If you tell me "Congratulations", I will barf all over you.
December 4, 2007 6:52 PM   Subscribe

I've recently discovered I'm pregnant, but I won't be staying pregnant, especially now that I know that's what's been making me feel so awful for the last several weeks. But I've missed a lot of work and several social events; people are worried about me. Everybody's always asking me what's wrong. What do I tell them?

I started feeling constantly nauseated and fatigued in October. Since then I've been quite incapacitated but as many folks without health insurance are prone to do, I just rode it out the best I could and hoped it would go away on its own. The culprit turned out to be pregnancy, which was so incredibly unlikely that it didn't even occur to me to pee on a stick until last week. Luckily, though, this is a solveable problem, and I have an appointment for a consultation at the clinic later this week. The surgery itself won't take place until next week sometime.

I never wanted to be pregnant, and as abortion seems like the most none-of-your-business of all surgeries, I'm sort of stuck on what to tell people like coworkers and not-closest friends when they ask me (with the best of intentions) what's going on with my health. My boss, for example, knows that I have a doctor's appointment this week (I had to ask for time off to go to it) and will probably ask how it went. I'd prefer to keep the whole thing a secret, but since everybody already knows how sick I've been, that's not really an option.

Any advice about the etiquette of this? Are there any conditions that can make a woman want to do nothing but sleep and puke for weeks on end that I can lie & say I have instead? (only half-joking.)

Throwaway email: sickratherthanpregnant@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Say you had a stomach condition they couldn't figure out, so they had to run all these crazy invasive tests and now they've figured it out and you're on antibiotics to clear it up. I know lots of people that have gone through stuff like this because the dr couldn't figure out what was wrong, say its a weird bacterial infection, no one will question you. Then bitch about how incompetent the dr's are just for effect.
posted by whoaali at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Stomach bug.
Technically, you wouldn't be lying.
posted by Memo at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2007 [7 favorites]

Yes, I think "stomach bug" should do the trick. Should anyone push, you can just say, oh, really nasty, eee, ooo- they'll stop asking. Nobody really wants to know.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think "I wasn't feeling very well at all for a while there, but I think everything is fine now" should do it.

You might get a "did they ever find out what it was?" here or there, which is harder to get around. You could just lie, though. "Not exactly, but I went on antibiotics for a few weeks and it cleared right up." Something like that? Or you could be honest and just say as nicely and as calmly as you could, "yes, they did, but I'd really rather not get into details. I hope you're not offended." Really, your politeness would be wasted on anyone who'd push further than that, especially at work.

Best of luck, and I hope you're feeling much better really soon.
posted by lampoil at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would say that you are just "run down" it happens to a lot of people and would not be an outright lie. Good luck with your surgery.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:08 PM on December 4, 2007

I'm struggling to understand the problem. I've had tons of ailments that really never did reveal the causes. After the abortion, once the symptoms go away, just say, "I never figured out what it was, but luckily it seems to be gone, now." If people continue to pester you ("I think you should go get see a doctor anyway"), either tell them, "I went to a doctor and all the test came out negative" or "yeah, I'll definitely see something if the symptoms return."
posted by grumblebee at 7:08 PM on December 4, 2007

Intestinal worms.

No one will inquire further.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:08 PM on December 4, 2007

The flu. Flulike symptoms include nausea and fatigue and they can sometimes last for weeks.
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2007

You can even cut people off at the pass and say, "for a while there, I worried I was pregnant!"
posted by grumblebee at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

If they ask, just tell them you've been to the doctor and you'll be fine. If they push, politely repeat yourself. They *should* get the hint. You don't need to lie. Your health is really none of their business and coworkers (hell, even close friends and relatives) should recognize those boundaries.

I have a coworker with an obvious physical disability, but I don't think anyone knows what it actually is. She doesn't say, so we don't ask. We may ask how she's doing or if she needs help carrying something or if she wants company to the elevator, but it'd be rude to ask about what her actual condition is. It is not relevant to work, and it's not something personal she wishes to share.

In the future, you probably don't need to have an actual reason to give your boss if you have a doctor's appointment. You can say you need some time off for personal reasons. If you really need to say it's a doctor's appointment, then say just that. They don't need to know it's anything more than a checkup.
posted by eldiem at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2007

There is an effective phrase I've used when I've needed to explain my absence. I've used this phrase in every job I've had. I've used this phrase for missed exams. This phrase conjures up a mental image (you have to get the body language right when you say them) on which people really don't want to dwell, and they usually (never) probe for further information.

