The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Book Tour #2: Children of Men

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about Children of Men? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list in the post above. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #3 (The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger) and all are welcome to join along (see the post above to sign up). All you need is a book and blog.

6. Would you be able to go through all that Julian went through in order to have her baby in peace and safety?

Since I didn't get pregnant easily, I can't really speak to how I'd behave if I had conceived within that first year of trying. But I can say that after infertility, I have become more protective than I ever thought I would be. Before we started trying, I had a friend who would always pass along her new baby to me when we were at shul. And she trusted me to walk around with her baby while giving her a break. That's the mother I thought I would be. I wanted to be easy-going and share my kids and give other people that joy of playing with a baby. But something changed in me with infertility. Even before the kids were born, I felt very protective. Protective of my belly when they were inside. Conservative with who held them once they came out. They're now 2 1/2 and we've never left them with someone outside of our family with the exception of the handful of times they went to daycare before we pulled them out. I can't really put my finger on how much of that is part of the infertility experience and how much of that overprotectiveness comes from the NICU experience. But I can say that I felt myself morphing more into the type of mother I actually became when we were going through treatments.

Julian's actions--what she went through in order to give birth and ensure that she would have full control over the situation and therefore full protection over her child: that was one of the most believable parts of the book. I think there are women who would say, "damn, just go to the hospital and get the epidural and suck it up if Xan takes your child afterwards!" But I think I would have done the same thing--gone to any length to ensure that they were my definition of protected.

8. What do you think is the significance of the fact that the two people who are finally able to conceive are both considered "flawed?" (Luke had epilepsy and Julian had a deformed hand)

I'd like to believe that P.D. James was using those characteristics to reveal the small-mindedness we fall into when we start thinking about perfection and birth (and, yes, I am guilty of this too). A little while ago, there was a New York Times article that was going around the blogosphere on PGD and deafness. Some Deaf parents (and I use the capital D to refer to the culture more than the condition) were expressing a desire to have a deaf child. There was a lot of discussion in the blogosphere that condemned these parents just as these articles used biased language to show their stand on this situation. For me, it felt a lot like fertile people making commentary on IVF. I didn't comment because I'm not deaf and therefore, I have no idea what it feels like to have a child who exists within a different circle of society from myself. Having spent a lot of time on the Gallaudet campus, I can promise you that there is a rich Deaf culture complete with deaf jokes, deaf theater, and deaf literature. It is a different way of experiencing the world just as infertility is a different way of experiencing parenthood. And if you can see the benefits of infertility (as some have written about recently in that other popular blogging topic--would you ever want to go back and be the person you were pre-infertility), you can probably see how someone would long to have a child who exists within their same world--no matter how painful that world may be. Obviously, I'm not saying that I long to have an infertile child because I'm infertile. I hope my children never have to go through what we're going through. It's not a perfect analogy, but that article made me rethink how we view imperfections--both in conditions and diseases. And I think P.D. James was trying to get us to rethink how we speak and think about deformities and diseases--especially in this brave new world where technology and tests exist that allow us to know our child's health prior to delivery.

This answer in no way is meant to dismiss PGD or medical termination--I am a firm supporter of both. And it's not that I agree that PGD should be used for these purposes. Rather, my issue is solely with the judgement expressed in these articles and the way we reduce deafness, dwarfism, or even infertility. Infertility sucks and it's terrible. And fertility treatments are painful. And hormones make me feel like shit. But when we label infertility as "bad," we don't convey the friendships and relationships I've built with other stirrup queens. Or how I've become more sensitive and thoughtful in other areas in life. I hope my children aren't infertile--this really isn't something I wish to share with them. But if it does turn out that they are infertile, I know that there is more to the experience than just the shittiness. Does that make sense? So I have to trust that a deaf parent is seeking to connect with their child not on the deafness per se, but on this unique way of viewing the world that they experienced due to their deafness. I think these articles--and the fertility testing done in the novel--also scares me because who defines perfection. Who sets hearing above silence? What is the definition of perfection when it comes to a human and how do we know that someone isn't perfect?

Aaaah, I was doing so well staying out of the New York Times discussion and now I've jumped into the fray. But that's how I viewed that information in the book: that people who weren't "perfect" weren't even tested because no one wanted them to be the ones creating the first child. But how do we define perfection in regard to humans and what is the purpose of attempting to create it (or to reject imperfections)?

14. If you were living in this time period and were given the ability to become pregnant but knew you would be the only person to do so, would you have that child knowing that they would be completely alone in an empty world for the last twenty-odd years of their life?

