Thoughtful Thursday: Etiquette

June 4, 2009

Thoughtful ThursdayI’m so glad that I no longer live in a place where June means June Gloom — June here in New England is glorious. I hope it’s also glorious for the Intelligentsia (people who have commented on every Thoughtful Thursday post for the month of May).

I don’t know anything about the weather in the part of India where stalwart five-time Intelligentsia member Wiseguy from Woman Anyone? lives, but my guess? Hot.

Four-timer Ernessa from Fierce and Nerdy does live in the home of June Gloom, but maybe it’s less gloomy now that she’s just moved to a different part of SoCal.

It’s winter for Aussie Shalini from By the Pricking of My Thumbs, but I’m pretty sure it’s already full-blown summer for southerner Kristen from Dragondreamer’s Lair. Both are three-peating Intelligentsia.

Two-timer (but not two-timing) Photogrl from Not the Path I Chose hopefully is still enjoying late spring in her part of the Midwest.

Hopefully June is a respite from the usual English gloom for first-timer Rebecca from Clumsy Kisses.

Thoughtful ThursdayEnough about the weather.

Mel posted on BlogHer last week about what to say to someone experiencing infertility. A week earlier, Ernessa and I continued a discussion from blog to email on this very topic. (By the way, she gave me permission to quote her — don’t worry that I will publish our email conversations without asking.) Among other things such as talking about planning her friend’s baby shower in the midst of an infertility workup, she said:

I guess I’m still grappling with how to treat other women with fertility problems. On one hand I don’t want to treat them differently, on the other hand I know that there are certain duties and conversation topics that they find difficult. I wish there was some kind of etiquette book for this.

Let’s start writing that etiquette book for her.

How have you treated people with fertility problems (or loss) that’s worked well? What hasn’t worked well? How would you like people to treat you (or if your issues are in the past, how would you have liked them to treat you)?

Just yesterday, DH said he was about to call a certain friend, and asked if he should announce the pregnancy. In the very first Thoughtful Thursday, I wrote about that guy:

One of DH’s best friends. I’ve always liked him and his wife, but when he asked DH out of the blue whether we had done IF treatments and could offer them advice, I was smitten. I’m constantly telling DH to call the guy to see if he has more questions or needs to talk.

DH agrees that this couple needs to hear the news differently than others. I suggested offering the news as a beacon of hope, an IF success story, and reiterating the offer from both of us to talk anytime if they need the sympathetic ear of a fellow infertile, if they have questions about treatments, etc. (The conversation hasn’t happened yet. They are currently playing phone tag.)

This weekend, I am seeing a friend from grad school and her husband. We’re not especially close — if we lived in different places, we’d probably email 3 times a year. Instead, we live 2 hours apart, so we see each other in person 3 times a year. Out of everyone we know, they are the couple who are most compatible with us in terms of interests, interpersonal style, sense of humor, etc. Usually when you’re friends with a couple, you’re more friends with one person, and the other one is just along for the ride. But in this case, if we knew him independent of her, we would totally be friends with him.

Anyway, this couple got married less than a year ago. Only two years ago, when they were dating but not engaged, she mentioned that every woman she worked with (literally, every one) was pregnant at the same time, except for her — and then some comment about wanting to slit her wrists. Normally I am not sensitive to the fertility goals of newlyweds, but before meeting this guy, she was conspicuously single for a couple of years following an almost decade-long relationship and horrific breakup (although it was very painful for her, ultimately I say good riddance, that guy was a jerk). So, in making my announcement this weekend, I will think of her not necessarily as an infertile, which she probably isn’t, but as someone whose romantic and reproductive path was not what she’d thought it would be before the first guy broke her heart. When I make my announcement, she will get the same consideration that an infertile would get. Plus, I hope that things work out for her, but you never know who is an infertile-in-the-making. (I actually had a dream this week that I showed up to see them and she was more pregnant than I am. We shall see.)

What is this consideration that I speak of? What do I do for other infertiles, suspected infertiles, and you-never-know-if-someone-is-infertiles? The same consideration that I wish others had given me, but that they rarely did.

