affecting her, dealing with it in a very real and honest way, and then walking out her empathy. She did not dwell in isolation; assuming she was doing me a favor. And she did not become self-focused in order to distance her discomfort.
She loved herself in order to love me. She regarded herself with open eyes, and as a result, was able to see me clearer.
Where I errored, with sitting in silence with my pregnancy at times in these past few months, is to engage in complete self-denial….in hopes that I can be a better support to loved ones who have very different paths to motherhood.
Just as my friend’s distance was not helpful, my fear-rooted silence does not equal empathy.
*I’m paraphrasing, because it was 4 years ago, so….