Articulating Pain: Expectations on Expecting

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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.

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48 Comments

Filed under Favorites, Life, The Personal

48 responses to “Articulating Pain: Expectations on Expecting

  1. This post is amazing and articulate. Well done.

    I think your grief is absolutely complicated and compounded by the larger societal message of exclusion and expectations and the view of children as the pinnacle of purpose. It’s incredibly unfair. You should be able to grieve and articulate and work through your own feelings without dudes at weddings lecturing you.

    I hide almost everyone on facebook with those “smug mommy updates” and I don’t even have the reasons you do. Mostly it is because I hate the way women are so easily erased behind the “mommy” label. Which makes me hate people who try to erase you behind the “non-mommy” label. Like the person who told you that idiotic bit about growing up. I mean, SERIOUSLY? And he’ll probably never realize what he did, never understand that his little pronouncements about life cause real people real pain.

  2. YouKnowWho

    This is the only time I am going to throw this out there. There’s always adoption.

    –begin soapbox–

    From the POV of a couple who decided long ago that for numerous reasons we don’t want to have kids, it is sometimes infuriating to watch people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on IVF while thousands of children who are already born, sit ignored and unwanted. The pressure to have your own kid with your own genes is burned into our brains daily, and I think it does an injustice to the children who grow up bounced from foster home to foster home.

    –end soapbox–

    On a lighter note, Sylvia mentioned that she wanted make an Octomom plushie. I suggested that she should make it where you can pull a string and a dozen babies will come out like a pearl necklace. I think it will sell.

    The pressure is not just on women either. I have gotten plenty of blank stares from male coworkers who can’t seem to fathom why I don’t want a son to carry on my DNA imprint.

    I think a major problem with our society as a whole is that so much of our milestones in life are centered around the events and nothing is given to the things in between. We know couples who spent $75k on a wedding only to divorce a year later. Couples focus everything around having children so that they can put them in daycare or hire nannies to do the heavy lifting.

    We place so much emphasis on the Big Moments that we forget that there is a shit ton of maintenance and hard work that goes along with it.

    • Eve

      YouKnowWho, I’m a guest here and will try to be mindful of that, and of the fact that I don’t know you at all. But I wanted to say that your soapbox comments sound so much like something I’ve said 20-30 years ago and during my many years as a child advocate who has literally written the book on ethics in child placement practices.

      I do not think that adoption is the solution to infertility. It is not a ‘better’ option than IVF or other means of enhancing the likelihood of pregnancy just because it’s less expensive or because orphans need families. I have spent a lifetime studying and living the experience of an adoptive parent and I can tell you that it is not at all like the hype you have believed or that has been given you by professionals or by starry-eyed but wet-behind-the-ears adoptive parents. An adoption is not something one should do because one can’t have a child and it’s the only way to get one, and I mean this even though I know that nearly all adoptive parents adopt children because they have to, not because adopting a child is their first choice. Fertile adoptive parents are one of the world’s smallest minorities.

      Adoption is supposed to be about the best interests of children but is largely driven by money and greed in this country and sometimes by misguided, romantic views of adoption and foster care. There’s a whole dark underbelly to the adoption world that you will encounter at a conference aimed at adult adoptees and birth parents, and most adoptive parents are shocked to discover how their adult adopted kids actually feel after they grow up. When I say “most” I refer to the majority of adoptive parents who originally adopted because they ‘had’ to. I object strenuously to the idea that people ought to consider adopting a child because they can’t have one, or because a child needs them, or because it’s cheaper than IVF. No couple should ever ‘settle’ for an adopted child, and no blessed child should ever be settled for.

      Adopting someone else’s child is a calling and a gift, not a duty, obligation, right, or savings vehicle. Generally, the child you adopt will have an IQ that can be 20-50 points lower than that of you and your husband, will be the end result of generations of inherited traits that you will not ‘get’ or understand or even be supportive of, will long, in some dark and even hidden place, for the mother who carried and birthed him or her, and will ultimately grow up to be much more like his/her biological parents than you, the people who raised him or her. Only the most conscious, aware, and loving people make wise and good adoptive parents, and the rest do a mediocre to terrible job. Many kids forced into ill-fitting foster and adoptive homes would have done better had a birth family relative been recruited and supports put in place so that the child could have remained in his/her family of origin. A great many adoptive parents find this out later, and their state as infertile people comes back to them with a vengeance as they find in their old age that they are still essentially childless–or their grown children realize they were never loved or wanted for who they were, but were in the family only to scratch the itch to have a child. They were always an object of desire, never a human being.

      For all these reasons and others besides, I’ll interject my own soap box here and wish you the best.

