Sketchy office behavior, and the shame I still feel

There’s a chance I screwed up… Anyone who’s been following me for any length of time knows that subsequent pregnancies are difficult for me to share, so I tend to hide them and disclose only on an as needed basis (except my whole sharing on the internet business, but this is different than in real life, somehow), especially at work.

So this time around, rarely do I visit the office any longer, let alone see or communicate with anyone, friend or foe, on a regular basis due to life circumstances and also because my regular lunch trifecta blew up last December through no fault of my own. As such, as it relates to this pregnancy and work, those I considered ones who “needed to know” included, well… No one. (Except for my boss.)

So I didn’t tell anyone. At first it was easy. I just didn’t mention it. But as I grew increasingly larger, around the office I became more reclusive, began to dress differently, carried larger handbags in front of my belly, peeked around corners to ensure the coast was clear before sprinting into my office, shutting my door, and flipping off my lights, sent correspondence through interoffice mail instead of visiting in person, etc., etc., etc.

Before anyone goes judging me for my seemingly odd behavior (I see you), I want to explain that much of my behavior isn’t by choice rather it’s a visceral reaction to a traumatic experience… Often times when I share news of a subsequent pregnancy with a new person I feel hot, and my heart starts racing, and I have all of these anxious thoughts, and I convince myself I’ve just increased my baby’s chances of dying, and I have flashbacks of the moment I had to tell them that Matthew died, and I imagine having to tell them that this one died too, and then I kind of find myself wanting to die as well, thus, in regards to pregnancy news, it’s generally easier for me to just not share. (NOTE: For those who are skeptical of my perceived lack of choice regarding my actions/inactions, I suggest you read up on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It has many side-effects and manifestations and literally has the power to rewire your brain, at least in the short-term, which can last for years even then.)

In fact, if I had it my way, I’d feel inclined not to share anything with anyone, including close family, until my baby was born alive, though I’ve chosen an alternative, middle-ground route, as I can understand the benefits of not walking such a intense path alone, and, oftentimes, it isn’t practical to do so either…

I realize that not everyone processes this way – I’ve observed those experiencing pregnancy after loss shout their news early and loud, and I totally understand the reasoning behind this too. It just isn’t how I’ve processed things or coped, and I know I’m not alone in this either.

Also, I recognize that my job is unique in that it has enabled me to indulge in all of my preferred coping mechanisms, whether healthy or unhealthy or neutral, so, when it comes to such activities, I, for the past almost 2.5 years, have generally approached things by taking the path of least resistance, which might be actually counterproductive to healing some of my PTSD, as oftentimes, PTSD treatment, I’ve learned, includes at least some amount of exposure therapy… But the circumstances of my career are what they are, so, likewise, my current situation sort of is what it is too.

Thus, here I sit. I told my boss and no one else. But I was exposed to some observant ones via budget meetings, which I was trying to be a good soldier and attend, and some of the other attendees gossiped, and, I suspect, one of them told one of my friends, so she might (though I remain unsure) have heard my news from someone other than me.

Of course I’d wanted to tell her sooner. She’s been supportive. She probably deserved to hear my news and hear it from me. But every time I contemplated telling her, I just couldn’t. (See explanation above.)

So as soon as I caught wind that people were finding out, I sent her a really nice, apologetic text telling her my news as well as restating how much she means to me. I told her I was sorry if she’d heard from someone else and re-explained that it’s just really difficult to talk about this subject to anyone, even friends, etc., etc., etc.

Although she replied nicely, I’m worried (sort of) that she’s hurt/angry, as it’s been several weeks, and we haven’t communicated since… Of course given my working arrangement, this isn’t completely abnormal, but it isn’t necessarily normal either. It isn’t as though I expect anything more out of her, it’s just that the events that have transpired make me wonder… Others who have found out have been generally supportive and say they understand my need for secrecy, which I appreciate, but this particular person has historically been closer to me, so I’m not sure if expectations might have been different here…

And now I’m also questioning whether I’ve handled any of this correctly at all… Not that this should be at the top of my list of concerns (it isn’t), or that I’ve felt fully in control of it (see above – I haven’t), or that there is a correct/incorrect way to handle trauma (there isn’t)… It’s just, sometimes I wish that, rather than hiding, potentially alienating myself, I could have been, or in the future still could be, someone who was/is able to reintegrate back into society more smoothly, partially so I could openly discuss Matthew and his death and its effects on me… But instead, sometimes I feel like my own shame and silence is only perpetuating the shame and silence already surrounding this topic.

Maybe the concepts are mutually exclusive though – reintegration along with discussion of taboos… This is probably true to some degree, the reason taboo topics remain taboo topics for so long, sometimes for multiple generations. And I know I’m not fully perpetuating the shame and silence. After all, I speak very candidly on my blog. It’s just that sometimes I wish I could speak more openly in real life among those unaffected by pregnancy and infant loss…

But, in addition to my PTSD issues, I know much of the reason I am silent is that I still feel shame over Matthew’s death. It isn’t that I’m ashamed of my beautiful child. No, not in the least. I’m just ashamed that he died. Some part of me still blames myself, sees myself as flawed, unworthy, less than, etc., etc., etc. And then I think, even if I could overcome these overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt, my knowledge that others might still blame me for his death, perhaps not overtly, but subtly, perhaps in efforts to try to distance themselves from my tragedy, “Oh, this would never happen to me for <insert reason – I’m educated, have access to great medical care, my baby is healthy, I’m healthy…>” And on and on and on, indirectly implying that these factors weren’t true for me as well… It might be too much to overcome. Maybe the barriers to fully un-silencing (is this a word?) me are too tall.

