Wednesday, August 17, 2011
What Not to Say
I love that show What Not to Wear. You know, the one where snarky New Yorkers descend on small-town frumps, mock their outdated sweaters and ill-fitting trousers, fly them to NYC for a $5,000 shopping spree and teach them how to dress appropriately.
I have an idea for a new show: What Not to Say. It would secretly film cocktail parties and coffee shops and wherever friends and acquaintances gather. Whenever someone made an egregious conversational misstep, the sassy hosts would barge in on the social bumblers, mock their cliched comments and tacky remarks, and teach them how to communicate appropriately.
There could be an entire episode on the subject of infertility. Here's my Top 5 for What Not to Say: Infertility Edition.
1. Just relax and it will happen. An infertility blogger riffing on "just relax" is like a stand-up comedian joking about airline peanuts - it's been done to death, but you people out there keep SAYING it to us so you leave me no choice. Look, it's just about the most ironic thing you can say to an infertile woman because it induces a state of mind that is the polar opposite of "relaxed." Seriously, it drives us insane. The implication that we have somehow exacerbated our infertility by worrying too much about it just adds another heaping pile of guilt and shame to our already overloaded plates. Also, it's infertility, not a tension headache -- a massage and a long hot shower aren't going to fix the problem and it's insulting to the entire field of reproductive medicine to suggest otherwise.
2. You can always just adopt. You do realize that it's not like adopting a puppy, right? They don't have special events at Babies-R-Us where adorable infants sit in cardboard boxes just waiting for someone to pay for their shots and take them home. It's a whole lot more complicated than that and I simply don't have the energy to contemplate that journey while I'm still in the middle of this one. And please don't tell me about that person you know who got pregnant as soon as they adopted, as if that's a valid reason to pursue adoption. The idea of adopting a child in hopes of God having double coupon day and giving me a two-for-one deal is offensive.
3. Maybe it's just not meant to be. So, what you're saying is God or the universe or whatever you believe in doesn't want me to have children? Is there a reason for this or is it random? Am I being punished for something I did in this life or a previous one? And do you really want to have this existential debate here in Starbucks?
4. You can have one of mine. I get that you're just trying to defuse the situation with humor, but to someone who is desperate to have even one child, there is nothing funny about the fact that you have "extras" and can joke about giving one away like a spare ballpoint pen. Especially when you obviously have no intention of making good on the offer. It's like telling a double amputee, "sorry you lost your legs, you can have one of mine, hahahaha"
5. Pretend you're a prostitute. Actual quote from my mother: "just pretend you're a prostitute or one of those 15-year-old girls having sex in a bathroom...think to yourself, 'I hope I don't get pregnant' because that's what they do and they ALWAYS get pregnant." I'm not sure what's more appalling, that my mother told me to act like a whore or that she honestly thinks my uterus will respond to reverse psychology. But thanks for reminding me that many women who are ill-equipped to parent get pregnant without even trying. Sigh.
There's a simple makeover solution for all who would commit these gaffes: accept that you can't fix this for us. You can't make us laugh about it before we're ready. You can't make us understand why it's happening. There's nothing you can say that will help solve the problem, unless you happen to be a fertility professional and can tell us about some groundbreaking new IVF protocol, or serious clinical research that proves eating grapes during the full moon and doing it doggie style significantly improves pregnancy rates - in that case we're all ears and what kind of grapes?
Otherwise, don't say anything. Ask, instead.
Ask how we're doing. Ask how we feel. Ask if we want to talk about it or if there's anything you can do. Listen. Let us know that you care and you're there.
It's basic compassion, the little black dress of the conversational wardrobe, and it never goes out of style.