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Friday afternoon, I wiggled around all the wiggle-room my schedule has so I could see every single student who is owed a speech session.  Surprisingly, I was focused on my sessions.  I was present, and I was engaged with my students, until the end of the lunch-time session I had with a student.  At that moment, at 12:50pm, I kicked into high panic mode, and did everything I could to get myself out of the building. 

I had a 2pm appointment with an infertility doctor on Friday afternoon. 

Euphemisms are funny things.  I’ve always enjoyed the line in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” when the hostess excuses herself to go to the “euphemism”.  Why the word bathroom needs another euphemism – when it has so many other synonyms to begin with – is beyond me, but I guess that’s the whole point.  Polite conversation, avoiding making prudish people like my mother blush, referring to things on TV that would otherwise be censored: euphemisms serve many purposes.  An oft-unstated benefit, however, is that the euphemisms can sometimes help people who are otherwise too embarrassed or ashamed of their “issues” to seek medical help. 

See: every single commercial or ad made for erectile dysfunction (once simply “impotence,” it is now often “E.D.” or “performance concerns”),  urinary incontinence (“Do your pipes leak?”), and herpes (“outbreaks” sounds tons nicer than “sexually transmitted infectious viral blisters”).  Yet if these polite terms for otherwise embarrassing conditions help people have the “Detrol discussion” with their doctors, then who am I to question the advertisers’ methods?

Beyond embarrassment or shame, there are also those who are reluctant, diffident, and, shy about any supposed conditions.  There are those like me who discuss their medical issues with so few people that tongue seizures and cranial malformations can go undiagnosed for 8 years.  I know I am not alone in my struggle, too, with acknowledging the seriousness of something, particularly something unknown.  For me, calling the doctor with a complaint, or making an appointment for a condition I would tend to minimize, deny, or place on a back burner makes it real.  Once I am sitting in an office, face to face with a doctor who is about to take me very seriously, it forces me to take myself seriously.

Maybe the euphemism of “fertility” helped me breach that last obstacle to seeking help.  I finally called to make an appointment, the names of specialists firmly gripped on a referral in my hand, and was told that the doctor only sees new “infert” patients at 11am.  Would I have called if that slip of paper in my hand said “infertility” instead of “fertility”?  It’s not even so much a euphemism as a careful wording. 

In my line of work, we speak all the time of a child’s strengths and challenges.  We reframe “weakness” into challenge, or we talk about areas needing support, as in, “Johnny can understand a grade level story given decoding support, reframing, use of a story plot map, and one-on-one discussion with a teacher.”  No longer is it said that “Johnny is not reading on grade level,” but it gives the level of support and scaffolding necessary for him to be able to read on grade level, and thus we avoid the dreaded “not”. 

So, too, did my referral avoid the dreaded “in-”, a Latin prefix meaning, of course “not”.  Like the students I work with on a daily basis, I, too, am in need of support.  If fertility, like reading ability, is on a continuum of independence and intervention, then I am looking at it optimistically.  I am choosing the view that we may need some support to become pregnant, rather than needing intervention because of infertility.  Which framing do you think will help more women/couples make the difficult phone calls so they can face awkward conversations and pursue challenging tests and treatment? 

After waiting in near panic for a half-hour in a tiny exam room with only “TIME” and “Family Fun” magazines, I finally met the doctor.  I have a list of a half-dozen tests and procedures that await me/us in the coming month.  I am terrified of what we may find, and what we may not find.  I am concerned about the long road ahead, but I am acting bravely.  More important, I am acting.  I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of labels or acknowledging what is wrong.  I am addressing whatever “challenges” or “weaknesses” or “shit-rotten luck” has faced Mr. Apron and me in the last 18 months, and we are going to kick its ugly hairy infertile ass.

No euphemism needed.

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