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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Not Like Me

After waxing on about the shitty things people say, I wanted to explore that tangential thought about how people feel the need to distance themselves from anything perceived as imperfect. We're all looking for a reason to take ourselves out of an undesired category. We create new language for it--people aren't fired anymore, they're downsized or their company is "reorganized." People aren't irresponsible bastards, they just have anger management issues. And then there are the chickies who come back to let me know that they didn't have fertility issues. They are knocked up. They are with child. Ta-ta!

My sister once told me that she was deeply annoyed that I would call her and cry for an hour about a boy issue and then never follow up and tell her how things turned out down the line. I see her point--once you've vented to someone and asked for advice, there is a bit of an obligation to let them know how things turned out (agree or disagree). Just because they've invested their emotional energy into helping you solve your problem. Therefore, I somewhat expect that once someone has shared their fertility struggles with me that they'll return and tell me how everything turned out. This isn't always the case, but it's nice when they do.

So then it follows that if the person didn't end up having problems, shouldn't they come back and fill you in on how everything is okay?

Well, yes, I do want to hear that all is well. I do want to hear that you're now pregnant. But...I don't want to hear about the line that divides me and you. Because those who return and say, "turns out that I didn't have a problem" aren't really telling me about how it turned out. What they're really saying is that they're removing themselves from that category of infertile and planting themselves firmly in fecund soil.

The Mommy Wars battlefield starts back with the womb. The one-upmanship that sociologists pick apart on the playgrounds begins with who has the more fertile womb. Because what is more feminine, more female, more powerful than the ability to create life? And those who create it without problems are like the girls who aced every exam in school without studying. And needed to tell you that too.

So what could these people say when they came back to admit that they were panicked for nothing? Here's a little sample I whipped up for anyone in this situation: "thank you so much for sharing all of that information with me. It certainly helped because it eased my mind when I was freaking out and I'm grateful that you were so open about your experience. It helped mine in turn and I'm now pregnant."

An obvious question that may be asked the person who shared the information: "did you end up seeing an RE or using treatments?"

Answer if you didn't because you really didn't have a problem: "No, we didn't. But I'm still keeping in mind everything you told me because you never know what's going to happen in the future."

Mission accomplished: the truth is exchanged and feelings are saved. The person isn't part of the infertile category and the infertile person doesn't feel subpar. And they join hands and dance in a ring and sing about the "Circle of Life" a la the Lion King.

But women aren't always like that. You have your troops--those chickies who stand behind you no matter what. Who would never date someone you once dated. Who will bring over the tub of ice cream. Who will let you try on 22 pairs of jeans and give her opinion on each one. And then there are the neutrals--who don't factor into this story. And then there are the Mullies--the Mommy Bullies--who start by telling you that they are so fertile and continue into the parenting years by explaining why their way of potty training is the best way of potty training. And judge. And make comments about how parenting is soooooooooooooo easy.

I'm glad I have my troops and that they're large in number. And I'm glad the majority of women in this world fit into the neutral category. And I'm glad that the Mullies who go out of their way to try to make someone feel shitty are somewhat avoidable.

Why does the implication of "I'm not one of you" hurt me? Because it implies that I'm in the damaged category and they're in the undamaged category (again, back to natural is nice). And because they obviously went through a range of emotions about trying to conceive but they're sweeping away reality in exchange for some sugar-coated vision of pregnancy that is filled with an inner light of peace and joy. And by sweeping away those emotions, they're apparently forgetting how I may be taking this information--a person who didn't sweep away the emotions and remove herself from the infertile category even after she had children. It's not that it can't be done--people either talk themselves out of the fact that they ever felt something or it truly didn't phase them. But it phased me and I didn't talk myself out of it. And even if I had accomplished that feat the first time around, it would be back to bite me in the ass on this go-around.

Which goes back to the idea of white lie. Is it better to share the truth in this situation and come clean with your fertility or is it better to spare the person's feelings and dance around the topic? Is blunt better than sensitive or is it a case-by-case basis (and how do you ever decide which way to go)? If I can share my struggles, why can't the other person share their accomplishments? And lastly, do we have a responsibility to go back to the people who helped us along the way and let them know how it turned out?


Anonymous said...

