Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Regifting Words

Dear Jane:

After careful consideration, my husband and I have decided that a medically assisted pregnancy is not our choice right now. We both have other health issues to consider and have personal/ethical reasons for not pursuing a medically-assisted pregnancy using ART right now, or possibly ever.

However, it seems that wherever we go, someone is asking about our parenting plans and ends up talking about fertility treatments, whether it is/was theirs or about others. The conversations usually end up with some form of questioning why we aren't seeing an RE. So far our attempts of trying to end the conversation quickly end up with others telling us that we are making the wrong choice or obviously we don't want to be parents since we aren't willing to go through this process right now.

Our choice is a personal one obviously and our reasons are just as personal. We don't really want to be telling everyone about our health concerns. We've tried the basic "we can't have children" all the way to "we haven't been able to conceive due to ---- insert a variety of medical issues here." We've even tried the abrasive "We won't be having children" without luck. Personally, I hate saying that one because it always makes me cry and then the conversation ends up continuing.

Additionally, as more people we know are facing a variety of infertility treatments we are getting questions from others who don't feel the same way we do about certain aspects of ART. Any suggestions on how to politely explain our choice without coming across as judgmental or something else? As so far, "It's not for us" hasn't worked!


Drowning in Advice

Dear Drowning:

If only Jane were here, I'm sure she could give you better coaching since I am sure she ran up against the same wall when it came to the topic of marriage. In a society that pushes pairing off as frequently as it pushes parenthood, I'm sure she ran into many people who wanted to fix her marriageless state. Options existed for her--if marriage was simply her goal rather than a happy union, she could have been married off several times over. But the end goal wasn't her sole focus--the journey to get there was just as important as the union itself which is evident from her exploration of the theme of love within her books. Though I can't ask Ms. Austen nor can I get inside your head, your core reasons could be similar for not pursuing certain paths: "it just doesn't feel right."

I think Jane would be appalled by the lack of decorum that comes with this line of questioning. The fact that you are clearly expressing a desire for the comments to stop and people are continuing regardless points to a complete lack of manners in both Austen's world and our own.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

The questioning and commenting you're receiving is on par with "just adopt." Every outsider thinks they know how to solve your problems. Just because it probably comes from a good place (most of the time) doesn't mean you have to accept their gift of words graciously by the third helping. Remember that line from Free to Be You and Me: some kind of help is the kind of help / that helping is all about / and some kind of help is the kind of help / we all could do without. It sounds like you're getting a lot of the second kind of help. Let's look at a non-IF example.

Let's pretend someone offers to throw you a party for your birthday. The first time they bring it up, you laugh and kindly say, "thank you, but I really don't want a party." The second time they bring it up, you answer firmly, "really, thank you, but I don't want a party right now. I'm not going to change my mind on this." The third time, you have permission to say anything you need to within reason to get your point across because the party has ceased to be a gift and has become a transgression on your feelings. The other person may be frustrated that you're not taking their gift of a party, but is it really a gift if they're beating you with it?

These kinds of thoughts do usually start out as an intended gift. They see you have a problem; they think they have the solution. But since one-size-does-not-fit-all with infertility, they can't possibly know what is the right gift unless you specifically are requesting an answer to a specific question.

You really have two choices and some of it depends on your relationship to the other person. You can figuratively toss the gift of words over your shoulder and mentally note that you're returning it the first chance you get. In other words, smile at the speaker, thank them for the advice and tell them you'll look into it. And then change the subject. When someone gives me a sweater I have no intention of wearing, I thank them and gush about it for a bit, and then mentally plot when I'll be taking it back to the store to exchange it for something I would wear. They never need to know that their gift was far outside my realm of taste. And unless I sense that more sweaters like it are forthcoming, there's no need to set them straight about my sense of style.

Or, you can address it on these three levels, which sounds like the route you've been taking. You start with kind, "thanks, but we're not really looking at treatments" or "I know you care about us, but we're going to work through this on our own."

You move on to firm, which takes a lot of practice to do well. My mother made us stand in front of a mirror and practice saying difficult things before attempting them with others and even though I felt like an ass talking to myself, I have to admit that it helped to say the words several times before I became tongue-tied in the moment. I have a very difficult time being firm.

Some general words to practice and tweak for the situation:
  • Again, thanks for the advice. We're actually pretty private about this and I'd rather not talk about it.
  • That may be true but it's outside of our comfort zone, as is continuing to talk about treatments.
  • It's all good advice, but I'm not in a space to hear this right now. Why don't you tell me about...(and change the subject quickly).
Lastly, while I say it's a free-for-all, you don't want to be as rude as the speaker is being. Remember, they believe their words are helpful and no one wants to hear that the words they've chosen as a gift are being returned. But this is the point where you turn the questions and advice back on the speaker or explain in no uncertain terms that the comments need to stop.
  • It sounds like you're trying to solve our problems, but we're really comfortable working through them on our own.
  • Why are you asking these questions?
  • Why? Are you doing treatments right now?
Hopefully you'll be able to preserve the relationship as well as get out of these uncomfortable conversations.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Drowning's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Drowning elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.