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It's Irish to Me ...
In a recent Celtic Spirituality class at seminary, Professor Martin invited an Irish gentleman to tutor us in the elements of the Irish language, which he was quick to inform us, is quite distinct from Gaelic which is often bandied stateside. I could tell before anyone asked that his education had been impeccable within English universities because of his masterful pedagogy, measured syntax and enviable synthesis of the material. This unflappable posture was juxtaposed against his wit: He quickly cited the reason for leaving his homeland 25 years ago to move the United States was due to native “Cretin Tribalism.” I was entranced right from the start, knowing, of course, that my ancestors hailed from said Land of Cretin Tribes.
First we studied the 18 letter Irish alphabet, then tested our tongues at broad vs. slender consonants and vowels. Soon this fine man was reciting verses of whimsical Irish verse. I have never really listened well to an Irish speaker. My first thought while being lulled by his lilting brogue was that Irish children must fall asleep effortlessly every evening if their parents sound half as enchanting. It was a lovely experience until we had to decipher, quickly, exotic combinations of words, with impossible declensions and lenitions. “Th” is not the “th” that we Americans effortlessly spill off tongue’s tip, but a rather more darting and decisive movement of the tongue. I quickly decided that I had had my fill of the esoteric “th” and looked at the board for more recognizable patterns of words. “Bad” means boat but “baid” means boats or the boat. Hmm. Then there were two nearly identical words that must not be confused — as one meant "to speak," and one meant "to urinate." I got quiet. Then there was the business of “fadas” followed by tradhg and a pastiche of letters that left me confused. This man was speaking, to be sure, but in a cloistered vernacular that was starting to make me wary, bored and just this side of ticked off. I wanted to understand what he was saying!
My eyes noticed something in the hodgepodge of Irish words on the board, “DHEAS,” an abbreviation we use everyday in the field of reproductive medicine, a short handle we have for talking about a hormone that, when out of balance, can wreak havoc on the reproductive system. Suddenly I felt on solid ground again with the familiarity of the pattern of letters, though of course DHEAS in Irish has nothing to do with chemical messengers. Then I flashed back to when I was a fertility patient and had not yet worked in this field.
My fertility doctor at the time, had an unnerving habit of firing off a pastiche of abbreviations — "We need to check your E2 and FSH on cycle day 3, have you take CC for five days in a row then return for the same assays — while Windexing the glass of his desk top. I kid you not. It was like he was talking to himself in a language that sounded like Serbo-Croatian, rarely looking at me, and then only after he had wiped his desk into abeyance. This insistence of many medical professionals to use atypical, esoteric terms in the presence of patients became annoying then infuriating. What is a P4? What is HAB, RPL, SAB, TAB, MAB? What is an SA, and why in God’s name would I have timed intercourse? Was this all now an exercise in bawdy efficiency? Better yet, who and where was the timer stationed? Was it better to hurry with horizontal bop rather than to be natural? There were other equally offensive terms like hostile cervical mucus, ovarian or testicular failure, and my favorite, “dead products of conception,” which was my Windexing doctor’s way of saying that another baby was dead inside my body. I vowed to myself that if I ever worked in this field I would devote myself to using regular language for the patient’s inclusion in the process and to honor patients by communicating effectively without scientific baggage. Most days I feel like I have done a good job of it, but I do remind myself constantly that it is important to make sure that I am communicating well in relationship with the patient. It helps that I work with a team who is every bit as devoted to this dynamic as I.
I intended to provide a list for patients of common vernacular and abbreviations they may hear fertility doctors use, but there are many websites, both private fertility clinics, as well as professional groups, that have glossaries of terms. If you need something cleared up, you can always email me, and I will respond promptly. And in case you’re wondering, timed intercourse is not a race to the finish but sex around the time of ovulation. Be well.