This was a really hard one--especially because I, the mother, would be included in the people who died and left the child behind in the world. I am terrified of leaving my children during a time when they need me. And who wouldn't need their mother at the end of the world? I really sat with this and tried to imagine my child walking around the world completely alone. Without another human being. I'd like to think that I would be the humane parent and not put my child through that. Yet I know I would have that child. I would. I would look at the years we had together worth the pain at the end of that lifetime. I would hold out hope that things in the world would change and more children would be born. And I don't know how I feel about myself with that choice or how my child would feel about me knowing that I put them in their current situation. But what's the alternative--not being born at all. And is that truly any better?

16. One of the reason's I suggested this book to Mel was because of a very thoughtful article in the NY Times by A.O. Scott comparing the film and the novel versions of Children of Men. Scott closes the article with a quotation by James speaking to the differences between what she normally writes -- detective novels -- and the world she created for Children.... She says, "The detective novel affirms our belief in a rational universe because, at the end, the mystery is solved. In Children of Men there is no such comforting resolution." The conclusion she leads us to, of course, is that the universe is not nearly so rational, which I thought very aptly describes the world of IF. At the end of the novel, we really don't know what will happen next -- will they find a cure for the world-wide infertility crisis? Will totalitarian rule come to an end in England? Will Theo wield power more wisely than Xan did or will he fall victim to the same peril he saw in Rolf? The haze of uncertainty resonates as it does with parenting-after-infertility because it's not all happily-ever-after when the wished-for child is born. Does anyone else identify with that? What does it take to deliver ourselves out from our own dystopias?

I think that's one of the big myths of infertility--it's one that the fertile world certainly believes (now that you have a child, what's the big deal? Why are you still so focused on infertility?) and the infertile world does as well. We think that once we become parents, the hurt will instantly melt away. We'll forget about all the times we sat in an empty nursery and cried. But it certainly isn't an instantaneous switch--at least it wasn't for me or anyone I know who has been through infertility. I think time--not situation--dulls the pain of infertility. And for those who are still working to build a family, the clock doesn't really kick in until family building is complete. And for those who fear that their parenting path will continue to have obstacles that will need to be overcome in future years, I'm not sure when the clock begins to tick away the pain of infertility. I'm not saying that the hurt feels the same after you've become pregnant or carried to term or adopted or held your child carried by a surrogate. It's a different ache, but an ache nonetheless. And it's an ache that signals the emotions that still need to be resolved. Because after the infertility itself is resolved, I think we finally find the space to begin resolving the emotions of infertility. I think we're so focused on resolving the infertility and becoming parents that we hold some of those emotions we're feeling about loss or control or jealousy at arm's length. And we finally let our arms down and start dealing with those feelings when our arms finally have a new job of holding a child rather than keeping everything at bay.

18. For those that are naturally ambitious (in other words, a type-A personality), do you think it is realistic to fall into apathy or ennui so easily if there are no future generations?

It didn't feel completely realistic to me. First of all, the lack of hope rang a bit false. I mean, even when you know there's no hope, you try and try and try (and still feel the same sadness when the efforts are futile even though you knew in your heart that there was no chance). And I just couldn't believe that 25 years (or however long it had been since Omega) was all it took to take away any sense of hope. I've read blogs where the person has been trying for 15 years and they still have some semblance of hope--if they truly had absolutely no hope, they would stop trying--even if their rational self accepts that they may never become pregnant. So I didn't really believe that the world would give up that easily--let the entire planet fall into disrepair and cease any advances in science. I think a greater emphasis on plan for the worst/hope for the best (which was somewhat the case, but it was certainly played down in the book) would feel more realistic.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading all your comments, you express yourself very well and there are lots of things I can relate to. I found your last comment interesting. I agree with it, I found it hard to accept that a whole world just gives up hope after 25 years. I find it hard to believe that EVERYONE gives up. However, my brother-in-law told me about his cousin who did an environmental impact assessment in a country that has been ravaged by civil war and she said that people had just given up all hope; nothing worked anymore, everyone just tried to find enough to eat and then just sat. It seems so hard to believe that a whole country can give up. Perhaps there is a key factor in choosing to give up and perhaps it is different for everyone - stop the pain, unbearable loss leading to depression, apathy, inertia? Despite this, I still struggle to accept that type A personalities would give up that easily.

