Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Treat a Friend Who Has Suffered a Loss -- Part 1

This is really the preface to a post coming tomorrow. I know all too well what it is like to be on the other side of this fence. Some terribly tragic thing has just happened to someone you know- maybe a close friend, maybe just an acquaintance, maybe a stranger of whom you are aware. How can you help? What do you do? What can you say to them? I hope with tomorrow's post to be able to help give as much of a guide as I can for that.

But tonight I write the preface.

So many of you have told me of your miscarriages or stillborn babies. As an illustration for this preface I will now tell you about my two miscarriages.

My mother tells me I like to measure my life out in teaspoons. I guess by this she means I am a planner. It is true. I do have a grand master plan for my life. Our senior year of high school we filled out predictions of where we would be in ten years. Questions like how many kids you would have and what your job would be etc. At my ten year reunion I looked over mine and saw the only question I was off on was "How much will you weigh?" I had guessed 10 lbs. heavier.

But in spite of all my planning and working to reach my goals, sometimes life throws you an unexpected curveball - a twist in the plot of your life you didn't see coming and certainly wouldn't have written in yourself.

The first time that happened for me was January of 2000. I was pregnant for the first time. I was 10 weeks along and had told most of my ward and the cub scouts I taught. I had told my family over the Christmas break. I was so excited. I was due just two weeks after I was scheduled to take the California Bar Exam. "What perfect timing," I thought. This, of course, was a very planned pregnancy.

The bleeding that began in that 10th week was not planned. I had so many friends reassure me that sometimes bleeding just happens and it could me nothing. But as the days continued and the bleeding increased ... well, I didn't hold much hope. I did much praying at this time. I was worried. I wanted this baby so much. What if I couldn't carry a child? Was there something wrong with me? I worried and I cried.

After about a week I had a very sacred experience in the Temple that removed all worry about my fertility and took away any sadness I had about possibly losing this child. The next night as I laid in my bed on bed rest, I was in so much physical pain and was bleeding so much that I was on the verge of losing consciousness. That night Jon took me to the ER. After and exam and ultrasound the doctors determined I had an ectopic pregnancy and took me into emergency surgery at around 2 a.m.

The doctor put me under and did his thing. I woke up to someone pulling the breathing tube out of my throat and telling me to breath. When I did breath it was painful and hoarse sounding. I had never had surgery before. I had never been to the ER before. I hadn't even ever had stitches before. I couldn't believe how painful it was. Then the doctor told me, "We didn't find the pregnancy. So that means one of three things: either we just missed it and we will have to do this again in two days, or you have miscarried and we will do a D & C in two days, or you are still pregnant and will have a baby in 7 months."

At that moment, none of those options sounded good. They all involved pain. I still have never been in as much physical pain as I was at that moment. My mother came the next day to be my nurse as I recovered. Two days later I went to my doctor's office. He immediately took me back to his personal office to wait till he could see me after his next patient. He didn't want me to have to wait with all the pregnant women. At that appointment, I found out that I had miscarried. Later that week, with my mother at my side, I had another outpatient surgery to finish the miscarriage. The experience was physically very painful. Emotionally, however, because of the experience I had in the Temple, I was fine.

The hardest part for me was telling other people. I hated that I had to tell them. It was like I had failed at something. Even worse was the pity and sadness that inevitably washed over their face as soon as they heard the news. Then I had to explain that I was fine about it. I learned one good lesson - never disclose pregnancies outside the family in the first trimester.

Okay, so that is miscarriage one. Now let us turn to miscarriage two. We now skip six years and three kids into the future.

Here is our family in 2006.
I had just found out that I was pregnant with Camille.
This was one month after my second miscarriage.

Again I have measured out my life and have a small window of time in which I want to get pregnant. On our first try we are successful. I am excited. I am only 6 weeks along when I start bleeding. I have just moved to Las Vegas and don't even know the OB I have scheduled to meet with the next week. I call in and they send me to a lab for testing.

