Yesterday I watched this UpWorthy piece, a story by Ash Beckham who, while taking her niece to meet the frozen princess character, was mistaken for her dad. In the split moment she was torn between keeping her mouth shut and enjoying the moment with her niece and speaking out as an advocate for the LGBT community and raising awareness about gender stereotyping. It was interesting because I find myself in a similar dilemma surprisingly often when it comes to raising awareness about HG. Should I just keep quite at this kids party my children are enjoying so much and not risk any kind of scene or discomfort... or should I politely but clearly set this ignorant woman straight on how her “morning sickness” was not the same as her poor friends symptoms and her friend is not just “making a fuss” and it's not “psychological” and perhaps she should show some compassion rather than gossiping about her while she to sick to speak. Realistically, no matter how gently or carefully you try to correct someone you're inevitably coming to cause them embarrassment and risk appearing confrontational.
At the end of Ash's story you hear how, while she was running through the dilemma she was facing between the two roles of Aunt and Advocate the woman who had made the mistake had realised on her own and as they went to leave mouthed a pained “I'm so sorry” to Ash and she realised she hadn't needed to choose between the roles and she could be both things at once. And it was at this point I remembered a story I wanted to share from the RCM Conference last month... and what I've learned from it...
My role at the two day event, representing Pregnancy Sickness Support, is to raise awareness of the importance of treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy for women and Hyperemesis Gravidarum and to tell midwives about our support network and how they can refer women. It's a great event to be at as an opportunity to reach hundreds, perhaps thousands of midwives to promote our message. The days are long, exhibitors are there from 8am to nearly 6pm and it is exhausting talking to so many people, answering questions, discussing the condition in depth and so on. And then it's back to the hotel where, far from resting, the work continues as you network with fellow exhibitors from whom you can learn and you meet delegates interested in your work. And it's there that this story begins.
Having travelled to Telford I had set up the stand, found my hotel and checked in. The hotel was a very old building with big thick walls which, while pretty, meant that the wifi in the room was impossible so I headed to the bar area to have some food, facetime my kids and get some work done. As the evening went on the small bar began to fill and to make room for others I shifted from a sofa to a chair, which still allowed for laptop power, and offered the larger space to two women who had just come in. Being the grumpy, unsocial person I can, on occasion, be when I can't be bothered to talk I buried my head in my laptop and got a post live, promoted it on facebook and stuff like that. Unusually for me I wasn't particularly eavesdropping on the people around me until the work hyperemesis was heard, at which point my ears, of course, pricked up. And then my heart sank. The two midwives I had given the sofa to were discussing the impact the Duchess of Cambridge's diagnosis of hyperemesis has had. One of them said to the other “now everyone's got hyperemesis,“she's had it so I want it” they say, like it's fashionable”.
Now I could have jumped in at this point and set her straight, she was talking loudly in a public space and doing a significant disservice to her profession. But honestly, I was tired from travelling and setting up and I had two whole days of awareness raising ahead of me and frankly I knew it would have been inappropriate, confrontational and generally the wrong way to go about it. My face was flushed from anger and frustration, my head swimming with responses and my heart aching with sadness that there are midwives out there that think women with hyperemesis are putting it on to be like a royal. Approaching advocacy with emotions at their extremes is a bad idea.
So I sat back, messaged some HG friends with what I had just heard, made a note of the words for a future blog post (glad about that now) and reassured myself that the opportunity would arise to not just set them straight but to change the negative opinions of many more midwives. I reminded myself of the article I had coming out in the BJM that month and of all the other great things we are achieving with the Hyperemesis Improvement Movement.
Another 20 minutes or so passed and I went to get a drink from the bar. The bar tender asked what work I was in town for and as I was saying I was attending the conference the two midwives on the sofa overheard, as they were attending it too. As I returned to my seat they turned, welcomingly, to ask was I a delegate or an exhibitor and the opportunity presented itself. “I have a stand there, for Pregnancy Sickness Support. We support women with hyperemesis gravidarum” I said.
“Oh... right” said the second midwife with a look of utter horror behind her still smiling eyes as she tried to remember the exact words her colleague had said. “I didn't know there was a charity for that. Well... that's great.”
“Yes, we're very small and it takes a huge amount of work... I'm working this evening still, promoting on social media and so on, I've got a blog on the condition too which I've been working on tonight as I'll be selling my books there tomorrow”. I said... just to well and truly establish my authority on the subject.
“Oh gosh, you've been working all this time! So what does the charity do” asked the first... And I explained about the support network and how it helps women when they are utterly isolated and people don't believe they are suffering and how we provide women with information about treatments when they are faced with pseudo-science and old wives tales about morning sickness remedies. And I never once acknowledged what I had overheard, and nor did they but they said they would visit my stand the next day. And off I went to bed.
They didn't come to my stand the next day and I didn't see them at the hotel that evening. And I was sad. I figured that despite my non-accusatory conversation about what we do, they had perhaps felt defensive and that despite there being a charity for it most women were probably still just making a fuss, wanting to be like the Duchess.
And then, at the end of the second day, they came. They walked up to our stand and we talked. I talked about how there is stigma and misunderstanding about the condition and people who haven't had it think women with hyperemesis are just making a fuss and the midwife who had made the comment said this:
“Well I think you are right, there is a stigma and misunderstanding amongst midwives and I must admit that I'm guilty of not realising how awful it can be, the isolation and suffering. I haven't experienced it myself so I underestimated it, but I won't any more. Now I know about you I'll tell them about the support and the treatments.”
And then they bought a copy of the book and I signed if for them thanking them for being great midwives.
Her acknowledgement of the error of her ways meant so much to me. She could have just avoided our stand or stuck to her view. Neither of us had acknowledged that I had heard it, there was no need. She had realised as soon as she knew it was overheard by someone who had themselves suffered, just how wrong it was to say at all. I didn't need to point that out.
You see sometimes it's better not to directly point out the error of someone else's views or try to correct the thing they have said as people are likely to close their mind in defence if they feel attacked, which can lead to attack back. Sometimes it's better to just let them realise for themselves that there is another way to see things. Quietly letting them know there is a charity that supports women with the condition they are talking about, or there's this funny blog they might like to read, or passing them the book at an appropriately private moment. Allowing them to open their mind and encouraging them to think for themselves is far more likely to be effective and far less likely to lose you a friend or get you in an awkward situation. Most people don't mean to be mean... they just haven't thought about something from the other person's point of view.
We must be careful not to underestimate the ability of others to come to their own, improved, conclusions. It's often easy to jump up on our high horses when we feel wronged and want to advocate for our causes. Like the girl in Ash's story, there was no need to publicly berate her mistake, simply being who we are is quite often enough.
I'd love to hear about your experiences of raising awareness and changing peoples opinions of hyperemesis so please comment below if you've had a successful (or unsuccessful) experience like mine.