Carolyn cautioned the woman to rethink how she judges her friends and the criteria used:
The world was different 30-some years ago. You don't know (nor do they, necessarily) that your parents wouldn't have tried IVF had it been as common and available as it is today. It wasn't an option for them: Louise Brown, the first such baby, was born in 1978...And, for babies, the demand is fierce, given the additional trend of delayed childbirth and thus infertility. The cost of adoption can be huge, the waiting lists long, and the hoops to jump through plentiful, if not prohibitive. So you used seriously out-of-date standards by which to trash your friend's character. Maybe this particular friend had it coming for other reasons -- for example, if she really thinks adopted kids get an asterisk. But that raises another point: Just as some people don't want kids where some can't imagine life without them, some women care more about feeling a kick, or men about seeing their wife's eyes in their baby. If people are honest with themselves about their attachment to these things and decide adoption might not be for them, should they be judged as demon carriers for that? Does that include couples who bear children without intervention, or does it fall only on the infertile? Is that fair? Should all be shamed? Into what, adopting?I think, for me, this went beyond sound advice and actually highlighted an issue being grappled with within the community that was sparked by the movie Juno. In some cases, the discussion has ceased to be about the movie at all and how it portrays adoption, but rather, how the speaker feels about adoption in general. And this belief is usually based on personal experience and applied to be the definition of the whole.
Just like the movie, which portrays a single experience (regardless of how you feel about the portrayal, it is indisputable that the story follows a single person and not a diverse group of teenage mothers), our own experience as just that--single experiences. And while we can each quote study after study that proves our point, the reality is that the opposing view point can quote study after study too. There are few places in life that are black and white. We, unfortunately and fortunately, live in a very grey space.
Life happens to us and certain experiences touch us more than others and certainly, for the woman in the letter above, adoption has been a defining factor in her world view and I understand completely how an experience can create a lens. After all, I am obviously defining my world through infertility. And so I do have strong opinions on a whole host of topics within this vein--sometimes I express them, sometimes I do not. A lot of that has to do with what I need to write about in the moment as well as exercising circumspection at times.
The point is that infertility is not the only thing that has happened to me in my recent past, but it is the event that has defined the world for me and I do see other people's situations through that lens. It is hard to step back and say, "well, it's not the decision I would make" while still understanding that they're using a different set of criteria to base their decision. We are strongly tied to our beliefs. They are usually grounded in dirt that is deeply, deeply emotional. There is no way to know why one event strikes us more than another any more than we can know implicitly why we are drawn to our friends or partners. The gut tells us things are right and the gut decides the weight of an event when incorporating it into a world view.
It was said in one discussion on a blog that people write as an outlet. It's not that those who are not saying anything aren't unhappy, but that people use blogging as a form of "talking it out" therefore, it's hard to get a true grasp on the community simply based on what is being said. People can hold their hand quite close to their chest and without knowledge of all the cards on the table, it's hard to definitively call the game.
I'll use myself as an example.
I was in two abusive relationships--one emotionally abusive and one emotionally and physically abusive. When I look back on those years--yes, we're talking years, not weeks--of my life, I really don't know what happened. I can say that Melissa right now would never make those decisions, but I also don't know that for a fact because the Melissa back then sure did. And I just don't believe you can never say never with certain things.
I don't talk about it much not because those two events didn't bother me--they certainly did--but, for whatever reason, though they affected the trajectory of my life, they are not the lens by which I view the world. They are at best a tiny outside rim of the lens. I'm sure those events affect me profoundly and inform my daily decisions without me even realizing it. I don't think you can go through something like that and come out completely unchanged. But I think it's interesting to look at the fact that I write about infertility, I work with infertility organizations, I do outreach within infertility circles. But the same isn't true for abuse.
I don't volunteer in shelters for battered women. I don't do outreach. I'm sure that I could and I could have just as easily turned in that direction. But for whatever reason, I didn't. And I can't explain why. The point: these were cards that I have held close to my chest--not for any particular reason--and without my thoughts voluntarily being offered, it is impossible for anyone working within the abuse community to definitively say, "this method for helping a woman through abuse is the method all abused women agree help." It may help--I think they could certainly say that it helps some. Or even most. But they can't use all because some of us have not been forthcoming in our opinions. I do have opinions, but--for whatever reason--they are not where I choose to focus my emotional energy. My heart went with infertility.
You know what it's like? It's like the abuse has become a small scar that people sometimes notice and other times is covered up. I may know it's there, but others don't. And sometimes I wear short sleeves and people ask me about it. Sometimes I forget about it myself. But infertility, for me, is like a missing limb. It is always noticeable. It is always defining my day. It is something I keep close to the surface of the heart because I'm constantly navigating it. And this analogy is not to say that I sit here obsessed with family building (okay, I am obsessed with family building, but that's not the point), but that it's the difference between something that can be hidden and even forgotten for long periods of time and something that is constantly serving as a reminder for a trauma.
There are other women--probably readers of this blog--who become pregnant or start parenting and infertility is brushed into the background of their life. They remember the crisis and it probably informs their decisions somewhat, but it ceases to be their lens. That's how it happened for them. It isn't how it happened for me. Two people, the same event, different ways of processing and therefore, different statements about the profound nature of the event or opinions on how others should be affected.
Which is just a long way of saying that I find it dangerous when we start creating definitions for the group as a whole especially when we're standing in disputed, grey areas. You can create definitions where there has never been opposition. For instance, I have never seen someone write or heard someone say that abuse feels great and it gave them the energy to go through their day. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that abuse feels terrible and it sapped me of any energy I had to do anything more than lie in bed and stare at the wall, translation project be damned. If you can find someone who loves abuse and can state implicitly that it creates their happy space where they're most productive, I will eat my definition.
Treatments, adoption, surrogacy, donor gametes...these are all grey areas and we all know in our heart that they're grey areas regardless of our own convictions. We know that there is another side even if we think that other side is wrong. And when we disregard that other side and start creating definitions for the group as a whole, we start an argument. And those sorts of arguments are rarely the ones that bring about the desired changed. They're usually the ones that simply result in hurt feelings.
P.S. In full disclosure, comments left that bash another group of people or ignore the point entirely will be deleted but a "removed by the site administrator" left in place (counter my argument with your own=fine. Call another commenter names or tell me that I'm a bitch going to hell=not fine). I want people to exercise mindfulness in every area of life--even taking opinions to which they also agree--so I think it's important to note that opposition was voiced. But this is an extension of my home and I don't allow rudeness in my house or in my comments section. And all of these topics are ones that bring out strong opinions.