Monday, November 23, 2009

Rambling Questions, Meaningless Answers

People assume I'm on a second marriage when they I say that I have an eleven year-old, too. It's not that I even care what strangers think, but I know I'll have to deal with this, so I've been practicing different responses on random people in the checkout line.

1. The straightforward answer: "We kept trying, but I had a lot of miscarriages. This one took $38,000 of high-tech intervention."

The thing is, if you're that point-blank about it, you're pretty much opening yourself up to a lot of follow-up questions. Which could be good, if you feel like being the infertility ambassador and maybe counteract the myths about relaxing, etc. But it's hard to have that information out there amongst, say, the parents of your kid's school. Gossip can be vicious - and if your kid has any kind of quirk there will be rumours about how he was an IVF baby and maybe that explains why he's so (fill in the blank.) Believe me, even people I generally like have accidentally made comments about "only children" in front of me - always followed by a disclaimer that my child was of course an exception.

I've heard other parents mention only children, adopted children and single-parent (as in true single parents, not divorced) children in pitying tones. The thing that sucks is that even if only a few people that would even think of commenting on something like that, it becomes a part of the child's gossip-resume among the other parents. I barely knew one mother but had heard for years that her daughter by a sperm-donor had "identity issues." Another mom was commonly referred to as "one of those older parents with an only child." What does that even mean?

2. The shock-value response: "Yeah, it took us a while - I had to get over my tendency to have spontaneous abortions."

Shock is always good for getting people to just shut up. Most people I know are pro-choice, but the word abortion is a conversation stopper anyway. Good for if you just want to get away. Again, maybe not the best choice for parents at school...

3. The vague explanation: "Well, things don't always work out exactly like you thought they would."

If you can pull this off without adding any platitudes about how things are "meant to be" or whatever, it might let the other person know that prying is often considered rude, and maybe it's time to change the subject. The worst part of the vague answer is that it implies that the pregnancy was an accident, and given the truth about pregnancy after 40, I hate to contribute to that idea.

4. The deflection: "They say things happen for a reason."

Also vague, but buys into the demand for some kind of grand scheme for our happiness. People seem to like that. It's disingenuous, though, because the implication is that the reason has some reflection on our lives or our worth, and I hate that idea even if I'm just saying it to get out of a longer conversation. I can't believe in any kind of "reason" that has put the women I've come to know through the years of heartbreak infertility can cause.

In general I hate the idea that we aren't to a larger extent masters of our own destiny. I do blame myself for letting years for letting so much time go by without demanding better explanations for why I wasn't getting pregnant. But even women who do get thorough treatment and better options than I did can spend years trying to find success. That's why I don't like the idea of "working hard" to get a baby - it isn't fair to someone who has tried IVF again and again, gone to the best clinics, changed lifestyles, undergone surgeries and still doesn't end up with a baby.

I wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure out what secondary infertility even was, and that it really was a problem for me. I wish my kids weren't going to be growing up in practically different generations. I'm still mad at myself for letting so much time go by before I realized that I needed an aggressive clinic and a heavy-duty treatment. A lack of information and a lot of confusion about infertility is probably why it took me so long to figure it out on my own - so why is it so hard for me to just be honest about it when other people ask?


PJ said...

Great post!

I try to be honest without spilling too much, and that's hard to do. I also accept that people are stupid about IF, and will likely say something stupid.

I hadn't even thought about people being stupid over IVF babies, but you're right. Anything unknown is game, isn't it?

I regret not trying earlier, not being more aggressive. Although we have male-factor and have been together since I was 21 (now almost 37), so it probably wouldn't have made a difference. Still, we should have checked it out earlier, but I went back to school and all... I've done everything "later" in life than my peers.

just me, dawn said...

great post! I think being honest at all times is hard, because sometimes people who don't really "deserve" the full answer are asking the question. My best vague answer is that sometimes things are harder for some people....usually that is enough to stop the polite people who inadvertantly ask the question. I have found myself to be an advocate for babies after 40....more people who are suffering IF IRL....correcctly assume that we struggled, I don't mind sharing my journey with them :)

the Mom said...

My dear friend, who I'm a little in awe of, answers all such questions with a raised eyebrow and a frosty "In polite society it's considered rude to ask a lady about her sex life." It's guaranteed to stop the questions on the spot.

I take the less cool tactic of simply answering nosy questions with my own "Why?" As in, "Why is there such a big space between your children?" and you say, "Why?" It puts them in the position of justifying their rudeness instead of you in the position of justifying your own personal history. It's none of their business and someone should tell them so.

PaleMother said...

This is such a great topic; tough to get any satisfaction out of the pondering ... Lord knows I've tried. Still trying.

