This week I was talking with a friend about advice. When you’re seeking advice, it’s always wonderful to find someone who can help you, who can say the exact right thing to help you solve a problem or give you a nudge to take a risk you would have been too scared to take otherwise. Sometimes you’re not seeking advice though, and when it comes unsolicited, usually from someone who means well, it can be difficult to digest. My friend related the story of her wedding shower, when someone announced that everyone present needed to share marriage advice with her. Some of the advice touched on topics the guest of honor didn’t feel comfortable discussing in a public setting. I imagine the person who started the chain of advice-giving had only the best of intentions, but my friend still felt like a bug, skewered to the wall and put on display.
I could relate. When I was trying to get pregnant, I felt like I was suddenly in the spotlight, a beacon for unsolicited advice. I have health issues which made it difficult to have children, and that was hard enough as it was, trying to understand what was going on with my body, and grieving the fact that I was never going to be able to have children like a normal person, that I would be lucky to have a child at all. It made me feel like a failure, like I wasn’t a real woman. People with good intentions, who had no idea what was going on with me or who didn’t understand the medical issue, came out of the woodwork to give me advice. A few people asked questions that were shockingly invasive.
Part of the problem is I am introverted, and wanted to keep the issue to myself. I hadn’t gone around telling everyone about my troubles, but some people in my inner circle had. Part of it was I was embarrassed—infertility is a deeply personal issue. It wasn’t my fault my body was screwed up, but I still felt like I had failed somehow. Like I was broken. There was so much pressure to have children—it was part of the culture that surrounded me. That was what a woman like me was supposed to do. No one said it directly, but within all those intrusive bits of advice, there was a message: if you can’t have children, you are to be pitied because you are not fulfilling your role. Never mind that I had a master’s degree and was working toward a doctoral degree. Never mind that I had a good job. Never mind that I was an adult in my late twenties who paid her own bills. It didn’t matter how independent or accomplished I was, it all came back to my ability to reproduce. The barrage of advice was relentless, and made me feel even worse about the situation.
Finally, I got pregnant with twins. I was scared to tell people for a while, worried I’d jinx myself and lose my children. I felt great joy and a sense of relief about finally being able to have children, and I hoped I’d find respite from all the advice and questions. I didn’t.
When you are pregnant with multiples, you start to show early, and my bulging waistline now made me a target for strangers. I worked with the public, providing customer service, and nearly every person, every day, had something to say about my pregnancy. It was exhausting. I was often tempted to hold up my hand, stopping people mid-sentence, to tick off a list of questions for them. “Are you pregnant?” “When are you due?” “Boy or girl?” “Twins? Oh my gosh! You’re so lucky!” The same thing over and over. Every. Freaking. Day. Now and again, I’d get a real weirdo, who would ask something off the wall. One guy wanted to know who my OBGYN was. “Why do you need to know that?” I asked him. Seriously, why did he need to know?
Now the unsolicited advice I got was about what I should be eating, how much weight I should or should not gain, what I needed to know about giving birth, how to get my figure back after birth, and how I should care for my bundles of joy once they arrived. Again, it was all well-intentioned. But here’s the thing: I am not normal. The body I live in is absolutely not normal. I can accept that, but what works for every other woman on this planet is not necessarily going to work for me. For example, I know that carbs are my kryptonite. A low-fat, veggie-only diet is never going to work for my body. I need low-carb protein, dang it, and woe to the fool who denies me. I am a carnivore, and you should not cross paths with a hungry carnivore. Especially one who is eating for three.
I learned to listen to my body and disregard bad advice. I learned that when you care for multiple babies, all those nice little parenting rules go flying out the window. You’re in survival mode, and you do what you need to do to keep those things fed, diapered, and happy, or you’ll lose your mind. When people ask me what it was like to have twins, I’m way too honest. “That first year was hell,” I say with a sweet smile. If they say they always wanted to have twins, I’ll throw in a horror story as a bonus treat (preferably one that involves projectile vomiting or poo—I have quite a repertoire of those). One woman told me she always wanted to have triplets. I informed her she was mental.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love my children, and I’m so blessed to have them. They are awesome kids, and I feel grateful for that too. In spite of my failings, they are turning out to be wonderful human beings. But I’ll tell you the same thing I told my sister-in-law, when she was having a baby shower and someone decided she needed pumped full of advice. “Having a kid is not going to be easy,” I said. “Everyone is going to give you advice. Some of it will be good advice, some of it will be bad. Do what works best for you and your baby, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.” That’s the best advice I can give.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
It’s amazing how much “advice” gets thrown your way in almost any situation (university, boyfriends, girlfriends, sibling issues, issues with family, where should one live, etc). I find that the most unsolicited and unwanted advice comes from my grandparents. It can be so hard to just brush off what you don’t want to hear. But being realistic – even that unwanted advice that you don’t take … it can be painful or harmful too. I’m sorry that you had so many people give you advice that you didn’t want or ask for. One thing I’ve learned from all this unwantedness, is to think about my actions and what I say even more so than before. I don’t want to make anyone feel the way people have made you and myself feel. Just trying to apply this empathetic and respectful way of communicating to others. I think – it’s always better to listen… unless you have been specifically asked for an opinion.
March 19, 2016 at 3:10 am
I agree. Experiencing this gave me more empathy for people and more awareness about how my words affect them. Sometimes I find myself about to give someone advice they didn’t ask for, and have to remind myself to listen instead.
March 19, 2016 at 8:33 am