  • Limit pregnancy/baby talk. We had plenty to talk about before, and we can still talk about those same topics now.
  • Try to gauge their reactions in directing the conversation (good advice regardless of the topic). If people are genuinely interested in baby stuff, which they sometimes are (such as DH’s teenage sister who asked me about pregnancy symptoms out of scientific curiosity), I don’t need to change the topic. But, there were hundreds of times when I was giving off “change the topic” signals (or aggressively trying to change the topic myself) and the baby talk persisted.
  • Don’t complain. The surest road to my shit list is for someone to complain about their child and, worse, wish for the days when the child didn’t exist. Or lament how “my husband only has to look at me and I get pregnant!”
  • No assvice. No suggestions to relax, no pillows under the hips, no herbal teas. If someone wants the name of my RE, information on diagnoses, explanations about treatments, happy to oblige. But no unsolicited advice — about baby-making or any other topic.
  • No jokes about Octo-mom. WTF? Do I compare your family to the Duggars?
  • Invite people to baby-related events, but make it clear that it’s up to them. Even if they’re not infertile, it can be awkward (and boring!) for childless people at events like a baby’s birthday party. Don’t even get me started on baby showers and all of the talk about nipples, explosive diarrhea (mom’s or baby’s), and episiotomies. Hey, I thought of a good baby shower game: refrain from talking about babies or pregnancy! Instead of relinquishing a diaper pin when you slip, you have to leave the party. I call this game “Shut the Fuck Up!”
  • Never ask when someone is going to have children. No one will ever hear from me, “It’s your turn next!” “What’s taking you so long?” “Don’t you want children?” “You won’t be young forever, you know.” My friends will not hear from my lips any of the horrible things that I’ve heard too many times over the last 7 years of infertility (and even before we started TTC).

How have you treated people with fertility problems (or loss) that’s worked well? What hasn’t worked well? How would you like people to treat you (or if your issues are in the past, how would you have liked them to treat you)?

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15 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Etiquette”

  1. Cara Says:

    My weekly disclaimer: I am not an if-er, but support those who are…

    That said, the people I have the most contact with who are IF are also loss parents. The combination seems overwhelming, but I find that they take comfort from knowing that I KNOW what they are talking about.

    Even though I’ve never had an IUI or taken Lupron or Clomid, had to ice the area before my hubby shot me up or prepped for IVF I did my homework. I know what those things mean and we can have a valuable grief-based conversation without them having to explain the acronyms or ‘how they got pregnant in the first place’ part of their story.

    I love Thoughtful Thursday…thanks for doing it.

  2. shinejil Says:

    I think you’re right: It’s good to extend courtesy to women or men who might have had hard knocks on the family building road unrelated to IF. I have a close friend who never had trouble getting pregnant, but never found her mate, through no fault of her own. She doesn’t want to hear crap about how you can only know something if you’ve been preggo or a mom. So I tread lightly, letting her responses guide me to an appropriate kind way of talking about where I am (which she cares about and wants to know more about).

    I’ve been pretty open with friends about my IF struggles. What do y’all think: do you feel comfortable offering an old friend who’s just starting out and who is somewhat concerned about their potential fertility due to age a future shoulder to cry on, should it come to that?


  3. I do my best not to offer advice, unless asked. I do, however, offer a sympathetic ear. I don’t tell others what “worked” for us and what didn’t. I’m always respectful when someone chooses how to build their family or when to stop. Our neighbors don’t have children and I don’t know their story and I would never ask. That’s SO rude and insensitive! I always got SO upset when someone would ask us when we were going to have another. Even now, when I’m asked that question, it still hurts.
    As always, thanks for Thoughtful Thursday, I love em!
    *HUGS*

  4. Kristin Says:

    Before I had gone through infertility, I had a close friend who had lost an almost full term baby. I made sure I spent time with her. I talked about her son when she wanted to. I cried with her when she needed it. And, I remembered his birthday and when he was due. I made sure to recognize his birthday for many years to come also. If too many days passed without me hearing from her, I picked up the phone or showed up at her house. I figured she might be in a state where she just couldn’t reach out even though she needed to.

  5. clumsykisses Says:

    There is no English gloom at the moment! Beautiful weather!

    (clumsykisses.com and clumsykisses.wordpress.com both belong to me. In fact any use of the name is me, afaik)

    One of my best friends has been told about our TTC and failing at it. She got pregnant by accident and her baby was born in February. In April I finally girded my loins enough to go visit. She said, “Oh you’ll be going home and telling [Husband] that you want one right now!”

    I just sort of gaped at her and didn’t say anything. If only we could all have oops babies, you know? She KNOWS. I blame baby brain :/

    I mostly just don’t mention babies until the other person brings them up. Works for me and for them.

  6. jill Says:

    Haha – love the “Shut the fuck up!” baby shower game! 😀

    I don’t know anyone personally who has experienced infertility. If I did I would probably try to apply just about everything you listed as best I could.

    My sister is not infertile but she has had some negative pregnancy-related stuff happen to her. She does want kids, and since I could technically (as I eye-roll and sigh) get pregnant at any time, I once asked her if she would be upset with me. She said no and then asked if I’d be upset with her when she gets pregnant. I truthfully told her that yes, I would be upset, but definitely not with her. That I would be so happy for her but that it would take some time for me to work through. I also told her that I would want her to tell me and not keep it from me for fear of hurting my feelings.

