There’s an iPhone4 advert series that shows various people talking to each other thru FaceTime, an iPhone app that allows videoconferencing between phones. In one of the adverts (youtube link here), a woman calls a man, with a facial expression that I can only describe as Infinite Glee and Joy and Smugness; she begins by saying, “Hey do you got a minute? Are you alone?”
The glee on her face betrayed the understatement. F*ck you, I thought. I saw it coming right then.
“Well, you know that THING we’ve been working on for awhile now?” she continued. Ohgawd. Here it comes.
The man replies, “No way.” Yah, me too. I flipped off the television screen.
The bird didn’t stop the inevitable. She continued (because she’s an advertisement on television, not a real person), “Mmmhrmmm–You’re gonna be a dad!” I knew it. Argh.
I.hate.that.iPhone4 advertisement. It smacks of all that frustrates me about societal expectations of women and couples without children. That conversation, that situation (of being “with child”) is supposed to be the symbol of The Greatest Joy.
This advertisement bothered me. I went ahead and tweeted, “I just flipped off the iPhone 4 commercial where the woman tells her husband via phone video, ‘You’re gonna be a dad.’” And found that I was not alone in my frustration. Really not alone.
And then this morning I read Eve’s amaaaazing post on the Empty Womb and Self Actualization (there’s an actual psychological pyramid of needs by Kenrick that puts parenting at the top, thereby equating parenting with self actualizationg! zomg). In her post, she details the psychological aspects of the issue and offers a few suggestions, one being that parents share the downs as well as the ups of parenthood to the world and do the justice of offering a balanced portrait (instead of smugness). Her post explained my frustration and anger with the iPhone 4 advertisement. And it helped me articulate some of my personal thoughts on societal messages about Parenthood as Ultimate Joy and Self Actualization.
When I was studying with an Orthodox rabbi for conversion to Judaism, I learned many things. For example, I learned the laws of kashrut, the debates within kashrut, I read the Kuzari and learned history and learned to ask questions (being Asian, one of the greatest hurdles to my learning process was that I initially found it very very difficult to question an authority figure or an overriding law, which is precisely the method of learning a rabbi embraces). I studied for five years. I learned things with which I had conflict, like the Orthodox Jewish stance with homosexuality (which officially is not in support of homosexuality in case you needed that stated).
And I read a line in a book by a female author describing Jewish life that sticks with me to this day: “A childless couple in the community is pitied.” I had never seen it spelled out like that before. It stung even then, before I knew I would spend over 10 years trying to conceive without success.
It stung because it is true. A childless couple, or childless person, is pitied.
Pitied. Not accepted. Not extolled. Not empathized. Not sympathized. Pitied. To see as lesser, to feel sorry for.
As in, missing out on The Greatest Joy.
And I am reminded of this constantly. From a guest at a wedding sitting to my right, who inevitably asks, “Do you have children?” To which I answer No. To which he replies “Why not? You really should have children. They are great. You should have children.” To which I decide to reply Because I can’t have children. Thank you. (I have many responses; this is one I save for the truly obnoxious because it is a conversation killer). To which he continues, “You should try IVF, have you heard of IVF?” To which I *want* to reply What is IVF? I have never heard of IVF! But instead I reply It doesn’t always work. To which he responds “Yes it does! C’mon, you can’t tell me it fails! Everyone I know who’s had it done, conceived!” To which I want to reply are you really that f*cking stupid but instead say No, it only works a percentage of the time. You should look into your facts…and on and on and on. I can only summarize the conversation as a painful exchange, one that begins with the man extolling The Greatest Joy, urging membership, and then insisting on ways to join, all the while showing utter ignorance.
Someone who is a part of my daily life came up to me not too long ago and said with utter sincerity (and joy), “You don’t really finish growing up until you have a child.” He knows I have been trying to have a child for years and years. I was silent. I wasn’t sure that was true. But I didn’t have a rebuttal until months and months later when a friend of mine told me, “You should have told him you don’t really finish growing up until you’ve had a stroke at the age of 33!” That’s an awesome line from an awesome friend. A little too late. But it gave me a good laugh and helped me imagine a different end to that exchange.
I have had to hide the status updates of so many of my friends on Facebook, because of what I call “smug Mommy updates.” It makes me feel I am lesser, even if they don’t feel they’re consciously doing so. There are mommy friends I haven’t hid, and those are the friends whose updates are more balanced: not only are their kids cherubic at times, their kids also slip out of their diapers in the middle of the night, roll around in their doody and smear doody on the walls. Their kids are beautiful and they have videos of kids singing…and their kids also have rockin’ tantrums. This is real, this is beautiful, this does not make me feel lesser, and does not fill me with heartbreak.
Even an article in nymag entitled “All Joy No Fun; Why Parents Hate Parenting”, one that portrays parenthood as being absent of fun and enjoyment…ultimately defends parenthood as a bastion of Joy.
At times I am bitter, but most of the time, I am not bitter. I am happy. I am a joyful person who happens to not have a child, and who wants a child (one! I just want one!). My infertility brings me pain; as far as I know, pain can coincide with happiness and joy. I am happy for my friends with children or who are pregnant, even if sometimes I can’t stop crying while saying I am happy for them. Sometimes I wonder if my grief stems from societal expectations and pressure as much as it comes from within me. My grief probably is complicated by these societal messages and this feeling of exclusion as much as it stems from a real desire for a child.
An addendum: After I wrote this post, I kept thinking about all the myths out there and how they are furthered by the stupidity of people like…screenwriters. There is nothing that has infuriated me further than the Sex and the City movie (the first one) where Charlotte is suddenly pregnant after having adopted her first child, Lily. The screenwriters even had the gall to have her character squeal, “I’m pregnant. I guess if you relax and adopt like they say, you will finally get pregnant on your own!” That they turned her character and her infertility from something meaningful (her conversion to Judaism in the TV series, although a bit speedy/easy, was something that rang a little true…and her struggles with infertility even truer) to something that was an insulting cliché disappointed me. That people turn to me and say stuff like, “If you stop trying, you’ll get pregnant/Why don’t you adopt?/I know someone (probably Charlotte) who adopted and then got pregnant,” is just so sad. And after a little bit of googling, I’ve found I’m not the only person who thinks/feels this way.