Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On not discounting first person expertise

I’m not sure how, but I’ve somehow gotten myself onto a few pregnancy and infertility-related listservs. The worst are the baby ones—the ones that serve as a weekly or monthly reminder of all of the stages of child development I’m missing. There’s nothing worse that popping open your email, looking for a few reassuring comments from your bloggy buddies and being met with: “Signs your baby is teething” or “Is your baby ready for solid food?”


I’ve tried to unsubscribe to these, but I still get them. I’ve given up and now just try to delete them before looking at a single word on the page.

One of the least offensive lists I’ve somehow made it onto, though, is the AFA (American Fertility Association) weekly email blast. While it’s not a page-turning read, at least it’s an email ostensibly written for an infertile audience (and therefore ostensibly sensitive to what we are going through). I have to say, though, at best it’s bland an uninformative, at worst, frustrating.

Take today’s blast email—“But no pressure: Are you too stressed to conceive?”—as exhibit A.

Ordinarily, my first reaction would be to roll my eyes and delete the email (or attempt again to unsubscribe to it). But, given the source and the timing (I’ve just returned from my stress-free weekend at the beach), I thought this would be worth a second look. I thought, perhaps there will be articles or links to interesting studies that looked at the impact stress has on IF couples, or the impact stress-relief has on their ability to conceive?

Unfortunately, not only did I not find any helpful data or studies, what I did find just frustrated me.

First of all, the online chat tonight is going to be led by a psychologist/self-proclaimed IF-counseling “expert” who by all accounts seems to have had zero personal experience with IF.*

What’s more, her relevant article on the topic is entitled “Are You Hardy Enough to Handle Infertility?” Ugh. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say, does it matter? This is our reality, not our choice. We’re hardy enough because we have to be. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding it. And we find our own coping mechanisms and we get through it. Most of us with the help of other infertiles (or excellent counselors) who can actually speak to and empathize with our pain, our sadness, our anger, and our frustration. Those with whom we can laugh because we know they’re laughing with us, not pitying us for what we’ve been through or laughing near us only because they just don’t know what else to do or say.

And, while you don’t necessarily have to go through IF to empathize with our struggles, I think it’s a rare fertile who can. And, either way, I do think that some personal experience would help contextualize a psychologist’s advice by giving a real glimpse into our struggles. And, after reading “Are You Hardy Enough to Handle IF” I’m just not convinced that Dr. Joann Paley Galst, PhD has that glimpse.

Among the points that most turned me off to Dr. Galst's article is that she notes: “The key [to handling IF] is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering hardiness, so you, too, can turn your infertility into an opportunity for growth and transformation.”

It’s not that she’s wrong, per se. Rather, it’s that her advice on how to do that seems so trite and sometimes even condescending.

To wit:
  • Identify a task that needs to be done but you find tedious. Tap into a personal strength to enliven it.
  • Cognitively work on yourself to see both change and uncertainty about the future as full of hidden possibilities. This promotes a sense of life as an adventure, rather than a burden. (First of all, “cognitively work on yourself?” Ugh. Talk to us like people, not psyc 101 students. And, IFers, raise your hand if you think that such a cognitive exercise would help make IF seem like an exciting “adventure.”)
  • Try replacing the word ‘challenge’ for ‘problem.’ This can help remind you of the opportunity that lies in store. (ugh!)
  • Become a change creator, which is even better than just adapting quickly to change. (um…what??)
  • Challenge negativity by reducing deficiency focusing. The habit of focusing on the negative at the expense of the positive causes a person to notice things going wrong more than things going right. (come ON! “Deficiency focusing?” That’s psychobabble. Call a spade a spade, don’t use inflated jargon that isn’t going to help a couple struggling with IF. And what’s more, sometimes we have to wallow in our own misfortune. It’s a natural and I would argue helpful part of coping with IF.)
I don't mean to come down on this doctor in particular, or on the AFA in general. Both I'm sure are actually very helpful to many infertile couples. Rather, I just found this particular email especially frustrating because the AFA (or Dr. Galst herself) need look no further than this blogging community to find a host of intelligent, well-spoken women who have important and poignant personal experiences to share.