      • YouKnowWho

        Eve, thank you for the insight. As someone who has no desire for children, I’ll be the first to admit that I viewed the adoption system from a fairly superficial POV.

        I certainly agree that no parents should ‘settle’ for any child whether adopted or biological.

        I’d also like to say that, “always the object of desire, never a human being” can swing both way as far as biological vs adopted. I attribute that more to social expectations of parenthood than anything.

        Thanks for your perspective. I think that your POV is not heard very often and tends to be drowned out by a lot of the media fantasies of parenthood overall.

        I stand corrected on the words that came out of my ass. 🙂

        • It’s true that it can swing both ways. I feel that many societies biological children are merely viewed as objects that are supposed to make you look better or carry on some legacy, rather than their own human beings. When they choose to live their life apart from what you expected of them as the ‘owner’, aka ‘parent’, they may disown you or abandon you.

      • Thank you Eve, for saying what I could not say. @YouKnowWho I love your thoughts on Big Moments and how we ignore the interstitial spaces of life–deftly put, and one everyone (not just people grappling with parenthood) should heed. You are both very good people.

        As Eve said–the decision to adopt is an entirely different decision matrix, at least for me. My husband and I have talked it over, and if we are to head towards the decision to adopt, we are going to have to start from scratch, emotionally and cognitively. There really is no way infertility and adoption are a direct exchange, and in many ways I fear I may be a WORSE parent for having adopted in the wake of infertility. I will *have* to “get over” the grief of my infertility to be a healthy adoptive parent, and for the sake of any adopted child and a possible future family.

      • Thank you so much for this information. I am a fertile woman and I have always considered adoption in the future (about ten years from now) when I would find myself in the right place to have a child. I had no idea about any of these facts and I am glad I was introduced to them.

  3. Elka

    I hate that you’ve had to struggle with fertility and conception for so long, and after I read this I went through my FB updates and realized that yes, of course, I am constantly updating about my baby. Perhaps I should’ve had more updates though on the pooping in my bellybutton, punching me in the face while nursing, screaming without end on road trips? Fair and balanced apparently is not my m.o. here, just as it is not that of life in general.

    While I had no problem getting pregnant, being pregnant as a Type 1 diabetic was kind of hellish at times. It’s always something, I suppose.

    And yes, I was grossed out by those iPhone commercials, too, as I was by the NYMag article on parenting. In general I find that a lot of parents, especially in the Bay Area, reek of the type of self-righteous privilege and whiny spoiled-rottenness that I’ve grown used to (barely) over 13 years of living here. It’s uncalled for, and, in my opinion, baffling. Big whoop, you have a kid, but guess what? Your kid kind of sucks. He’s a bratty little hellion that is ruling your life like some type of evil wee overlord. Put a muzzle on him.

    Anyway, that could be the Midwest in me talking. I guess what I want to say is, I am sorry that you have had to live with this pain, both that of your fertility issues, and that caused by lame-o parents surrounding you. And really, the baby boom as of late can only have made it more annoying. I promise that in the future I will try to be one of the good guys, and hopefully my little brattikins will not, in fact, grow up to be a turdblossom at all.

  4. chaesq

    No words. Just . . . I really appreciated this.

  5. Amyable

    When asked if I have kids, I tell them the truth – No, I don’t have any because I don’t want any. But I say it with as much smugness I can muster up without being totally rude.

  6. Wow you guys are all so amazing. There is so much hurt and exhaustion and pain on both sides of the fence and I wish, I wish this is something we talked about more readily irl.

    What I wrote up on FB:
    I wish these sorts of discussions could happen more readily irl! I love hearing about the nuances and how everything is NOT so black and white (why has the world painted it so? because yes, even though I don’t have children, and I grieve and grieve and grieve, the reality is that I get to SLEEP IN on whim, except on days which I have to work, of course, and even then, there is a set time I wake up, and it’s not in the middle of the night). And parents experience awesomeness to which I can’t fathom or have access, but have to make big compromises for the awesome. THIS…! THIS is so real and amazing and I thank you all for sharing.

    • Eve

      Christine, you are one of my heroes because you struggle and ponder and think and feel… and WRITE. You are such a good person, such a principled human being. A person who will study five years before converting to a religion is a person who is making a conscious decision. Whatever happens to you as a mother, and whether you become one or not by any means at all, I think you’re an amazing human being. I wish there were many more in the world like you.

