There is a literary term called a chiasm, often seen in Biblical texts, but also utilized by everyone from the Bard to JK Rowling. It is, simply put, an inversion of the story. For example, in the first line, the door opens; in the last line it closes. In the second line, the person sees their sister; and in the second to last line, they lose their sister. There is always a turning point in the middle.
Or, to use a concrete example you probably read, with Harry Potter, the whole series is a chiasm, with the turning point being the resurrection of Voldemort in Book Four (not to sound like a complete literary nerd). Harry starts Hogwarts in Book One and finishes Hogwarts in Book Seven. He meets Ginny in Book Two and falls in love with Ginny in Book Six. And there, in the middle, the story transforms and all of the emotions, plots, and relationships invert and play out as a mirror image, giving depth to the earlier leg of the story. You understand his care for Ginny later, because you saw the inverse--her unrequited love for him.
In its earliest form, chiasms were used as a mnemonic device--the teller of the story only needed to remember half a story for the price of a whole one. In contemporary literature, it is used to lend depth, to draw connections between seemingly unconnected events, or to juxtapose two characters.
The point of all this literary crap:
I couldn't stop thinking about this lit crit term while watching MTV's True Life episode last weekend. I'll be frank, even if I wasn't an infertile woman, it would have been a difficult show to watch. But it added an additional layer to consider the inverse of my situation. It was the two ends of the spectrum: the woman who cannot carry a child to term and the woman who is carrying to term a child she did not intend to carry. It is no easier to have the problem of an unplanned pregnancy than it is to face the idea that you may never reach parenthood. There will be people from both sides who argue out the Pain Olympics, but I am simply describing what I observed: the mirror images of being in a situation with few exits and both women--those who can carry a child and those who can't--moving towards one another to meet in the middle, closing off the figurative X of the chiasm. I cannot speak about the child since the episode told only the point of view of the parents.
The anguish, from what I could observe, was so similar (again, unless someone experiences both situations, they can never completely speak to how close the two situations are in actuality)--the feeling of being trapped, of feeling like there are no easy choices to make, of feeling judged, of feeling desperate. It was very difficult to watch the episode. I cried hard for Kayla and Amanda, hoping for peace of heart with the decision. I felt a deep gratitude that they allowed us a window into their world so we could better understand the process. And I will say this though I know not all readers will agree: watching the episode reminded me of how grateful I am that adoption exists.
The documentary followed two women considering creating an adoption plan for their unborn child. The first, Kayla, was 19 years old and conceived the child out of relationship. She immediately stopped doing drugs once she discovered she was pregnant. She made the decision to place her daughter twice--once when she was pregnant, and again once she had held her daughter and parented for several days. When I say that she made the decision twice, I mean that she made it rationally while she was pregnant--she knew that it was the better choice for her daughter. But she made it emotionally after giving birth. As she said on the show, it was the choice that was best for her daughter and terrible for herself, but she wanted to be selfless with this decision.
The second woman, Amanda, was 22 years old. She conceived her daughter during a brief relationship with a man, Rob, after she broke up with her girlfriend of four years. It was originally Rob's decision to parent the child; while he was supportive of adoption, he wanted to raise his daughter. He already had a son from a previous relationship and he lived with his parents while between jobs and in school. Amanda felt strongly at first that she wanted to place with a couple she met through an adoption site online, but changed her mind during the episode. In the end, they chose to parent and Rob is raising his daughter without help from Amanda.
There were two things that struck me in this episode. First and foremost, the anguish. This episode was the anti-Juno. These were women who were gutted, trying to figure out a decision that could balance out their own emotional wants with a child's basic needs. They didn't casually pick out a couple and then go through the next nine months set in their plan. They agonized and debated and grieved. There was such deep grief as each woman realized that she didn't have the ability to give her child the life she wanted her to have. That it went beyond having enough love or enough money or enough outside support. That there was a missing element--perhaps unexplainable but clearly missing--that they couldn't provide.
But the second thing was that obvious missing element, the thing keeping them from parenting, which was not money or support or information or love. Perhaps it was an impulse; that drive that kicks in when people realize they consciously want to parent. For many, this drive kicks in prior to pregnancy and is the factor that moves people to build their family. Other times, it comes after learning of an unexpected pregnancy. The person is able, for whatever reason, to shift their view of the future to incorporate the child.
It was clear from the episode that even though Kayla had a support system with her mother, resources with organizations, and a deep love for her daughter, that she was missing this vital element that even she recognized when making the decision. She simply wasn't ready to take on that responsibility. She explained to the couple who adopted her daughter that it wasn't the inability to go out with friends or the lack of sleep--it wasn't, in other words, the surface of parenthood.
She explained the elusive missing piece with an example that was more concrete: her primary coping mechanism was drugs. She was self-aware enough to realize that she needed other coping mechanisms in order to not only get through life but to be a parent. It was a matter of maturity--not the maturity that brings self-awareness since she certainly had that. But the maturity that propels the next step. And while it was clear that she was going to reach that maturity in time--she has now been sober for a year and is working on her GED--she didn't have it in hand. And that was going to affect her child. Did she want to learn those lessons, acquire those life skills while also parenting or did she want to take the time to allow herself to grow up on her own terms?
The closest way I could explain would be to compare it to placing a twelve year old behind the wheel of a car. Could they learn the surface skills of driving; how to turn on the car and work the brakes? Could they even possibly drive for a few weeks to basic places in town and not cause an accident? But what about the quick thinking that is required to make split-second decisions while driving? The maturity to accept your fault in an accident and make sure the other driver is okay rather than fleeing the scene?
It is not a perfect analogy because there are plenty of teenagers who are ready to parent and perfectly capable of parenting. With the right resources in place and support systems at their fingertips, they may not have the smooth path that other parents enjoy, but they are capable of overcoming that rocky start to raise their children. Yet more often, there are those like the self-aware Kayla who can point to herself and say, "I'm just not ready to take this on."
Maturity is supposed to happen in due time. Thrusting a teenager into adulthood before they are ready is like thrusting a baby prematurely out of the womb. It's not that premature infants can't develop outside the womb. But development happens at a different pace outside the body. While the sucking and swallowing reflex is mastered in-utero around 34 weeks, babies born at 33 weeks don't acquire it a week later. They may not acquire it for weeks and weeks beyond the date they would have in the womb. And I think Kayla realized that a similar thing happens when children move into adult roles before they're ready: that the development of skills takes place at a different rate. We can't thrust a baby into an unprepared teenager's hands and expect her to pick up the same skills she would have picked up without a child to raise.
Therefore, I think Kayla made a decision that was best for her daughter and best for herself, even though it was the most painful decision she ever had to make and the aftershocks will continue to be felt for life.
Returning to the idea of the chiasm, it was helpful for me to visualize the child in the center (forming, undoubtedly, their own personal shape inside this experience), with the two women--the adoptive mother and the birth mother--moving towards each other, both from extremes of emotion towards a meeting in the middle. And then, the exiting, the second leg of every chiasm, as the roles reverse with the passing of parenthood. It filled me with emotion, with empathy, without words to explain how enormous the building of an adoption plan is for all involved.
Though perhaps open adoption is not a chiasm insomuch as it resembles the mathematical symbol for infinity.
Maybe a more accurate portrayal of the situation with intertwined loops forever connected by the central person--the child--who holds the adults, well-rounded with emotion, together.