    If someone were to announce their pregnancy to me, ideally (obviously this would not be possible in all cases) I would like them to approach me seperately first, either in person or by phone or even an email. I would like them to say that they know of my situation and they know this might be hard for me… and then continue on with their news. This would be ideal especially if the announcement was to be made at a later date, as a surprise, to a group I would be in. I would much rather be able to process the news on my own first and not be surprised with it in the midst of lots of other joyous people.

  7. Jo Says:

    The hardest part for me, as an IF-er, is the avoidance of conversations. I want — no, need — to talk about it: what I’m doing, how I’m feeling, what my goals are. The one person I thought would never understand (a wonderfully fertile friend) has actually handled it better than anyone else I know: she treats me like I’m normal. She doesn’t avoid talking about her kids, or what pregnancy was like for her. She’s open, and honest, and warm when she asks about me. She listens when I talk about what we are doing, and is encouraging without being condescending. In short, she treats me like I’m as fertile as the rest of them.

    Perhaps its bizarre, but that’s more comforting to me than anything else.

  8. Cat Says:

    Yes, yes, yes, limit pregnancy talk puh-lease! How can one subject be *that* engrossing, anyway? Like you said, we had great conversations before y’all got knocked up, why not now? And no assvice or complaining.

    I’d also recommend not always asking about cycles or how the treatment is going. Some days I wanted to talk about it, but some days I really didn’t. And please be careful of tone. I most appreciated the friends who would just ask, “how are you?” matter of factly because it felt like that left it open for me to talk about anything, whether our IVF on days I was up for it or something else on those bad days. It was annoying when the question was full of pity, because then I knew they were asking about the IVF and I felt like I had to talk about the IVF then, even if I really didn’t want to.

    BTW, I love your new shower game!

  9. S Says:

    To those that know that I’m a “member of the IF community” (which sounds so much better than saying “hey, I’m a f#cking habitual aborter”, I usually offer some sort of medical (with the usual disclaimers) and emotional counselling. They almost always call me their second RE/FS. Which is kind of sweet. I get emails from my blog and I try my best, with my assvice limited to my experiences only, to answer questions.

    But IRL, there are only about 5-6 people that know this stuff, and all of them don’t talk to me about it. Only 1 person I know IRL needed IVF and is 16 weeks pregnant on their second embryo transfer. I usually limit conversations/topics to non-ttc/pg/IVF subjects because it usually makes the fertile people uncomfortable.

    As for loss, it really is so subjective. It depends so much on the person going through it. I have had a bimbo at work (she used to be a secretary) who once had a “scare” because her period was late, and actually said to me, I’d have to punch her in the stomach if she was pregnant. This bimbo knew about my history, including the death of my daughter. But she is, thankfully, the exception to the rule.

    One thing I always do is acknowledge the loss/death of the baby and if the parent has named the baby, use the name repeatedly instead of calling the baby “him or her”. That is because Janaki’s name is beautiful to my ears because it doesn’t get said enough. I imagine other grieving parents feel the same way. I hated that doctors called Janaki the “fetus”. How hard is it to call her a baby, even if they don’t want to name names?

    And they say lawyers are cold!

    Hmm, my post is all over the place. I’ve been interrupted a few times, trust it makes sense overall.

  10. WiseGuy Says:

    Thanks for the beautiful way of commending my participation. Like you stated, it is pretty hot out here…and we are eagerly awaiting the onset of monsoon for a breather from the heat and humidity. It gives me a kick to see my name in that list every time. You have an addict here!

    How have you treated people with fertility problems (or loss) that’s worked well? What hasn’t worked well? How would you like people to treat you (or if your issues are in the past, how would you have liked them to treat you)?

    Let’s just say that I have not come across too many infertile couples in my acquaintances/relatives/circle of friends.

    There are only a couple of hubby-wife teams that I now think are closet infertiles…one of them is 8 years down the marital road, and kidless! And the other is a dear friend who is fervently trying for a second after PCOS diagnosis. Recently, I also came to know of another couple with whom we have very rare social interaction.

    I despise it like hell if people offer me sympathy/ new pooja styles/ new ways of sex etc…for making babies…and if I knew somebody to be facing IF, the one thing I would not do is to offer them this crap.

    Another thing is that as an infertile, even though I am touchy when people ask me when I am going to have kids, I talk/share information very freely about whatever biology I have come to know.

    Oout of those I am aware as IFers, only one of them have ever asked me about what she should do next, and I laid out whatever I knew on that subject. For the others, I will never like to intrude their privacy by asking them upfront or offering unsolicited advice.

    Mutual respect is necessary.

    Like you said, there can be a talk on a ‘similar’ topic and then, the reaction may be adjudged on the same, but I am not intimate with the other couples and don’t think it is appropriate of me to ask them.

