things you’d rather not hear

As an infertile, there are many things I have a hard time dealing with in social settings — e.g., pregnancy announcements, baby showers, blessings and birthdays, being the only childless couple in the room, listening to endless baby talk and strangers in public places going on and on about their children, co-workers and colleagues showing off their new babies and complaining about daycare, and so on.

As someone who has lost her only child and chance for a bioIogical connection to children, the list keeps going. Knowing our future child won’t share common traits in our family tree — e.g., the deep greenish-hazel eyes on my side or the generous smile from M’s — and could grow up feeling an added sense of loss of his/her own heritage, adds to the list of things that can upset me when I see other growing families. 

Infertility and loss has served as a wedge between me and the rest of the world. That’s just the way it is. 

Sometimes I’m able to avoid these situations or feelings, sometimes not. I’m usually able to deal without losing it, but not always. Many people generally seem oblivious to the impact these things have on me. Some are sensitive, but don’t know what to say or do, which can be awkward. Some are secretive and exclusive in a misguided attempt to “protect” me from the reality that they have children and I do not. 

Over time, I’ve gotten better about dealing with these things in public. But I’m only human. Life goes on, with or without me and my infertile self. While there is some distance between us and certain friends, and some family members have grown somewhat out of favor due to the stupid things they have said or done, I know I cannot shield myself forever. Expectant mothers have their babies, children grow up, and endless issues still arise that can sting the childless infertile. 

Infertility is a part of me. But at some point, I must reemerge and reclaim my life, with or without children.

Recently, as I’ve said, we’ve begun to reach out and reconnect with people, especially those who have shown us kindness. I’ve always tried to maintain a connection with family. Even when it was painful to hear about yet another pregnancy, I have always greeted the babies with genuine joy and delight. This duality has been a persistent theme, and sometimes it does interfere with my ability to deal with the parents. 

Well, right now is one of those times. I’m trying to find ways to deal with a situation I’d have otherwise ignored before. I’m trying to articulate a civil response to an email by a family member who is trying, in her own way, to reach out. 

A relatively new cousin (by marriage to my closest cousin) recently sent a very long email after a few of months without contact. It was partly an attempt to reconnect, to update me on the development of their 8 month old baby girl and their summer travels, which happened to include visits with several babies and new parents. 

She explained how they’ve finally overcome the early challenges — with feeding, sleep and work — and she was now (finally) able to delight in being a mother. She described the recent satisfaction of helping her new mom friends through similarly rough early patches with their newborns. She wrote at length about how joyful it was to see her daughter play with other babies and children. 

What I found especially bizarre was that after all of that, she added a “disclaimer” saying I might want to stop reading there if hearing about other people’s kids was “boring,” before describing some of the cute new things my baby cousin is now doing.

What? Can you say unclear on the concept?

First, the disclaimer should have gone at the beginning, since practically the entire email until that point was all about things I didn’t really need to hear. Second, “boring” is not the word I’d use to describe how it makes me feel to hear those things. Finally and most significantly, of all the things she wrote about, I was most interested in hearing about my baby cousin, since I haven’t seen her in two months.

Certainly I’d rather hear about the baby than about her pregnant friends and their fussy newborns, or her sore nipples, or how she feels so “tethered” to the baby with her feeding schedule, or how she is finally now able to feel the awesome love for her daughter and (finally) delight in the “glow” of motherhood, since the first few months were so challenging.

Hey, I can only imagine how difficult it is being a new mom. And I can honestly say she didn’t mean this to be hurtful. She’s just completely self-absorbed and oblivious to the effect of her words. I seriously think she was just trying to reach out. 

Yet I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know how to even respond without going off. I didn’t want to respond. But I had to. I couldn’t engage. I had to keep it civil. It took me nearly a week to craft some words that would not be offensive. I didn’t want to push my cousin further away, as our lives have already done that for us. Did I mention this was an “oops” pregnancy? Not that it matters. I’m just saying.