I didn't tell most that I was undergoing IVF. Partly because I was never open with that private side of me (I'm not one to kiss and tell) and would really feel uncomfortable discussing how many times I did the baby dance with my husband last week because some doctor told me to (except with those wonderful but anonymous faces that became friends on the internets). And partly because I felt broken, imperfect, different because I couldn't do what "normal" women could without a little help. I thought that I would be judged because I had to have assistance to have my children, that they weren't conceived "naturally". Maybe I'm not giving family and friends enough credit. Maybe if I told my story, I could have helped a friend. Who knows... But I too felt the judging eye of the Mullies, whether imagined or not. So, I kept my mouth shut.

Anonymous Infertile said...

I think being honest is usually the best. Being honest usually hurts up front (b/c, putting myself in this situation, I have to hear about their fertility) but it hurts less than if they had kept it from me and I had to hear it from someone else.

I think everything should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. But, generally I would say that sensitivity in these situations is always best.

I don't have a problem with people sharing their accomplishments with me, as long as they are sensitive to the fact that I am having trouble. So, I don't want to hear how easy it was for you to get pregnant.

I don't think we have a responsibility to go back to them but I do think its nice. I think I would go back to them to let them know how it turned out and also to thank them for any help they had given me.

The Writer said...

Honesty is always better in my book, even if it hurts. When it's me being honest then regardless of what happens down the road I know I at least offered honesty. I've not minded declarations of pregnancy from those with no fertility issues, but I don't care for the smug, holier-than-thou monologues given by those who seem to believe that if you have fertility issues you probably are broken and have somehow brought this on yourself. Even if we manage to have another child I can't, unfortunately, stop being an infertile. The first time you are diagnosed as such it changes who you are and how you see things for the rest of your life. Those who declassify themselves and say "I guess I didn't have a problem" are lying to themselves and lose any positive benefits gained by the struggle itself. I don't want to be that girl, and I wouldn't want it for anyone else either.

TeamWinks said...

I'm all for being honest and open about our infertility. It just makes it easier on us. However, there are always those moments when you have to use discretion.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm again in a weird spot. I was diagnosed with endo at 21, and my Doc told me that I could wait awhile, but not too long, or I would progress to more severe endo end up using fertility treatment to have a baby. (ie. don't wait until you're 39 and look at me all surprised lady...)
When I met my DH, he had some ED issues due to a neurological problem, so he thought he had little chance of having kids. And, umm, let's just say our second date worked out better than we thought. And I got pregnant, like that night. We had to explain to people why we were staying together, and why we wanted to keep the baby and what the heck we were thinking to try and make it work when we barely knew each other. So to various infertile people (who we knew had problems, but details were fuzzy...)we must've sounded like evil obnoxious twits, but we were both so shocked that we could get pregnant, that we yipped on like joyous fools.
And yes, every pregnancy since has been a challenge, but there are times when I have shut up about having secondary IF or endo or POF because I feel like "passing" as one of "them". I want to go back to the one time when I felt like everyone else.
I know I should tell the truth, and mostly I do. Interestingly many women who I talk to then tell me about their losses and IF experiences. In my son's Grade One class every mom except one has gone through one or more of IF, MC, stillbirth, preemies, adoption, highrisk birth, etc. Class of 14, and 13 women have goen through this, and we're not all older....makes me scared for the future fertility of humanity.

C said...

Well, there's a difference between honesty and Honesty. Honesty (capital H) is the blunt, no-holds-barred, speak without thinking way of telling someone the truth. honesty (lower case h) is the sensitive, think before speaking, compassionate way of telling someone the truth. Both can hurt, but honesty hurts less because the emphasis is on compassion.

I don't want to be treated like a leper by "friends" who have conceived and now don't know how to act around me. Some people will never understand how to behave, partly because they're socially inept and partly because they won't just ask me what they should do. Most *do* have an idea, though, but don't make the effort because walking the tightrope between Honesty and honesty is difficult.

Bottom line: I never want someone to hide their pregnancy from me. If other people know, they need to tell me too. Being the last to know because someone was trying to protect your feelings hurts worse than the momentary pang of learning that yet another friend has conceived. If we're close enough to share TTC/infertility problems, I deserve to know when they get pregnant.

lunarmagic said...

