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By Janine Kovac
“I want to keep the news of our pregnancy to ourselves for a while,” my husband Matt said. “This is a
private matter and it’s a scary situation. I don’t want to just dump it on people.”
I strongly disagreed with him. Given what the doctors had predicted, we were headed for rocky times—a month in the hospital for me and at least that much time in the hospital for our twins once they were born. This was not the time to keep news to ourselves.
People often talk about abstract concepts—patience, control, power, news—in terms of an object metaphor. We say, “I lost my patience.” “They grabbed control.” “He throws his power around.” We keep secrets and give news, as if it’s something tangible such as a ball just hand over to someone. (“Here, take this news. I don’t want it anymore.”) And negative events are often framed as having weight, as in: unbearable news or the burden of bad news. Heavy sorrow.
“Doctors tell us there’s a 50/50 chance that the twins won’t make it,” Matt reminded me. “I don’t want everyone to know that we’re expecting and then have to give them bad news. They’d all feel terrible for us and then I’d feel responsible for unloading on them.”
“We can’t do this all by ourselves,” I countered. “And I don’t want to hide our troubles from our friends and family.”
Give bad news.
Hide your troubles
Metaphors are shorthand descriptions that guide how we reason. Metaphors such as “dumping” or “unloading bad news” imply that we are giving a burden to someone else. But sharing bad news is different from unloading a weight and unlike dumping a real load, giving someone bad news doesn’t mean you don’t have it anymore!
I wanted to physically prepare for the healthiest pregnancy possible for my situation, which meant lots of eating, lots of sleeping, lots of quality family time with my husband and two-year-old daughter.
The next step was to have a support system in place. How was my daughter going cope with me in the hospital for a month? Who was going to make sure that my husband didn’t burn the candle at both ends? We needed backup; we needed, as Christine outlines in chapter two of Raising Happiness, to “build a village.” To me this meant staying in touch with close friends and reaching out to the people we didn’t know very well, such as the parents at daycare or my husband’s colleagues at work.
My husband saw it differently. While I was imagining the help we’d need if the twins or I had complications, he was imagining how selfish it seemed to dump our troubles on others. This was not an area where we could come to an agreement through compromise.
Around this same time one of my aunts was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. A spot was found on her liver. There was another one on her kidney. Matt and I watched as my mother and her four sisters shared the grim news and connected in a way I hadn’t seen before—not just with my dying aunt but with each other, too. They made cross-country visits (and reportedly stayed up all night giggling). They checked in with each other weekly. One aunt quit her job so she could be near her sick sister during this time.
“Family is more important than anything else,” Aunt Lulu told me.
To my mother’s family sharing this sad news wasn’t “unloading”; it was a rallying call that used metaphors that evoked images of power, construction, and connection.
My aunt’s cancer pulled everyone together.
Her sisters strengthened their bonds.
They supported each other.
Their love had a strong foundation.
And of course they built a village.
This is why metaphors matter. If I thought of sharing our story in terms of weights and objects, I had to agree with Matt; I didn’t want to unload our burdens onto our friends, either. And when Matt talked about sharing news in terms of pulling together, forming attachments, and building our support system, the idea of telling friends didn’t seem so selfish. Looking at our different metaphors rather than focusing on our different opinions helped us understand each other. It also helped us create a game plan that we were both comfortable with. And my mother’s family’s model support system gave us an example to follow.
It was like flipping a switch. Changing our mindset, we took action. We started a private blog to update family and friends. I connected with other parents from daycare. Matt told his boss. Suddenly we had recommendations for prenatal yoga classes, hand-me-down baby clothes from co-workers, and encouraging emails from Aunt Lulu. Best of all, when Matt and I were discouraged our network of friends was optimistic and supportive. You might say (to steal a metaphor) that our village lifted our spirits.
(To read more about conceptual metaphor analysis, check out this book Metaphors We Live By written by George Lakoff, one of the fathers of conceptual metaphor).
Next up: When you get pregnant in July, you don’t usually give birth in December. But I did.