Thoughtful Thursday: Signals

June 11, 2009

Thoughtful ThursdayLast week we talked about etiquette for dealing with infertiles. Most people prefer to be treated with extra consideration, but some people don’t like being singled out. This week, I’d like to examine the issue from the other side: the signals we send that cause people to treat us in certain ways.

Let’s examine emails I have received from two close friends. One is my best friend from college, and one is my best friend from graduate school.

My college friend knew what was going on with IF, but during the period in the past 7 years when we have been in closest contact, I was in my TTC break after Miscarriage #1. When she’d bring up the issue of IF, I usually didn’t want to talk about it. Not that I didn’t want to talk to her, but I didn’t want to deal with the issue at all at that point. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to try, I didn’t want to risk losing another baby, and I certainly didn’t want to deal with treatments. Given how much I have talked about IF more recently, especially since I started blogging, it’s pretty funny to think that there was a time when I didn’t want to deal with IF at all — but at that point that’s where I was emotionally.

When she and I don’t live in the same city, our communication is intermittent — we don’t tend to talk on the phone, and she is notoriously bad about returning emails. Literally a year can go by between my initial email and her reply. I hadn’t heard from her in a year and a half when I received the following email last fall:

[chitchat about work]
Okay, now the hard update: Let me preface this section by saying it’s the hard stuff, because we haven’t talked about this subject in a very long time, and the last time we did, it was very painful to you. If you start reading this and change your mind, just delete the message. The topic is babies.

She then went on to talk about how she’d dealt with infertility and started treatments and now was pregnant.

She tried so hard to be sensitive to my feelings that she had “spared” me from commiserating, sharing knowledge, supporting each other. I had never given her the message that I was now okay talking about my own infertility, and so she assumed that I still didn’t want to talk about it. She has a perception that I’m more emotionally fragile than I am, which certainly added to the situation, but ultimately she was respecting the signals that I’d sent.

Compare that to my best friend from graduate school. She was present throughout my initial TTC efforts, then treatments, then M/C #1, then the hiatus, then back to trying again. During that time, she went from being single to meeting a guy, marrying him, experiencing infertility, doing treatments, succeeding, having a baby, trying again, and having another baby. Damn, I’ve been at this a long time. During her initial IF, I tried to be helpful with information and support, but she was much more eager to get the show on the road and escalate to treatments than I ever was, so she didn’t find the situation as troubling as most of the rest of us seem to.

Her email to me, not long after IVF #2:

How are you, BabySmiling? Are you okay? I know you have been swamped plus dealing with IVF hell. I think of you all the time and I hope you are keeping your head above water. I know you are BabySmiling, but still, it is a lot.

This is a perfect email. Checking in, expressing care, praising my usual coping, and acknowledging that it may be harder than I’m letting on. The signals that I was sending to her were that I was facing a lot but trying to deal. I like that version of myself much better than the version with her fingers in her ears saying “la la la la”, and I like the response that this capable version elicited much better too. Strangely, my false front is super-capable, but so is my real self… most of the time.

What signals have you sent out about how people should treat you? Did other people’s responses fit the signals you were sending? You can talk about infertility, or pick some other issue.

14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Signals”

  1. WiseGuy Says:

    What signals have you sent out about how people should treat you? Did other people’s responses fit the signals you were sending? You can talk about infertility, or pick some other issue.

    I like the word that you have used there – emotionally fragile.

    Fortunately/Unfortunately, I appear to be emotionally tougher than I am. I let them speak to me about their babies, their life, their efforts, and I am there to listen to them and offer a shoulder.

    Very recently, an ex-colleague who also turned out to be a friend, spoke to me about what was happening in the kiddo department. She has no idea about the several years of IF treatment behind me. I just told her that we were trying and I changed the topic. Did she realize, I did not want to talk about it? I do not know, because we have not spoken to each other about it after that.

    There was one person, I really made to shut up. She used to ask me ‘babies, kids, babies’ in the elevator, stairs, at parties in our apartment…and I told her to never please talk about babies to me coz I lost a pregnancy. That shut her up. For good. I do not care, if she has spread the rumour behind me because the other ‘aunties’ in my building too are now keeping mum on any advice of any sorts!

    One of the things that I do, is to define that I would not want to talk on certain issues. for. e.g. my mom. I told her to not speak to me about my periods or when they are expected etc….I tell her if I have to, I never do it otherwise. But he discuss about retroversion, or her experiences or new reads on the topic. I am saved from all the sensitive talk.

    Otherwise, I just smile/appear ignorant/keep silent…and let people blubber whatever they have to.

