“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” – Brene Brown
“Hunny, I think something is wrong.” said my wife, Sarah, in March of this year. Not what a husband wants to hear from his pregnant wife.
We made an appointment with the doctor. Sarah took some tests, returned to the little room I was in, and we waited. The doctor entered, and said (forgive me, as I am paraphrasing), “I’m sorry, but this baby isn’t going to make it. This is not anyone’s fault. You both are healthy, and completely capable of having children. It happens to many couples. You have a couple of options…”
My wife started sobbing. I tried to calm her as best I could. I was heartbroken for her. While we were only a couple of months along, it was a very emotional experience. I found myself not really thinking about us, but about the event itself. Mostly about the facade we tend to erect to keep away the one feeling that puts most people in an uncomfortable state: vulnerability.
For the most part, my wife and I have tried to put the miscarriage out of our minds. Some days it’s easier than others. I often think about how physically demanding and taxing it was on her. I think about how I don’t know if I could be as strong.
Many of our friends are having kids. Our extended family are all having kids it seems. It is an exciting time. But the excitement can often be overwhelmed by certain periods of anger, jealousy and anxiety. Why them but not us? We would be having our child at the same time as some of our friends, they could be playing together, etc.
Then the question comes. And it comes often. And it gets awkward.
It comes from parents, in-laws, cousins, friends, and colleagues. Sometimes it even seems like dogs stop in their tracks to ask, and backyard plants are gossiping together by the pine tree.
“When are you guys having a kid? Any little ones on the way?
How do you answer questions like this once you’ve experienced a miscarriage? Do you take the question head on, or do you avoid it? Do you lie?
How To Answer “That Question”
My wife and I decided to be transparent. Not because we strongly believed in doing so, but mostly out of gut instinct. Sarah opened up to a couple friends when asked, and she told me their responses. I began to do the same when solicited. We decided not to offer up the information unless someone inquired (we felt anything other than that would be disrespectful).
The reactions were astounding. Many of our friends and family responded with a similar experience. They explained how they went through a miscarriage of their own, or how they had a friend or family member who went through one. Each conversation began to take on a different tone, a more intimate and caring tone that seemed to throw a lasso around its participants and tighten our bond even more. It felt good. It made me feel like Sarah was not alone, and I hoped she felt the same. I hoped that she felt a sense of calm and relief that this was more common that most of us tend to understand, and are led to believe.
According to groups like the Mayo Clinic and the American College of Obstetricians, between 15% and 20% of pregnancies result in a miscarriage. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that this number is probably much higher, because many occur before a woman even misses her period or realizes she is pregnant. The March of Dimes states that if you include these instances, the number is more like 50%. There are more than one million miscarriages in the United States every year, according to estimates.
This article, by Huffington Post reporter Catherine Pearson, illustrates the startling gap between reality and human perception when it comes to miscarriage. In one of her many important points, Pearson reports that 55% of adults believe that miscarriage is uncommon, and many people believe that it occurs in less than 6% of pregnancies (numbers come from this survey). The latter could not be further from the truth (15%-50%).
Why The Gap?
The reason is vulnerability. I blame our culture. We default to “Keeping up with the Jones'”, and appearing happy to others. We post photos on Facebook and Instagram, bragging about the amazing experiences and moments we’ve had. It is a manipulation of transparency. It is a filtered view of our lives. We decide not to share the difficult moments in order to only share the positives.
As I write this, I realize how naive that may sound. I often write (and talk) about how I am sick and tired of the negativity we see on the news because it drives ratings and advertising dollars. We rarely see the beauty in this world, but the television media never misses a chance to share the evil or misfortunate.
It is the exact opposite when we talk about social media. We see mostly positives and rarely negatives. We need the positives, but we must open our minds and hearts to start sharing our sadness, heartache, and failures. We can help others grow, overcome, and become reborn through shared experience.
The topic of vulnerability became even more interesting to me as I heard more about Brene Brown’s work on the subject. Brene is a research professor at the University of Houston. Over the past thirteen years, she’s studied vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. If you have not watched her TEDx talk from 2010, then you are missing out (the video has over 21 million views). With her latest book, titled Rising Strong, she continues to build on the foundation of credibility she’s constructed, and brings forth the importance of vulnerability as a strength in human beings, not something that we should hide from. We must embrace, and demonstrate, these difficult moments, so that we can grow, and so others can grow through our stories.
My wife and I are working to grow from that difficult moment. It takes time. But together, we will be better partners and hopefully, better parents in the future. I hope sharing this story can open up one reader to share to use vulnerability to their advantage. Maybe you can help one more person grow and overcome.