First things first: mind the gap. If you’ve never been to London, you may not know what I’m talking about. In fact, I myself had never heard the phrase until I stepped off the plane in Heathrow airport. I was living in Spain at the time, and some friends and I had flown to London for a long weekend. The minute we stepped foot on British soil, we were surrounded with posters bearing this red and white symbol, with the words “Mind The Gap”. Actually not just posters–every sort of tourist trinket you could imagine was there, with the same red and white symbol. As we entered the subway station for the second leg of our journey, the phrase became clear: mind. the. gap. Many of Britain’s train stations are located on a curve, making it impossible for the platform to align exactly with the train itself. Therefore, they have painted the words “mind the gap” all over the platform, and voice recordings in the stations (started in the late 1960s) continually sound the phrase all day long to warn passengers of the gap, to avoid accidents. Interesting lesson in history, no?
But today I’m not here to talk about London. Or subways. In fact, after that long weekend trip in college, the phrase never really came to mind again until last year. And then, it took on an entirely different meaning for me.
After having our first three children “pretty much” two years apart (21 months between the first two, and 26 months between the second and third), we experienced a miscarriage. As it turns out, that baby would have fit very nicely into the two-year gap we had created, with a due date of 23 months after my daughter was born. As that due date came and went, one of the things I found myself most sad about was that gap. Don’t ask me why, but it just wouldn’t leave my mind. And then, as my daughter turned two, the questions began. I can’t say I blame people. My kids were now 2, 4, and 6. It’s only logical that the next question would be “oh, so it’s time for another one then?”
I’m sure you’ve all been there. And whether you’ve had a miscarriage, struggled with infertility, or just haven’t started your family yet, those questions hurt. They are (almost) always asked by well-meaning people who truly do not mean to hurt us, but in some ways that almost makes it harder to respond. I don’t want to offend anyone, or make them feel bad for asking, but what do you say?
After more than a year of grieving our loss, we decided we were ready for one more, and we started trying for baby number four. I am so, so grateful for this pregnancy and this baby boy that will be joining us in December. With every kick (and he kicks a lot!), I am reminded how fragile these little babies are and how quickly we can lose them. And yet, I must admit, some days I get too caught up in the gap. My kids are now 3, 5, and 7. When my oldest turned 7 in August, completing the round of birthdays, those same emotions came over me again. And yes, people have already begun to ask. Oh, you waited an extra year this time? Oh, you gave up on the “every two years” plan? And the ever-popular Was this one planned?
And so today, as you go about your day, I ask you to do one thing: mind the gap. If your friend and her husband have been married for three years and don’t have any kids yet, I guarantee you that she gets people asking her every day when they will start their family. Mind that gap, my friends. Perhaps they are struggling with infertility, or maybe she has suffered a loss. Or maybe, just maybe, they aren’t on the same “life plan” as the rest of society and they are just simply waiting a bit longer to have kids.
If your co-worker has three kids and they are all six years apart, don’t be that person who says “wow, that’s a big gap!”. Those six-year gaps could have been the hardest years of this person’s life. They could have included a divorce, years of infertility, multiple miscarriages, or any other number of stressful events.
The same is true for those stair-step families. You know, the ones who have multiple children less than a year apart? I really feel for them, because I think they may get the brunt of the gap-talk. And again, I know that these question-askers are good, well-meaning people. But when you say things like “wow, you’ve been busy!” or “did you mean to do that?”, what exactly is the right response on the part of the mother? Do you really want to hear about the intimate relationship between she and her husband? I didn’t think so. And what if they didn’t mean to do it? Unexpected pregnancies are stressful enough between a husband and wife, let alone having to explain that situation to strangers or casual friends!
I could go on and on, of course. Every family has its gaps. Whether it’s a blended family, adoptive children, unexpected pregnancies, or heartbreaking losses, we are all, as mothers, very aware of the gaps, big or small, between our children. Sometimes those are happy gaps; I always wanted my children close, so those two years between my first three always bring happy memories of easy pregnancies and healthy babies. But this 3 1/2 year gap, this baby coming to join our family just in time for the holidays this year, is a bittersweet gap for me. And depending on the day, your questions may just be the straw that breaks the emotional-pregnant-mama camel’s back.
With love, I ask you to mind the gap. Think of some new questions to ask. What are you naming the baby? Don’t your kids love being in school together? What’s new in your household, any new traditions or new favorite toys? How is your daughter doing in pre-school?
If your friends are comfortable with you, if they love you like family and need your support, when the time is right they will bring up the subject. They will tell you why they’ve been married for five years and don’t have a baby yet. Or they will tell you why they didn’t have their second baby until their daughter was 7 years old. Or they will just cry and ask you to be there for them as they go through a rough time.
And then, you can mind that gap together. You can mind it with love, with empathy, and with those bonds that friendship and family bring, that cannot be replaced.
As many of you know, October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month. Last year, many brave moms shared their stories of loss (and hope) here on our blog, and we are so grateful for their willingness to share. We will have some more stories for you this year, and we ask that you read them with love and compassion, and perhaps share them with friends and family who may need to hear those words, who may need to feel like they are not alone.
If you, or someone you know, has suffered the loss of a pregnancy or a child (or are struggling with the uphill battle of infertility), please consider joining our private Facebook group. It is a welcome, friendly place where you can talk about your feelings, or just listen to others if you aren’t ready to talk. Find us by searching “ICMB Pregnancy & Infant Loss” on Facebook, and send us a request to join.
We are so happy to announce that we will be having our second in-person meeting for this group on Monday, October 19th at 6:30pm at Tierra Coffee in Coralville. ALL are welcome, and you don’t need to bring anything with you. In fact, you don’t even have to share your story if you aren’t ready. Just come and sit with us, enjoy a warm drink, and listen to others share their journeys. You won’t regret it, and we’d love to give you a hug.
And we promise to mind your gap.