The tests come back. I am miscarrying. I need to go have a follow up appointment with the doctor in a week. This time I knew what I was losing. I had three beautiful girls. I knew the love of a child. I knew exactly what I was losing.

That week as I bled, I did not have the physical pain that had accompanied my last miscarriage. What I did have was a house full of little girls with the stomach flu and a stressed out, overworked husband trying to launch a new business. That combination meant little sleep and lots of tending children 24 hours a day. This time my mother was not available to tend to me. She was on a mission in Africa. There I was tending to so many little sick girls and I really needed tending myself. I felt so alone. I don't know what I would have done without the support from beyond the veil. At least I was sure of God's love for me.

Then I went to my follow up appointment. After sitting in the waiting room - with all the pregnant women - for 2 hours I finally asked when the doctor would see me. I was told it would be another 30 minutes because my new doctor had left and the other doctor had to see all her patients before she could start seeing my doctor's patients. No one had bothered to inform me that she had left an hour earlier. And no one, not the staff, not the doctor, no one ever apologized for having forgotten to inform me.

I will not relay the rest of what happened in that office. It is still painful for me to think about. I will only say that I was treated with so much rudeness, as I was sobbing, by the all the staff (except the woman who weighed me) and especially by the doctor that I can not even drive by that office anymore. It took me about a month before I could even talk about that visit without crying. This visit, combined with knowing what I was losing, little sleep, and feeling alone, made this a very emotionally difficult miscarriage.

My point in telling you these two stories (other than preserving them for family history sake) is to illustrate why we don't know what to say or do for people who have experience a loss. Each loss is unique and each person is unique. There isn't one right way to treat someone who has experienced loss. We don't want to do the wrong thing and there are so many ways we could do the wrong thing. So what do we do?

Now being on this side of that fence and having talked to many people in my shoes or who know real loss like this, I have some pretty good guidelines that will work most of the time for most people, I think.

I will share those with you all tomorrow. For now, today has been a good day and I pray that tonight will be a good night.

22 comments:

Margaret said...

Stephanie,

You are amazing. I look forward to your post tomorrow/today. yes. it is a sleepless night for me. Thanks for your friendship to Brittany.

Love Margaret

Vera said...

Looking forward to your post too!!!

LKHarris-Kolp said...

I'm glad you remembered God's love during those challenging times. He will never let us down. God bless!

Laurie

~Ethan, Missy, Brooklyn and Lilly~ said...
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~Ethan, Missy, Brooklyn and Lilly~ said...

Stephanie,
I just want to thank you for the daily strength that you send out on you blog every day. About 6 weeks ago we lost out baby, I was 17 weeks pregnant. At 18 weeks I went in to deliver, but my body didn’t want to let go of the baby I guess, so they ended up doing a D&C. For 5 weeks now I thought that we were able to move on, but Monday night I delivered our little boy at home. They had completely missed him. He was fully in tacked and perfect with all his fingers, toes and his daddy’s thin lips. This is hard to have to go though a second time after already morning the loss of our child, but I find strength through you blog. Thank you, Thank you so much for being strong for me and so many others and helping me get through this. Your faith strengthens my testimony in the gospel and makes my grateful for the church. So thank you, you’re a great example to me.
Missy

Deb said...

Stephanie-

I think you are right. We often don't know exactly what to say because all trials are different. That being said, I think Heavenly Father gives us trials for many reasons and I think one of those is to help others. It is so hard to face hardship; but, one thing I know is that somewhere, sometime in our lives that hardship is going to help us in furthering God's work and reaching out and helping someone else in need. You have helped so many and touched so many lives.

Heather H said...

Thank you so much for sharing yet another so private part of your life with us. I hope you know how many lives you are touching by saying things that all of us wonder but are too afraid to ask. You are such an example to me! Big hugs to you!!

{sara} said...