    Maybe they too know in a hush – hush way about our problems, but nobody is ready to speak it out!

    I think Listening well is the first and the best way to deal with another IFer….


  11. This is the first year that I’ve actually welcomed June gloom, b/c it’s no fun being pregnant and hot. But it’s also raining, and you know how L.A. gets when it starts to rain.

    When I was at a bridal shower right before my IVF appointment, the matron of honor started talking about how she had accidentally gotten pregnant on her honeymoon, then joking about her husband’s swimmers and the like. The bride and the bridesmaid both knew about my fertility troubles were desperately trying to change the subject.

    It was strange. I felt embarrassed and angry that they thought I was too fragile to hear matron of honor’s story, and I decided to come out of the IVF closet online and IRL very soon after that.

    I don’t like being treated with kid gloves, but at the same time I’m not a fan of conversations that revolve around pregnancy w/ people who aren’t pregnant. So it’s a weird line that keeps on moving for me.

    Still, I love your advice and will definitely take it.

  12. Photogrl Says:

    How interesting…I was just thinking about this topic yesterday while in the shower! I do my best thinking there 😉

    As someone who is struggling through secondary IF, I must admit that I’m sometimes ashamed of things I said before I really understood IF. I will never EVER as anyone when they are planning on having kids or worse yet, if I see someone with a child, I will never ask, “Is he/she your only one?”

    My best friend, who’s also my cousin, was in the trenches of IF when I was PG. I thought I was being helpful and supportive. I now wonder if my incessive asking about treatments and “hope” stories bothered her. I hope not, because I really did care, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I said some really stupid things.

    Your list of suggestions are very good, I think I might have to write them out for some people who need them.

    And, I am enjoying a beautiful late spring here in the Midwest. Haven’t even had to turn the A/C on yet! 🙂


  13. […] stumbled over a fertility blog that I had not read before with a very cute title “Baby Smiling In The Back Seat: or that’s the goal anyway!”  where the author (couldn’t find her name in the “about me” section”) was […]


  14. By the time I was TTC, everyone around me had been there done that. I did have one friend who had several miscarriages before we were TTC, and I KNOW that I didn’t support her adequately. I feel awful about it all over again reading this post, and her oldest daughter (adopted) is now almost 12! I think I need to apologize.


  15. Sorry for this very late (and long) reaction. I’ve only rediscovered your blog a few days ago… Your suggestions are very spot on. I don’t know many IF-ers in real life, but one has been really a great help and supporter throughout my treatments (she had been there for many years when I just started out in the land of IF) and was, until I discovered the IF blogosphere, the only person who really understood what we were going through. For the people I’ve met online, I try to encourage and support them, sometimes by giving them examples of my treatments if I think that might help them keeping their hopes up.

    Of course I never liked it when people asked us when we were going to have kids or why we didn’t have kids already, but it actually never happened that often (I would have liked to respond just once with ‘every time I go to the grocery store they’re sold out’ – but never got the chance). People relatively close to us (but not so close that we had shared our IF troubles with them spontaneously) usually chose to not say or ask anything. In the beginning I was OK with that, but later I sometimes wished they would ask something, not in the ‘what are you waiting for’ way, but to show us some real interest/concern. But at the same time I know that is very dangerous territory, I don’t even go there myself with others, but sometimes you do wonder if you should try to find a tiny opening for them to come out if they want to…

    What I also didn’t like was friends trying to make me go quicker with IF treatments than I was emotionally capable of at that moment. In hindsight I do think I wasted some time before seeking treatment, but I truly believe that it’s only up to the person going through it to decide what to do next. If you’re not yet ready for IVF, no-one should try to talk you into it.

    As my parents first born was stillborn, in our family a pregnancy or a child is never taken for granted, and I am always careful in contacting a friend after her due date, when I haven’t had a birth announcement, because I will never assume that everything went a-ok.

    But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to endure some (of course very well-meant, which only makes it harder) assvice even from my parents when I was struggling with IF. Also, when the IVF was finally successful, my mom said something like course it had worked, because I’m a healthy woman, which didn’t go down so well with me (having discovered the IF blogosphere and all the different stories). They are also convinced that now that I’m pregnant, a next pregnancy will surely come the natural way, because I’ve been ‘unlocked’, which I hate. I already worry that for a second child, I will be a few years older than during the previous IVF cycle, meaning less egg quality, and last time only 1 out of 14 made it, so who knows, it might never work again (and at the same time feeling guilty for already thinking about a second child, while I know there are many IF-ers who might not be able to ever get pregnant at all). I also would like, if we would go for a second try again, to be able to keep it quiet for the RL people, until at least a BFP, to have a bit more privacy with it all.


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