This is the 37th 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.
I'm on my 4th injectibles IUI and I'm not moving to IVF. So I have one or two more months and maybe a 10% chance of getting pregnant and then that's it. Life forever without getting pregnant. In the mean time, I have appointments at the fertility clinic about 3x/month. During each appointment, I have to interact with 3-4 people who each always ask me how I am. Truthfully, I am not handling the crushing disappointment very well. I realize their questions are their way of being polite and my normal answer, outside of the doctor's office, is a simple 'fine'. However, inside the doctor's office, I just refuse to say that I am fine. I am nowhere near fine.
I've tried ignoring the question, I've tried a nonsensical answer ("Right"), I've tried truthful ("Not well"), I've tried truthful/mean ("You don't want my answer"), and I've tried crying (that was fun). But in certain situations, like shelling out $1200 while sitting across from the billing person who I have nothing to say to, I feel like I need an answer that doesn't make me feel like a total bitch and also doesn't make light of my situation. Frankly, considering why people go to fertility clinics, I'd think I'm not the only person who's at a loss how to answer this throwaway question. Any advice would be very welcome.
Frankly, it's a throwaway question pretty much every time it's asked. Think about how we say it--this week, I said it to Steve who brings in the carts at the food store. "How are you doing?" I called over my shoulder AND KEPT WALKING. What is he supposed to do--shout the answer at my back?
Every culture has some variation on this question and uses it as a greeting. Isn't that bizarre? Why wouldn't we just use a statement as a greeting instead of utilizing a question--a conversation starter--when we don't really want to talk?
Because we want to appear friendlier than we really are.
It's not that I don't care about Steve's answer. When I step back and think about it, I actually care about Steve a great deal and when he was absent for a few days, asked at the customer service desk about him. Steve is a constant: he's always at the food store. If he started to answer my question, I would want to hear it because if there was anything I could do to help, I'd want to do it. And yet I realized by the way I called it over my shoulder that what I was doing was really just acknowledging him, making myself feel like a friendly person rather than actually making a connection with him and listening to what is happening in his life.
Your question reminded me that I need to do better next time. I need to either choose a statement rather than a question or I need to slow down in the parking lot and show him with my body language that I'm actually as interested in the answer as I am in asking the question.
But what do you do with the people who aren't considering how their question is hanging in the air like a sick joke? I mean, how would you be doing if you were in a fertility clinic? Unless they just gave you the golden ticket out of treatments, you're probably doing crappy. And while you can't change the fact that they asked the question to you, you can change (at least for the perceptive ones) how they ask it in the future.
I'd answer every "how are you" with an "honestly, not that well." And then wait for the follow up. Those who say "sorry to hear that" are giving you a clear sign of how they wanted their question taken. They didn't truly want to start a conversation with you, even if you're someone they see constantly. It's not that they don't care about you, but in fairness to the limitations of life, they only know you so well and therefore are only so invested in your answer.
Those who return with a "why" are inviting the conversation. They want to hear why you're not doing well, and these are the people I would focus on rather than foisting the answer on those who aren't receptive in the first place. They may not be closer to the situation--you may find that you receive more care from the woman doing billing than the nurse in charge of your case--but for whatever reason, they are more invested in helping you emotionally.
"How are you" can be such a loaded question that I'm not sure why anyone would use it as a greeting. And while you can't control whether or not it is asked, the way you answer will at least save you the annoyance of sharing your life with someone who isn't there to actually receive that part of you.
I get the feeling from your question that you're not really struggling with the answer insomuch as you're struggling with the reality of the situation: someone has asked you how you are, you've answered, and they have essentially let your words fall directly to the ground rather than catching them in their hands. No one wants to see a beacon of care (that shining light of a question: how are you doing?) and then find that the light shines off of them as soon as they start speaking. Ask anyone who has experienced a situation that would fall under the category of "uncomfortable topic" (loss, illness, failure, divorce, unemployment, etc) how they felt when they began sharing their news and watched the conversation grind to a halt how incredibly hurtful it was to have someone figuratively holding out their hand and then drop it before human contact could be made.
I've written about the Twilight Zone episode before that explores that need for human contact and I think we need that contact, that connection to others, even more so when we're undergoing something as emotionally draining as infertility. You need to be recognized, you need to know that people are still seeing you as a member of society because YOU are redefining where you stand in society. Fertility clinics need to be doing a better job at recognizing that they're treating the whole person and not just their reproductive organs. The "how are you" is a nice start. Listening to the answer, whatever it may be, is the next step. And your office is falling short on that back end, asking the question to appear friendlier than they actually are.
It would be great if office staff read this post and thought about how the questions they ask affect the receiver when they are clearly asked without the answer desired. But they most likely won't and to be fair, the best clinics don't need it because they already are thoughtful (by best I mean best experience, not the highest success rates). Hopefully, you'll change some of the perceptive people.
And, if nothing else, you won't hear the awful thud of your words hitting the floor as the other person drops them carelessly if you only give them to people who truly want to hear them. For the ones who don't follow up your response with the next question ("why?"), answer every time they ask in the future: "thanks for asking; how are you?" Oh, and then change the topic before they can respond if you want to drive the point home that asking their question in a fertility clinic is inane if it's not going to be followed up with some comfort. Or listen to the answer and show them how a pro does it.
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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