And, it’s these women—some of whom I’ve no doubt are actually psychologists—who can best speak from the heart about what we all do everyday to cope with IF. It’s the posts you’ve written—the beautiful first-person accounts of struggle and heartbreak and survival—that are light-years ahead of Dr. Galst’s “fertility hardiness” treatise and that have done more to help me pick myself up when I think I’m out of reserves than anything else I’ve ever read on the subject of infertility, pregnancy, and miscarriage. And yet, apparently the AFA isn't convinced that living the struggle qualifies you to lead a discussion on surviving it...

*I should add that I don’t know that she’s an outsider. I know that's a pretty big caveat to this post, but in the spirit of full-disclosure, I figured I should mention that...


Carrie said...

Oh my. I can't believe all that. My blood is boiling. Imean who is this woman?
An IF adventure! Now that's pushing it. What an adventure I went on, oh it was so exciting. I kept thinking I was having a baby and then, pow, no baby. Doesn't get much more exciting than that.

Deficiency focusing- Hmmm is this where I'm supposed to be grateful we still have a spare room, and all this extra space that a baby would just fill up.

I'm glad I don't have to meet her in real life. I don't think I could hold my tongue.

LIW (Lady In Waiting) said...

AMEN! Your criticsm of that doctor's advice was well-done. And your statements about the IF blog community were SO corrent!

Though I will admit that my familiarity with AFF is limited to online perusing, I have found its information useless and, in some cases, frustrating. I *think* that my Clea.rBlue.Easy OPKs actually has a sticker indicating that I could join that organization for free. Yippee.

You don't know why you get the other pregnancy/motherhood updates. Unfortunately, I know why I got them. I signed up in November before I had a premature miscarriage and was somewhat naive to how disastrous looking up due dates could be. So, the emails I got were targeted to which week I was in. It took me months before I could even open the emails long enough to unsubscribe.

I feel your pain!

Sarah said...

it is psychobabble. most of that stuff sounds like the kind of talk you could apply to almost any struggle by switching out a couple of key words. it certainly doesn't feel like she has any personal connection, more that she's just carving out a niche for herself by regurgitating this stuff in the context of IF.

Laura, the (reluctant) baroness said...

I was particularly bothered by "This promotes a sense of life as an adventure, rather than a burden." I think very few of us see life as a burden. It's IF that is the fricken burden, and there is no way to sugar coat it (or cognitively work through it) to make it any nicer.

And I think your right - fertile-myrtles, as nice as they may be, can't understand. I remember thinking that if I were infertile, I'd be fine. We'd do IVF. We'd adopt. Whatever. But, that was BEFORE I was infertile. I could never imagine how emotionally painful IF can be. I see my old sentiments in some of my friends eyes. Like we all say, they just don't "get it."

I'm glad you had a good trip!

Bumble said...

What a lovely adventure we're all on. Hope we packed the Whiskey.

Adrienne said...

Amen, sister! Where those phrases even real jargon, or just words that she used to make the AFA pay her honorarium? Feh.

Nearlydawn said...

Oh, man! Can we attend this lecture en-mass and drown her out with the reality of IF! Grrrr!

I hate it when people patronize with cereal box psychobabble. Grrrr!

Where do I send the hate-mail?

Oh, wait, trying to be calm and collected.... Nope, didn't work. Deficiency focusing?? Grrr!

*gets off soap box and kicks it in phyco-Dr's general direction*

Mary Ellen and Steve said...

Oh for crying out loud. It is psychobabble.

I am glad you enjoyed your trip!

Kate said...

It's jargon. I don't think anyone who has been through it would say stuff like that. Geez.

hopeful to hateful in 28 days said...

I feel your pain. Before my miscarriage last year I bought some maternity clothes and subscribed to parents magazine. Now in addition to a monthly magazine that I don't read, I get alot of baby-related junk mail. It is a lovely reminder of what I don't have.

Stupid doctor. Stupid lists.

Reproductive Jeans said...

ME TOO--I still get emails from sights that I joined when we first started the baby journey--oh I was so naive....and now I cant get rid of them--I just quickly delete them when I see them in my inbox.

Baby Blues said...

Grrrr... annoying.

Erin said...

Wow - that lady is whacked. Even the title of the article. "Are you hardy enough..." How could you ever know until you're going through it?

And the bit about turning IF into an opportunity for growth - Jesus! I totally echo your thoughts: Do we have an f'n choice?

Thanks for the caveat, but it seems clear that she is definitely an outsider. No one who's gone through this would be so obtuse.

Thanks for helping me get my hackles up!

Have a good one - E