Generally, a stutterer’s biggest fear is public speaking, but there’s a very close second: making phone calls.
Talking on the phone, particularly making the calls, is one of the hardest, most anxiety-inducing tasks for a stutterer. On the phone, you don’t have your hand gestures and facial expressions to help you communicate what your mouth cannot. You rely solely on your speech.
For example, when speaking with someone face-to-face, that person can physically see you struggling to introduce yourself— so they may understand that you have trouble speaking. Over the phone, that luxury does not exist. From the first “hello,” there’s only so much time you have to get your name out before the person on the other line grows irritated and repeats themselves or, worse, hangs up, forcing you to repeat the entire exhausting process.
When I first began working at People Magazine, I knew I’d have to make phone calls and I’d resolved not to back down from doing so. I made my calls in the hallway of the building. People would look at me with confused expressions as I sat on the hallway floor, phone in hand, with a notepad, pen and my recorder, conducting interviews.
Many times I was embarrassed, and I’d even hold off on making a call while people hovered in the hallway waiting for the elevator. But I continued to make them, nonetheless. What other choice did I have? Sitting at my desk around dozens of listening ears, the noise, the anxiety, it crippled my speech. I needed another option.
This went on for a few weeks until one of my coworkers (finally) told me about The Breastfeeding Room.
Okay, it’s technically called the “Privacy Room,” reserved for conducting phone interviews in a peaceful, quiet environment (perfect for me). I remember I had trouble finding the room initially, so I asked one of my coworkers for help.
“Oh, you mean the breastfeeding room,” he said. I looked at him in confusion.
He explained that a woman once used the room to breastfeed her son. But that was years ago, he said, “so I don’t think she still uses it for the kid — at least, I hope not, he’d be like 4 by now.”
The Breastfeeding Room made my life so much easier. And like a newborn to a mother’s bosom, I latched on. I spoke much more fluently during my phone interviews and, after a while, I actually looked forward to making the calls because the room gave me confidence that I could do so effectively.
There are times when I wish I could make phone calls at my desk, quick and easy like my coworkers do, so effortlessly, not thinking twice about their speech. It’s normal for them. But I know that The Breastfeeding Room is my normal.
Sometimes, people need accommodations, and that’s okay. Yes, I have to walk down a hallway and around a corner to make my phone calls, but that doesn’t make me any less than my coworkers. I do my job and I do it well.
I believe that everyone has a Breastfeeding Room. Whether it’s needing an extra few minutes on a test in school or wheelchair accessible public transit, everyone’s normal is different. And that’s okay.
My accommodation, The Breastfeeding Room, is a tool that helps me to be an effective journalist at People Magazine. I’d even go as far as to say it has given me validation as a journalist within the company. The confidence I’ve gained from communicating effectively in the room answered many of my looming questions: Can I do this? Can I function here? Can I succeed at People Magazine? Now I know I can, and I don’t have to be afraid of making phone calls.
So what is your Breastfeeding Room?
What are the tools you need to live your life that other people necessarily don’t, what is your normal? One of my good friends says her Breastfeeding Room is needing others to repeat themselves sometimes in conversation. She has auditory processing issues which make it difficult for her to comprehend what is being said at any given moment. So, she asks people to repeat themselves, and that’s okay. That’s her normal.
Another breastfeeding room that I have as a stutterer is patience. Of course, at times I don’t speak as quickly or fluently as others, so what I need from people is patience. This tool, patience, helps me to communicate effectively because making a statement may, for me, take three seconds or three minutes. I never know. But I need this accommodation from people in conversation. And that’s okay. That’s my normal.