    This reminds of something which is irritating me a lot these days –

    Poverty abounds here, and one of the way that scraggly dirty women ask for money is by giving ‘dua’ that my children will remain happy for life, if I gave her one rupee or such. Sometimes, these paupers also have sweet children in their arms, used as alms-enhancement-accessories. Shooing the women is tough, and it hurts to see the kids who will also be beggars, but it pinches that they take up the ruse of my unborn kids for getting money! I can shoo one, I can shoo two, but new day, new beggar comes around. Nothing in my behaviour tells them to stay away!

  2. WiseGuy Says:

    Please forgive the grammatical errors!

  3. As I mentioned in my comment on ‘etiquette’ I sometimes would have liked it if friends or family members would have asked us questions regarding our desire to have a child, instead of not mentioning the subject at all. Of course not saying anything is better than making some half-ass remark, but sometimes I wanted to share, but I didn’t know how. So I didn’t know what kind of signal to send out either – but I didn’t want them to think that we were postponing having children because of career reasons, or that we didn’t want any children at all (while it was all I could think about).

    In the beginning, the main signal I was sending out was ‘leave me alone, I don’t want to talk about it’. My parents never seemed to really respect that signal, thinking that our TTC/IF problems were something that should be shared, at least between mother and daughter. It made for some awkward conversations and sometimes for a bitchy response to a well-meant assvice remark from my dad, with both parties refusing to apologize.

    Only after almost five years, around the time of our second round of IUIs and just before starting IVF, did I feel like I wanted to share more. I became more open to friends and family who had showed real interest in the past but whom I had kept a bit at a distance before and I also discovered blogging (never thinking the first IVF cycle would be successful, so my IVF blog turned more into a pregnancy blog pretty soon).

    Since we’ve announced the pregnancy, I haven’t been too shy about sending out signals that this was not an easily achieved pregnancy (not to everyone of course), mainly because I don’t want them to think we just waited so we could have a career, go on vacation or whatever (of course I shouldn’t give a sh*t about what others think, but I do…).

  4. shinejil Says:

    I have been very lucky on this journey, in many ways. One of the main ones: relatives, bosses, and friends have all been more or less perfect in their support/reaction to my states of mind. There was one exception where a friendly work colleague didn’t quite get the message that she should keep the ectopic fiasco info to herself. She told a few people, and one of them was a total idiotic ass about it (but he is always that way, so it wasn’t a huge surprise).

    The one instance I had to tell my mom not to make certain types of offhand remarks, and she reacted with profound kindness and care and kept to her promise to avoid such stuff in the future.

    Since I’ve been knocked up and in the 2nd tri, I’ve felt less and less eager to share my IF story with people who seem undeserving. For example, I filled out an application for childbirth classes and they asked if there were any attenuating circumstances or experiences I wanted them to know about, like loss or infertility. I left it blank, not wanting to have to send out signals that my suffering was my own–to be shared with those who need to hear my story or truly, deeply care about my feelings–and that that was okay.

  5. Kami Says:

    I have always been open about my infertility. I also like to be treated like non infertiles. I’ve never been the kind that didn’t want to hear about another baby or pregnancy. I’ve never really changed during my battle. Everyone has always treated me the same because I never gave a vibe to treat me differently. I’ve remained strong with a few falls here and there. It’s not an easy road, that’s for sure!


  6. Kristin Says:

    I have always been very open about my infertility. In fact, I once ended up having a fairly extensive conversation about infertility with a near stranger. They asked me if we were going to have any more kids and I responded by saying, “After all we went through to get Gabe here, I’m just not sure.” That lead to a full discussion of everything. I freely talk about the multiple miscarriages and what treatment we finally found that worked. The only people I didn’t clue in at every step of the way was my family. In an effort to protect me, I had a family member say to me, “You get too excited too early.” In retrospect, I know she was trying to protect me but man did it upset me back then. Also, I didn’t want the whole family to have to ride the emotional roller coaster I was on.

  7. Mel Says:

    This one is really hard because I’m not sure if sometimes someone is treating me a certain way because I’ve given off signals or implied that I’d like it, or if it is much more on them–how they choose to treat me.

    I get much more frustrated when I’ve clearly sent signals and the person ignores them.

  8. jill Says:

    This is an interesting topic!

    In the company of most “strangers” (meaning people I’ve just met or aquaintance-only people who I do not consider “friends”) I usually joke and talk about children and pregnancy in a negative way. I would not be surprised if most people who don’t know me very well think I completely don’t want kids at all. Obviously, because of this, none of them usually speak to me about child-related topics. I do this because I’m jaded and negative but also because it stops people from asking “so, when are you going to have kids??”. Such a loaded question.

    Other people who know me well know that I want to be a mother with all my heart. However, most of them also know that I’m hurt and jaded and negative, so they do not bring up the topic around me. If I bring it up, they will talk about it but otherwise it never comes up. For example, I know my poor mother would LOVE to be a grandmother but she never says anything to me about it unless I make a comment first. My MIL would also be crazily excited for a grandchild but years ago, when she brought up the topic with my husband, he told her I couldn’t get pregnant. She has never mentioned it again. (R told her this because she is extremely overbearing and he was worried she would keep asking and asking if he gave her a more truthful answer.)

