Trigger Warnings don’t automatically mean bad…

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of a roadside caution cone on Trigger Warnings don't automatically mean bad on Not So Mommy..., a childless blog

On a fairly regular basis, I receive emails asking if I accept guest posts on my blogsite.  Anyone who follows Not So Mommy… knows that I share either a CNBC Story or a Good Things Story the last Monday of every month.  So, when I receive inquiries about guest submissions, I know that it is most likely someone wanting a link back to their site, probably because they are selling a product or service.  Because of this, you might think that I ignore these emails.  But actually, I do not.  In fact, I always take a moment to check out the person’s website, and I always write them back–even if their “I love your website and think my product would be great for your readers” is obviously a form letter and I’m quite certain they’ve never read even one of my blog posts.

Why do I respond?

Why do I take valuable time to respond?  Well, because I think it’s an opportunity to educate about both the infertility and the childless not by choice journeys.  For example, I received a request to publish a guest post about a product that was clearly not appropriate for childless not by choice.  When I responded, I told the sender that I assumed she sent this request to me because my site name includes the keyword “Mommy.”  (She obviously ignored the “Not So” and didn’t even bother to read one single post.)  Anyway, I requested that she do a bit more research before emailing a form letter…

Surprisingly, she wrote back and was extremely apologetic.  She told me that her marketing team had sent this email without her approval.  Having suffered with infertility herself, she was appalled that this mistake had been made and assured me she had spoken with her team.  I let her know that I was extremely grateful that she took my concerns seriously and reassured her that the email was not too triggering for me.

You can share, but…

In another instance, I agreed to allow the person requesting a guest post to share her Good Things Story.  Why?  Because I believe that if we are going to have open and honest conversations about infertility, then we must discuss all aspects—including the stories of those who get the little and those who do not.  Because Not So Mommy… is an infertility and childless not by choice blog, I informed her that I would need to put a trigger warning with her story.  Initially, she said this was absolutely acceptable.  After a couple more emails to work out details, however, she changed her mind.  She stated that she wanted her story to offer “joy and hope;” therefore, she did not want a trigger warning attached to it.  Needless to say, this was non-negotiable, so I didn’t publish her story.

The Need for Trigger Warnings . . .

Her response to the need for a trigger warning rubbed me the wrong way, though.  A trigger warning doesn’t diminish the “joy” in her story.  And as for hope…  Don’t even get me started on that loaded four-letter word!  I suppose I just want others to understand that trigger warnings don’t automatically mean “bad.”

Why I post warnings . . .

When I post a trigger warning before one of the blogs I’ve written (or before a story someone has shared), it’s not because I believe the post contains anything that is wrong or bad.  It is because I know that the infertility and childless not by choice journeys cause a deep grief that is complex…  A grief that never completely goes away.  A grief that can cause wobbles at unexpected times.  So, I try my best to let people know to raise their guard, put on an extra bit of amour, proceed with caution…

Because we childless can face triggers.  But it’s often easier when we have a bit of warning that one is coming.  I mean, when the train takes off in Atlanta airport, it warns you to “hang on!”  Those who heed the warning only sway slightly as it zooms away.  But if there was no warning and it simply took off…  Well, many would stumble, and some would even fall.  The warning does not mean the train is bad.  The warning is simply letting you know to prepare…

And as childless not by choice, prepare we must.

Recently, I was flying home after visiting family in Oklahoma.  Though I’m always anxious to get back to Dane and Maddie, I’m also always a bit melancholy about leaving my Oklahoma friends and family behind.  And now that my best friend is gone…  Well, the sadness stings a bit more.  So, I put up my defenses a bit more to help me keep solid footing, avoiding wobbles (at least until I get to the privacy of my own home).  And this time, those defenses meant I was actually a bit rude on the plane.

Okay, it’s time for one of those trigger warnings.  I’m about to mention a family with littles…

As I got settled into my seat, I saw a family with littles walking down the aisle.  Yep.  They sat behind me.  “I hope they’re quiet,” I thought, as I continued to read my book.

But as the plane took off, quiet was not to be.  Crying, crying, crying.  And then, an ear-piercing scream.  And out from my mouth flew, “Oh my gosh!”  And I rolled my eyes.

Then, I grinned ever so slightly and shook my head, thinking how completely clueless the lady without kids must seem.

But you know who was clueless?  The other passengers who had no idea that I fought a ten-year infertility battle, pulled myself out of the pit of despair, and embraced a life that I never asked for nor dreamed about.  And now, in an effort to maintain balance and joy and focus on all that is good about a childless life, (time for another trigger warning…) I do not allow myself to look longingly at the adorable littles walking down the aisle.  I do not allow my heart to soften at their cries.  I put my guard up.  I get annoyed by the tears.  I allow things that should stay in my head to be spoken in exasperated tones.

And then, I forgive myself for making the parents feel like their kid was a nuisance.  Because it’s how I’ve learned to cope with my triggers.  I was already spent from grieving about my best friend.  I just didn’t have it in me to allow my childless grief to sneak up on me, too.

The Truth about Trigger Warnings . . .

