Self Advocacy 101
I’ve always been a huge fan of advocating for others. When I was younger I would often find myself in positions of standing up for the underdog and relentlessly taking a stand until my parents were called to the principal’s office to receive a lecture on my willful disobedience. What can I say? I wanted to give a voice to those who struggled to speak. Maybe that is why I chose the profession I did.
I want to give you a scenario so entertain me and follow along, will you? Imagine you are starving. Like, just-finished-a ridiculous-diet-and-could-eat-your-own-arm-starving. You rush to your favorite food joint and approach the counter to order but as you open your mouth the words won’t come out. The employee (we will call her Shannon) stares at you patiently. She can tell you really want something. You try to find the words but your vocal cords are not responding. Your brain desperately knows what it wants and so does your body but there is a disconnect when trying to communicate the message. Poor Shannon knows you are struggling but she isn’t a mind reader so she starts offering suggestions. They are all wrong! No, no, no! Customers are lining up behind you and some are starting to make comments under their breath. You try and focus and concentrate on what it is that you want to tell Shannon that will complete your order. You go to open your mouth to speak the words but nothing will come out. People behind you start offering advice and making suggestions on what you should order but nothing comes close to what it is that you want. You feel frustrated, defeated, discouraged, isolated, alone, and angry.
As a professional counselor and current infertility fighter I’ve been fortunate to see first hand how important is is to practice what I teach: the power of effective communication.
I’ll admit that before my own struggles with infertility I deemed myself a communication expert. My undergraduate degree was in communication studies and I had been a clinician for several years at the time. It wasn’t until I stood frozen like the woman at the food counter struggling to find the words that I realized I had no clue how to express myself in the manner I thought I did.
Infertility often makes you feels like the underdog. Why is it so hard to communicate something I so strongly believe in that effects me on such a personal level? I think in order to become our own advocates it might be easier to start as though we are advocating for someone else. What would we tell our best friend if they were going through this? What would we tell them if they struggled to ask doctors certain questions about their diagnosis or medication side effects?
We would say to them, “Heck no! That answer isn’t good enough! Call the doctor back and ask them ________. I’ll come over and sit with you if you need some backup!”
We would be their biggest cheerleader without hesitation. Let the infertility community be your biggest cheerleader and virtual best friend. Let the infertility community be your biggest advocate until you can do it yourself and #startasking when you are ready to go at this solo. Take it from me, it is hard having your own back but you don’t have to do it alone.
Six Steps to #startasking
1) Get a notebook.
You can buy a cute one or make one with scrap pieces of paper and yarn but keep it near you at all times as if it is an additional appendage. It will be your go to resource for practically everything once you start writing in it.
2) Scatter pens + pencils everywhere.
Make this a no brainer and don’t force unnecessary panic by having to dig in every nook and cranny to find a writing utensil. Seriously, keep a minimum of three pens/pencils/crayons/lip liners in your purse, car, makeup bag, etc. to have when your doctor’s office calls you with information.
3) Write down every question that pops in your head.
Questions will enter your thought stream at the most random times so be prepared to jot them down (hence the need for numbers 1 & 2).
4) Make a consultation appointment to ask questions.
If you feel like a phone call to your doctor is going to take longer than 5 minutes or a face to face conversation will put your mind at ease then request an appointment. They can schedule you one! There is a billing code for face to face appointments---trust me!
5) Pick up the phone + call.
Sometimes you have to pick up the phone and call your doctor to #startasking. Be sure to have your notebook and pen in hand.
6) Call Back.
This one can be challenging, especially if you feel like you just talked the doctor or nurse’s ear off. I’ve made the following statement recently without shame: “Hey! I know I just spoke to nurse _______ but I can’t seem to shake this one question that has been going on and on in my head. Can you please give me a call to clarify. Thank you so much!”. The way I look at it is I am a patient and the answer they gave confused the heck out of me. I just needed a little clarification. No harm.
You have to look out for number one (that is you!) and the first step to do that is by asking questions. There are no questions too big or small and the only silly question is the one not asked. So pick up the phone and #startasking! We are all here for you ready to cheer you on!