Giving advice, or bossing people around?

A funny thing has happened since I went from two years in the infertility trenches to suddenly being pregnant with an IVF baby that appears to be sticking around (what what, viability!). Some women I know in real life have either started walking down the path of Femara and IUIs and all that jazz or are considering doing so after months of trying naturally has failed, and have asked my advice on what to do. My instinct is to strap on my Superinfertilitysurvivorwoman cape and leap into action, blabbering on about everything we endured, what was scary, what was awesome, what was bizarre, and then telling them what they should and shouldn’t do in their journey toward babymaking with lab coats.

In a way, it’s not that different from the “commenter mode” I slip into when visiting all of your lovely blogs; inevitably, we all end up needing support or guidance or X-ray vision to interpret potential second lines on pee sticks or just reassuring anecdotes, and we look to fellow bloggers to help a girl out. And this is a good thing… I think.

But part of me has started to feel like I sometimes veer from offering helpful advice into just bossing people around. My own experience with infertility is just ONE experience, and yet it’s led to me having fairly strong opinions on, for instance, how many IUIs a couple should do before moving on to IVF, what drugs are worth taking, which ones have side effects, whether acupuncture or Chinese medicine really work, and so forth. And every now and then, I’m reminded that, actually, I have no idea what the eff I’m talking about. OK fine, maybe I have 2% credibility, but still. So I’m trying to figure out how to best help both IRL friends and fellow bloggers without coming across as a smug “success story” or a bossypants. I suppose I could just preface everything with, “Well, in my own experience…” but then it just looks like I’m bringing everything back to ME, which is not so hot either. Hence… maybe it’s best to just keep my mouth shut completely, or be more generically supportive, à la Hallmark cards with messages like, “Keep up the great work! (insert picture of kitten wearing glasses and holding a pencil)”

On the other hand, I look back to the state of mind I was in when I first sought medical help for all this, and how fortunate I felt to get some advice from a friend who’d been through fertility treatments (and had given birth to a healthy baby boy). I think what made her advice so helpful was the fact that she always asked how WE were doing first, and then gave me plenty of opportunity to vent my frustrations, and then made me feel better by sharing the more frustrating moments of her journey — which made for a nice reminder that I wasn’t alone and that, hopefully, I too would have a happy ending. What she didn’t do was say “You should take this” or “You shouldn’t do this” or whatever.

So maybe that’s the key. Any of you guys have advice on how to give advice?

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17 thoughts on “Giving advice, or bossing people around?

  1. I am this way – bossy when people ask. Thank you for making it so evident! I hate when people do that to me, but I do do it to others in regards to IF. Not a lot, but I have (things like, “you need to see an RE ASAP”).

    No advice, but many thanks!

  2. I LOVE giving advice and I LOVE getting advice. I believe that you can and should learn from other people’s experiences. I know that before I had my IVF I was very interested in reading other people’s stories and talking to people that had gone through IVF. It’s definitely never good to tell people you SHOULD do this or you SHOULDN’T do this. I preface everything with, here’s what I did and this was my experience. But also letting them know that their experience may be different because we may have different diagnoses/infertility factors/etc.

    BTW, I don’t have your email to respond to your comment but that is super cool that you wrote that book! I’ll have to check it out! :-)

  3. Wow what a good reminder.. I just did this exact same thing this past Sunday when I saw a friend who had had 3 miscarriages and would finally go see a doctor about it. I of course quickly jumped into the mode of…. you should get a RPL.. you should do this and that. I have to remind myself to let people talk and not put on that IF hat too quickly.

  4. I appreciate the comments I receive on my blog that are real and useful and not generic. I know when I see YeahScience! has commented on my blog that its going to be real. I like that about you, so don’t change.

    However, I always preface my advice by saying “for me anyway, this is what worked etc” not to bring it back to me, but just to be clear that it is only my experience. Plus, if people are discussing infertility with you, it is usually because they want to hear your side of the story. I give IVF advice and I’ve still never been successful!! hahaha

  5. A very interesting post. And one that requires a lot of self reflection.

    Personally, after 3 failed rounds of IVF (2 of which ended in miscarriage), I’ve found that I no longer flat out tell people what to do. Mainly because I’ve been on the end where someone was certain it would work only to watch them clam up when it failed miserably. Like salt in the wound. So I tend to fall on the end of supporting people unless it’s evident that they are 1) doing something that could harm them or 2) make it evident that they really want opinions/thoughts. I also find having resources available to back up these opinions helps, as it gives the person asking something to explore.

    Personally, I think adding the “from my experience,” or “what worked for me,” comment at the beginning helps people understand that what you’re suggesting isn’t the end all, be all. It’s far from smug and helps them understand that your opinion is just that, an opinion. In addition, once I’ve issued an opinion, I tend to back off as it is the person’s chose to do with the information what they will.

    Finally, I think it’s important to remember that each person’s journey is their own. What works for one doesn’t work for another. Granted, there are moments where this can be hard to watch, but I’m also learning that these choices are very reflective of the individual and we can’t walk the road for others.

