Advocacy Day wrapup
So here is what I decided, waiting in line to enter one of the buildings of the Senate:
People who want the best for us, people who mean to be helpful when speaking to us about infertility, will almost inevitably say something stupid. Something that hurts, something that will still make us angry years later even once we're past the worst of it.
And we've all spent time fashioning the perfect response, whether it's an incisive remark or a raw and honest letter explaining just why what that person said was wrong. But then not finding the nerve to say it in the moment when it would do the most good, or cancelling that e-mail message without sending it, because we know the ignorance had been backed by kind intentions.
I was thinking of this as I stood in line, talking to a woman who was also there for Advocacy Day. She was there for her daughter, who was undergoing treatment. She spoke about witnessing what her daughter was going through, feeling helpless at first but now galvanized. She talked about her own fertility problems, knowing firsthand how much her daughter hurt, and wanting to do whatever she could, not only to ease that pain, but to let her child know she supported her in a real and useful way. And as I listened, I was moved. Wait, that's too mild; actually, I was rocked.
And I thought, what if, instead of saying something snippy, or sending a link to an article that will never be read, or taking our hurt feelings — our rightfully hurt feelings — and squashing them down into a little internal ball of bitterness, we said, "I know you love me and you mean to be helpful, so here's what you can do"?
I doubt there's any magic formula to elicit the emotional support every infertile person needs,but few of us actually get. It's sometimes hard to ask for, and sometimes hard to give. But the practical support, the concrete effort — what if we just asked for it? What if we said, "Can you please call your congressman and ask him to help build my family? Can you please write a letter? Attend a meeting? Do something?"
I wonder what that would be like, if each of us convinced just one person to do that. If you can think about the possibility without feeling tempted to try it, well, you're a tougher mark than I am.
I don't really know what to say about Advocacy Day except that I have never had a more empowering moment as an infertile person. You walk onto Capitol Hill feeling ant-sized, dwarfed by these imposing buildings. I mean, my God, Thomas goddamn Jefferson. And you think — well, I thought — Who do I think I am, mounting the same steps where Lincoln gnawed on his lunchtime lamb shank?
By the end of the day, you know who you are. You're a citizen who has the right, and maybe even the duty, to ask your elected representatives to act on your behalf. You're well prepared and passionate. You've met with your representatives' aides, you've spoken about your personal experiences, and you've made a clear and direct request for action. You deserve to be heard, you know it, and you've demanded it.
It really was easy. We volunteer advocates were thoroughly trained by RESOLVE's Advocacy Day team. We were told what to expect, given a list of talking points, and stirred into action by a really moving address by the Advocacy Day organizer, who said, in part,
I’m here to tell you that you’ve just taken the first step out of just being and becoming someone who matters. You’re on the path to regaining your worth, your self esteem. [...]
What I can tell you is that you matter. You matter because your actions matter. Your efforts count. Your voices are heard. And by you believing that you matter, and raising your voices on this issue, you are making not only yourselves matter, but every person still lying in bed this morning wondering how they’re going to drag themselves out to face another day.
Today, you take back your dignity, your self worth. And you demand recognition for an issue affecting millions and millions of invisible families across the country. And with your efforts, these people become visible again.
So Monsieur Descartes, hear this: I act, therefore I matter.
And if you can read that without wanting to storm the barricades, well, you're a tougher mark than I am.
So we met in the morning before our appointments on Capitol Hill, and I looked around the room at the 100 or so volunteers there, and I thought, So many stories in this single room. No one was there because she'd failed her first two Clomid IUI, you know?
And there among us was our very own Stirrup Queen, who in telling her own story encourages so many to tell theirs. That night I sat in her kitchen — pizza, pasta, chocolate chip cookies, more delicious even than you imagine — and had the kind of conversation I long for, the storytelling of someone who's been there, is still there, and won't forget what it's like to be there even once she leaves. That night her stories were told in counterpoint with Josh, as funny and generous as she is. The company was so good that I didn't want to leave, and repaid them for their hospitality by missing my train, needing a ride, and inconveniencing them greatly. I am one fresh hell of a dinner guest.
I'm currently out of town on vacation, but when I get back I'll post at length about the next leg of Stirrupalooza, our celebration of Mel's book. As a quick preview, I'll say that prizes will be in the offing for anyone who's posted a review of the book on your blog or on one of the booksellers' sites, so if you'd like to participate, read the book (or even an excerpt) and make your opinion known. If you can read her book without wanting to spread the word, well, you're a tougher mark than I am.