This is the 35th installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.
Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.
For the past three plus years I have wisely insulated myself from the thoughtless comments of people who have never considered how they might feel if they were diagnosed with infertility by (a) being closeted except to other people who I know have dealt with fertility issues or otherwise "get it," and (b) not bringing those issues up to anyone else. Until I went off half-cocked this morning and wrote a treatise about IVF and sent it to my entire email list because I was sick of hearing the ignorance propagated by the media in response to the octuplets issue (and put over the top by the Georgia bill).
From one acquaintance, someone who I was trying to befriend because our kids are the same age, I received the following response (excerpted, this is the pertinent part): "In my personal opinion (which is not, nor should be, a basis for law or how others live their life) I am not so keen on tampering with nature at all in this regard. I think that biology has a way of sorting out what's best sometimes. In addition, there are children available for adoption. Some may think it's easy for me to have this opinion because I have a kid, but I can honestly say that if I couldn't get pregnant, I would have taken the hint and if I really wanted to experience parenthood I would have adopted. Again, that's just me. I pass no judgment on others who choose a different course of action."
Basically, this contains almost every sentiment that pierces the heart of an infertile like a thousand tiny shards of glass. It's tantamount to saying that if you get cancer, you should just die rather than pursue treatment because it's nature's way of weeding out the weak. I know that these comments are based on ignorance, but I am horrified and dismayed to hear them from someone I otherwise like. I am supposed to have brunch with this person on Sunday and I don't even want to go anymore.
I'm sure this question has been asked before, so forgive the repetition, but: How do I respond to these comments in such a way as to preserve the relationship, raise awareness about infertility, and frankly, convince my acquaintance that she is in error without making her feel like too much of an asshole? It seems like a delicate balance, and I'm typically a bull in a china shop with respect to these things.
It is really hard to work that many judgmental thoughts into a single response (and then mention at the end that you don't stand in judgment of others). So I think first and foremost, you need to marvel at that.
Here is the difference between your two sets of words: I'm assuming your letter addressed how people should think about infertility and her response (as well as items such as the Georgia bill) address how people should act within infertility. Actions beget consequences, therefore, no one should be telling another person how to solve their problems as long as their solutions are not harmful to another person or themselves (for instance, I think we could all agree that if a person were trying to solve the stress of infertility by cutting themselves, we'd step in and try to help that person. But if the person was choosing to solve the stress of infertility by meditation, even if we think it is a bunch of crap, we'd say, "to each their own."). She doesn't need to live your life, she only needs to live her own.
This question actually hasn't been asked before--at least not this type of situation where you need to see the speaker face-to-face. It is very different when a hurtful comment is left or you fall into disagreement with a faceless person over the Internet. There is a different investment unless you are also friends off-blog. But this is a person who you must socialize with, who has children that your children will play with, and may even overlap with other people you know in the face-to-face world.
I would still use the same three-tiered guide that I've spoke about before: start with a kind response (assuming that the person is speaking with kindness albeit thoughtlessness), move to a firm response (the aim of which is to cut off the topic entirely if they didn't get it the first time around), and finally, the free-for-all. The free-for-all takes into account that some friendships may just not be possible, even if there are other traits that drew you to her. If you had a shared history already built, it's easier to step back and agree to disagree. But depending on her response, you may be building your friendship on that agree to disagree ground, and that simply isn't stable land for a friendship.
I, personally, wouldn't befriend someone I just met who told me that they liked me but also thought all Jews were going to hell--regardless of how easy it would be to get together because our kids were in the same class. At the same time, I can tell you that I did have a friend in college who believed all Jews were going to hell. She only shared this belief with me once we were deep into our friendship and while this assertion sounds offensive taken out of context, it was explained to me in such a way that was palatable within our relationship. I would love to explain it, but it would take too long to explain here and truly, those who think I'm crazy to be friends with someone who thinks I'm going to hell won't understand even if I type out her words. How this applies to you: we can't judge friendships out of context and if she can explain her thoughts in a way that work for you, run with it.
My friend knew that it wasn't cool to try to convert me and I knew that it wasn't cool to not respect her belief in Christ. And we were able to move past this difference and keep the friendship because of where the information came in the continuum of our relationship. It wasn't something she shared UNTIL she knew that we had a close friendship (in other words, she knew how she felt about Jews prior to the friendship deepening) and she wanted me to understand something that was really important to her. And I can respect that--my friends do not need to be a mirror-image of me and her viewpoint really strengthened my own commitment to Judaism. Her words were not about forcing her viewpoint on me; it was about her concern for me as her friend. And that is the major difference and how a friend can drop a bomb-of-a-thought on you and still be standing after the wreckage has cleared. This woman didn't share her thoughts out of concern for you, but out of a love of hearing her own thoughts.
So says the advice columnist...
But, hey, you asked.
If you want to repair the friendship (and frankly, I could still be friends with someone who holds these views, but that's just me), I would respond and begin with kind. You could also not respond at all; not every email needs a response and responding is not always the healthiest option. But in this case, I think you'll carry it with you unless you put it to rest. So kind: It's great that we live in a world where everyone can make their own decisions and you're really happy with your decision to pursue fertility treatments.
I'd aim for breezy and confident--you're still sticking to your guns, but you're not angry, which allows the other person to save face. Hopefully the topic won't come up again--I think you made it pretty clear from your response. But sometimes it does; the person still needs to make sure that you know just where they stand on fertility treatments. And then you move to firm, making sure you smile as you either say the words or write them: Tell her that you hear her thoughts but they obviously don't mesh with your own which you stated in your email so maybe it would be best to not talk about infertility. But you'd love to get the kids together for a playdate.
Finally, the free-for-all. I have to tell you, if she is still bringing up the topic and she doesn't have a vested interest in the topic (for instance, I can see someone who ended up in the hospital with OHSS wanting to make sure you know all the dangers. But it sounds like she just has an opinion on this topic like every other Dick and Jane...no commentary on the fact that these names are Dick...or Aunt Jane), I think she either can't pick up on social cues or she truly doesn't have your best interests at heart. And personally, that's when I'd cut her loose. You can still see her in the context of other mutual friends, but that's when I put the stiff arm up and hold her at a distance. Without that shared history, a new friend who requires this much negotiating isn't worth the friendship.
No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.
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