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Give Us the Bad News Nicely, Please

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Unlike the mostly happy baby updates coming out of ob-gyn offices, the news from reproductive endocrinology offices is usually a little tougher to deliver and to receive.

Since most fertility procedures are out-of-pocket expenses, we are within our rights to expect to be cared for by a kindly team with an outstanding bedside manner. Fortunately for me, my RE and his team were all-stars at delivering information and care (whether in person or by phone), answering my questions thoroughly and clearly. My doctor was genuine in his desire to achieve success and seemed, almost, to take any setbacks personally. I sometimes felt like I was letting him down when my beta tests came back negative! That's why when I hear about less-than-compassionate encounters with those providing fertility services I'm more than shocked, I'm outraged.

This past week, a woman I know got a double whammy. Her last, best hope at getting pregnant was not only denied, it was stomped on by both the physician and his staff. Her doctor not only rebuffed her treatment request, he behaved toward her as if she were a statistical data point, not a live woman sitting in his office. She describes the encounter as though it's happening to someone else - clearly trying to make sense of it all:

"Dr. Fearless doesn't even meet your eyes after the initial handshake. You hand him your file, and briefly (and confidently) explain your hope to freeze some eggs, and why, and about the last chemical pregnancy and the current anovulatory cycle, and knowing what your odds are, but wanting to give it a whirl anyway. As you speak, he flips through your file, occasionally typing notes into his computer. Finally he says, ‘I see you were pregnant once, a long time ago.' You start to explain about the subsequent chemical pregnancies and the clotting disorder which is now under control, but he interjects that only pregnancies confirmed by ultrasound 'really count.'"

From there, this shaken woman submits to a test against her better judgment and expects to hear from the doctor's office in a day or so. She heads out hoping that she'll hear she can proceed with freezing her eggs.

". . . the sidewalks are filled with children in colorful puffy jackets calling out to parents pushing well-wrapped babies in strollers. You are stunned, but calm, as you make your way back to the parking garage where you’ve left your car. When you are almost there, you turn your phone back on to call the friend you'd tentatively planned to meet for coffee in order to cancel, and there is a message. From the RE's office.

You lean against the railing in front of a brownstone, amid the cheerful family bustle, and listen, heart frozen, to the following affectless voicemail message: ‘According to your blood work and ultrasound, Dr. Fearless, unfortunately, believes that there will be no real chance for you . . . he believes that there will be no such luck with you getting pregnant with your own eggs and your next choice will likely be a donor...' The message-leaver gives you the contact information for the donor coordinator who can explain the process, then, for good measure, she repeats, with more confidence this time, the ‘no chance of getting pregnant with your own eggs, so donor will be your next step' part and signs off."

Seriously!!? How can anyone in their right mind think that this kind of information can or should be left in a voicemail? These are not procedures anyone undertakes lightly. The implications are enormous.

I'm only glad my friend was strong enough to call back the next day and voice her displeasure. The unknown is whether that particular office will continue to engage in this poor practice.

Here's my fear: That in their quest to get to the next success story there are some RE offices that lose their humanity in the process. I shudder to think how often this kind of emotional abuse happens to other couples.

I might just have to send a belated thank you card to my old RE team. They more than earned it.

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