Don't Say This To A Woman With A High Risk Pregnancy

by Jenny Albers
Originally Published: 
A pregnant woman with a high risk pregnancy sitting on a hospital bed and holding her belly
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty

I’ll never forget laying in that cold, sterile room, praying that I was wrong, hoping that I was being overly cautious. But I knew with certainty I wasn’t.

I was 17 weeks pregnant and had gone to the ER due to bleeding. As I lay there waiting for the on-call doctor to return to my room, I heard him speaking to my OB over the phone. “It’s nothing to worry about – it’s just a little spotting,” he told her. And as that word “just” rolled off his tongue, I cringed.

I knew that I was experiencing more than a “little” spotting, and that word “just” minimized the gravity of my circumstances. I felt like I was being treated as a simple, uninformed pregnant woman who was overreacting, when in fact I was a mother who was about to lose her baby.

The following day, my water broke, a fact that could not be mistaken judging by the amount of fluid that was draining from my body. I called my OB and while she suggested I be seen, she noted that it was probably “just” discharge. That word again minimizing the reality of my situation, and invalidating my fears.

And the day after that, as I sat half-dressed in the office of a specialist, I was told that I should “just” terminate my pregnancy because a good outcome was next to impossible anyway. The term along with its context was belittling – this was more than just a problem to get rid of, to get past. It wasn’t just another day at the office for me; it was the first day in a long series of days that were anything but normal.

The word “just” wasn’t used to intentionally diminish the magnitude of my heartbreaking circumstances. It was meant to calm my nerves and ease my anxiety – to somehow shield me from the painful events that were about to play out, but it felt demeaning nonetheless.

I wasn’t just another patient, I was a mother – a mother in distress – a mother who feared for her baby. And the pregnancy wasn’t just another pregnancy, the baby wasn’t just another baby – it was my pregnancy, my baby.

Using the word “just” was a misguided attempt to impersonalize an intensely and justifiably personal crisis. It erroneously tried to simplify a tragically complex situation.

After all, it wasn’t just a pregnancy that was ending, it was a life that was ending. And it wasn’t just a medical complication, but a loss that would make life excruciatingly complicated.

“Just” did not do justice to the intensity of my circumstances or the state of my crumbling heart. “Just” made me feel as if I was not justified in the pain and heartache I felt over what would become the greatest loss of my life. “Just” stung my open wounds and lacked compassion.

“Just” told me that the life-altering situation which would significantly impact my life was insignificant to those who were supposed to be helping me through it. “Just” told me that the loss of my pregnancy, of my baby, wasn’t really all that strange or abnormal.

The use of the word “just” suggested that these traumatic experiences were just blips on life’s radar, instead of torrential and devastating storms.

So might I suggest that, while we navigate the waters of someone else’s storm, we reconsider the use of the word “just.” As we sit on the edge and watch someone else’s life go up in flames, might we refrain from trying to superficially diminish the impact of the fire, and instead help them walk through it with compassion and understanding.

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