You had explosive diarrhea in the shower. it was everywhere
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:11 PM on December 4, 2007 [25 favorites]

I had to take time off rather rapidly for a none-of-your-business surgery this past summer, and I got very far by just saying "It's personal." when people asked what was going on. I think a lot of people thought I had cancer, but whatever. As a note, I had an amazing office and amazing coworkers, so it may not work with less awesome people.
posted by awesomebrad at 7:12 PM on December 4, 2007

I'm sorry about all this it sounds like a headache. When I have medical stuff I don't feel like talking about I usually go with "GI tract trouble" which sort of indicates to inquiring types that 1) it's not quite a stomach thing and 2) you will start talking about things coming out of your butt if they persist in talking about it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 PM on December 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

You could say that you've got a minor case of benign uterine polyps, which you didn't realize because you don't have health insurance so you just thought it was really awful cramps making you sick -- until they got so bad that finally you visited the doctor, and now you are having a simple procedure to have them removed, and will be fine, it's not a serious situation so thanks for the concern but you're just glad it's all over, whew!

And then change the subject.

A couple added benefits to a uterine polyp story: they are usually preceded by severe cramps and some of the other symptoms you've actually been feeling, plus a common remedy for uterine polyps is a dilation and curettage (D&C), which isn't all that different from a standard abortion procedure. So in the worst-case scenario if you get a real nosey-parker who catches you off-guard, or happens to spot an antibiotic scrip that has nothing to do with a flu bug, or asks who your doctor was... you've got a kernel of truth behind you. And, people rarely push for more info when it's gynecological; even the nosiest girls respect that other girls don't always want to share that kind of info.

I agree with the folks who've said that you should be able to just go with "I'm fine now, thanks for your concern!" But thanks to Dr. Google, even the most well-meaning friends and colleagues can become real pains in the ass.
posted by pineapple at 7:13 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

No joke answers or misdirections - you will get caught up. Just be truthful but extremely vague. "I had some health issues that were affecting me pretty hard for a short time but I've been to the doctors and it's all taken care of now and won't reoccur." If they press you, deflect, make it clear that it's none of their business.
posted by matildaben at 7:15 PM on December 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Fisherman's mouth.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:15 PM on December 4, 2007 [6 favorites]

My boyfriend says "I had some gastrointestinal problems...." and that seems to shut people up.
posted by damnjezebel at 7:15 PM on December 4, 2007

There's nothing wrong with going the "it's personal" route, but it just seems that people will start speculating and gossiping if you do. I hate to admit it, but if someone I knew had recovered from a mysterious illness and was really evasive about it, then I would probably expend more than a little mental energy trying to think of what it could have been.

So, I think this is a situation in which it is perfectly okay to lie. You had the stomach flu, you found out you're allergic to Brazil nuts, whatever. It's nobody's business and you won't be hurting anyone by fibbing.
posted by kitty teeth at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2007

Any advice about the etiquette of this?

You don't need to feel the shame that's evident in your question. There are lots of things that people should feel ashamed about but don't; it's awful that someone making a responsible choice should feel like Hester Prynne. Here's all that you're obligated to disclose.

Professionally: "You don't want to know the details, but I'm better now. Thanks!" If further pressed, a stern look should do it. Let the awful coworkers gossip-- they'll never reach a consensus and move onto the next scandal in a few weeks.

Nosy acquaintances (deadpan): "I'm better now. Don't worry about it." If s/he presses: "I-AM-FINE-THANKS." or, alternately (if you're feeling gutsy): "I'm pregnant, but I'm getting an abortion soon. What are you doing for lunch?" People worth dealing with don't pry, priers need to be shut up.

Lying suggests that you have something to feel guilty about. You don't. I wish you didn't feel like you had to lie about this. It's telling that in our society it's more important for you to think of a good cover than for nosy people to mind their own business. You deserve to be left alone.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seconding matildaben: just say you had some health issues that you were dealing with, and now you're on the mend. The people with good manners won't press, and the people with bad manners who demand some details can be deflected with a firm "I'm fine now, thanks for your concern, so how are you?"
posted by scody at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2007

i really wouldn't invent a disease, just because creating a lie and having to live with it is just a terrible thing to carry around, even if it's a small thing that would probably never be revealed anyway. besides, some day you may feel differently about the pregnancy, not that you wanted it, perhaps, but that you want to acknowledge that it happened. and to create a lie to solve immediate discomfort will stand in the way of it.

as for explaining your appointments, just say this appointment was tests, and then, to set them up for the day off you'll need for the abortion, just tell them that you need an outpatient procedure and you'll be fine. now, this is tricky, because intuitive ladies will proabbly guess what's happening. this is where a little white lie might help...shake your head, grimace, and say, "ugh, it's so gross, i don't even want to think about it." it's such an inappropriate thing to say about an abortion that it will throw your nosy co-workers off.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:26 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why are you so worried? "I wasn't feeling well, but everything is fine now. How are YOU?" and move on!
posted by bunnycup at 7:34 PM on December 4, 2007

I'd also stick with "it's personal", or "sorry, I don't wish to discuss it, but thanks for being concerned". People generally get the idea. Your boss cannot ask what is wrong. I wouldn't worry about the time off for the procedure. You could say you have an "appointment" or something like that. For all the know, it could be for a D & C--which isn't far off.

