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?

 

Whiny Wednesday: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality August 8, 2012

This post was originally published on November 30, 2011.

I’ve had  a bad back for a couple of weeks now, so I went to a new doctor for the first time. Here’s the conversation we had (roughly) and keep in mind I went in for a bad back:

Dr: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Are you married?

Me: (in my head) What the hell does this have to do with anything?)

Me: (out loud) Yes.

Dr: (moments later) Have you had kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Any pregnancies?

Me: No.

I considered explaining my situation, but the guy’s a chiropractor for God’s sake and he has my file right there, so I let it go. A few minutes later I’m standing with my pants around my ankles getting a back x-ray.

X-ray Tech: Are you pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: Is there any chance you could be pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: When was your last period?

Me: (gives her the date)

Short pause while she does the math.

X-ray Tech: Ok, I’m going to hang a plate in front of you to protect your ovaries.

Me: (in my mind) Don’t waste your time; they’re already fried.)

Me: (out loud) OK.

So, maybe I was a surly patient. I chalk it up to my bad back. But sometimes I don’t feel like explaining why I don’t have children, not even to my doctor.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’m cranky about doctors; what’s under your skin this week?

 

Measuring Progress Via the OB/GYN June 4, 2012

Mud Dancer Wearing a Mask ca. 1990s Solomon Islands, Melanesia, courtesy MS Images

Reader Katy contacted me recently about the overwhelming experience of visiting her OB/GYN and being inundated by all those pregnant bellies. I’m sure many of us here can sympathize with her.

I got to thinking back about my own experience with those dreaded visits and was interested to see how they ultimately provided a measure for my progress.

When I was trying desperately to get pregnant, I remember looking at all those pregnant bellies and baby pictures posted on my doctor’s wall. I’d fantasize about making my first pre-natal appointment and glowing proudly in the waiting room. Then I’d imagine my baby’s picture up on the wall of fame.

As I continued on my journey and it became apparent that pregnancy wasn’t going to come easily for me, those annual visits became harder. My eyes would turn longingly to the bellies and the babies, but at the same time, I wanted to look away. I couldn’t bear to see what I didn’t have and didn’t know if I’d ever have. It was just too painful.

It didn’t get any easier after we made the decision to stop our quest for a family. I think that first visit after we stopped was the hardest of all, as I had to look at the mommy pictures and try to reconcile the idea that I would never join their ranks. To make matters worse, the Nurse Practitioner, a woman I’d been seeing for my annual exam for years, came in with my chart and started asking the usual slew of questions.

“You’ve never been pregnant?”

“No.”

“Are you using birth control?”

“No.”

“Are you trying to get pregnant?”

[Pause] “Not any more.”

There was another longer pause as she tried to piece all this together, so I saved her the trouble and explained our situation and that we’d decided to move on. She went on to tell me about a friend of hers who was 46 and had just had her first child via egg donation. I remember mumbling that it wasn’t for us and hurrying the conversation along to the real reason I was there.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until much later, when I was replaying the horrible scene over in my mind for about the hundredth time that I realized she wasn’t telling me the story from an “It’s a miracle and it could happen to you, too,” point-of-view. There was lot more to her friend’s story than I’d given her the chance to tell me, and she was in fact showing her support for my decision to draw a line in the sand. In hindsight, I wish I’d been in a place emotionally to have a conversation with her about her friend, as an understanding ally was exactly what I needed at that time.

At my last appointment earlier this year, I found myself studying all the birth announcement photos more carefully. I formed opinions about people’s choices of baby names, looked for families I recognized (and found one), and fabricated histories for those I didn’t know. I did this without sadness or envy or remorse.

Looking at those pictures was almost like browsing the pages of National Geographic and seeing photos of some fascinating tribe who had this strange ritual called “reproduction.” I felt that I was not of their tribe. I didn’t feel superior or inferior, not less than or more fortunate than, just different. I’m from another tribe. I will never be like them, and just as similarly, they will never be like me.

Coming to terms with being childfree takes time and some days you may feel as if you’re making no progress at all, but sometimes the thing that can be the hardest to face can turn out to be the thing by which you’re finally able to measure just how far you’ve come.

 

Whiny Wednesday: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality November 30, 2011

I’ve had  a bad back for a couple of weeks now, so I went to a new doctor for the first time. Here’s the conversation we had (roughly) and keep in mind I went in for a bad back:

Dr: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Are you married?

Me: (in my head) What the hell does this have to do with anything?)

Me: (out loud) Yes.

Dr: (moments later) Have you had kids?

Me: No.

Dr: Any pregnancies?

Me: No.

I considered explaining my situation, but the guy’s a chiropractor for God’s sake and he has my file right there, so I let it go. A few minutes later I’m standing with my pants around my ankles getting a back x-ray.

X-ray Tech: Are you pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: Is there any chance you could be pregnant?

Me: No.

X-ray Tech: When was your last period?

Me: (gives her the date)

Short pause while she does the math.

X-ray Tech: Ok, I’m going to hang a plate in front of you to protect your ovaries.

Me: (in my mind) Don’t waste your time; they’re already fried.)

Me: (out loud) OK.

So, maybe I was a surly patient. I chalk it up to my bad back. But sometimes I don’t feel like explaining why I don’t have children, not even to my doctor.

It’s Whiny Wednesday. I’m cranky about doctors; what’s under your skin this week?

 

Last night I had the strangest dream… September 15, 2011

Last night I dreamed I went to a fertility doctor for “once last try.” I’m not really sure what kind of procedure I opted for, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. The doctor was convinced otherwise. Based on listening to my abdomen in the middle of the medical building lobby, he told me–and a woman I knew, who happened to be walking by–that I was pregnant. I knew I was not, and a nurse did tests shortly after to confirm it. Another friend, who has recently become a first-time mother, asked if I was going to try again next month. I told her I was not, because “just one more try” never stops.

And then I woke up feeling horrible.

It wasn’t the content of the dream that bothered me, because I know it was just my sub-conscious cleaning out the junk, but the emotions that I felt during the dream and after I woke up, were all too familiar: hope, with that underlying dull feeling of, not exactly of despair, but despondency. That inner knowledge that things just aren’t going to work out in my favor.

Most of the time I don’t dwell on my experience of dealing with infertility, but all that experience and the related emotions are permanently lodged in my subconscious, and every now and then it seems they’re going to bubble to the surface. Lucky me.