I basically thanked her for the message and told her that while it can be difficult for me to hear about some things after so much struggle and loss, hearing about my baby cousin is not one of those things. I kept it simple, didn’t spell it out. 

She explained that she doesn’t know what kinds of things are hard to hear and what may be hurtful, and that it would be helpful to know what the lines are for the things to share, since she wants to include me but make an effort to be more sensitive (that last part is my words). 

I was actually somewhat touched by her effort here. But there are some things that you just can’t say. Some things you just can’t tell someone and expect that they will remain in your life in any meaningful way. Knowing that I can’t avoid her and need to maintain civility, how would you respond?

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~ by luna on August 19, 2008.

24 Responses to “things you’d rather not hear”

  1. Luna, she’s asking for you to tell her what the lines are and what is hard to hear. I say: TELL HER. I completely understand your hesitance to be open and honest, but she is asking, right? We infertiles are always trying to stay out of everyone’s way, keep quiet, be the understanding ones. We hold so much hurt inside while we listen to a steady stream of gushing parents. I am tired of it, personally. If they can be free to speak endlessly about the joys and difficulties of parenthood … why can’t we be open about the joys and difficulties of our lives? And the only way anyone is going to treat us with the respect we deserve is if we ask for it. But see … I’m kind of on my soap box these days 😉

    No matter what you decide to do, I hope she means it when she says she wants to make more of an effort. I think if both extremes of the fertile world can reach out with empathy for each other the world will be a better place. Being a mom looks *very hard* to me. Not unlike my experience of being infertile has been *very hard* for me. Just gotta get people to look at both sides of the coin!

  2. I agree with Irish Girl. She’s asking, so tell her. Many times as infertiles, we feel like people aren’t listening. They miss the subtle hints and even the obvious statements. What makes the difference is whether or not these people are ready to listen. It sounds like she’s at least open, so you have a chance to get through to her. What she does with it after that is up to her, but at least you have an open gateway there.

    If I were in your shoes, I’d tell her that I loved hearing about her daughter and would back it up with what you said about staying close to and connected with family being important to you. Then I’d go on to say that hearing about everyone elses’ pregnancies and babies is what is too much.

    As far as her statements about only “now” enjoying motherhood – I think I might let those slide. She said she’s past that phase now so I would hope that there wouldn’t be anymore talk of that.

    If it continued, I think I’d come out and just punch her – figuratively, that is – “You know what’s worse, not having your baby here to enjoy *at all*. I understand that motherhood comes with many challenges, but it’s hard for me to hear about it when you say things like you’re only ‘now’ just enjoying motherhood. At least your baby is here to enjoy.” Sometimes it takes a little shock and awe for people to get it.

    If after that she still continued to blather on about how hard it was be a mom, I’d punch her. Literally. *wink*

  3. To be frank, I wouldn’t be able to deal with that email at all. It would just make me very angry, and I wouldn’t be able to write back for ages, if at all. I think you handled it very well. If you feel the need to say more, you explained your feelings so eloquently in your post, perhaps you could share some of that with her?

  4. Luna, every word of your post rang so true for me. I agree with the others. Since she asked — tell her. Nicely, of course ; ) (not that I’d expect anything else from you!). You’re interested in the baby & how and what she’d doing. Not so interested in her feelings (good or bad) about motherhood, or stories about her other mommy friends & their kids, because it’s just too hard for you to hear.

    I agree with Kymberli, though — if, after you spell it out, she continues to say really dumb things, feel free to be more blunt!

  5. She asked. Tell her. Tell her that you need to hear about your cousin, but that the information is joy tempered with sorrow. Tell her if pictures are ok, if stories about other children are ok. Say “this is great, and right now, and maybe always, this is painful”.

    And probably most importantly, if you can, after the hurt of the first email, thank her for trying to support you and be kind. Oh, would that our friends would have done this.