Be general, hesitate, say you don't wish to discuss it, but that all is fine. Anyone that pushes more is just an inconsiderate asshole. Don't give them more information than you wish to give them, and don't feel pressured to do so.
posted by 6:1 at 7:37 PM on December 4, 2007

Lying doesn't suggest you have anything to feel guilty. Go ahead and lie. It's none of their business, you don't owe them the truth and people are nosy enough to speculate which would drive me nuts in your situation.

On attempt 1, be evasive. If someone rudely persists, I like like the benign polyp story for its non-salaciousness while still being something you'd naturally not share. No details, just "yeah, so rough few weeks. Whew, so glad to be better- what are we doing this week?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:38 PM on December 4, 2007

If it's a male coworker, saying "female trouble" usually sends them running without further question.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:58 PM on December 4, 2007

If someone* asks and you want to shut down that line of questioning with an easy fake-out, you can cut them off with "endometriosis," quickly followed by "I don't want to talk about it."

*Men are almost guaranteed to only understand it--if at all--in the sense of "this is a lady-problem I do not need to know about." Women, I don't know.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:03 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I guarantee that if you only vaguely allude to some health issue, the person you're talking to will be inspired to share anecdotes their own related (they think) health failings or that of their sister's maid of honor's aunt's, and you'll be off the hook.
posted by katillathehun at 8:36 PM on December 4, 2007

I would say that I had a parasitic infection (After all, what else is a fetus biologically at that stage?). Then redirect them with "Did you know that every type of flesh we consume has an associated parasite? Anyway... what's for lunch?" Or something to that effect. No outright lies, and the nosy bastards get educated at the same time.
Good luck in dealing with your situation!
posted by eiramazile at 9:39 PM on December 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

I would go straight to the polyp story, or otherwise they'll spend the rest of their lunch hours for the next month speculating. Or maybe your coworkers are less intrusive than mine.

You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, but they have no right to be nosy, either. Give them an answer that will satisfy them and be content in their 'My sister's maid of honor's aunt's' stories, as katillathehun says.
posted by winna at 9:40 PM on December 4, 2007

Tell them the doctor said that you totally checked out and you were just run down. Act indignant about it and say that you think you will get a second opinion. A few days later, indicate that you are feeling better. Then sort of let the whole thing fade.

That way you don't have to come up with a fake disease because there never was one anyway. Avoids the guy "whose sister had that and it took weeks of antibiotics" and similar things.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 PM on December 4, 2007

Don't go with female troubles as your decoy - many women love to chat about shared anatomy. I would go as vague as possible. "Must have been a virus, the doctors didn't find anything, and after enough rest and good nutrition I'm all better."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:07 PM on December 4, 2007

Another vote for the gently vague, "I wasn't feeling well, but everything is fine now, thanks." Some may wonder if it was a pregnancy, but what can you do about that? People are allowed to think what they want, but your right to privacy sure as hell trumps their curiosity. Just use, "Oh, I'll spare you the details; I'm just glad I'm feeling better" for the more nosy and then forget about it.

Whatever you do, don't lie and say you have endometriosis or something. The last thing you want to be involved in is a conversation with a co-worker that starts, "Oh! My sister just got diagnosed! She's so confused! What are you doing for it?"
posted by mediareport at 10:30 PM on December 4, 2007

Irritable Bowel Syndrome has never failed me.
posted by parmanparman at 10:35 PM on December 4, 2007

Stay away from endometriosis, as it is not curable. You really don't want to fake a life long disease!

Uterine fibroids: advantage of using the same doctors and procedures, disadvantage of being a girl problem, which many girls feel makes it an acceptable topic of conversation

Anything bowel related has the advantage of tending to end conversation pretty quickly, but would not be treated by the same doctor.

So if I were you, I'd consider how likely your office's rumour mill is to discover your doctor, and choose your fib accordingly.
posted by happyturtle at 1:39 AM on December 5, 2007

Fibroids are no more or less curable than endometriosis.