Hi-
I am one of the many who have admired your blog from afar. Your words are so inspiring and I have recommended reading them to many. This post especially touched me. I have lost 5 babies (waiting 'till after the 1st tri-mester to tell people doesn't work for me). As I have read your writings, I have used your inspiration to help me deal with the pain that still lingers. Though, I'm sure it doesn't compare to loosing a child you knew and cuddled in your arms. Thank you for sharing your life and inspiration with so many. I've always said that when you loose a baby, you join an exclusive club that really nobody wants to join, they are forced to. The 'outsiders' have no idea how to deal with these club members and maybe some guidelines will help them to see that we are not 'different', just people, with feelings, just like them.

Todd and Amyjoy said...

Stephanie,
A friend of mine told me about your blog and so I have spent the morning reading. You are a strong woman. I also have four kids, my baby boy is 16 months old. I too felt like three was "easy", now four is overwhelming but I will give my baby a big hug today and be grateful. God Bless you every day. You do have an angel waiting for you.
Amyjoy Price
Boise, ID

Melissa said...

I too, have had two miscarriages. They were both right in a row and I can't even explain how traumatic that was for me. I was so angry with myself, my body, the Lord. I was just so down. I'm not sure how many prayers my husband had to give me but in the end and looking back it definitely made me grow spiritually.

Rebecca said...

Your first miscarriage sounds a lot like my own. However, I didn't know for sure I was miscarrying until I went to the doctor and he told me there was nothing in the sac. I was devastated, but also though the Spirit was able to heal. You are amazing to have lost now three children (as I see my miscarriage as a child, although unborn). Your story has touched me and makes me more appreciative of my own little one.

Lindsay Christensen said...
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~The Pies~ said...

I'm sure I am one of the many that have been reading your posts daily but haven't commented. I am awestruck by your strength and your testimony. Our lesson in RS on Sunday was from the JS manual about death. it was a truly wonderful lesson. A lady made a comment that so each death is a unique experience to everyone who loved that person. Your blog crossed my mind at many points during the lesson and it made me thankful for people who are willing to share their testimonies, their pain and their happy moments. It's ok if there are people that want deal with the loss in private. Interesting how all humans are the same but yet so different and complex in their own personal way.
We tried for 6 years to have a baby and never made it happen on our own. I found out that the Lord had his own plan in mind. We received a phone call out of the blue from a girl we knew who had an unwanted pregnancy and she immediately thought of us. We feel like chosen parents and our little girl will be two years old next month. Being a mother is such a humbling and amazing experience and one I didn't think I would ge to have. I feel blessed and lucky to have that opportunity hre on earth. Thank you for teaching me to appreciate all times i have wanted tear my hair out. You are making a difference in peoples lives even though a tragedy has occurred in your life. That is so powerful! God bless you and your family!
Danielle Pies
azpies@gmail.com
Gilbert, AZ

Anonymous said...

I had a complication with a pregnancy and did not have a child.
I have other children. When I first suspected that there might be a problem, I was told through a personal prompting that I would not have the baby. I was grateful for that. I think we can plan and set goals and we are to utilize our agency. However what is most important is when we learn to accept that the Lord may also have a plan for us, and that we are not in charge all the time. That is what is humbling. Allowing ourselves to use our agency to submit to the Lord's will. And at times our trials are our blessings. I think that some times we have to choose to be at peace by partaking of the atonement and allowing ourselves to be healed and shaped into our very best self by Heavenly Father.
If we want to know how to treat anyone, in any joyful or difficult situation we should be striving to become like the Savior. We should be making his example a daily exercise in our lives. We all have opinions about how things should be done, but if we are following the example of our savior in the giving and recieving of service and comfort, then it would be difficult for things to not be given and recieved in the right spirit. The Savior is our perfect example and when we follow this example of love, service,and forgiveness then we see the world and its many experiences through new eyes, and better hearts. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus loves each of us, and if we turn to them in sincere prayer we will be given the insight and inspiration in how to "bear one anothers burdens". If we invite the Lord into our lives by being obedient and following the example of the Savior I feel that each person will be able to fulfill one of my favorite quotes:
If you could see the person
God intends you to be
you would rise up
and never be the same.