  6. I just don’t know how I would respond. She is obviously trying, but so do fleas try to jump on my kitty. Meaning, I’m not sure that every attempt at developing a relationship this way needs to be reciprocated. It is not your job to educate someone on the “right” things to say. If you want to try and respond, maybe you could send her the post from glow in the woods on how to be a friend to a babylost mama–it’s not about infertility, but close. (But don’t send her to the site–you have to keep that for yourself). On the other hand, just because you are getting ready to adopt does not mean that you need to suddenly be close to all of your relatives. You could just let this fly, not respond–b/c really–what is there to say, at least in an email? Let her do some homework. I think if it were me, I would say:
    Thank you for your response. I understand you are trying to reach out and I appreciate that. However, it is impossible for me to draw lines about things that are appropriate and inappropriate. This has been a long struggle for me and we have done as much as we can to stay positive and look to the future. If you are really curious about how to respond to someone who has experienced infertility and babyloss, I am sure there are many resources out there for you. On the other hand, you could always try and imagine what it would feel like to walk in my shoes and then use common sense regarding what the “right” thing to say is. As we move forward on our journey and as you spend more time in our family, I am sure we will get to know each other better and this period will be a distant memory. In the mean time, I’m sorry I can’t bring myself to answer your questions more clearly, but I appreciate the effort you are making.

  7. God, Luna, she’s pretty clueless, I have to say. Well-intentioned sure, but she really has no idea, does she? How many of the innocents do though?

    The “boring” thing struck a nerve with me. It’s as though she believed you to be childless by choice and bored with all things baby, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    What can you do except to be honest with her. I think things like this are best done over the phone, though, when you can hear a person’s voice and tone and the meaning doesn’t get lost as it is apt to do in email conversations.

  8. You could write her a letter. Tell her how wonderful it was last night to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Tell her how your laundry is well under control, and that you won’t have to even THINK about doing a load until Saturday. Tell her that your entire day belongs to you, and that you can read a book, take yourself to a movie, or plan a long weekend of amour on the coast with your husband. Elaborate on how perfect things feel for you at this moment because you pretty much get to decide everything, without any distractions — ooooh, the peace and quiet — based on exactly what YOU want. REALLLLLLLY dwell on the fact that you are sleeping well. How good your sheets feel. How you can go to bed whenever you want and wake up whenever your body feels refreshed.

    (It may be an overstatement, but then again, she’s probably made some, too.)

    Ask her how it feels to read this letter.

    Remind her that it doesn’t feel good to have the one thing you crave, the one thing that is out of your grasp, to have that one thing paraded in front of you.

    And that you’re very happy for her ;-). Ha!

  9. I too agree with the others. In fact, I wish I could have expressed it as eloquently as Irish Girl! All too often we infertiles sit quietly while the fertile folk bend our ears about the trials and tribulations of parenthood. We never confess that we find such conversations difficult. Your cousin is trying, however clumsily, to reach out to you, to clarify what you can and cannot bear to hear.

    If I were in this situation, I think that I would explain that I love hearing about the newest member of the family, that I am pleased that she has found a supportive circle of friends with whom she can share the experience of being a new mother, but that I do not necessarily want to hear about the pregnancies/sore nipples of a load of women whom I’ve never met.

    …but I’m sure that you will find a way to respond with your usual tact and sensitivity. Perhaps this would also be a chance to share your own decision to adopt with your cousin?

  10. Damn, Lori’s playing hardball! I think there are lots of excellent suggestions above, but for me, I’d want to have an actual spoken conversation with her, over the phone. It’s really hard to explain feelings in typed words to someone who doesn’t quite grasp the crux of the issue: Your loss, your ongoing grief for the child and future that wasn’t, your courage in moving forward and fending off the pain that comes from rubbing up against the clueless and the careless. I’d want her to hear it in my voice, in hopes that something besides mere words would reach her heart and make things clearer.

  11. I agree, if she asked tell her. Or, do what I did when a friend asked me something similiar: Oh, say whatever you want, I will just filter out what I don’t want to hear. Weird, I haven’t heard from that friend since?