I was dealing with this. Still am to some degree. I'm "almost" at the infertile cut-off, but I was thinking what if I get pregnant on cycle #12? How do I handle that? I wouldn't be infertile, I may not have anything wrong with me. How would people react? How would I tell them without upsetting them? I wouldn't want to damper my excitement and joy - but of course I have no desire to hurt anyone, or make anyone feel subpar.

That turned out to be a non-issue since I got my period and am marching directly towards that lovely infertility banner. But even if I get pregnant on cycle #13, before diagnosis and/or treatment for anything has begun... it's still a fine line. On one hand I wouldn't want to act, as Aurelia said, "like I was passing as one of them" - I have not gone through two or three years of trying, I have not been through testing and surgeries and IVF, so I don't want to make it sound like I suffered so much. But on the other hand I don't want to make it sound like I had it so easy and brush it all off - because I have suffered, to some degree, and at this point in my life I am very scared that something is majorly wrong - and even if we do turn around and get pregnant I won't really know and I DID go through it.

So it's a very hard one.

I almost always err on the side of honesty, though I'm not all that good at being straightforward and blunt when I know it won't be recieved well so I tend to tip-toe to some degree. Play things down, change the subject, drop the comment subtley and move on.

But I really don't know what I'd do until I get there.

Anonymous said...

Well, ultimately, case-by-case. Everything like this comes down that way in the end, doesn't it?

But, to generalise - I think if you've got good news, you should have the decency not to crow about it. I was always taught not to be boastful. That was one of our golden rules. But if the "good" thing is pure luck - what's to boast about anyway, dumbass?

I think your script sounds fine. "Because you gave such great advice I thought I'd let you know how things turned out - we are now x weeks pregnant" is all that's needed. After all, isn't it the goal we're interested in, ultimately? And not the pissing contest along the way? The opening's there for further enquiries at the discretion of both parties.

I do think it's polite to let someone know how the story ended, if they've shared it with you along the way. And the periodic disgruntlement against IF bloggers who get pregnant and immediately stop blogging shows I'm not alone in this.


Serenity said...

I agree with you that we do have a bit of an obligation to let your friends know how things turned out. I have a friend who told me, after our CP from IVF #1, that she rides the rollercoaster of IF with me. I know that she's invested, so hell yeah she's going to know right away if/when we ever get the elusive BFP.

And I personally am out about our infertility and have no problem telling people that we're having trouble. Mostly because I get angry at people who have the notion that getting pregnant is just as easy as having sex. And I feel this need to show them that it doesn't work that way for all people.

As for your post about the shitty things people say... I've thought about this for the past few days. I actually don't take offense to someone telling me "we actually didn't end up having a problem like we thought." Mostly because they're at least acknowledging that IF is really hard. They're not discounting that there are people who really do have problems conceiving.

The people who ignore the emotions of IF - the ones who tell you to relax, or go on a vacation, or focus on the "good things in your life" - those are the people who are the most hurtful (and therefore make me the most angry). Because they're essentially telling me that my fear and sadness over our inability to conceive means nothing.

There's no right way to approach any of this - except to be honest when you're upset about something that's been said. I try and do that as tactfully as I can, but it's definitely hard.

Anonymous said...

I think, as open as I am about my IF and m/c history, it is just better for me personally to share the truth - but, on a case-by-case basis. But the case-by-case basis, for me, has less to do with ther person I am sharing it with and more the situation I am in at the time. If it a BBQ with friends and questions get asked, I will probably say something. If we are at a wedding, I will usually just say that now is not the time to talk about something like that.

Now, the sharing of the outcome is a little sticky here and there - some friends have asked me in the past outright how a cycle went and, with my last m/c, I was very reluctant to share until KNEW it was going to be successful (which, if course, it was not). But, because they asked and they KNEW I was going through a medicated cycle, I ended up telling and in the end, it was best because they were there for me through the loss.

But, during that same time, I ended up not telling certain people at all because they were going through their own IF struggles at the time (and one person in particular still is) - and, it bit me in the butt because they found out through other people anyway. I didn't want to tell because 1) I was scared to in fear of another loss (which I had anyway) and 2) I DID get PG right after the previous m/c, when this one person still hasn't gotten PG in over 4 years. I didn't want to rub it in that, yes, I got PG again (even though I had to take meds to get there)...even if it ended up in m/c. I wanted to spare some feelings in that situation...but it probably would have been better to have been up front about it, no matter what my personal fears were.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

I believe honesty is the best thing, but I also think it needs to be on a case-by-case basis. I've been in situations where I just grin and say the most PC thing I can think of and I've been in situations where I felt like if they were rude enough to ask they should be prepared for the answer they get.