So this is longer and heavier than I’d initially thought and didn’t fully go in the direction in which I’d envisioned… So to wrap it up, hopefully my office mate will forgive me if she hasn’t already. I often wish the non-bereaved could more fully grasp even an ounce of what we who’ve experienced child loss grapple with on a daily basis… If they could, I’m certain they’d be more forgiving…

And hopefully the rest of this was thought-provoking… Happy Tuesday.

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7 thoughts on “Sketchy office behavior, and the shame I still feel

  1. I discussed the challenges I was having with reintegration with my therapist who suggested I not try to push myself out of my comfort zone while pregnant because I was under enough stress already. I hope perhaps you can give yourself a grace period of sorts. You are already doing your PTSD exposure therapy just by exposing yourself to pregnancy 24/7.

    I feel the same about wanting to talk about my stillbirth, to raise awareness, to help remove stigma, to find others who have experienced similar loss so they don’t feel so alone. I keep on being afraid that I will be judged as being an ignorant, uncaring, unhealthy person who had a baby die inside of her without her knowing so I often am too scared to share.

    I’m now out of my pregnancy grace period, which I’ve extended to my newborn care grace period. Soon my husband will return to work and I’ll need to reenter the world a bit more. I’m going to have to soul-search and discuss in therapy how I can get back out there with less fear and more authenticity. It’s hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You have a very good point about how PAL is already exposure therapy. I hadn’t thought of it this way, which I don’t know why because now that you mention it, it’s so obvious. Thank you for your comment – I’m going to keep this in mind and be more gentle with myself over the coming months and then perhaps re-evaluate.

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  2. Watching my daughter die in ICU has given me PTSD too. Although the traumatic experience was different, I have many of the exact same issues you have. Before I retired, had to tell myself, I need to express myself in love, not hate. I had many issues with my job and I was always vocal about my concerns. After Amanda’s passing, I said it like it was, but not always said in good way. So I came up with that saying to help myself. I do my own cognitive therapy to lessen the PTSD. The Blue Steps was one of those therapies. Please, ask your friend for forgiveness. Explain in detail and be gentle on yourself. Hugs.

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  3. You know, when I was struggling with guilt – and I decided to let my daughter die instead of trying to save her with heroic one in a million acts – I spent a long time focusing on the reasons why my decision was the right one. We didn’t know too much at the moment we had to decide, but everything we learned later on about her disease went in favor of the decision we made. (basically, it’s not treatable)

    What I found much, much later, was that this logical approach did not help me in the long run. Sure, this was beyond my control. But it’s still awful to have been in that position in the first place. There was no good decision to be made, yet I’d feel responsible either way. We always feel responsible for our children’s well-being.

    What helped eventually was to embrace the guilt. To find little rituals to tell my daughter that I’m so, so sorry that I didn’t save her. (Not couldn’t – didn’t.) To face all my demons while sitting together with her (in my mind), to imaging stroking her hair, to imagine saying goodbye again while letting the guilt and sorrow right in. To imagine taking full responsibility for everything that happened to her, whether it was mine to take or not. Every night when I closed my eyes I would go there and apologize to her, and the tears would just silently stream. But for a change, there was healing with every tear. This was one of the breaking points for me regarding recovery after her death, many things got unblocked with this and I could start the long and slow process of integrating her death in my daily life, in a healthier way.

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    1. Thank you so much for this comment. Your comments are always so insightful and helpful to me, and I’m sure they are to others too! I would have never thought of this, but it actually does make sense, especially considering many ways of treating say PTSD (i.e. exposure therapy) are also counterintuitive. My therapist says the same in that repeatedly confronting yourself with the logic, facts, will not help because the problem is, you don’t believe them. And he (and you) are right. I’m coming off of a period of intense guilt/blame, almost a regression in my grief. (I’d mostly accepted that Matthew’s death wasn’t my fault, and then these last two months hit, and I decided it was primarily my fault. During these two months I’ve done a bit of what you said (apologized to him everyday while sobbing my face off). Perhaps this is why I’m feeling a bit of relief now? Time will tell. I hope at some point I can reach this breakthrough of which you speak. Sending you love and hugs. xoxo

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  4. So, my MOM doesn’t have a clear number on how many babies I’ve lost. Somewhere around the midway point I sent out emails to my IMMEDIATE family apologizing that I’m a total asshole but after awhile I JUST CAN’T TELL ONE MORE PERSON I HAVE ANOTHER DEAD BABY so I just don’t share that I’m pregnant. At all. I’m sorry but no. My MiL is heartbroken I wouldn’t grieve with her as she would like and she took care of my daughter for most of the procedures/emergencies surrounding my epic fail to have a living 2nd child. I am like queen of trying to hurt everyone else’s feelings with my shit fertility issues. I’m going to tell you what I tell first time parents in the thick of the first year with a living baby. Survive. Do whatever the hell you need to do to get through this shit. Don’t listen to the people who say you’re spoiling your kid by holding them too much feeding too much what the fuck ever you’re doing wrong. Tread water, know it gets better/different/harder and move through as best you can. WHAT EVER YOU HAVE TO DO. Plus side; after you’re done birthing and breast feeding this child you can totally drink again. It helps. Or like, go to therapy and address your issues in a healthy manner. Whichever. Love to you.

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