Are you "out?" To everyone or a select few? And which -- or how much of your -- story do you tell?
This is the question Tash recently asked at Glow in the Woods regarding what portion of the story of our baby loss we share with the real world. For anyone who ended a pregnancy early for medical reasons, this is one of the core, lingering conundrums. You think about it hard from day one. Actually, given the nature of medical termination, you usually think about it before day one. The lead up to a second-trimester termination generally includes at least one or two days of prep, plus many tortuous phone calls with doctors and hospital or clinic staff to set up appointments. And the question gets into your head early on and clings: What in God's name can I tell people about all of this later?
Two and a half years since my termination, I still grapple with the concept of "out." I personally count four tiers of knowing my story in the real world:
Tier One: The most trusted. These people know everything about my baby's diagnosis, what went into my decision to terminate, as well as all the crazy woe that came later on. Plus, they know the horrible strain all of this put on my heart, body, psyche, and marriage.
Tier Two: The mostly trusted. These people know about the termination and probably also heard that my uterus ruptured later, but don't necessarily realize the connection between those events, or that I can't have kids anymore. Not every detail and no major emotional baggage has been shared, but I trusted these individuals enough to tell them the basic framework of the whole complicated story.
Tier Three: The suspect. Either I don't know these people well enough to gauge their philosophical stance on abortion, or I know for certain they are antichoice. I may not be close to these folks, but they are still entrenched enough in my life to require some explanation as to why I suddenly wasn't wearing maternity clothing anymore, or why my subsequent baby came so early. For them, I created an artfully edited version of the story that isn't false, but allows people to incorrectly assume that my loss was a stillbirth or miscarriage.
Tier Four: The blissfully ignorant. These are mostly people I've met since Little A's birth who have no idea of my pregnancy woes. It's not a secret, but it just hasn't come up, and I haven't volunteered it.
In the early days after my loss, Tier 3 was the group that caused me the most tension and sadness. No matter how you lose a baby, you feel flayed and exquisitely sensitive to how others perceive what happened in the aftermath. People routinely say things that they think will help but inadvertently hurt. This problem magnifies significantly if you terminate. Because in addition to the kind-hearted blunderers, there are also the shunners and the snubbers. These are the people who feel that the manner of your loss negates all rights to condolences. In fact, some people feel that a termination requires insults and condemnation. Which is bad enough on any ordinary day, but downright impossible to contemplate in the wake of your shaky new grief.
So, everyone who terminates has a Tier 3. What varies is how many people get put there, and for how long.
Now, my Tier 3 is likely very tiny compared to many other women. That's because here in the Bay Area the vast majority of people are prochoice. There isn't much risk in being open with my story. The most push back I get is on this blog. And when the occasional anonymous wing nut stops by to comment, I hold the power to delete, which really takes a lot of sting out the random trolls. So my situation is much easier than someone in Topeka or in Oklahoma City. There a woman may very likely have a friend or relative call her a baby killer to her face after a medical termination. And there just isn't any magic button in real life that can erase that.
Yet even in my "safer" locale, the specter of snubbers and shunners falls over me every time I consider telling my story. I have to really think about what the long-term implications of talking with some one could be before I open my mouth. It's always a gamble, the revelation.
And as much as I try to keep it at the personal level when I talk about my baby and my decision, inevitably it's also more than that. It's where the personal, political, and religious intersect. For always, whether I like it or not.