It’s hardly a surprise that I speak for a living. From elementary through middle school, the one common remark my teachers always had about this student was “Very bright but talkative.”
I never disrupted class or got shushed, so to this day I don’t know how my teachers picked up on that. But they weren’t wrong. I love to talk. I love to share. I’m sure my husband will confirm that 😀 And I always did it because I wanted to…until the day I realized I must. Something changed that day. I changed that day.
Flashback to seven months prior to the day I discovered the power of my message. When I shared the news of my pregnancy with a chosen few colleagues almost immediately after I discovered I was pregnant, I did that because I saw them as my family at work and wanted them to be a part of my joy and excitement.
In the five weeks that followed, they never took a moment to ask “hey, how are you feeling?” The only question I got was “Are you telling everyone else yet?” They probably assumed all was well and that I’d let them know if something was not. Which I did when I learned about the miscarriage. What an eye opening experience!
Some of them were supportive, my manager in particular. He let me talk, asked questions to understand how I was feeling, even gave me a hug as I cried (sorry about your white shirt, Scott).
Others became extremely uncomfortable and chose the path of silence, shutting down the conversation as quickly as possible, even exiting the room. “Surely this wasn’t the most difficult conversation they’ve had”, I would think to myself.
These were highly paid, very successful, sales individuals. Strong and confident. Conversational wizards. Certainly I must have made them feel uncomfortable. It made me feel stupid for sharing in the first place, preventing me from ever bringing it up again as I stumbled through my lonely journey. So much for my work family.
Seven months later I found myself in a meeting with a group of moms that hoped to form a “Working Parents’ Network”. They were still gaining traction and awaited approval to make it official. I had never been to these meetings and didn’t know anyone in the room except for two guest speakers who were invited to share updates and remind everyone of existing benefits available.
One of them was a psychologist who practiced on-site two days a week. She reminded everyone that therapy was included in our employee healthcare benefits and spoke of the various things she could help with – anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, etc. When she was done, the room was silent. No one said a word. Ever been in a situation where you know people have something to say but don’t know how? Or worse, if they should?
In the spur of the moment, I decided to speak. I shared my story, spoke about the miscarriage, the struggles I faced, and how I craved support. I cried several times as I spoke, choked up many times more, and my voice trembled. I felt strong and vulnerable at the same time. The room gasped and choked and cried with me.
When I was done, everyone grew silent again. But it was a different kind of a silence this time. It was the silence that falls right before you muster the courage to do something you’re afraid of. Then questions rolled in. And comments. And stories.
Women shared from their own losses and how difficult it was to come to work and pretend as though they were fine. They spoke of how lost they felt. How long and difficult healing was. How they still can’t get themselves to talk about it.
Others found the courage to share some of their other struggles and asked the psychologist if therapy could help. Or the courage to grab her business card.
After the meeting, everyone came up to me, introduced themselves, thanked me for sharing courageously and for giving them a chance to be real at work about their experiences — for the first time for many of them.
This was the day I discovered the power of my voice. That it was possible to feel empowered and vulnerable, raw and immune, all at the same time. The day I stopped thinking “someone should do something about this” and started thinking “Heck, I am someone. What can I do about this?”
We live in an ignorant world, especially when it comes to miscarriages. Look around you. How many people would you say are good with giving their condolences when someone who had lived a long, full life passes away? Very few. People freeze. Get cotton mouth. Or say something they regret later. It’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. That task becomes twice as difficult when you are condoling with a grieving mother who lost her unborn baby.
If that grieving parent is you – don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them. Don’t let that prevent you from letting your real supporters in. Don’t let that scare you from opening up to the people that do care. Yes, it hurt to find my “work family” act like strangers. But I also found a new family in others over time. People that gave me tremendous strength and support. People that opened up and shared about their own losses. Not just women, men too.
We are social beings. We are meant to share our ups and our downs with others. From a young age we’ve been conditioned to only share our joys, feats, and triumphs with the world; not our fears, struggles, and vulnerabilities. And this is true especially in corporate environments.
But grief and loss, in one form or another, are realities of life, and no one can go unscathed from it. And for the amount of time we all spend with our coworkers, it’s highly unnatural (and unhealthy) to pretend that all is well when it’s not.
So, I urge you to be real. Maybe just one trusted coworker or two. Who knows, you may spark the courage in them to bring their whole, true, and authentic versions to work too.