MaryClaire said...

stephanie--

thanks for sharing those experiences with us. it seemed to be evidence to me that the lord truly prepares us for the things we'll have to endure. not that those miscarriages come anywhere near to the loss you're dealing with now, but it seems that they taught you huge lessons about recieving comfort from the lord, angels, family, etc. i remember hearing you tell me about the second miscarriage when i was staying with you in vegas a couple of years ago, and i was so impressed with your ability to be so in tune with the spirit to recieve the guidance you needed so easily. you inspired me then as you continue to do now.

an interesting note on "how to treat a friend who has suffered a loss." as i told you before, i'm a doer. i couldn't just sit idly by at learn of your grief and sorrow. i had to do 'something.' as i also told you doing the small things i have done were just as therapeutic for me as for you. one thing i decided to do was to comment very regularly on your blog. i knew that you were drawing comfort from that, and it was something i could do. there have been many times when i've read a post, and not really known where to start or what to say, but as i clicked on "post a comment" something seemed to come out. i cannot imagine what you're going through, i can only share my thoughts and feelings on what you talk about going through. i hope and pray that the things i have said have helped.

you seem to be much more happy and upbeat since r & e have arrived. i love that. i love you. i love your whole harris family.

maryclaire

ps. this may be mean, but i really hope comfort is gone this week, and i'm secretly falling in love with twitch. ssshhh...don't tell brian.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie:
Can't wait to read more tomorrow. I would love to hear more about your mother. She looks like an angel, and in every picture has such a look of peace. I would love to be the kind of mother she must have be to have a daughter like you. You are such an inspiration. Lori

Tara L. said...

Stephanie,
I have learned so much from you. Thanks so much for sharing. I had two miscarriages as well. They were both devastating. I can't imagine all that you have gone through loosing Camille. My prayers are with you. Thanks for your example.
-Tara Lemos

Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I just had a miscarriage that happened to be a lot like your first, and am so grateful for all the things that family and friends did to help us get through it. I too had a spiritual experience that has helped me get through it, but also appreciate the knowledge that I am not the only one that has gone through this.

Char said...

Stephanie,
I'm a few days behind in reading your post, but still I wanted to thank you for sharing the things you share. Loss, in any degree, is difficult. It is so interesting to me how each of us handle it (even the same type, such as a miscarriage) differently--and like you said--every day can bring a new condition or emotion.
{{{Hugs}}}
Charlotte

katia said...

I had a m/c between baby #1 and baby #2 @ 6 weeks. The doctor who I went to see basically told me that they were not going to consider it a m/c because THEY had never confirmed the pregnancy. I was stunned -- I knew that the life I had been carrying no longer existed but for them to not even acknowledge that it was there in the first place? I'm still angry now, 1 1/2 years later.

Jen said...

Thank you for sharing,your strength gives me comfort. I feel as though you have wrote out the situation in our lives that we had to endure with the miscarriages. I get strength from reading your post. We also had two miscarriages. Then today my son almost drowned in the pool. It is so hard for me not to blame myself. I love to read your words. They give me so much peace and stregth. Thank you for sharing your spirit. I feel blessed to have read your words.

Stephanie said...

I too am a planner. I love how your mom put it--"I like to measure my life out in teaspoons." There are a few distinct times in my life when the Lord's plan was definitely NOT my plan, and yet those paths are the source of my greatest blessings. In hindsight I am able to look at the Lord's wisdom with awe and gratitude. You seem to have the gratitude much sooner than I; I need to work on that. I am anxious to hear your words of wisdom on "how to treat a friend who has suffered a loss."