Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Prying Medical Questions October 15, 2012

I visited a family member in the hospital last week and overheard an orderly asking an elderly patient if she’d had a bowel movement that day.

“Mind your own god#@m business,” said the patient.

The orderly persisted. “The nurse needs to know.”

“Well tell her to go scr%# herself,” yelled the patient.

“I’ll tell her that.”

This scenario would be funnier if it wasn’t so sad, and I empathized with the woman not wishing to divulge such personal information. It reminded me of my own dreaded visits to the doctor/dentist/chiropractor when the doctor/nurse/medical assistant would glance at my chart and then fire off the list of questions:

Are you pregnant?

Do you have children?

Have you ever been pregnant?

Are you taking birth control?

For most women, these are routine questions, no more prying than “Do you smoke?” or “How many days do you exercise?” But for many of us, we dread this personal snooping.

These questions can poke at our most tender emotions and shower us with feelings of shame, regret, or just plain sadness.  It’s even worse if the person is actually listening (rather than just checking boxes) and pieces together a combination of responses that doesn’t add up in their normal view of the world. I’ve experienced that pause, while the information sinks in, and I’ve even been asked follow-up questions like “Are you trying?” Which leads to a long and uncomfortable explanation of why I’m not.

I used to dread these visits, but they’ve become easier over time. I’m ready for them. I know they’re going to be asked and I am now at the point where I can answer without too much emotion. I’m also always ready to deal with questions that go beyond the scope of my visit.

I usually say, “We tried and it didn’t work out, and that’s ok.” And I’m ready to answer the follow-up question about whether we considered adoption. My answer is always pretty pointed, something like, “Believe me, we considered everything.” If a line of questioning continues, I keep my responses short and, if the person still doesn’t get the hint, I say, “I’d really prefer not to talk about this right now.” Directing the conversation back to the actual reason for the visit is also a technique that’s been recommended.

So, how do you deal with those doctor appointments? At what point does medical fact-checking cross into “mind your own business” nosiness? Have you even neglected regular check-ups to avoid these questions? How do you manage this often-difficult situation?

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6 Responses to “Prying Medical Questions”

  1. Klara Says:

    I agree… it does get easier as years go by.

  2. Jenn Says:

    I hate getting those questions at the dr, the nurses always seem to not read my chart before asking. Last time I went the nurse browsed the chart and saw I had twins but didn’t continue reading that I lost them so it was like a knife to the heart when she said oh you have two kids.

  3. Maria Says:

    I was diagnosed with infertility 10 years ago. Back then, those questions were incredibly painful. Now, I am able to answer them without getting hurt and either shut people down, or make them laugh. Recently, someone asked if I had kids, and I said, no I don’t. They responded, me either that ship has sailed for me. I said, that ship has sunk for me. And we both laughed. But it definately takes time to get there.

  4. Rose Says:

    I can’t believe that medical staff actually ask whether you considered adoption or not?? Did I understand that right…
    Jenn that’s awful, that nurse was an idiot.
    Regarding the more usual questions like have you ever been pregnant/could you be pregnant (when having an x-ray or whatever): I realise these are a valid part of a medical visit and they don’t upset me. Two years on from stopping treatment, this just doesn’t bother me anymore. It passed. I never feel that I have to explain that I did try to have children, or go into any detail. I used to feel something like a need to explain myself, for a while, but it went away.
    Flippant comments from people at work bother me more. Such as the recent gem “have a baby!” when I was complaining I needed a career break, or the ever-predictable “you’re not pregnant, are you?” if I feel off; or the sulky “I think I’ll just get pregnant again” from the office-mate who’s sick of her job; or the constant fixation (usually amongst the mothers-with-grown-up-kids set) about who’s pregnant, who’s trying, who’s looking peaky so must be up the duff (age never seems to be a factor, they say it about everyone) …..
    These cretinous work comments annoy me more than the medical staff who are just asking routine questions, although I must say that this too passes, and it definitely doesn’t bother me like it did two years ago. I tend to chuckle and just feel a bit disdainful. So I hope people can rest assured that for most people, the ultra-sensitivity does pass.

  5. briannaasaro Says:

    Just found your blog today and I’m really glad I did. I, too, and struggling with infertility, and I’m working on being really positive about it! But oh my word… the QUESTIONS!

  6. Gail K Says:

    I just found your blog and it is refreshing and wonderful. Thanks for writing!

    I also stumbled across this post and just had to share my recent experience. I went to my new gynecologist last week for my yearly exam. I left the other practice where I had done the majority of my infertility treatments because I just couldn’t go back there any more. To save my sanity, I needed a change and I just couldn’t walk in there and look at the same things and tons of pregnant bellies again after everything I’d been through. Plus, the office staff at his office were horrible to anyone that was not pregnant or who had not given birth. Everyone else was considered a second (or third) class citizen and only the pregnant people got preferential treatment. There were a number of times that I went there for mid-cycle monitoring or a trigger shot that had to be given on an exact date and I was told that the doctor was on call and was doing a C section or delivering a baby and that I could wait 2 hours or reschedule. I questioned why he was scheduling patients who needed to see him on a specific date (like me) on days when he was on call, but the office staff never got it and there were many times that I left there in tears over the way I was treated.

    Anyway, the new doctor was a refreshing change, but I still had to deal with the same old questions. I was asked what kind of birth control I was using and I told him “none” since I was infertile. Then I clarified and said, “biologic birth control” and we laughed about it. We discussed my infertility journey and he never once questioned my choice of giving up or the diagnosis of unexplained infertility. He even said that I only had to come every other year for my exam from now on because I’ve never had an abnormal pap smear or any other problems (outside of the infertility). I asked him at what age I needed to be concerned about preventing a pregnancy since I was never diagnosed with a reason why I couldn’t get pregnant and he said that there is still a 5% chance that I could get pregnant on my own although DH and I are figuring that the odds are close to 0.5% given the time and efforts that we’ve spent trying without even a slight sign of success. He said that since it didn’t sound like an unplanned pregnancy would be a bad thing, he told me that we could continue our lives without birth control for another 10 years (until I’m 45) as long as I don’t start smoking or gain 30+ pounds. At 45, he said that the risks of a pregnancy were higher for both the mother and baby and he would recommend either using birth control at that point or making a permanent fix to be safe. I mentioned to him that we were considering adoption and he answered that it is not an easy path, but didn’t go into specifics and I didn’t ask, but I already knew that.


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