So, trigger warnings…  They are necessary within our infertility and childless not by choice community.  They don’t diminish joy or hope or anything else that is good.  They simply allow us to raise our defenses a bit.  Or to walk away if it is just too much for us at that moment.  Trigger warnings are one way that we show we care about each other and do not want to cause undue pain…

Huh.  So, trigger warnings aren’t a bad thing at all.  They are actually a very good thing.  Like so often, it’s just a matter of perspective…


If anything I wrote resonates with you, please tell us about it in the comments!

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Mali July 25, 2019 - 2:01 am

It sounds like the woman who didn’t want the trigger warning wanted us (your readers) to hear her story, but wasn’t so interested in OUR stories, in recognising that there are different outcomes, and they are okay too. Ugh.

Trigger warnings are just that – they allow us to choose to either skip the story, save it for a day when we might feel stronger, or simply sit up a bit straighter, brace ourselves, and dive forewarned into the story.

I had to laugh a little at your story of your flight. I’m glad you forgave yourself for your irritation. It will make it easier for you in the future. I recently flew overnight, and there were children crying, and one who regularly called out, “Mama!” It was annoying at times, but I consoled myself with the fact that I was relaxing with my movie, and even if I only managed 30 minutes sleep, it was probably more than the mothers of these kids.

Brandi Lytle July 25, 2019 - 9:08 am

I always enjoy your insights and perspective, Mali. Thank you for reading and for writing such a thoughtful comment. And thank you for your kind words about “forgiving myself.” We just have to do our best, don’t we? Hugs…

Karen July 23, 2019 - 7:35 am

LOVE your blog!! Per usual, you GET this stuff!!!
I don’t doubt this woman really thought was helpful in sharing her story. But, her story is a trigger. You were right to set boundaries on your stance: as well as look our for your readers and not so mommy friends. Personally, this is not a story I would have want to read. I think a trigger warning is an absolute necessity in these type of blog situations.
Thanks for all you do!!

Brandi Lytle July 23, 2019 - 12:29 pm

Thank you for the validation that I made the right choice. I definitely want readers like you to be able to choose which blogs they feel will be helpful and which they need to avoid in order to maintain their emotional well-being. I am super blessed to have such an amazing Not So Mommy… community!

Amanda July 22, 2019 - 5:00 pm

I’ve struggled with triggers. To the point of walking out of places with tears streaming down my face, as well as cancelling my TV subscription. Carefully plotting my shopping trips and weekend activities to avoid potential triggers. I’ve been poked and prodded and tested so many times that I’ve walked away from it all to salvage my sanity. Then I got a dog, and had to argue that I am a pet owner and have a companion dog, not all those other substitute names that send daggers into my heart. Joy and happiness have been hard for me to reach and now that I have it, I don’t want to loose it again. I like being able to laugh at the antics of my husband, giggle at my dog tripping over his feet and tumbling down the hill, and to turn my face up and enjoy the feeling of sunlight dancing with shadows. Trigger warnings prompt me to look around and take stock, do I want to or can handle to feel that? Or should I detour? For now I choose to focus on my life as it is right now and to focus on healing all of my body and mind so I can share laughs with my husband and share the sparkle that is in his eye

Brandi Lytle July 23, 2019 - 12:32 pm

Beautifully said. It takes courage to figure out what our personal triggers are and to avoid/walk-away/”detour” (love your word choice!) I’m grateful you are finding your joy and that you are protecting that joy! So many hugs…

Tish July 22, 2019 - 3:08 pm

Thank you for advocating so amazingly for all of us in this community! As someone that is CNBC and has zero “hope” of that happy ending I find it irksome when others make out that it’s only a matter of time until some miracle will happen. That will never happen for me and while most of the time I can be happy for others that do get that joy, it’s still painful.

I also agree 100% with you on allowing myself to guard against things and get annoyed when I come across it in my daily routines. It’s an effective way of dealing with it, being mindful of the “perks” of not having to put up with screams or tantrums!

Thank you for making me at least feel not quite so alone in this!

Brandi Lytle July 22, 2019 - 3:25 pm

And THANK YOU for making me not feel so alone, Tish! The “me too” moments when we realize others have the same types of (annoyed) reactions help make us (well, at least me) feel more “normal” in the way I deal with my childlessness. I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment! Our community is amazing…

Sherry July 22, 2019 - 2:41 pm

You have come so very far with triggers and I know how hard you battled to get where you are. I have to admit I grinned at the “Oh my gosh!” statement. Truly it was very much on others’ minds so don’t feel badly. Our responses show deep feelings that others do not know about. We are human. End if story. ??❤

Brandi Lytle July 22, 2019 - 3:25 pm

I’m glad you saw the humor. 🙂 And thank you for acknowledging how far I have come on this journey…

Barbara July 22, 2019 - 2:23 pm

Sooo true. Spot on. After our losses and coming to the end of our journey, that is exactly the person I never wanted to become if somehow, miraculously, I was able to conceive. The layers of grief are real and painful. I don’t understand how someone who’s been there could forget them so easily. It doesn’t sound like she was really offering a story of hope, really. Besides, we’ve all been told by everyone we’ve met, “I know someone who…” It’s my biggest pet peeve. Even if I was the person “who quit trying and it all worked out”, I would never want others to use me as an example for someone struggling. It’s so not helpful. You did the right thing.

Brandi Lytle July 22, 2019 - 3:27 pm

Thank you, Barbara. Your validation means so much… Hugs!


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