    • It’s true, all these choices ARE so individual — and I try to keep my comments limited to my own direct experience with IF, but it’s weird because so much of my experience is grounded in this bloggy community. So I’ll always catch myself saying things like, “Everyone I know who’s tried Lovenox after multiple miscarriages always seems to succeed after” or “Nobody I know has had any horrendous side effects from Femara” — both statements that have nothing to do with my experience, and are 100% linked to what I’ve seen amongst bloggers. Which I guess is still valid, but kinda odd…

  6. This post was interesting for me as I question how I’ve changed my counseling and management for infertility consults since going through IF myself. Firstly, I’ll admit I was falling into the “pregnant women are smug” trap during the 5 minutes of my pregnancy. While communicating on the online forum, I referenced things like “I didn’t stop exercising in my 2ww. I ran 35 miles in the 2 weeks leading to my BFP. I think the exercise increased blood flow to my uterus”. I feel that I’ve learned some insider tips, like day 2 is acceptable for testing ovarian reserve. OPKs don’t work for 40% of all women…I find that I’m channelling my inner RE to give patients a better understanding of what they will find during their initial RE consultation. Like if you’re 42, be prepared to hear the words “donor eggs”. Recently I had a 41 year old patient who I advised a year ago to go to an RE, but she conceived spontaneously and another patient with PCOS declined my recommendation to use Clomid for ovulation induction and also conceived..so it is awesome that patients are ignoring my advice and are getting pregnant! I think most of us in the blogesphere take advice with the proverbial grain of salt, as situations are so different. I tend to follow bloggers who are of a similar age with a similar diagnosis. I think it’s helpful to hear what you feel you would have done differently or any tips or words of wisdom!

  7. I have a tendency to offer information. Just the facts. That’s always my first instinct- probably because I am a healthcare professional myself, and that’s what I do. And my brain is absolutely FILLED with infertility/treatment information and facts that are now utterly useless to me, but may help someone else. If someone specifically asks about my experiences, I will share, but I always end the discussion with the statement, “But what worked for us may not work for you. It’s not an exact science.” And sometimes, all people really want is hope. And success stories like yours offers that in abundance.

    I think, when having discussions like these, it’s important to be mindful of what the person you are talking to wants or needs to hear. If they need hope- personal experiences are wonderful. If they need a wake-up call, brutal honesty is the best option. If they need options- offering the facts is helpful. In other words, strap on your ‘PhD in Psychology’ hat and hope like hell you don’t piss someone off with what you say. It ain’t easy to say the right stuff. That’s for sure.

  8. I think when you write a blog it is inherently asking for advice, or feedback on what you are going through. I always think that I can get so wrapped up in the situation that the obvious solution is sometimes eluding me, and commenters can help to point that out. In the same way if someone approaches you for information about your experience with IVF then they are asking for YOUR experience. They ought to recognize that you are not the number 1 leading world expert in fertility treatments, but that you can speak to a very personalized experience, with a happy outcome, and those happy outcomes are like crack to someone who is struggling to get pregnant… you search them out and consume them like an addict. I don’t think you should hesitate to give your experiences, i don’t even think you need to add a preface of “in my experience” because I think it is inherently understood that that is what they are asking for. I would tend to limit my advice however to what they are asking about… if they ask about IVF treatments don’t tell them their marriage is on rocky ground and they should really work on that first, for example, and you should be golden. For what it is worth, i’ve never found your advice to be bossy, instead it is helpful and insightful.

  9. I haven’t had to deal with this a lot, as most of the people around me tend to be spouting out babies without any advice from me. But there was one girl I worked with who has seeing her regular gyno for fertility issues for over a year with no luck, and I finally suggested she might want to see an RE who specializes in those issues. I think she’s pretty much figured things out by now. Anyway, I’m like Catwoman73, I tend to just offer a ton of info rather than advice, then let people make their own decisions. Although admittedly receiving a sample BBT chart sketched on a napkin by me can probably be overwhelming too.

  10. So this is interesting. I don’t really give advice too much, but I can tell you that I have an “infertility buddy” at work who has literally kept me sane through this whole process. She didn’t even do IVF, so a lot of the time she didn’t know the exact answers to my questions (and of course even if she had done IVF, her experience could have been so different). More than anything I think we all need someone who will listen, who will encourage us, who will understand more than half the acronyms and numbers we’re always casually referencing. My buddy is usually the one I give news to before any other friends because I don’t have to follow up with, “And a beta number is…” She has had advice, sure, but more than that she’s had compassion and understanding. I think telling your story simply and just saying, “It’s different for everyone, but here’s what worked for me,” should be sufficient. And, you know, being there for that person.

  11. This is a great post! Gosh, I probably sound bossy and like a know-it-all sometimes LOL! I really just want to help people and give them hope. Lots of people gave me advice along the way, which I really appreciated. This is a great reminder though. I think it’s important to tread cautiously. You’re so kind to everyone, I can’t see you coming across in a bad way :-)

  12. Interesting post. I’m probably prone to bossing people around, but as I don’t like being bossed around myself, especially when it comes to something as intimate and individual as infertility treatments, I don’t want to be bossed around by others, so I’m hoping that helps balance it out…
    From reading all these blogs you’ll know a lot more than “just” your own infertility experience. And any prospective patient probably gets the technical information from their doctor or nurse. So I’d guess they want to someone they have a personal connection to, someone who’s been there, done that. And, like you, I’ve always been encouraged by success stories, hoping that I’d someday be one of the lucky ones, too.

  13. I’m not sure I always succeed, but I try to give advice in a way that makes it not really qualify as advice. I offer alternatives viewpoints and provide my own experiences but then take care to qualify with a whole what-works-for-me-will-not-necessarily-work-for-anyone-else bit. Also, as a rule, I don’t offer any advice unless it is asked for. I make it known that I am willing to share my experiences if the other would find it helpful, but until they tell me they want it, I keep it to myself.

    In the blogging world, it’s different, though. Those of us who are active in this community are here because we want to share and be shared with, give and receive advice, give and receive support.

    Pushy advice givers are never appreciated, regardless of the setting. But I’ve never encountered any pushy advice givers in this space, and the ones I find in real life are those who have not been through this and, thus, assume a one-size-fits-all approach. I’ve learned A LOT about making babies over the last year and a half, but I think the clearest lesson I’ve received from infertility is that what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Baby making is a science. But (like most science), it ain’t black and white.

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