      Also, for the record, though I’m a parent I regularly loathe and hate Facebook. I had no idea I could block certain people’s updates, but the ones that annoy me the most are the ones full of endless drivel that all boils down to: “Look at me and how great I am and how rich I am and look at my wonderful, perfect kids and LOOK at the fun we’re having at Wally World/the beach/the French Riviera/someplace else that costs tons fo money and that proves just how much better than everyone else I am and how great my life is and how much yours sucks, and by way, which also proves how little I suffer and how something’s wrong with you because for some reason you are suffering/have suffered a LOT, you loser.” Yeah. I would like to block those.

      • Eve, you are an amazing person, and I am thankful that you write and inspire me. I wish I can someday give you an irl hug.

        And yes: Facebook shows a hint of mercy! There is a “hide” button beside each person’s FB updates on the news feed page. Click on it, and experience relief! This way, you don’t “un-friend” someone, but you don’t have to be inundated. I intend on un-hiding many of my smug mom friends once their children are of school age. 🙂

        p.s. sorry about the iPhone4 commercial in your head. I think you should start singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song…

        • YouKnowWho

          Her: “Remember that thing we were working on?”

          Him: “OMG you got me superbowl tickets!!”

          Her: “…”

        • @YouKnowWho: LOL. someone you & I both know loves to riff on that ad. He’s made up quite a few, including the following:
          Her: Remember that thing we did together?
          Him: Really?
          Her: Yah, you have herpes.

  7. Eve

    P.S. The iPhone commercial also makes me want to barf. Thanks for sharing that, as now I will never, ever get that girl’s face out of my head. ;o)

  8. catherine

    i wonder if some of the pain you feel also comes from how people around us devalue/deny/underplay the real freedoms and choices that you’ve taken advantage of, being free of the burdens of childrearing. you’ve done so many amazing things w/your adult life so far–so much growth, exploration, creative endeavors. living by and for yourself. truly appreciating the great partnership and life you built together w/ari. i think that there’s always the danger of internalizing those pronatalist negative messages that say that all these things are not valuable in and of themselves, that they’re valuable only as preparation for ‘the real’ life-tasks of birthing and rearing.

  9. It’s very painful, wanting to have a child and being unable to conceive one. It really pisses me off that you’ve been subjected to such hurtful and insensitive reactions — and I agree with you that the worst thing of all is the smugness of people who easily conceive and then behave as though this makes them superhuman and all others somehow faulty. Some things just come down to luck — and that includes wealth, beauty and brains, as well as fertility. It’s never okay to behave as though what you achieve through luck is something you got because you deserve it because you are so special and those who didn’t, well, they aren’t special. Ick.

    I suppose that the crap around how fabulous being a parent is has to do with how different the experience is from the hype. As you’ve pointed out, it’s both great and awful (in fact, it’s a lot like the ups and downs of being a writer…) And some parents react to the disappointing discovery that being a parent isn’t always fun, and is sometimes really difficult, by basically claiming that the emperor is amazingly well dressed in their neighborhood.

    You amaze and delight me, and I’m so glad that you wrote this. xo

  10. Beautiful post, Christine! Thank you for your words. A friend of mine from high school told me last year I was selfish for wanting to stay in school and not get married and have kids now! That I was wasting time and that I was immature! I always see having kids as not changing much about the person. For example, if you have a kid, you’re still you, just now with a kid. You’re not suddenly somebody different, better, happier or more worthy, especially not if you suffer from post-partum depression which I thought maybe she would mention in the article. It has killed women and yet it’s always shrugged off as being a ‘fake’ disease.

  11. I also have always wanted to adopt a child. When people ask me ‘dont you want one of your own’ I say yes but inside, in my heart, I’m not so sure. I just feel pressured to say that I do.

  12. Nate

    CZ: First off, advertising exists to manufacture feeling of inadequacy in us –that’s what it does, that’s ALL it does. A typical hour’s worth of TV commercials will show people happily married, enjoying alcohol, buying a giant house, and lots of other things that many people don’t want to do, aren’t able to do, or shouldn’t do (like buy a $300 phone). They hope that we’ll try to feel complete by buying what they’re selling. Unfortunately, this system is a helluva lot better at generating feelings of inadequacy than satisfying them.

    I don’t know who Kenrick is or read NY Magazine, but I do know a lot of people, as a rule, write and say a lot of stupid shit. I’m sorry that it hurts you and I’m incredulous that so many people seem to think that having a kid is some kind of divine end-all, be-all. It is something that happens and can, like most things, be wonderful sometimes and bad other times. Bill Hicks once said something like: childbirth is not a miracle, raising a kid that doesn’t talk in a movie theatre is a miracle.

