I am disturbed. Part of that is because we are experiencing some heavy snowfall and I am a little concerned I wont be able to get away for a skiing holiday at the weekend (which seems all screwed up). The main reason though is because I have just read a newspaper article. In the article a women is asked, “are you guys thinking about No 2?” by a person joining in on a conversation about a child’s passion for a TV programme. The mother responds with, “No, we’re not, actually. We’ve decided, now, that our family is the right size. Thanks.”
The husband who is the author of the article writes that this is:
Just polite enough to suffice. But curt enough to shut things down.
The person asking the question is described as slidling up and butting into the conversation, then after the question is answered, walking off face reddening with every step after the verbal shove in the back. The author describes this as a “good” affect.
There is a background to this exchange. The author and his wife have experienced three miscarriages over the last two years. After the third miscarriage I think they found it too painful to keep trying to get pregnant. The author says the actual answer he wants to whisper in the questioner’s ear is:
Acutally, we’re not thinking about No 2 right now. We spent the last two years mourning Nos 2, 3 and 4. They never made it. Fancy a casual chat about that, here in the corridor?
Now I have no experience of miscarriage apart from a friend describing the trauma of a “Dilation and Curettage” after her miscarriage. I can only image how hard that was for the author and his wife to go through three miscarriages and I certainly won’t understand it. I think what troubles me is how the questioner was treated because I guess that could have been me asking the question. I really don’t like the hurt transformed into anger without an explanation as to what went wrong. I am sure the person asking about a second child was asking what they felt was an innocent question. That assumption was wrong but instead of letting them know, the answer is designed to be a thinly veiled polite putdown that embarrasses the questioner and leaves them walking away only knowing they said something wrong.
On the other hand I can also appreciate talking about personal medical conditions is not something that is easy. Before I had my liver transplant, I had eight years of a slowly deteriorating hepatic system. This resulted in projectile vomiting fresh blood, black tar coming out of my arse, white floaty stools, and frequent D&V episodes to name just a few. When people who knew of my liver disearse asked how I was, more often than not I dismissed their query with, “I am surviving”. For most that was enough but if they wanted to know more then I would give them a vague update on my mental and physical wellbeing. If they didn’t know why I was ill then initially I would give them the whole story but after a while that got exhausting, so I learned to cut it down and probably ended up with, “I have liver disease” and not caring if they thought I was an alcoholic.
I guess the problem here is that miscarriage is another of those taboo subjects. Well there are Death Cafes, Menopause Cafes perhaps someone could set up a Miscarriage Café too and lessen the stigma.
Back to the question and answer thing. As an autistic person I will ask inappropriate questions because I don’t pick up on social clues easily or I don’t understand where the boundaries are. For whatever the reason I will get it wrong. I would prefer to have an honest straightforward answer than for somebody to be indirect and hidden. Not understanding can hurt me, puzzle and undermine me and I lose my ability to function. I would prefer an answer like, “that brings up some really difficult issues for me which I would rather not talk about now.” I can understand my question has triggered something you don’t want to talk about and I can respect you need for privacy.
It isn’t always possible to react to questions in a reasonable manner. I certainly struggle at times. Ideally the questioner can see that something is up and leave the person alone or perhaps say, “I can see my question has upset you and I am sorry, it wasn’t intentional.” Perhaps they could offer to talk to other person later if they want to. But the situation presented in the article has been prepared for so I feel their response could have been done in a less hurtful way. Unfortunately I often won’t see the warning red flags of an angry answer and instead get caught up in processing the words and pursuing literal translations.
But perhaps I have taken the vignette too personally. The author found his peaceful place of resolution by writing the article, I wish I could say I feel peaceful about writing this. The struggle with communication goes on for me. Assumptions are made and on them judgements given. Questions become offensive or critical and the world comes tumbling down. It is not a pleasant place to be at times. And it is certainly not an easy situation to resolve.