    The sad thing about all this is that I really enjoy and am happy to talk about pregnancy, babies, children, etc. I love the topic and research/read all I can. Ahh well, I suppose it does help to keep my obsession level lower than it would otherwise be. If I was faced with people always wanting to talk babies I would probably be sad a lot more often than I am now.

  9. When we were trying to conceive, I didn’t tell anyone. No, that’s not true, I told my mom. She was able to help me though the miscarriages and calm my nerves, a bit. When we did get pregnant with Zilla, we kept it to ourselves for awhile. Not many people knew about our struggles. Now, however, I’ll tell anyone who asks. Only because I don’t want another woman to think it’s all “her” fault and she’s the “only” one who this happens to. It’s really terrible that I felt that way, and I don’t want anyone else to feel the same.

  10. Photogrl Says:

    I’m pretty open about my infertility now. After almost 5 years of continually being asked if we’re working on giving Miss O. a sibling, I just blurt out the truth.

    Over the past year, I’ve noticed “friends” come to me to talk about their problems. I guess this means that I’m giving off a “I’m willing to help” type of vibe, but honestly, I don’t know how much more “help” I want to dole out.

    Not to mention, I’m still not pregnant.

  11. Gracie Says:

    Interesting that you would post this now. After almost 2 years of TTC, we are about to start our first IVF cycle next month and literally last night at dinner DH and I had a long conversation that we named ‘disclosure’ – We are trying to decide how much to tell our parents (who know a bit but not much), friends (who all seem to be clueless) and my boss (who will certainly notice if I am in and out of work during the cycle). I’ve been searching for ideas and other women’s experiences. And, I totally identify with the comment that it is easier to bare all in the blogging/online community than in RL.

    Thank you for opening this discussion.

  12. Wombded Says:

    I’ve had a hard time with my best friend of 25 years b/c when I would try to talk to her about what was going on with us SHE would clam up. I even went on a long weekend with her during a cycle; shared a bedroom; did my shots in front of her; (SHE’S A NURSE!) and she still would not show any interest in a discussion of our treatments or struggles.

    I don’t think it’s all about our signals. I think people have their own baggage or concerns that color how they deal with us.

    As for my BFF, I think she’s so afraid of the effects of the drugs on me that she just cannot engage in any part of what I’m doing. The only real discussion we’ve ever had about it was before my first IVF cycle when she expressed her concerns.

  13. S Says:

    Only a few of my close friends know about the “IVF hell” as your friend very aptly called it. They also know that I respect my privacy through various conversations etc. But on the odd occasion, I still get what I see as a rude and unwelcome question from them asking me “if I’m pregnant yet” or “whats happening on the IVF front”. I usually forgive them because they’re the handful of friends I have left after ditching a large bunch after our daughter died and also because I know they just have foot-in-mouth, and mean well. But its difficult not snapping back “none of your business”, particularly after a terribly emotional BFN or a m/c. I usually respond with a chirpy “nothing to report yet” which usually works to change the conversation. But it still bugs me that my close friends (who know how I feel about IF because I’ve literally ranted about it – i.e. if I feel like talking about it, I will, don’t push me, because its additional pressure) will still open their mouths and ask me “how its going”. Sigh. and don’t get me started on family. ESPECIALLY the “slightly wicked but clueless stepdaughter” and the SIL. It also depends on my moods, a LOT. sometimes, I don’t mind sharing that things are shitty. Other times, I get defensive.

    Largely though, people who haven’t had IF issues are usually clueless as to the signals you give off, unless they have some intelli-radar that tells them, shut up, you’re upsetting/pissing off S.(as an example, I get the occasional email from the stepdaughter about how she gets upset when her friends have girls because she has 2 boys and is desperate for a girl, she’s bought a “book” that tells you “how to have girls” – you dig the picture! That’s her idea of IF hell.)

  14. This post really made me think about how we’re somewhat responsible for how people treat us. I don’t get a lot of crazy comments, but that might be b/c I’m usually the facilitator in a conversation and tend to guide where it goes. A less kind to me person might say I’m too nosy and obnoxious myself to ever have to actually have to deal with nosy and obnoxious questions myself.

    But in the end, I don’t think signals really matter. My closest friends knew about the IVF stuff before I came out. And my other friends did not. In fact, I would say that the whole IVF struggle confirmed for me more than ever who my closest friends were. Did this happen to you, too? Were you surprised about who felt comfortable talking to about this and who you didn’t. In a few cases it was a little shocking for me.

    My sister — not a great IVF confidante. One of my most cynical friends — we talked on the phone for hours about it. Really interesting…

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