Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Miss Manners, or Should That Be Mis-manners?

This post has been brewing for a long time, really ever since I first started to share with the world that I was pregnant with triplets. I'm motivated to put it out there now as the one-year anniversary of this journey rolls around.

I realize that triplets are not an everyday occurrence, and I am getting used to the fact that we will create a scene wherever we go. But what I cannot get used to (and refuse to, for the sake of civility, at a minimum!), is how total strangers will now ask me how my children were conceived.

The question comes in many forms: Did you use drugs? Do multiples run in your family? Did you do IVF? Did you use fertility treatments? Are they natural?

(The last is my personal favorite as it gives me the opportunity to respond with a snappy, "No, they are made of space-age polymer. It's machine washable and very durable.")

However it is phrased, what everyone is really asking is how we conceived our kids. That question is pretty personal even for close friends and family, but complete strangers? Grocery store cashiers, waitresses and other moms at the pediatrician's office? It's the very definition of rude.

I am not naive, but I was taken aback by this the first few times. I guess I thought there was still some civility and common courtesy in the world. Do people really not realize how rude their questions are? Miss Manners would have a fit. Oh, and if you find yourself starting a question with, "Do you mind if I ask..." rest assured that it is a question you shouldn't be asking.

There are plenty of families with multiples who are out there telling (and selling!) their stories for all to hear. Go watch TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8" or check out the latest appearance by octomom Nadya Suleman if you want intimate details about someone's multiple conception. Unfortunately, too many people take the sharing of these stories as license to ask the rest of us multi-mamas (and papas) anything they want to know.

Don't get me wrong. I have no objection to Jon and Kate Gosselin or any other family sharing their story. That is their choice. If they didn't want the world to know, they wouldn't be on television. But their stories shouldn't make it open season on every family with multiples who just wants to take their kids to the zoo or get the grocery shopping done.

Since we had our triplets, we have gotten to know a lot of parents of multiples. Some conceived their multiples without fertility assistance and some didn't, but all of them have to deal with this question. Everyone has different ways of handling it.

One dad of triplets likes to respond with a perfectly deadpanned, "I have super sperm." He says it never fails to end the conversation.

Some moms who dealt with infertility, like to respond with "Why do you ask?" This leaves the door open for a conversation about struggling with infertility, if the person asking is going through that struggle themselves or knows someone who is. It is also designed to embarrass the person who is asking because they are just curious, though I doubt that ever works. If they had that kind of sensitivity and manners, they wouldn't ask in the first place.

When I'm feeling nice I respond by telling people that I am a twin. I have a fraternal twin sister, and it is relevant to the conversation, but it doesn't really answer the question. It's a little like answering the question, "Do you like dogs?" by saying, "My grandma has a parakeet." But, people generally draw their own conclusions and move on to politer, more appropriate conversation.

When I'm feeling less benevolent, I like to take the opportunity to answer in a way that will make said stranger think twice about asking anyone else that question. It goes like this:

Stranger: [Insert insensitive, inappropriate question about my triplets' conception here.]

Me: Well, since we really don't know each other, it's a little personal to ask how my babies were conceived, but if you must know. My daughter had severe acid reflux and was a horrible sleeper until she was 18 months old. When she finally started to sleep through the night, my husband and I were just full of energy, so one afternoon...

Generally, the uncomfortable TMI (too much information) look comes across the stranger's face and you can see them wishing they had never asked the question. Which is exactly the result I'm after. Perhaps, at a minimum, I've made them think twice about asking the question of someone else. If nothing else, I feel better.

The short variation on this theme is to smile sweetly and say, "If my husband isn't questioning how they were conceived, why should you?"

[Sigh.] Miss Manners has a lot of work to do.


Kitty Laird said...

Thanks for the laugh with your "less benevolent" reply. It's good to do that after a long day w/the kiddos and, of course, the questions I got from strangers at Target.

Christy said...

As long as we keep laughing, we'll be OK, right Kitty?

Abby said...

I cannot believe how many people ask me this. My new favorite responce is that I tell me people that we did "it" 3 times the night they were concieved :) Usually shuts people up,

Slab Bulkhead said...

Christy, I thought about this a lot while I was driving to "The Big Alb" yesterday. I've had people ask me this question about you, also.

Nobody would have thought of asking this 50 years ago (before IVF was invented). But 50 years ago nobody said the word pregnant in public (or in movies or on TV).

I think the answer's simple: it's your age.

I think if you and Jeff were obvious 20-somethings nobody would think of asking this question, but because you've been married so long people naturally start thinking you had a fertility problem.

Nancy K.

Slab Bulkhead said...

I should have added this, though: That still doesn't mean these people should have that thought OUT LOUD, which is what your complaint (rant?) was about.

Nancy K.

Christy said...

Good theory, Nancy, but remember that these are total strangers asking. The cashier at the grocery store has no idea if I've been married 10 years or 10 months.


Morgan said...

You made some good points! I can imagine it gets pretty old being asked how they were conceived all the time.

I do understand why people would wonder, though- the idea of triplets being conceived by random seems kinda cool. It opens the door for any mom trying to conceive to consider the possibility that she too could someday be a mother of triplets.

Ambulance Mommy said...

you could always respond with my personal favorite: "why, thats just none of your buisness" but said with a sweet smile, and kind voice, so they dont actually realize they are being told off.