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Monday, August 28, 2006

The In or Out Chronicles: Coding

A little while ago, Christy posted a link to a great article in the comments section of my post on people who ask loaded questions in regards to twins. The article first appeared on Literary Mama and it was called Covering by Robin Aronson. The section of the article that Christy posted also applies to this discussion of being in or out and the larger idea of coding that Royalyne broached in her response to this question last week...

"Covering, as defined in the brilliant article by Kenji Yoshino in the January 15 issue of The New York Times Magazine, is what you do when you're not part of a dominant group but don't want to stand out. You don't hide the thing that makes you different –- say being black or gay -– you just keep it from being too obtrusive. If you're one of the hundreds of thousands of women who've had trouble conceiving, you're not alone but you're not in the majority either. And if you've conceived because of fertility treatments, you have not conceived the real way. You have something to cover" (Aronson, "Covering").

This connects to Royalyne's comment about her husband: "He's pretty much in the doorway and leans to whichever side the people he talks to expect him to be on." And all of this is a form of coding.

Coding is something we naturally do in conversation. We adapt the way we speak depending on the situation. This is how I explained this concept to my 8th graders: without me ever telling them that they can't say certain things in my classroom, they figured out immediately when they walked over the threshold into my room that certain words were banned from the conversation. They may use the word "fuck" over by their lockers, but when they get into my room, they drop that word from any conversations that are conducted within my earshot. The words we use when we speak to our partners are different from the words we use when we speak to our parents. I lovingly call my best friend "dirty whore" (because she is...well...a filthy prostitute), though I would never dream of using that affectionate nickname with my mother.

Because without ever calling my mother "dirty whore," I can tell without trying it out that she wouldn't find it amusing (and I'm sure my mother is dying a little bit right now thinking of her daughter calling anyone "dirty whore" so I'm sorry that I'm giving her this heart attack because she did raise me correctly and any filthiness is my own fault and not her doing). So I code. I use words that I've decided are appropriate with her when I speak with her, and I recognize that other people have different thresholds of appropriateness so I code to them. And then mad-cap chaos ensues when you have multiple people in the conversation that you code with differently.

And this is also what we do when we choose to tell or not to tell (aaah...that is the question!). We code. We somehow naturally know how deeply to answer the questions: when are you guys going to start trying or do you want another one? Either you answer vaguely or you answer boldly, outlining the last three RE appointments and your most recent day 3 blood work results. Or somewhere in between. I think most judgements are quickly made (almost reflexively).

Sometimes we make these decisions and use them immediately. Someone asks a question and you execute the decision on the spot (eg. Mom asks when you're going to make her a grandmother and you answer with a knee-jerk, "we're working on it!"). Sometimes we make a decision before the subject has ever been broached and you then spend the next five days wondering on and off why you feel uncomfortable speaking about IF with a certain friend. But I believe that the initial gut reaction you have to speaking openly with a person comes in an instant. And then we're either comfortable with it and act on it, or we're uncomfortable because our gut-reaction somehow flies in the face of how we thought we'd feel about speaking to a certain person. And we spend more time thinking about it and sometimes change our decision to fit a certain vision.

Infertility came up a few times this weekend and I can look back and see how I coded. When we saw my husband's grandmother, she brought up an article her friend sent her that we were quoted in about infertility. We're never sure how much she knows--including whether she knows the kids were conceived through A.R.T. So when she brought up the article, all three of us glossed over it and moved on. It's not that I would ever be shy talking to his grandmother or answering her questions. But I just get the vibe not to rock her world too much, and putting it in her frame (80+ and finished conceiving long before IVF was ever imagined), I can understand how she wouldn't want to ask too many questions. A lady doesn't speak about her sex life, and infertility is somewhat about sex. So I code. I speak about it only as much as she seems to want to hear.

My brother brought up IF and I spoke to him as if he were a Sperm Palace Jester even though he's not trying to conceive. He can make jokes about infertility like an insider and he even wears a pomegranate thread in support. So I code with him different than I do other family members of the same age/conception status.

My husband brought up my wonky cycles since T.C. (remember, I divorced Aunt Flo last month and now Truman Capote has taken on the task of bringing in the red tide) showed his chubby little face on Saturday night. Bringing this cycle to a glorious 23 days. I tried to show a brave face through most of the evening and finally broke down into hysterical sobs after we watched a truly terrible movie (warning him beforehand that I was in a space where I just needed to cry). It just sucks. It sucks to see your female factor infertility diagnosis played out in the fastest luteal phase in the west. So I coded with my husband and spoke openly about how scared I was--something I didn't do when I spoke to my brother because...well...he's not my SPJ. And while he may get many of the emotions because they've been relayed to him through us, I don't think he would get the magnitude of seeing an 8 day luteal phase when you're hoping for implantation one of these days.

So you code.

And I don't think coding is always a bad thing (though in some senses in sociology, coding is used to divide us and keep us apart). I think it's something that naturally occurs. You get a feeling about how much you should share and you share it. Or you don't share it. And that always needs to be your choice. No matter how out you are to one person, that may not be the same level of "out" you feel like being with another person. And since infertility is complex and messy (is it sex? Is it medical? Is it private? Is it public?), I don't think it's hippocritical to make different choices in different situations. It's not a matter of being entirely out to the world (even if you're wearing a pomegranate-coloured string) or entirely in. You can be both. You can code.


