By Michelle Valiukenas, Colette’s mom, co-founder, and executive director of The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation
When you are struggling to conceive, going through fertility treatments, have experienced loss, there is one thing you dread: baby showers. I can remember how many countless times I opened up the mail with THAT envelope, you know, the one that you can see from the return label comes from a pregnant friend’s mom, sister, friend, the one where all you can think as you open it is please, let me have a good reason that I cannot go.
I’ve endured my share of these events at times in my life where the last thing I want to do is oooh and aaaah over baby things. And in so doing, I have come up with some tips and suggestions about how to handle a baby shower that I would like to share with you.
NOTE: This is very important. Just because you were invited, you DO NOT have to go. It doesn’t matter who it is or the why or whatever. Trust me, it is better for you to protect your mental health and wellbeing than to show up to an event that you don’t really want to be at. So, if the very idea fills you with complete dread, terror, panic, then give your regrets, send a present, and take the day for yourself.
Now, if you feel like you must go or if you genuinely want to go, but are afraid, then here are some things to remember.
- Have a buddy, support person. Plan this person ahead of time, ask them to be your person, and make sure that they are prepared for whatever you may need. This could be a friend or relative who is also going, it could be someone you kind of know but not completely, or if you really have no one, ask if you could bring someone along. You will want the reassurance that you have someone there who is going to help, who will know when to grab the glass of wine for you or to say no, and who can help provide you an out, whether it’s temporary and more permanent.
- Decide what you are going to say before you go. If you have not had a child yet due to infertility or if you have had losses that may be private or unknown, prepare yourself for an onslaught of questions and comments about when you’ll be next or what is taking so long, etc. You can be open and honest if you choose to, saying something like, well, conceiving has taken longer than expected or I have had loss(es). You can also say things like, let’s focus on [name of mom] today and hopefully soon we’ll be celebrating me instead. Also, this is where your buddy can easily come in and have their own answer ready or just come in and say something about needing you away from x person. If you have had a later term loss or an infant death, something where people might know about the loss, it is still vital to have a mental script ready. This should be something that feels comfortable about talking about your loss while also handling the delicate nature of trying again. Something like, well, our loss was tough and we are still trying to wrap our minds around everything that happened and protect our health, but yes, we do hope another child comes home with us soon. Planning ahead of time will lessen the feeling of a swift hit to the gut, as well as allow you to not be caught off-guard. Be honest, be real, or just come up with an answer that you repeat to anyone who listens. I don’t always take this advice and so I have definitely done my fair share of OMG, mouth open and mind reeling. I have also done my fair share of yelling at someone. I promise to work on this and I think you should too.
- Set boundaries and limits. Remember when I said you should focus on creating answers that can be easily used? Well, some people unfortunately are not going to get that. You will have someone who will continue to press and ask for more detail or give you “helpful” advice and no amount of repeating the same line over and over will change that. For these times, set your boundaries. Say something like, “Well, thank you, so much to consider and think about, how about we focus on why we’re here today: celebrating [mom’s name].” Most people will shift their conversations into other things and move on. But, for those people who that line does not work on, then you need to be more direct and say I don’t want to talk about it and make sure to continually say that, no apologies and no excuses needed. Draw those lines and boundaries that are so essential for your mental health.
- Feel your feelings. Being in rooms with people who do not understand or have not experienced the losses you have, like infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, etc. is tough. It takes a lot out of you and that is okay. It is okay to feel angry or hurt. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to grieve. Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. Don’t feel guilty about it, don’t try and “fix” it, just allow yourself to feel it.
- Give yourself grace. Baby showers are tough for those of us who have not had an easy road to parenthood. Showing up and doing your best is all you can do. It is often hard to celebrate something that is not happening for you or has not been easy. I find myself unable to write down future babies’ names on cards and the like because I know the truth all too well that not all pregnancies end in the happily ever after. I wish I felt differently because that would mean my story and my journey had gone differently, but since this is where we are, I choose to give myself some grace and not let those thoughts eat at me.
Finally, my last piece of advice is that you can be and should be selfish. If this means not going, then do not go. I assure you that at the end of the day, no one celebrating wants someone there who is utterly miserable and on edge. If you are going, know that you can sneak away for moments at a time, you can leave before presents are opened, you can conveniently go to the bathroom and avoid people, or whatever else you need to do. YOU and only you get to decide how to handle these situations and if anyone gives you a hard time about it, tell them to call me.
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