As someone who went through some secondary IF (not a bad ride compared to most, though it had its unique challenges) and also as someone who did the pg-over-40 gig ... among other outsider-like experiences (I'm an only child myself!) ... I've had my share of run-in's with prying personalities. What I hate most about these episodes is the feeling that your privacy and your pride have been pick-pocketed. And while you may grab their red hand and catch them in the act by calling them on it, it's tough to defend yourself in any definitively satisfying way. There's no way not to respond without getting yourself dirty in one way or another -- through no fault of your own.

I have a couple of relatives and friends who can always be counted on to ask inappropriate questions. I have yet to ever walk away from those exchanges feeling like I struck a blow for truth and justice. I also find that the worst rude questions are really backhanded opinions/comments masquerading as "acceptable conversation."

I'll never forget the time that one repeat offender (mother of four, mid-termish m/c survivor and rumored IVF vet herself, believe it or not!) marched up to me and "asked" smugly ... "Aren't you worried about ..." I forget her exact words but it was something like ... how could I justify "risking" pregnancy "at my age" in light of the elevated risk for abnormalities. She had no idea that we'd been through IF treatment (and I liked it that way -- no one did -- precisely to avoid these kinds of useless exhanges). This is someone that I otherwise like and for the one or two times per year that I see her, I enjoy being on good terms with her ... but there I was suddenly in the ugly position of having to choose instantly between either letting her get away with that incredibly ignorant remark and a piece of my self-respect ... or getting prickly with her (which she deserved, but it was a sneak attack ... her Yamamoto, me Pearl Harbor). Needless to say, I was flat-footed with surprise. And disgust.

Of course we'd waited til all testing was complete before announcing and we'd passed those tests with such flying colors that all the doctors were gobsmacked by our results. I'd had an amnio at 35 (because that was standard of care then) and at 40, with the non-invasive testing improvements, I was waived on because the risk of amnio was not justifiable. But there was no quick, snappy retort that could convey this info. And it didn't matter anyway, because she turned on her heel while I was stammering, completely uninterested in my response. She was making a statement, not asking for (personal) information. It was the verbal equivalent of walking up to me a kicking me in the shins and walking away.

I'm glad my business was so cut and dry for her. Not so for me.

See? You've touched a nerve. LOL.

Here's hoping that you have few of these episodes in store for you.

As for the school gossip machine ... it's such an impersonal beast. People can ~think~ and ~say~ whatever they want. It's very hard to step into that arena without getting bitten, isn't it?



Kami said...

I am mostly honest, but it depends on the situation, my mood and how much I care. I don't give a rat's a$$ what people then say about it. Maybe I would feel differently if my kid was involved in the rumor mill - I'm not there yet.

Now that I think about it, my most common answer is something like, "It took us a long time and a lot of heartache. We are so thankful to have her."

I think the second sentence helps silence the follow up a bit - in a way it ends the discussion.

You will figure it out as you go. I have found somethings didn't work after I tried them and then I tried some other things that did work.

Evergreen said...

I once had the balls (ovaries) to say to someone, "I'm not comfortable talking about my sex life." Mostly I'm vague, or say, "things don't always happen like we plan them".

I have to tell you, the napping advice you gave me (start the nap process before she shows any signs of being tired) was the ticket! Now I can wait until she looks/acts tired, but your advice got us over the no-nap-struggle hump. Thank you!

Lost in Space said...

I think it pretty much depends who wants to know as for the answer I would clerk or random stranger would get whatever kind of mood I was in for entertainment value. Acquaintances might get a vague rendition and friends/family would get an answer based on our relationship and "how" the question was posed. I like to hold back as much as possible until I am sure they can handle it. Most don't know what to do with it anyway.

Celia said...

I am pretty protected from this now, because my co-workers know it took years and so does my family. I suppose later on I might get asked why we waited. I figure, if they are rude enough to ask, they can suffer through my answer. An answer I do enjoy giving is that I used to care for other peoples children and they were so poorly behaved that it took years for me to want one of my own.

Which is true.

Best When Used By said...

It's probably hard to be honest because, by and large, it's none of most people's business why and how you got pregnant at this time in your life. Yet we don't want to lie or fail to acknowledge the wonder of IVF that allowed our miracles to happen. Maybe an appropriate reply would be (said with a mischevious grin and glowing eyes): "Some secrets are too wondrous to share...sorry!" That'll keep them guessing.

Okay, so now let's back up. I didn't realize I was doomed to be "one of those older parents with an only child." I guess I'd better start working on my own response to that one!

Midlife Mommy said...

I would love to be able to say "it's none of your effing business," but I doubt I would be that rude. I do like the come back that someone else suggested - "why do you ask?"