16 weeks + 6 days pregnant
I was in the playground at school on Friday when I noticed one of the dinnerladies making a beeline for me. She wore a huge grin and clapped her hands as she excitedly exclaimed, “How’s the baby? Did you have a boy or girl?!” I was caught totally off guard, with a class of thirty pupils in toe. My own smile dropped away and I felt sorry for her for the words I was about to say. “I lost the baby,” I said simply. There were no other words to add, yet I felt compelled to compensate for being the bringer of such awful, tragic news. For making her uncomfortable. I didn’t want her pity. Pity serves me no purpose and just makes me feel guilty for being deemed to be imposing my emotions on someone.
I’m not sure how she responded as my defences had triggered me to enter some kind of autopilot. I do know that she struggled to find the words. People always want to find the right words, the magic words that bring comfort, that compensate for your loss. But I’m not sure such words exist. A lot of people recognise that fact so try not to mention your loss in the first place. They consider that they are protecting you from your grief… I think in these instances, avoidance simply protects us both from feeling awkward about the exposure of my emotions.
Encounters like this are never easy to handle, especially when I’m in a work environment and feel the pressure to remain professional at all times. But the wound I carry threatens to dissolve the mask I wear at any moment.
After that encounter, every time I passed one of the school dinner ladies or cleaning staff I braced myself for a similar experience. I was on alert and hurried past many of them with my head down. Don’t let me have to say it again today. I kind of hope that the rumour mill will do the rest of the work for me now, to fill in the gaps of anyone left who doesn’t know, to protect me from having to be emotionally vulnerable.
There is something about exposing one’s emotions in public which is deemed distasteful, unseemly, unbritish? Almost shameful. Yesterday I saw a girl sat crying in her car. She noticed me and quickly shifted away from my view and I averted my eyes. We both acted to preserve the her ‘dignity’; she shielding her vulnerability and me protecting her from feeling ‘exposed’.
Why is it that vulnerability makes us feel so uncomfortable? Why is it it considered such a weakness? A five year old girl from one of the classes I was covering this week professed to me that she never ever cries. She was so proud of the ‘fact’ and it struck me that this idea seems to be instilled in us from very young. Big boys don’t cry… Don’t be a cry baby… “Crying’s for babies,” the little girl remarked. She seemed perplexed when I told her that everybody cries, yes even the dads, yes even boxers and yes even the Prime Minister.
Crying in public is often stigmatised as being a sign of insecurity or instability. It’s considered an indication of inadequacy or of being out of control. An emotional wreck. Undignified. It’s a concept that runs contrary to the the British notion of a stoic ‘stiff upper lip’. To be seen to be able to suppress ones tears is often deemed as being ‘strong’. People are encouraged to ‘dry their eyes’, ‘chin up’, and ‘put on a brave face’.
I would argue that strength is more about our ability to recognise, acknowledge and process our emotions rather than our ability to block them. The idea that we should submerge our sadness is unhealthy and cheats us out of an important facet of life. Expressing sadness is a sign of being human and to embrace our emotions, all of our emotions, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, advocates a more emotionally healthy society.
But I, like the little girl in that class I covered, and like many people, am afraid to be vulnerable sometimes. And I too put value on being perceived to be emotionally ‘together’.
But being brave isn’t about pretending to be fine, it’s about admitting when we’re not. Being brave is about disregarding social constraints which prosecute sadness and vulnerability and being emotionally open. It’s about standing up and admitting that sometimes life is hard, sometimes life is overwhelmingly hard and sometimes we cry. Not just the kind of tears which mist our eyes, but the giant sobs which could threaten to start an avolanche. Maybe it’s time we were all a bit more emotionally honest. We all experience sadness. Yes even the dad’s, yes even boxers and yes even the Prime Minister.