Updated: Jul 11, 2022
‘It will be OK!’
“It might not happen!’
‘Try not to worry!’
“It’s probably best not to talk about it too much or you’ll just upset yourself more.’
… I had received a phone call. I was pregnant. I had been told over the phone in a reasonably matter-of-fact-way that my unborn baby could be born with Downs Syndrome. I could tell it wasn’t the first conversation that the nurse had had that day. It was the way she had reeled off some numbers and information as to my ‘options’. I tried to take it all in.
It was a shock.
I felt I had jinxed it. After the 12 week scan I had started telling people that I was pregnant, instead of waiting for the results of the combined test. Deep down part of me felt I was to blame. I should have waited.
The first 5 sentences you read were some of the things people said to try and ‘help’ me.
No one asked how I felt. No one asked what I wanted. No one asked if I needed anything. No one offered to just listen.
My experience was not validated. When I tried talking about it, I could see that other people could not cope and didn’t know what to say. So instead they tried to make me feel better or give me advice or tell me it would be OK.
What I was feeling made others feel uncomfortable. I had to hide how I felt so as not to put others in that situation of discomfort.
I kept it all inside. Trapped. I wanted to discuss my ‘options’ but felt deep shame on exploring what those could be. Especially as I was aware of how well some people with Downs Syndrome could live. I felt that I was being selfish.
We did further tests and the chances of the baby having Downs Syndrome in actual fact were slim. But that wasn’t discovered for at least another 2 months. And the doubt was there. The blockage was there. And so during this time it all started.
Is that mole cancer? How do I get out of this dangerous situation if it were to happen? What if there’s a terrorist attack when we visit London? What if my train crashes? The intrusive thoughts spiralled. But I learnt to trap those in too. Only revealing slight concern over certain issues and giving other more ‘valid’ reasons for getting a taxi rather than taking the tube.
My body could feel it. On edge. Constantly. I think during that time I had begun to dissociate. My body was so unsafe. So overwhelming. The sense of panic too strong. It felt like at any moment I could snap. I couldn’t sit still. I struggled to relax.
This is what happens. When you fix instead of listening. When you tell someone it will be alright.
Not being heard, not being witnessed, not having your experience validated pushes all of it in. And it builds up. Little by little. Until the body struggles to contain it any longer.
I know we aren’t always able to listen. And most of us don’t think to ask ‘do you want me to witness or do you want my advice’. I forget sometimes too.
But what I do now is set a boundary. Set the expectation of what I need from the conversation. First of all I check in to ensure they’re in a place to hold space. That they are emotionally resourced. And then I say it…
‘Please don’t talk. Just listen.’
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.