A “How Are You” Would Be Nice….

Can’t believe it’s been 2-1/2 weeks since my last post.   And a lot has happened in this relatively short time period.  Sandy happened.  It happened with a fury here in New Jersey and in New York.  Thousands without power….many STILL without power.  Many in the coastal areas–from Cape May to Staten Island and Long Island and all too many towns in between–no longer have homes to return to.

People generally can’t fathom, understand, comprehend, imagine–or what have you– what it’s like to be in an area that is the unfortunate target of the terrifying forces of Mother Nature.  That is, not until it happens to them.   I would imagine that people who’ve never been impacted by power outage for days, flooding, or loss of home would not know how to adequately express concern.  Understandable.  But, that doesn’t mean you don’t ask how a person you are speaking with–like a colleague whom you know is in the area impacted by, say, Sandy–how they are doing.  Basic etiquette, yanno?   Before hammering away as you normally would in a business-as-usual fashion, start the conversation with “I hope you and your family were not too badly impacted by Sandy.”   I made it a goal to make that either my first statement in emails I sent–or the first words out of my mouth when speaking–to colleagues in the past couple of weeks.

What do I mean by “hammering away?”  I mean people emailing and calling from other parts of the country–in their usual curt, demanding way, expecting someone to immediately provide a response–with no attempt made to ask how you are and if everything is okay.  They just assumed that, if they could reach you by phone/email, then heck….you must be fine.  Well, you know what they say when you assume?   Yep, it makes an a$$ out of u&me.  Do they realize there are still so many people out here with no power…and in freezing temperatures?  Some with flooded homes? Still others with no homes any longer?

Now, I’m going to draw a parallel between people asking about your well being in the wake of Sandy with people asking about your well being after you have a baby.  People just assume that all mothers have smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  Well, no, not everyone has smooth, easy and blissful childbirth/postpartum experiences.  But even if there are childbirth complications, do you ever see an email announcing baby’s birth as anything other than what you traditionally see–i.e., “[Insert baby name] was born at [insert time] on [insert date].  Mom and baby are doing well.”  No, you don’t, do you?  You don’t ever see anything like “Mom had childbirth complications and had to have an emergency surgery to remove her uterus 3 days after giving birth, and mom and baby (and daddy too) had to spend a week in the hospital.”  That, by the way, was MY EXPERIENCE (to get all the details, you’d have to read my book).  That is the email I wanted to send out but didn’t have the nerve to.  The email announcement I had my friend send out for me had the “traditional” language in it.  Here’s an excerpt from my book in the section titled “Hear No, Speak No, See No” as to my theory behind why the traditional language is always used, even when it may not be true:

People only want to hear what they want to hear, which is that your experience was like any other mother’s experience. They don’t even want to hear the details of how the labor and delivery went. They just want to hear these seven words: “Both mom and baby are doing well.” This is what I refer to as the spare me the details effect. Same thing whenever you ask anyone, “How are you?” and you expect the answer to be “Good, thanks.” I always get this strange look from people whenever I provide a response that’s in any way negative.   It’s almost like, how dare I provide a response that isn’t within the socially acceptable “Good, thanks.”

Slowly, the reality of what happened is sinking in with friends and family…and it has been nearly EIGHT years.  To this day, many friends still don’t know the true extent of my childbirth and postpartum experience.   Is it because they are scared of what they will find out?  Perhaps. After all, who likes to talk about negative things if you don’t have to?  Who seeks out awkward situations?  Like I said before, people only want to hear what they want to hear.  HEAR NO, SPEAK NO, SEE NO…..

Even if one does have the nerve to send out a “non-traditional” announcement, what do you think the reaction would be?    Will people leave you alone, not calling or visiting, for fear that they will be a bother or say something that may only make matters worse?  Will they hear the news and scurry away, because it’s human nature to want to avoid hearing bad news, especially when it comes to childbirth?  I’ll tell you this, I will NEVER assume that all is fine with the mom and the baby.  I will always ask how they are, bearing in mind that no matter how much advice I want to pass onto them, I won’t offer any unless they ask me for advice.  I don’t want to hurt any feelings or cause any self-doubt for the new mom.  I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, all pushy and overbearing.  I will treat others the way that I would want to be treated, keeping in mind what I now know from my own journey to motherhood.

Because people assume (there’s that word again) that everything is fine and dandy just because you appear to be fine and dandy (see my past post on how appearances can be deceiving) and if they themselves have never experienced childbirth or childcare complications or postpartum depression (PPD), they think you should be able to bounce right back as if you’d never given birth before.  At work, that means returning to work immediately (some female executives and employees of small firms) or in 6 weeks (some companies only offer this much in maternity leave) or in 3 months (usual maternity leave duration).   And if you happen to have PPD, they think you should be able to “snap out of it” because “it’s just mind over matter.”  Just like the post-Sandy scenario I describe above, there will unfortunately be those colleagues who will address you as if nothing has changed.  No “How are you feeling?” or “Hope everything went okay.”  Everything is just plain ol’ business as usual.

I’ve said this before and will say it again, one should never assume that just because she’s smiling that everything is fine and blissful.  With one out of eight new mothers suffering from PPD, someone you know–be it a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker–may at some point experience it.   I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I could’ve asked how a new mom feels but don’t and then later find out that she was suffering from PPD.   All it takes is asking a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who has just had a baby “How are you?  How do you REALLY feel?”  You could be saving a life one day, because some mothers do unfortunately struggle with severe postpartum mood disorders….and some unfortunately do not survive.

I could go on and on, but will end with this.  The personal philosophy I choose to live by is to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  How difficult is it to ask these three words “How are you” of someone you know–be it a relative, friend or acquaintance?  Is it that difficult to take the time to show you care about other people in your life?    I sincerely hope the answer to this last question is No.

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