Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dear Infertile Friend (You'll Never Believe What My Kid Did!)

So I'm sitting at my desk on Friday, minding my business and writing remarks for our upcoming fundraising dinner, when my little Outlook window shows I have a new message. One look at the subject and the bottom falls out of my stomach. It's just one word, the name of the daughter of a friend of mine (let's call her Kylie). Though every instinct tells me to ignore it -- even delete it, send it to a cyberspace black hole filed under "emails about children insensitively sent to infertile people" -- I open it. It's a story, sent to about five friends of this friend including me, about Kylie. I will spare you the details (I already shared them with two IF friends and subsequently felt huge guilt for subjecting them to it -- I should not spread the suffering around on this one), but generally, it's a saccharine story involving Kylie and her discovery of the moon the evening before.

I had several thoughts at once. First, I will give my friend the benefit of the doubt. Though I distinctly recall a get-together with another friend in which I alluded to there being "challenges" in my reproductive department (And honestly, I have been married for eight years. Eight years! She has known me since junior high and knows I love children. Is sensing that I am infertile such a leap? Maybe I should wear a button or a t-shirt.), I have never had a frank discussion with her about what I'm going through. Though I would love the comfort of confiding in her, her mother is known as our hometown's gossip and the risk that it could slip out and get to her (and the loss of control over my story that would ensue) is not worth the reward. So I will assume that it never occurred to her that it could hurt me, her friend who is scared senseless about going through her first IVF cycle.

Still, why would I get this email at all? Having never been pregnant, I have never even come close to being inducted into "the club," so maybe someone can explain it to me. What happens to you where you think this kind of story will be appreciated by others who do not answer when this child says "mommy?" What makes you think it will be entertaining for them?

Playing devil's advocate, I can hear critics of this post say that I am cold, that we're talking about a child, that it's human nature to find children adorable and entertaining. And I say that is BS. Do I find it awe-inspiring that my friends have these kids who are walking and talking little versions of them? Absolutely. Am I so happy for them and the family lives they've been able to create? You betcha. Am I going to find every excruciating detail of said family lives interesting? Not any more than they would find a play-by-play of my 2 p.m. meeting interesting. But somehow, when you're talking about a child, it makes it okay to tell these stories, even to those who might be hurt by them. The implication seems to be that we should just grin and bear it. That to protest is to seem like a kind of misanthrope, a cold-hearted grinch.

There are baby and pregnancy references everywhere -- ours is a baby-obsessed culture. You can do your best to shield yourself from them, but short of never watching TV, reading a magazine or book, or going to the mall (Can somebody tell me how many more fancy baby clothes stores this planet needs?), you can't hide completely from them. But when it comes to your friends, don't you have the right to expect that they'll spare you the kind of cyber hand grenade that was the email I got on Friday?

I'm tired of trying to be brave, of swallowing the tears. Tired of bearing the burden. Part of me wants to play the infertile card, to tell these friends that I'm going through it and ask that they leave me off these emails (The snarky side of me wants to email back one word: "Unsubscribe."). But I am still fiercely protective of my story, and the vulnerability I know I will feel after delivering such a response always keeps me from hitting send. And I guess there is some self-critical part of me that thinks it's a little selfish to ask them not to talk about their kids while I don't have them -- will it be okay for them to do so when I do? If I don't have a summer home, is it not okay for my friend to talk about her beach house?

The fact is, I do have friends with kids who talk about them in a way that does not stir this kind of angst (I can think of a few who read this blog, and it's important to me that they know this is not a blanket criticism of any friend of mine ever uttering a word about their offspring). I don't know if it's their general sensitivity to my condition, their restraint when it comes to the frequency of these comments, or the way in which they communicate these details (no "e-bombs," and often a question first about whether I am in a mood to hear them), but the combined effect is that it is okay -- in fact, it gives me hope that someday I will be sitting in their shoes, listening to some child of mine yammer on about what the opposite of "raining cats and dogs" is. But I promise, if and when that day comes, I will not share whatever cute thing s/he says with you unless I sense that you really, really want to know.

(How do you handle babygrams from friends?)


R.E.S. said...

Kid stories fall under the category of "thing you're dying to share but know are really only interesting to you and not fair to subject others to." I think in the middle of the day, you should IM your friend about the mind blowing thing your husband did in bed the other night. Seriously. (p.s. Ugh, how insensitive. Sometimes - often - this society amazes me. Not in a good way.)

kirke said...

I'm one of those people who can't be pleased. When people share their cute baby stories with me, I get upset about their insensitivity. However, when they don't tell me anything, I get upset, again, because I think they are pitying me. I'm a hard one to please.

I truly admire your ability to protect your experience and keep it private. I always end up saying too much to people and then regretting it.

Missing Her said...

I have a "friend" who insists on sending me pictures of her child. Such as his first birthday, even after I gracefully excused myself from going, and told her why (hello! Too hard after the loss of your child). So, she was so nice as to send me the pictures so I didn't miss a thing. Bitch.

Anonymous said...

This is such a tough one. Like you said, I think it all comes down to sensitivity. That is the difference between me hearing a story and being totally ok with it and feeling angry and vulnerable. I tend to think that things shared via email should only go to those for whom you are CERTAIN it is ok. I guess there also needs to be more awareness- the way we are working, as a culture, to have more awareness about race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability- about infertility.