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.


Tammy's Thought Pattern said...

I agree with Jane that the right thing to do is blow it off and change the subject; regift the words later.

If that doesn't work, kindly but firmly state that you are not really in a place to talk about such a personal subject at this time.

Finally, if those tactful way has no impact, be blunt. "My spouce and I have numerous medical issue that are beyond your comprehension. Now unless you plan on becoming the guardian over my life, I suggest that you keep your 'helpful' information to yourself. You do not make major life plans after consulting em, so I will not make major life plans only after consulting you. Now, if you feel the urge to give me any more assvice, reexamine that feeling and keep your mouth shut. Are we clear?"

But then again, I am a bit abrassive when pissed off. :oP

SarahSews said...

The mirror trick sounds great. As for why others aren't abiding by her wish to change the subject, it may be that the people talking to her pick up on her desire to parent (regardless of her circumstance) and feel like they are helping a friend overcome a daunting situation. Her audience hears "We aren't having children" but may see, "but we really want them" and that second half is serving as an invitation for conversation. Instead, when the topic comes up, shut it down immediately with something that doesn't allow your face to invite more comments such as, "I'm sorry that is too personal to discuss." That should be straigtforward enough to shut down further comments.

When we were in a rough patch, not knowing what to do on the path to parenthood, if anyone questioned me about when we planned to have kids, I'd say, "wouldn't you love to know." Seemed to work decently well.

Bea said...

That's great advice. You just need to decide what your third "line" will be. Mine was a pointed: "We've got it under control." It was the tone of voice and the "dare you to continue" warning glance that did the most work. And then quickly smile again and change the topic to something lighthearted so the conversation doesn't get awkward from there.

But I think asking the person why they're asking/pushing is also an excellent tool.


May said...

My one best survival technique is to say, in the most politely incredulous tone I can muster, 'Why on earth are you asking me this/ telling me to do this?' And stare at them with my best eyebrows-in-hairline stare. Warning, this does not work on family, who are immune to my stares and clearly feel it's their absolute right to know absolutely everything about me - so I once embarrassed an aunt into silence by asking her why she was so obsessed with my sex-life.

Sunny said...

Jane you so are reading my mind.

I have had people tell me, I have heard of IVF? Ummm not stupid. Before we decided to go down the IVF route, I would tell them, yes, but it is a whole lot bigger and complicated than we can take right now. We are choosing to not pursue it right now. Thanks for asking...

Do what you have to do. Shrug it off, ignore, laugh, yell, but stick to your guns. Don't let anyone judge you for going with your heart.


sara said...

Oh girl how true it is what you have written! I can't tell you how many times people have asked me..."why don't you guys just adopt, especially since your sister and brother are adopted." How clueless they are. I have learned over time to develop a new version of patience. Patience for crazy comments..patience for cycles that don't work, and patience in my heart for things that may be someday. But most of all..I wish I had the patience to teach those who have not ventured through the hilly bobby trapped world of infertility what it is like to walk in our shoes..even for one day. But I'm shy and nonconfrontational..so I'm not sure if I'll ever have the patience or the balls to do so!

Shelli said...

I think a simple, "I'm sorry, but that's a really private question." and then change the subject is the way to go.

If the dingleheads KEEP at it, then simply say:" I'm sorry, but my uterus is not up for discussion."

Seriously. The more visceral you can be, the more they'll feel like they snooped in your drawers and found your vibrator or something.. ;)

Heather Johnson said...

Ok, I know this post has been up for months but I just found it. ;)

I worked long and hard to figure out a way to respond to the comments firmly but without being rude. Here's what I say in a firm, but not sarcastic, voice:

"Wow, wouldn't it be great if it were that easy?" and I sometimes follow up with "It sure would make my life much simpler if it were."

The tone of voice and the words have always combined to get me the result I'm hoping for - an end to the conversation, and the other person reconsidering exactly what it is he/she said.

Anonymous said...

"Drowning in Advice"...yes, I can certainly understand that!

K. Bauer said...

I'm a huge fan of just saying that you'd prefer not to discuss such a private topic.

Easy peasy and straight to the point.

Uinipooh said...

I have 2 ideas for replies:

Realistic: IVF won't work for me due to my condition (and then change the subject).

Snarky: IVF?? Of course! I had heard of an invasive, timely medical procedure, costing tens of thousands of dollars, with poor success rates and multiple birth outcomes, but I had totally forgotten about it! Thank you sooooo much for reminding me.

Don't get me started on those that tell me to adopt!