I think for thematic consistency you should say that you've either had a miscarriage rather than endometrial polyps. When you've had the consultation you can announce that you've had a scan showing a failed early pregnancy, and explain that you're going in for the D&C. I agree that some female co-workers can be practically psychic about early pregnancies and will already have guessed you are pregnant if you've had nausea and fatigue.
posted by roofus at 3:08 AM on December 5, 2007

If you want an answer to "what drug worked?" try metronidazole; it kills some parasites that you might not look for at first. It's also easy to pronounce metro-nId-azole
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:30 AM on December 5, 2007

From personal experience I can attest that nobody wants to talk about endometriosis. Men or women.

However, I agree that you might as well be vague. The more specific you are, the more likely to be caught in a lie.
posted by miss tea at 4:31 AM on December 5, 2007

You could have a hernia...then you'd get out of heavy lifting as an added bonus...
posted by General Malaise at 6:16 AM on December 5, 2007

Oh dear, don't say it was a miscarriage. I know women for whom a miscarriage, no matter how early, is nearly as devastating as losing a child. You really don't want that kind of sympathy and commiseration.
posted by happyturtle at 6:35 AM on December 5, 2007

Two words: LYME DISEASE. It will freak everyone out. Symptoms run the gamut from fever to kidney failure. Not uncommon for a brief hospital stay, not uncommon for a diagnosis to take a while. Antibiotics are the cure, BONUS: It was a disease of the week on House.
posted by Gungho at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2007

I think from now on most of my answers will feature Lyme Disease.
posted by Gungho at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2007

Don't say miscarriage; happyturtle is right. Huge sympathy and awkwardness and focus on you -- but focus from afar, by whispering sympathetic co-workers who can't bring themselves to say anything. Flowers and cards, maybe. Argh. For months. And then there will be the gentle, "are you thinking of trying again?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2007

Stomach Flu? Don't say anything? Do you have friends or acquaintances that are actually going to sit around wondering about that time you were nauseous for a month? Also, do people actually ask how doctors appointments went? I guess those are all questions.
posted by chunking express at 7:39 AM on December 5, 2007

The problem with making up a disease/illness is that someone will remember that you had it. And then when they have it, they'll come to you for advice -- what did you take to make it go away? what tests did the doctors do to find it? how bad was it really? And you won't be able to answer them because you didn't have that disease, you were pregnant. It's not really a lie you want to get caught up in, especially since the people you'd have to lie to in the future will be ones who are sick and unhappy, and you will feel bad about it.

The problem with going completely 'I don't want to talk about it.' is that it sounds like you have been talking about the symptoms. To shut people down now will be a marked change that will make them wonder.

Better to go with some kind of generic undiagnosed gastric distress as some have suggested above. 'They never really pinned it down, but a week of antibiotics seems to have cleared it up.' or 'They were never able to pin it down properly, but it seems to have run its course. Maybe just a wicked flu or something?'
posted by jacquilynne at 7:59 AM on December 5, 2007

When I am in charge or a group of people, and someone is sick, I personally hate it when they give me a symptoms list. A simple, "I was sick, I am better" is all I want to hear. The more you explain what isn't any of my business, the less I trust what you're saying.
posted by nomisxid at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2007

shake your head, grimace, and say, "ugh, it's so gross, i don't even want to think about it." it's such an inappropriate thing to say about an abortion that it will throw your nosy co-workers off.

I have no idea why that would be an inappropriate thing to say about an abortion, but ok.

I agree with those who say the less details, the better. No one at work deserves to know anything about your medical issues. Be as vague as possible to give them nothing to talk about. I think stomach distress is the best thing, and "simple outpatient procedure" is another good phrase.

If anyone presses, say, "I'd rather not talk about it. Hey, how's that local sports team!" Something like that. Rinse and repeat. People can be rude and nosy but you don't have to give an inch on things like this.

Good luck to you.
posted by agregoli at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2007

"My stomach felt squishy for a while, but it's lots better now... who knows how these things happen!" You should post your story here (anonymously) as well, might help someone out.
posted by anaelith at 9:23 AM on December 5, 2007

Don't say lime disease...that can seriously eff you up and your employer might be suspicious of you getting sick in the future. Also, I don't think it generally clears up that fast.
posted by sully75 at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2007

I think matildaben nailed it. There don't need to be any details revealed. Just say "It was personal". And if they press, say "Medical issues." And let it drop.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:56 AM on December 5, 2007

I'm with GI or IBS issues, or Super Flu. There's been something going around my workplace that knocks people down for a week, then OK for a week, then still sorta sick for a week or two. Not bad enough for medical intervention, but good enough for "I'm feeling really ill today".
posted by zengargoyle at 10:28 AM on December 5, 2007

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