    Bored?
    FFS, even a self absorbed person can use a better phrase.

  12. Luna, I would have been very hurt and angry by her first email. But, since she has opened the door, I would take this as an opportunity to “educate” someone that will be in your life for a long time. You had a very poignant post, a long time back, about all the loss that infertility brings. I think the powerful thing about that post was how truly “big” the small things are (ie: like never being able to tell your husband you are pregnant). Maybe by sending her a copy of that post, she would start to understand just how wide and how deep the pain and loss goes. Good luck!

  13. My first reaction was Is she daft?! Does she really not get what part you can’t deal with? Come on Luna, your closest cousin must have told her your history with the whole ttc bit.
    Sorry, I’m not buying this.

    I’m with Lori and Kymberli on how to respond. But its easier said than done. To be honest even before we tried to conceive, my mind would just wander off when new moms went on and on about their babies. That’s why I LOVED your Monday haiku so much. It only gets tougher when you go through fertility treatments etc. I also think because of the sleep deprived “mommy brain” they miss hints like lack of responses or interest.

    (end of rant)

  14. thanks to everyone for your comments — I had to respond…

    irish girl: you’re so right. we keep quiet to avoid the discomfort of others, so as not to detract from their joy even.

    kym: you’re suggestions are so right on. thank you.

    loribeth: you too, right on.

    ladybits: my reaction to the first email was confusion then anger, you’re right. but the post was for me.

    debbie: you’re right too. you picked up on how everything is so one-sided with her. thanks for your suggestion too.

    c: yep, clueless. I agree the “boring” comment was so misplaced — it’s what angered me most.

    c and shinejil: you are both better people than I to say it in person or by phone. I’m better in writing, but you’re right it can’t possibly convey it all.

    lori: I just LOVE your suggestion. so did M. seriously, thank you.

    ms. heathen: thanks, yes. oh, and it was HER nipples , along with other women’s issues. and yes, I’ve already shared our decision with my cousin who was thrilled, and his wife, whose joy seemed a little over the top…

    g: my filter (if I ever had one) is broken!

    moosette: wish I could remember that post!

    gigi: thank you, thank you. it’s hard to believe such an intelligent woman could be so daft. insensitive yes, but not dumb.

  15. I am going to agree with some of the other posters . . . TELL HER. I kinda salute her attempt to even inquire what as to what you would like to hear and what not to hear. Many people are too insensitive to do even this.

    I have a good friend who was pregnant throughout the majority of our 3rd loss, and during our adoption paperchase. It actually was kind of helpful to our relationship that she told me how scared she was about childbirth, how her mother-in-law grated her nerves, how the baby would not stop crying, how much she thought she was being a bad mom when she had to to back to work — that she shared her fears and insecurities with me, and said “There’s no one else I can tell this stuff to” made me feel special and not pissed/angry/jealous. She wrote one our adoption recommoendation letters, too.

    I guess what I am saying that this woman is trying, so maybe use this opportunity to explore where you go from here, and aks her to be patient with you as you forge this path?

    (You still have us to bitch, moan, complain, and cry with).

    Some days I can handle certain things better than others – but even now, having our little girl home with us, doesn’t mean that I haven’t still been “grr-ing” when I see the Fertile Myrtles of the world!!!

  16. I guess I’m with the minority here, but it could just be the week I’m having: I’m really fucking sick and tired of being the ambassador. I know she says “she really wants to know,” but PUHLEASE. Telling someone she knows lost a child and suffers from infertility the details of breastfeeding? Is she kidding me? She’s not sounding completely sincere to me. (This could totally be me.)

    I guess if I were to tell her, I’d tell her straight up: tell her exactly what hurts and why even if the list is really, really long. I wouldn’t hold things back for the next go-round — I’d remind her that you’ve dealt with leaky, aching breasts too, thank you very much, and pardon you, but you’d rather not hear about that end of it.

    I’m sure you can make that all sound a lot nicer than I just did, right?