I found your comment on resolving infertility very interesting. I still haven't had my first child and I think, "But this is just for one child! What about the others I long to have, will I ever manage to have them?" Your comment that it is only when we have built our family that we can begin to resolve our infertility rang very true. I think while we are trying to have our babies, we are focused on a goal and we do keep some emotions at arms length, we simply do not have the emotional energy to deal with them, and it is only once we reach our goal that we are able to look at them. Thank you for putting into words something I have been struggling to understand.

Anonymous said...

That was a great post, Mel!

I thought your answer to #16 especially was spot on. Yes, the fertile world would like us to get all happy and "move on" once we either have a baby/child in our lives or make the decision to live as childfree. It never seems to work that way. And yeah, it does affect relationships with lots of people - family, friends, co-workers, etc. At least you find out who your friends really are...and how they feel about infertility.

I've found that our relationship with our child's birthmom has brought up lots of infertility-related things; specifically, the fact that we're not having much of a relationship with her at present.

DaniGirl said...

What a great, thoughtful post. Your thoughts on PGD reminded me of an opinion piece in our paper from a woman who has adopted from China. She was talking about the new restrictions in place and how the Chinese want parents to be more 'perfect', but then totally turned the piece around by comparing that to her choice to adopt a healthy baby from China rather than a special needs child here. She says, in essence, we condemn the Chinese, saying they are discriminating against the obese and gays and single parents, and yet we 'discriminate' in the same way by deciding not to adopt the special needs kids. Very interesting article!

I agree with what you were saying, too, about feeling a heightened need to protect in accordance with your definition of protected. I'm very much like that, and I do think infertility had a lot to do with it.

Thanks again for getting the book tour rolling!

S said...

Great post, Mel!

I think that the last one, for me, was very interesting, because I could totally see that happening, if there was no hope for reproduction (I wrote a little about that in my blog post).

On resolving infertility, that one rang so true for me-people who have never had to deal with IF make resolving our own pain so easy with th birth or adoption of a child. It's not that easy, because infertility doesn't end with a birth-it doesn't take away all those years of pain and uncertainty.

Anonymous said...

The resolving infertility part resonated with me too. So much so I tried to touch on it in my post too, though I think you wrote much more elegantly about it. :) I'm finding that I'm still struggling with those emotions. At this point, I don't know when I won't be any longer. Strange because I did think it'd all get better once I was pregnant. How naive we can be.

Anonymous said...

Thinking more about the last question you answered. I think the problem of the apathy is not from the lack of any one person's individual desire, but more of a cultural phenomenon overwhelming the logical basis for hope. Connecting back to the theme of religion that has popped up in other posts, I think one also needs to look to the faith in science-as-religion and that loss of faith in James' world as operating very strongly. Think how much faith we place in science and technology to not only maintain our lives, but constantly improve them. What happens when science makes no progress in resolving what should come naturally for 25 years? The continuing failure may not be realistic -- but perhaps that's our faith in science getting the best of us.

Anonymous said...

Great comments. Your answer about the myth of infertility being resolved once you've achieved parenthood was very well stated. I had similar thoughts about that, but didn't express them nearly as well.

I think Josh had a good point about the loss of faith in science and technology. One of the sources of hope for me was hearing about other couples' triumphs over infertility. If there were really no stories of people being able to conceive, I think I would lose hope as well.

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that you agreed with Julian's choice to do whatever was necessary for the perceived safety of her child, while I'm thinking I would have given Xan whatever he wanted just to have a child. If you were still in the throes of TTC without having experienced pregnancy, would your opinion still be the same?

Nicole said...

It is so hard to let go of the fear of IF even when things seem to be going well. It is like an IF is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think that is why it is so hard for infertiles to 'let go' even when/if they have a child, by any means.

Every failed cycle, every miscarriage, every bad result, it is horrible to know you can't do anything to keep them (eggs, embryos, fetus, child) safe.

Anonymous said...

I think your perspective on parenting after infertility is very insightful. The pain and the trauma that we suffer as an infertile does not magically disappear when we acheive pregnancy, or even when we have a baby in our arms. I think that the pain of infertility will always influence who I am. I hope that one day I will be able to let go of the hurt and anger and just keep the strength of character and compassion that it has taught me and continues to teach me...

And yes Mel, I have sat and rocked in a glider in the room that would be the nursery.. :)

Rachel Inbar said...

You wrote "the clock doesn't really kick in until family building is complete" and I think that's how I feel - it isn't until you fulfil whatever dream you always had, in terms of the number of children you wanted, that you can start feeling really differently. If you dreamt of having a big family, then having one child doesn't make the pain of infertility go away, because a big part of the pain is losing the dream.

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