7 Gems - You're Welcome, grief & loss, Trying to figure this all out

Preying & Playing on Insecurities: The Problem with Wellness Rhetoric

photo by @attosfotograficos

Recently I attended and tabled at an event targeting mental health awareness. I provided info about my practice, as well as information about pregnancy & infant loss awareness (#PAILAwareness) month, and shared some information about Black Angel Mom. In talks with another person tabling, I was on the receiving end of this comment when asked what prompted me to start BlackAngelMom.com:

“You know that happened for a reason, right?  I mean, there’s often something wrong with the body that causes that to happen and if you get the right nutrients, it won’t happen. Maybe it wasn’t the right time, you know..?”

Now, I may be paraphrasing or summarizing a bit because this was a few weeks ago, but generally speaking, this was the message I received. When faced with my hesitation in accepting those comments with both verbals and non-verbals, the commentator said, “well, I’m sorry. I should’ve asked what happened instead of assuming.” 

So, why am I writing this post? Let me give you a little bit more context. I was also listening to NPR (National Public Radio – yes, I have become that person who rarely listens to music radio anymore. Don’t judge me.) shortly before tabling at the event and they were talking about the self-care and wellness industry on one of their programs. One of the guests highlighted that the wellness industry preys on the insecurities of consumers by suggesting if they use whatever product, they will look younger, feel better, have clearer skin, a smaller waistline, whiter teeth, etc. People who do not feel insecure about those areas, will tend to not use the products or invest in things that may only have a minimal (if any) effect at all. The guest felt this type of marketing was predatory and harmful, placed under the guise of “self-care” and “wellness”. Whew! I found that really interesting.

Here’s a truth: people who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, specifically pregnancy loss (e.g. miscarriage & stillbirth) already have tons of questions, and despite potentially having medical explanations to the contrary, often feel like it was their fault that their little one died. 

There is a running narrative that there must be something wrong with you/your body/your energy, etc. that was the cause of your loss. Those messages usually come from the outside and then are internalized leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, worry, guilt, and shame. 
Keeping it 100 with y’all, it’s a huge feeling of insecurity.

Yes, there are definitely times when there is a clear, causal, medical reason; however, there are also many, MANY times when the medical team has NO IDEA why that loss happened.  The teams guess or give the reasons they suspect, but that reason may not actually be the case when it comes to you. Sometimes not having a concrete answer is even worse because it leaves room for your brain to run amok as it tries to make sense of why this happened to you.

I’m going to tell you why these types of rhetoric are problematic AsF. I’ll also let you know why you should a) stop doing it if you do, and b) interrupt people when they make you uncomfortable with this nonsense.

  • Implies something is wrong with the loss parent
    • It’s generally not ok to imply something is wrong with another person. Especially if you don’t actually know them or their history. Whether something did or did not occur within their body is frankly, none of your business and definitely not your place to speak on. 
  • Implies you know more than the person about their body
    • Unless you have a clear understanding of someone’s medical history, their day-in and day-out activities, are a medical doctor, are clairvoyant, or most importantly, THEY ASKED FOR YOUR OPINION ABOUT WHAT WENT WRONG, you likely do not know more about their body than them. Sure, you can speculate. You may even have a great hypothesis (aka an educated guess) but unless your opinion is requested, humble yourself and just be a support. 
  • It’s rude as hell
    • Have you ever had someone tell you how to do your job? How to clean your house? How to cook a meal you’ve prepared? How’d you feel about that? Annoyed, I bet. Think for a moment about why that is. In a nutshell, it’s rude and unsolicited. Don’t do it!
  • Picks at the scab
    • Every loss parent is at a different point on their healing journey. Some heal faster than others, and some are just now getting that protective coating over the injury of their loss. One of the problems with the health & wellness rhetoric is that it picks at a scab. When you pick as a scab, you interrupt the process of the body healing itself.  You expose the body to infection, prolonged pain, and increased possibility of bad scarring. This is EXACTLY what happens when rhetoric is applied. You risk interrupting someone’s healing process with your words and then you get the luxury of walking away. They have to sit with the damage you may have caused. 
  • Throws salt in the wound
    • Similar to the last point, health & wellness rhetoric further irritates an already injured area. The loss is some of the greatest pain a person can experience. Why make that worse by asking questions/making statements that only add to the pain? It doesn’t make sense and is NOT helpful. 
  • Makes a lasting impression
    • We all remember things that feel (or actually are) dangerous. That is actually one of the functions of memory from an evolutionary standpoint. We need to remember what might harm or kill us in order to avoid said dangers in the future. This extends to words. Hurtful words that have the potential to throw loss parents into a depression, self-hate, self-doubt, rage, even suicidality, really need to be monitored. Again, you never know where someone is in their healing journey so try not to assume anything can be said w/o consequence. 
  • It’s borderline sadistic
    • Hear me out: you’re talking to an angel parent/loss parent and for whatever reason, it seems appropriate to imply/inquire/suggest there is/was something wrong with their body that caused their loss… Just sit with that for a sec… Even on the off-chance that you’re right or they have thought about things from the same perspective, it’s hurtful.  More importantly, the small satisfaction you MAY get from offering additional information is weighing as more important than the hurt caused. That’s not cool.

Here’s a truth about communication; lots of us do it ineffectively and in ways that are hurtful to others.  We are almost trained to do this to get our points across, to sell others on our ideas, or to win arguments/disagreements. It is almost embedded in our communication style to find the weak points to solve problems or “win” in some way, shape, or form. It takes conscious effort to communicate in ways that are both effective and sensitive to whomever we are communicating with. If you’re reading this and have done these things or know someone who could benefit from seeing it, please share. I do believe that some folx genuinely do not know that this is problematic. Each one, reach one <3

2 thoughts on “Preying & Playing on Insecurities: The Problem with Wellness Rhetoric”

  1. Yes to all of this!! I’ve definitely seen this type of rhetoric towards parents who have lost babies to SIDS as it relates to vaccines, feeding choices, sleeping arrangements, etc…I engage in and appreciate the wellness community, but that is so damn infuriating!!

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