I'm going to take the risk of this post being taken in the wrong way and place this out there. I will warn that I'm ducking and taking cover in case words are thrown.
I was recently reading an article in a magazine... Okay, this is the part where I admit that it was People Magazine and I wasn't in a doctor's office; I was in my own house. Anyway, I was reading People and there was an article about Grant Achatz*, the chef at Alinea, an ultra-hip Chicago restaurant (I should also state that I read all my issues of People well after the fact and this particular article was in the October 22nd issue. In my world, Britney and K-Fed are still deeply in love and J Lo is still hush-hush on the pregnancy).
Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer and he states, "the irony of the situation is tragic to people." His mentor, a fellow chef, said of the diagnosis: "Devastating. A sick joke on someone so talented and so in need of his taste buds." The article continues with "his illness grabbed headlines and brought in crates of get-well notes."
It is a cruel situation. Cancer is always a cruel situation, regardless of age or profession. A chef--who needs his tongue in order to fulfill his passion and perform his job--is diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer just as his career is taking off. This cancer comes out of left-field; he does not fit the common profile for this form of cancer. He is commended for fighting it, supported by many, sent hope by everyone who reads his story (okay, that is an assumption on my part. For all I know, Achatz receives daily hate mail).
One who skims this post will probably jump down my throat when I now turn to examine the reception of an infertility diagnosis and say, "I can't believe she is comparing stage 4 cancer to infertility." I'm not. One is life-threatening and the other is only provable to the mainstream as lifestyle threatening (though off-record, I could form a strong argument for the many instances of how infertility is tangentially life threatening). Yet they are both classified as medical diseases.
The article in the Globe and Mail had an online comments section, and beyond the title labeling women treating their medical disorder as "desperate" the comments followed inline with that form of thinking:
"It's an old-age epidemic- not a fertility one. Why are children considered commodities? If you can't bear one naturally, maybe nature has another plan for you..."
"This will likely come across as insensitive but why is there this insane drive towards 'natural' children. Even if those children are the result of fertility treatments. There are plenty of children who need to be adopted into a loving family."
"Why stress about something that isn't happening as easily if at all like it should. If you want a child adopt one."
If you treat one medical condition, you're courageous. If you treat another one, you're desperate. I wonder which side of the fence you fall on if you're treating infertility directly stemming from cancer. Since it seems as if people need to pick-and-choose which treatments of disease they support--how would they navigate that pickle? I am feeling bitter because I've been told one too many times that my problem is apparently not a problem. Of course, this comes from people who have never experienced this problem.
The tragedy of Achatz's situation is not that he has leukemia or brain cancer--he has tongue cancer and he is a chef. It would be just as tragic for a composer to go deaf or a visual artist to become blind. When our medical condition affects our job, our passion, our raison d'etre, it is ironic and tragic rather that the more commonly used adjective in conjunction with cancer--devastating.
My job, my passion, and my raison d'etre has been to be a professional mother. A full-time mother. A career mother. Which is not to say that a mother who works is not a career mother--in many cases people hold two jobs: one which is their passion and one which is their means for existence. Motherhood is my career choice and it is a passion that chose me--not the other way around.
My job as a teacher was nice, but I could take it or leave it. If I wasn't getting paid, I probably wouldn't do it. On the other hand, I would gladly be a mother without receiving anything in return. Okay, I'd like a kiss every now and then. And a sniff of keppie. But I don't need the monetary reward in order to complete the job. Writing, of course, is a similar passion. I write even when I'm not getting paid to write. If I were to lose my memory for words, it would be tragic. I would not only be suffering from a condition, but I would also lose something that makes me Melissa. Achatz states in the same article: "I'm a chef. My cooking, my art, has kept me going. Take that out of me, and there's nothing left."
I feel the same way on a lower level about writing and I certainly feel that same passion on a higher level about motherhood.
Being a career mother isn't a respected profession. I mean, people marvel at the behaviour of my children--behaviour and kindness that is taught during my many hours on the job--and think that they're wonderful, but I am constantly asked what I do. "I'm a mother," I respond. "I know, but what is your job?"
Perhaps the lack of empathy towards infertility comes from a society that has little respect for mothers. Yes, yes, we respect mothers, we designate parking spots for expectant ones and give up bus seats so they can sit down and the like. Adoption agencies certainly expect a lot out of the parents they accept into programs, but there are no degrees, no coursework, no preparation for parenthood in general society. Motherhood isn't seen as a job, per se. It is a state-of-being: "stay at home" mum vs "work outside the home" mum. You stay at home. You work outside. It's the passive vs. the active.
Achatz is a chef and he needs his tongue in order to create his artistic visions of food. I am a mother and I need my reproductive organs and hormones to work in order to create the life that I wish to mold into productive members of society. I cannot do my job without seeking treatment for my disease just as Achatz cannot do his without turning toward his own prescribed chemotherapy and radiation.
It is common refrain to suggest adoption. Adoption is not a cure for infertility any more than other suggestions are a cure for cancer. Adoption is its own entity--and to suggest it as a solution, as a means to get "rid" of a problem--is to disrespect all families and members involved in an adoption. Especially but not limited to the child. But throwing out adoption as the cure-all is about as enlightened as calling up Achatz and saying, "I heard crushed herbs can cure tongue cancer. Stop being desperate with all of this chemo and radiation and try that so you don't pollute the world with chemicals."
Not very empathetic, n'est-ce pas?
So why would people believe that it's helpful or kind to produce a similar dismissal of the enormity of the problem when it comes to infertility?
A better response: I'm so sorry. That's terrible. I want to support you and be sensitive. Do you want to talk about it? Do you not want me to ask about treatments? I'm going to follow your lead.
An end point--I would wish neither condition on my worst enemy.
* To Mr. Achatz, if you read this: I apologize for using you as an example, but the convergence of reading your article the day after reading the comments on my article brought this issue to mind. I was pretty hurt by some of the comments and spent a traffic-light-pause of time having a brief, frustrated cry. I am sure you have also received assvice since being diagnosed--assvice that wasn't included in your article therefore I'm not privy to it, so it's easy to imagine a world where one condition is fully supported and the other is not. I'm sending many good thoughts to you and I'm looking forward to your cookbook being published so I can try out all of the recipes and impress at my next dinner party.