Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Soapbox Wednesday

When I hear of someone I know and care about being diagnosed with some kind of awful illness, it shames me to admit it, but the very first thing I do is search my memory banks for a behavioral explanation for the illness. ("Well, of course she'd get diabetes--look at her diet! It was only a matter of time.") This is not because I am a complete and total bitch--rather, it is because it is scary to hear about illness striking someone close to us. But for random chance, it could have been us. When we look for a way to blame the victim for her predicament, we mentally distance ourselves from the possibility of a similar fate. I think this is why society, in general, has such a fascination with hearing the stories of how people became infected with the HIV virus (well, this, and also because it often has something to do with sex). It's simply human nature.

Admittedly, this strategy often brings temporary comfort. One problem with it, though, is that blaming the victim for her or his own illness puts terrible stress on sick people, and generally adds to the societal suckiness of being sick.

Another problem with it is that it prevents us from fully accepting disease as an unfortunate part of life. When we ourselves are stricken with some malady, we must undertake an elaborate coping process that often includes extreme anger and denial, at a time when we need our outlook to be as healthy as possible in order to maintain our well-being.

The truth is, people DO get stricken with cancer, diabetes, lupus, Alzheimer's, and countless other maladies through no fault of their own. Even when behaviors associated with the maladies are a factor, none of us have crystal balls that enable us to see a direct link. And, as stated, looking for a connection is a dangerous business to get into, anyway.

Since discussing my fertility struggles with others, I've heard countless opinion statements and pieces of advice. I'm fortunate in that every single one has been well-meaning. None, however, have been appropriate. I've taken them all in stride, and most without anger, because I understand where they're coming from.

And I know exactly where I'm coming from. And exactly why I'm coping with infertility. It's because some people JUST. DO.

It just happens. At random. Often for no reason. Sperm and egg just don't meet up. The same way some people get pregnant immediately, when statistics are against them, some people don't, ever, even when statistics are working in their favor.

So, for the record:

I am a mature, informed, intelligent woman. I am not having sex "the wrong way" (you mean you're *not* supposed to remove the semen from the vagina with a turkey baster and then apply it to your eyelashes with an itty bitty brush while standing on your head and singing "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog?"). I have no conception-impairing diseases (i.e., I am not a "disease-riddled whore," because I guarantee there is at least one reader out there who was wondering). It is not a psychological problem. It is not because I'm not "relaxed," or because I have "mixed feelings" about being a mother (by the way, show me ONE extremely fertile woman who doesn't.)

I may use too many word-embellishment techniques in this post, but...I am not too skinny. I am not too fat. I know how to track my cycles--probably better 99% of the other women in the universe. It is not because I'm too old. It is not because I'm too young. (I'm 29; I started trying when I was 28.) It will not happen simply because I make the decision to adopt (and if it happens at that time, it will be a coincidence). It is not because I eat too much fish, or my bed faces the wrong way, or I wear the wrong kind of underwear, or I had the wrong kind of marriage ceremony, or because of my politics, or because of my dental fillings, or because of past birth control usage, or because I eat too many of the wrong things or too few of the right things.

If I decide to use medications to stimulate my eggs, please don't caution me that I shouldn't because I'll have "too many babies" or I'll "get cancer," based on one anecdotal story about a woman you heard about who died in her forties and "must have" used fertility drugs because she had a multiple birth. I heard of a woman who got punched in the nose because she was a bitch to the wrong person, but you don't hear me cautioning you, do you?

Please, let's get out of the business of second-guessing other people's life choices, shall we? Reasonable minds can differ. Most of us are quite informed. There are many different decisions to be made and not much consensus. If ever there were a time for a cliche, it is here: No one can judge anybody else without walking in his/her shoes.

What, then, is the proper response when someone says to you, "I'm battling [insert malady of choice]?"

"I'm so sorry. That sucks. Would you like me to bring you some dinner?"

12 Comments:

Anonymous Sarah said...

THANK YOU. I know exactly what you mean about this - especially the not relaxing and "it'll happen when you don't have mixed feelings" crap.

The best advice I gave myself: it's going to be ok in the end. And if it's not ok, then it's not the end.

I don't know you well enough to buy you dinner, but I'll totally buy you a beer for this entry. Well done.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Amen Sister!

I haven't dealt with infertility, but I can totally relate to your eloquent description of how our culture deals with serious illness and how we cope psychologically.

My mom and sister died of cancer, my father-in-law of ALS, and my mother-in-law has Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and rheumatoid arthritis. We all want reasons and answers and miracles--but as you said, sometimes life just sucks.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous mamatulip said...

You know, you're right -- in all of the times my family has been in crisis, all I've ever wanted was someone to bring me an already-cooked meal.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

You need to have your own opinion column in a newspaper... No seriously! Preferably a newspaper near me.

P.S. Anyone who thinks any of this is your fault is an imbecile. I'll lend you my supply of sporks.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

Hear, hear!

For some reason, this is an area in which people feel duty-bound to tell you what you're doing wrong, what terrible things *might* happen to you, the horrors of childbirth, or what you should be eating.

I imagine it gets even better once you're pregnant.


As usual, you have put this very eloquently and intelligently. You really should write a primer on this subject!

5:35 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

So well-said!!! And you are so right about our (society as a whole) tendency to look for reasons / fault and then suggest solutions in such circumstances.

It certainly does suck.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Suebob said...

Amen!

I linked to you over at
http://linkateria.blogspot.com/2006/07/good-problem-to-have.html

8:44 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

As usual, you are absolutely, 100% correct!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

You've made me examine the way I process bad news, I'm afraid. But WAAAAA! What if I want to blame my mother-in-law for anything bad that happens in the world? Because I'm sure she's caused at least 28% of all of it. I'm sure.

(Dear, I truly truly wish I could bring a you cooked meal, but first, are you kidding me? It would be like delivering a singing telegram to Annie Lennox and second, I'm afraid it would get cold. And rotten.)

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this excellent post. I find sometimes that although I am sincere in my desire to just be there for someone, whether to talk or help around the house or bring some dinner, that most people act embarassed and no one ever takes me up on my offer. But I'm still going to keep asking.

I don't understand the kind of people who want to tell you what you are doing "wrong". How can they think that is helpful or appreciated? Jerks.

9:17 AM  
Blogger mE said...

The initial point, that of how finding blame/cause helps us feel more in control of our desitinies, is an important one.

It helps to explain why you DON'T want many women in your jury if you are a woman who is bringing a rape/assault case to trial. Contrary to what most people would think, women tend to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator - because if the victim did something to bring the assault on herself, then we can go on with our lives comfortably, feeling safe as long as *we* don't wear a form-fitting sweater and drink red wine on *our* dates...

Q: If we deliberately forget the words to 'Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog', does that amount to birth control?

12:19 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Excellent post. You reached right into the heart of the human condition with this one.

11:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home