For instance last night I bumped into an old friend who asked if we had kids yet. I simply said no and when she asked what we were waiting for I just said well, it's not for lack of trying. It wasn't harsh or to detailed and she took that as a hint and we changed the subject.

The way I tend to decide depends on who the person is, whether they are being kind or intrusive, how I feel about my IF at the moment etc. I find when people are intrusive I get to the down and dirty of it all. It usually stops them in their tracks and hopefully they'll think twice next time they want to pry into someone's personal business.

I think others can share their accomplishments to an extent. I totally agree with your comment about rubbing your wealth into the face of a poor person, or talking about how lucky you are to have a wonderful marriage in front of someone who is going through a divorce. Fertility is the same, people should use their best judgement. It is a basic common courtesy not to brag in the face of someones misfortune. If someone does that to me then they are not worthy of my friendship. I realize that people will become pregnant and I don't expect them to walk on eggshells with me, but I do ask for respect not to flaunt it in my face.

And, for your last question- I do think you should let the people who helped you along the way know about the outcome. Most likely the people that have helped you will be around for awhile so naturally I think they will want to know. I volunteered with a woman during her last IVF. This was 3 years ago and I knew the outcome. I had talked to her a lot about her treatments because in my heart I felt we would be going through the same thing. We sort of lost touch over the last year or so, but I called her a couple of weeks ago to ask her about her clinic. She was so excited that I called her about it and even though we weren't close friends she asked me to please let her know what happens and she also said she would check in with me from time to time to make sure I was doing ok, like I had done with her.

Anonymous said...

I heard about your blog through your husband, who emailed it to Lilith magazine's editor in chief, Susan Weidman Schneider. I think you have an amazing voice, and are really hitting on issues Lilith likes to tackle. If it's okay by you, I'm putting a link up to you from our blog. Many good wishes--feel free to drop us a line.

Lilith Magazine

Unknown said...

Something you wrote struck a chord with me - the notion that if you can get pregnant naturally, then there must be no "problem" with you. Well, it's not that simple. Our issue is severe MFI. We have a 1-2% chance of conceiving naturally on our own. It could happen ... it's not impossible ... but if we were to get pregnant unassisted, it would be absurd for me to say, "Turns out that we didn't have a problem!" People do seem to have some weird (primal?) urge to brag about their fertility. There's no other explanation for the "pregnant on our first try!" "he only has to LOOK at me and I get pregnant!" types of comments. I think that there's a way for these people to come back to you with their good news that doesn't involve gloating about their perceived superior fertility. "We are so fortunate that we were able to become pregnant on our own, so soon."

Cibele said...

Hi, thanks fro your response. I am from Brazil but I live here, My blog is in Portuguese because I am trying to increase awareness and open up more channels of conversation about IF. In my culture women are still ashamed to talk about it. I just loved your blog, you are such a good writer... I spent hours last night going through the many helpful links and interesting pieces written by you. Great job!

The Writer said...

I'm glad my comment struck a chord with you and I very much appreciate you visiting my blog. Don't be a stranger! Added to that was something my girlfriend told me that stuck with me always.

Once infertile, always infertile.

So even if you have kids, it's not a diagnosis you can change. The upside? Getting to meet and talk to other women with the same diagnosis which has enriched my life in a huge way!

Anonymous said...

These are all great questions. I'm more or less out-of-the infertile closet now with most people, except maybe my boss. But I don't give many people a blow-by-blow account of treatment as it is happening because I don't want to feel under a microscope.

I don't like the mommy bullies. But I wonder if the fertile bullies even know what they are doing when they do it. Their perspective on things is so very different than ours, that some comment would hurt us doesn't occur to them sometimes.

I do think it's good to go back and update people who have expressed interest, just as you would update people who have been references for you on a job search. Different world, I know, but it's about the network, or your troops.

We've had a lot of people, religious and not religious, praying for us. I want them all on my side, regardless of fertile status, etc.