  17. I have a similar situation with an old friend of mine who keeps trying to be in touch with me but doesn’t know how to really talk to me, knowing my fertility situation. She really fucked up when she told me about her pregnancy last year during my ectopic and I told her straight and clear how I felt about how fucked up she handled it. It shut her up through her pregnancy and afterwards and now I see her fumbling to connect with me, which half irritates me and half makes me feel bad for her. She has never experienced loss in any significant way (it still amazes me that people like this exist) and so she just is so clued out. I don’t know whether to envy her or feel sorry for how narrow that part of her is.

    So if she had sent a recent email going on and on about her baby with some dumb ass disclaimer after the fact, it would be nearly impossible for me not to explode and say some things to her. People like her want to be sensitive but then their whole life is their child/children so they can’t really think with the same perspective. It’s such a hard and sometimes unresolved frustration with certain friends. I think it is good to communicate your hurt and possibly educate, but I think it really depends on the person how good they are about actually following through with changing their behavior. I know my friend, despite “feeling bad” for me, will never have a clue and is emotionally incapable of confronting messy bad things, but I am hoping your cousin takes it in and actually tries better next time.

  18. Personally, I’m just so completely annoyed that any of us have to educate anyone else about where the lines are. The internet is there — let them research it themselves! Point them to a few infertility blogs, or one of those lists of things that people should never say to an infertile — there are plenty out there. I know I sound cranky (can you tell I haven’t had my dinner yet?) but honestly, educating folks about what this is like is just one more unpleasant task that it’s unfair we should have to deal with.

    But that’s just me. If you want to build the relationship and if you have the energy, then by all means, educate the heck out of her!

  19. I love this, it just keeps coming in…

    ms, j: nice to have a friend where you can both support each other. unfortunately this woman is just all about her. yes, she’s making an effort though.

    tash: I had the same response. and no, there’s no way to make that sound nice, nowhere for that conversation to go except silence. which would be fine with me if we weren’t related.

    tabi: I have friends like that too, who needless to say are not really friends anymore. I just can’t deal with them. tired of all the awkward fumbling, the holding my tongue, the whole conversation being about their kids. all of it.

    rebeccah: you’re right it’s so unfair that we should have this burden too. I don’t really have the energy for her, but I do have the incentive to somehow find a way to be civil.

  20. […] Thank you all for the insightful feedback and affirmation. I actually replied in the comments to the interesting perspectives […]

  21. Hi Luna,

    I’m new to reading your blog, but your words so reflect my own thoughts. For instance, this woman who just has absolutely no clue-I’ve met her a million times over. It is something so many of us who were not lucky enough to stumble upon babies accidentally get. I hope she finds a way to either hear where the lines are (should you choose to draw them out for her) or just keep it shut. So frustrating…hang in there!

  22. i give her heaps of credit because she did ask the right questions toward the end. yet i still have an overwhelming urge to choke her. kidding. (maybe) i give her credit because she did at least have the right intentions and we are not often given the opportunity to educate someone that has an ear tuned to receiving some enlightment. if i were you i would thank her profusely for caring and asking what are the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things to say or do. i would tell her that all the details hurt, yet the only details that bring you pain AND joy are those detailing the development of the baby – specifically her baby. (who the hell needs to read a million and one details on someone else’s baby?). remind her that although she has a right to say that the immediate newborn phase is a difficult adjustment for a new mom, it is still one you would kill for.

  23. My jaw dropped at the “boring” description. I often tell people that we appreciate our daughter more than most people. Some fertile’s take offense to that and maybe it isn’t kind of me – I suppose it is like saying, “You would understand if you had kids.” – but I do it anyway. I think your friend is a case in point. If she had to work as hard as you continue to work – she wouldn’t have waited even one minute to enjoy motherhood.

  24. […] how it felt to stand in their full house as the only childless woman in the room. This is a woman so clueless about how to be a compassionate friend to another woman struggling with loss that she had to be […]

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