Kathryn said...

What an appropriate topic for me today! Just yesterday, I had a complete stranger throw out the "Do twins run in your family?" comment. So, I coded: "No. They're the first." Of course, she didn't stop there, "Were you on fertility drugs?" So, I start to get annoyed. Um, who are you and what business is that of yours?? But, she continues, "My son is a clomid baby and we've been ttc again for a while without any luck." Suddenly, my guard is down. I guess you could say that I start coding differently and there I am talking to a complete stranger about what used to be (until I started IF treatments) the most intimate details of my body and marital relationship. I had known this lady for no more than 30 seconds and we were suddenly bonded by the common (pomegranate-colored) thread of IF. I'm glad that she was more open about her IF than I initially was or we wouldn't have found that commonality...and we all know that it is nice to find other people who are IF so that we don't have to feel so alone.

lunarmagic said...

Oh absolutely coding. So that's what they call it.

My mother has been very supportive of me - unexpectedly (I really thought she'd freak out when told we were TTC) - but the coding is still absolutely there. My mom does not like to talk about sex. She TRIED, a few times when I was growing up... but you can tell she's uncomfortable. Even now when I'm happily married and living far away. So I easily tell her about our TTC journey, about my disappointment, about how long we've been "trying" - but I never mention sex. Sometimes I'll mention when I expect AF, sometimes I'll say that we "timed it right" - but I never use the word sex, or baby-dancing, or sperm, or anything referring to those things. Coding... yep.

The Town Criers said...


That's such a good story. And it's true--I'm willing to speak openly about how we conceived our twins, but there's probably a difference in tone with someone who is asking because they're nosy and someone who is asking because they're trying to connect/gather information. And I actually like it when people ask it like that: are they fertility treatment babies. Because the opposite--"are they natural"--somehow feels more judgmental. As if natural is the better way. As if there is a "better" way to get a child.

Sarah said...

I enjoyed reading this. I agree that you're always teetering back and forth with what you say depending on who you're talking to. And it also depends on that person's mood. My oldest brother is usually very sensitive about IF. However, one day I was talking to him on my way home from an IF support group meeting and he said, "Do you feel supported?" with a laugh. I mean, come on people, I can barely keep a handle on my own moods let alone yours. And thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Piccinigirl said...

I completely agree, I try to code as much as possible around my MIL, not that she would know how to ask anyway. Plus there are some people who I know would make me defensive and so I code differently toward them, put on the "hopeful" cloak and ride off.
I had a similar situation as Kathyrn, we were at a first bd party and the woman sitting across from us had 2 little boys. Let's say that the day itself was hard for me (lots of under 5 yr old running and giggling and breaking my heart) but being me, I introduced myself since she was the only person at the table that I didn't know.
2 "miracle" things happened to me that day, first her name was Rachel (the name we have picked for a first daughter...if , if ..if) and second when I asked how old the boys were , she says "4". I breath in, Twins...ok , just ask. "Um, natural?" and she laughed a big fat IF laugh, "nope, 5 yrs , 3 pregnancies, these two...IVF" . My whole focus changed and I was able to share our story. Then one of the girls at our table who I am sort of friendly with let us know that she is suffering from secondary IF, she said that our converstaion made it easy to talk about what was going on with them. IF conquers another day. HA.
Yet you're right, I think that even when people really want to know (and I am not shy about telling) that depending on who they are to me, how much I *think* they will understand and what frame of mood I am in, I am coding all the time.

Katie said...

I'm about to spend an extended Labor day weekend with my mom's side of the family. Mom knows the step-by-step details of our IF journey but I'm not sure about the other folks. I really wish i had a button or a sign or, hell, even a sandwich board answering the following questions:

Are you still trying to conceive?
Have you tried doing it missionary style?
Have you made your husband keep his socks on?
Do you lie on your back for 20 minutes afterward?
Have you tried just relaxing?
Are you timing intercourse properly?
Have you considered adoption?
Has your husband's sperm count been checked?
How is your vaginal pH?
Are you smoking/drinking/doing drugs?

And all the other stupid a$$ questions/comments people make!!!!

The Town Criers said...


I would tell your family that you have a poetry recitation for them and then when everyone is gathered I would say (and if you can illustrate this poem on a poster board, a la Dr. Suess, all the better)

Before you cry or start to grieve
We want you to know we’re still trying to conceive!
And though we like to screw missionary style
Other positions make us smile
The socks are on and we prop up my hips
Can you guys pass along some more great tips?
Yes, adoption is still on our mind
And we love how your tone makes the choice sound divine!
Though we’re adults and have achieved plenty
You still don’t think we’re smart enough to time this correctly.
So join us in the bedroom and count my husband’s sperm
I’ll check my cervical mucous while his boys dance and squirm

Then toke up and hold up a big stiff drink so they know the answer to the last question :-)