    When my daughter was born you told me that her name was one that you guys had also picked out and it absolutely broke my heart to read because I knew how much it must have broken your heart to write. Thank you so much for sharing that with me then(and please forgive me for sharing that with everyone else now!) I have not walked your particular path, but I’ve been unfortunate enough to know exactly how lucky Mrs. Nate and I are to be parents. It’s not easy to share in someone else’s joy and grieve at the same time. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    Eve: FB serves as some sort of real-time Christmas Letter for many, many people –ugh.

    DJ: While I would agree that making a baby certainly doesn’t make you any better than you were, I do think “you with a kid” is often a different person than “you” were –it is without question a major emotional priority shift. That is probably what “insensitive man #2” in CZ’s post was attempting to describe as “growing up.” I would imagine that anyone taking on heavy responsibilities (business owners, soldiers, politicians, caretakers of the chronically ill or dying) has a similar experience of emotionally losing a part of themselves in filling their new role.

    Honestly, my wife has had a tough time leaving certain aspects of her former self behind. In a way there is an undercurrent of grief in motherhood, especially in an era when women are told that they can (and should) somehow be everything.

    • You are all so wise and thoughtful; I’m so glad to have all of you here on the blog conversing and discussing different facets of parenthood/deification/reality/identity/politics (wow, look at all the different facets), and so glad to have you all in my life.

      Nate: Always thoughtful! No worries on sharing the fact that your daughter’s name is one I also eartagged. 🙂 If I don’t end up with my own *****, then I’m glad yours is out in the world.

  13. Here is something I recently figured out. I was talking to my friend who has two great kids. We were talking about meeting new people. I was saying that when people say, “Do you have kids?” and I say “no,” they never smile at me. My argument was that since has children, she is unaware of all this constant disapproval.

    We talked for a long time before it hit me… There are people in the room who aren’t like that. BUT you wouldn’t know who they are because they don’t ask, “Do you have kids?” So your allies are there, but they are invisible.

    I hope this makes sense to someone besides me. It was a really comforting breakthrough.

    • @Tayari: Yes, what you say is SO true. Look at what’s happened here and on the FB thread for this same post! Look at all this support and sharing of wisdom! It doesn’t happen “irl,” unfortunately, and THIS is another reason why I so very much love the act of writing; a dialogue that doesn’t happen face to face in general conversation, surfaces. Amazing. I am lucky, in an odd way, to have found a little bubble of community to support me; it is a consequence of battling infertility for 10+ years–eventually, my tumbleweed knocks into and contacts more and more people who understand and empathize (even if it knocks, probably, into way more people who do not). The raw # grows.

      Thank you everyone. I love the love!

  14. Connie

    First of all, {{{{hugs}}}}. What an amazing, articulate and personal piece. I’m so glad you shared. And I’m afraid I’m not articulate enough to formulate a response that is up to the standard of many of the responses already posted.

    Many of my friends are now parents, and the more honest ones will admit that before they became parents, their emotional and mental states were a little more plateau-like. Now, their “highs” are higher than they every thought possible, but their “lows” are even lower than they thought possible. The people who only talk about how wonderful being a parent is are deluding themselves. (BTW, I promise I will post doody stories)

    Also, it’s one thing to ask a stranger if he/she has kids in casual conversation, but it’s really not anyone’s business (except that person’s partner) to probe any further about why not. It always amazes me when people are rude enough to do so. Like, aren’t there other topics to talk about? That dude at that wedding can go sit on a log.

  15. renaissanceguy

    Good for you for being open and honest.

    My wife and I are fertile, but she had a series of pregnancy losses that left us despairing about whether or not we would have children. We eventually reconciled ourselves to the possibility, but it was hard being around people who considered parenting the ultimate and considered us imcomplete or not yet a family.

    I hate the expression “start a family,” as in, “When are you going to start a family?” You start a family the day you get married. And even single people can be part of a family-like community.

    We considered adoption at one point, but I am glad that we did not go through with it at that point. We were idealistic and naive, and it might not have turned out well at all.

    We did eventually have two biological children, and then we adopted an orphan at the dying mother’s request. It has been a joyful experience, but very, very hard at times. The adopted child has caused us much grief as well as much joy.

    Parenting is a good path, but it is not the only path or the ultimate path. Now that I have been a husband and a parent, I can easily picture myself being neither, and I wish that society made all those options equally valid for people.

  16. All I can offer is empathy. I do not know the status of own my uterus (which I don’t mean nearly as weird as it sounds). Yet I know several women who have struggled with infertility, miscarriages, and hearing what people say to them infuriates me.

