Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Weight of Words

One of my bonus friends (those I found because of adoption or IF) shared a story on Facebook yesterday. She and her husband struggled with infertility for nearly a decade. We met when she had an IVF treatment in New York. That treatment worked, with triplets. Sadly, two of the triplets were lost in utero.

This was her post yesterday, on the anniversary of losing one of the babies:

Today (yes, today) we were walking into a small store with Seth in a stroller. We were followed closely behind by a mom and grandmother holding two twin babies. We stopped and my dear husband pushed the stroller to the side to awkwardly hold the door open for the women and their babies. Sensing that holding the door open was awkward with a large stroller, the grandmother said "You're lucky you don't have two babies."

The moral of this story: Know your audience before you act smugly regarding your blessings.

I can't tell you the things people have said to me that I literally had to stop myself from slapping them, or screaming at them, or even hanging up on them (because, yes, even in your circle of family and friends, people say the wrong things).

"You're so luck to not have kids [or a husband]."
"It must be nice to have the time to do that. I've got to make lunches for everyone and iron clothes."

Words can have weight. And impact. A year later. Decades later.

I am reminded of something said to me when I was 13. Long before IF came into my life, but right in the middle of my other life struggle -- my weight.

At nine, I was going to Kelly Lynn (which used to be a chain of all-women gyms). At 10, I was reading Richard Simmons and the Scardale Diet Book. At 11, I was eating tuna -- no mayo -- on a bed of lettuce. When I look at pictures of me from this time, I wasn't fat. I was solid. I felt fat. I thought I was fat. I was taught I was fat, because I wasn't skinny.

But that was the time. It was the late '70s and early '80s. Calories, diets, fattening -- those terms were thrown around with exotic abandon. Jane Fonda, with her fancy hair and leg warmers, capitalized on this new sudden obsession with weight loss. I remember her workout album (yes album) with the moves charted out on the cover.

How I hated working out. Not because I was lazy. But for the same reason that I hate working out in front of a mirror or taking an exercise class to this day. I felt/feel clumsy. Unathletic. Fat.

My weight has been my issue my whole life. (I only got a reprieve from it when I tried to get pregnant or adopt. But even then it was an issue, gaining 43 pounds on the hormones.) And the topic of family conversation. My sister would call from the other side of the country each week and always ask, "how's your diet?"

But it wasn't Kelly Lynn. Or Jane Fonda. Or Richard Simmons. Or Dr. Scarsdale. Or the weekly questions from Alaska about my diet.

It was my niece's third or fourth birthday party. I went for a second piece of cake and my brother said, "do you really need that?"

In front of everyone. I was mortified And hurt. This was the brother I loved the most. The brother who was never cranky with me. The brother who never lost his patience with me. The brother who took me places. 

After the party, my parents tried to talk to me about it. I don't remember anything about the conversation, except the line from my usually quiet father, the 15 words that still haunt me to this day. "Do you know how proud of you your brother would be if you lost weight?"

What I heard -- your brother doesn't love you because you're fat. 


I am full of advice to my friends with daughters, especially if their daughters happen to be a little chubby. There is so much more awareness of eating disorders, girl power, making them feel smart instead of pretty, being healthy as opposed to being skinny. But I tell the cautionary tale about words having weight.

I told this story to my sister-in-law a few weeks ago. "Do you know how devastated your brother would be if he knew how he hurt you?"

My SIL struggles with her weight and my brother loves her unconditionally. There are no comments, no pushing her to diet, no snide remarks. I guess you could say he has evolved from that 21-year-old all those years ago.

And I've finally evolved too. I love to work out, though not in a class and not in front of a mirror. Even now when I lift, I turn sideways from the mirror. I eat healthy. Yes, I count calories but this is no longer a diet, this is my new way of life.

And slowly I'm starting to lose the fat girl inside of me. Slowly I'm starting to believe I'm worthy, that my brother -- and any man -- will love me no matter what. And it's not because I'm losing weight, it's because slowly, I'm losing the weight of those words.


So the moral of the story, know your audience. Choose your words carefully. Because that carefree, fabulous, single girl you envy because she has time to workout six days a week is aching to be a mother. That beautiful family with the almost one-year-old still mourns the loss of their two other babies. That 13-year-old girl will take -- as gospel -- the things she hears from the most important men in her life at the time, and project them onto every future relationship.


  1. Oh, wow, we have a lot in common - so much of this post rings true. I'm sorry for that comment from your brother, and how it lingers with you. For me, it wasn't just one comment, it was a childhood of comments from my mom. I have been overweight since puberty hit me at age 9, with a couple of brief periods where I lost enough weight to *almost* be in the "normal weight" range (but what I consider my best weight). She was - and is still, actually - always telling me about the newest workout routine, diet plan, new low-fat food she found, etc. I joined Weight Watchers at 11 and was doing NutriSystem at 16. Anyway, I hear you, loud and clear. I'm going to work very hard not to project my food and weight issues on my daughter and help her have good self esteem. And those comments that people make can really kill you. I've been there, too.

    1. I can't wait to come to Baltimore and visit with you in person! <3

  2. You're right - it's just one comment here or there. I was no where near "fat" in high school, but I did look more curvy than my long distance running, sports oriented sisters. My father insisted on nicknaming me "Jabba." And my family wonders why I've struggled with my weight and body dysmorphia for years. Gah.

  3. As I read your story, I remember all the years of trying to get you to shed pounds, but my only thought was happiness for you , as a mother of 8 , I tried to be all for all.
    So now I know I made mistakes in many ways , so with this note ,my only wish for you to be happy. As we are very proud of all you have done and the person you are. As I was told many times in my life all things make you stronger and never know what we can handle.
    I guess that is all in God's plan
    love MOM