    And “you don’t really grow up until you have a child?” PLEASE. Maybe that’s his experience, but that seems–and sorry understanding and mature guys out there–that something an immature dude would say. I liked your friend’s response, and I think there are numerous other responses. (You don’t grow up until you are a parent to your parent from age 5 on. You don’t grow up until you are financially independent. You don’t grow up until you watch your partner [nearly] die as a young adult. And so on…)

    I’m glad I haven’t seen the iPhone4 commercial. I too have begun to actively avoid the smug-parent comments–and the smug-parents themselves. A few years shy of the “magic age” of 34, I have begun to hear that “well, you need to figure this out” and “it doesn’t get any easier then,” etc. And, this assumes that my husband and I want children at all. When I suggest that I actively am not interested, people look at me like I’m an alien–especially our friends who have children or are currently pregnant.

    The implication of my choices always seem the same: I’m apparently denigrating their choices.

    I’m not.

    On a less-serious note, there was an interesting discussion on either the NY Times or Washington Post website a few days ago. Of course I can’t find it now. It examined the way that married or partnered people view, react or comment on single people who are in their 30s and 40s. And, I was surprised at the number of commenters who admitted their biases towards “those single people are freaks!” and then said they hadn’t realized it. Many acquaintances assume that marriage is the mark that you have “grown up,” or that your life is peachy-keen from here on. (And, some of these people are married themselves.) As you can guess, this simple-mindedness makes me want to punch them.

    All of this adds up to people imposing their choices and options and views on others. But, in being open about your anger, grief and frustration, I think you are doing a lot of people an important service. One, it lets people know that they should be aware of their thoughtlessness, even when it comes from having the best intentions. I hope it convinces some of these people to think before they speak.

    Two, you’re giving strength to the people everywhere who share your experiences; infertility is one of those topics people avoid because it is painful. The more people put their experiences out into the world, I think more people may realize they aren’t alone, and parents may realize that they need to, again, consider that their choices/options are not necessarily another’s.

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  18. well written, concise and deeply thought out!

    I used to consider myself childless by choice; knowing partly that my fertility issues might have stemmed the choice. I all too well remember the table we were sat at during a huge southern wedding, we were in our 30s with couples in their 60s, and all 10 of us had no children……it was odd I thought how my husband’s parents were at the same reception and yet not at our table….my husband was the best man…..and here we were in outer mongolia…..I was not having a great weekend and while I delighted in our company! Some of our table cohorts were librarians from the uk with wild wit and severe fun streaks…..I was also crying in the bathroom every time i went.

    There are so many ways to divide and subjugate our fellow humans and somehow this one spilled over into the brunch reception the next morning and I exploded about why we were not allowed to mix with those that bred on purpose or by mistake……I hope I never make anyone feel such pain, and while I am embarrassed by my outbursts in that posh high rise, I also relish in the fact that we were the only people that talked to the staff at the hotel and looked them in eyes, it was so odd to see that “southern” hospitality just separate people with airs of superiority….and yet many of my husband’s college friends all think I am just some crazy woman that keeps him from socializing with them….we are odd that way, we try not to spend time with people that make themselves feel superior at other’s expense!

  19. Tony

    My two cents is that I think if we all just agreed that “societal expectations” is a slippery thing to quantify. Much of it is nonsense, because everybody is dealing with their own personal issues of doubt, self-esteem deficiency, lack of whatever or whomever, or any number of other things that I can’t currently think of. Sure, we can play in to all that and cede some measure of control over our emotions and responses to life to this amorphous representation of our own inadequacy, but why should we? Who gives a crap, or should, about someone else’s perception of us?

    Seriously, I feel selfish about my own fragile sense of self worth, and I want to influence people not to f with it. Whether or not or whatever I put out there, the mantra should be some private affirmation that defuses my own reaction to any perceived slight, because there is no guarantee it was either a slight or was mean for me when it was put out by that person. I myself have met people twenty years on who were still pissed about something I said or did that had nothing to do with them in my universe, but was a major disruption in theirs.

    Spread the word, what others think of us does not change our essential nature.

  20. Cat Allman

    The “gentleman” at the wedding did not deserve your courtesy. From my perspective as another “barren woman”, a hearty, “Fuck off and die, your nosy, self-righteous, insensitive asshat.” Or a simple, “My family life is none of your business.” (It might have been fun to burst into loud sobs, but someone that clueless would likely have failed to be embarrassed.)

    But somehow I always seem to fall into trying to be nice and wind up trying to justify my selfish failure to give birth or adopt to random relatives, cab drivers, co-workers, etc. I share your pain.

    • thank you everyone.

      And Cat: the dude was wearing a bowtie and an ill-fitting tuxedo. punishment enough. 🙂 (yah, I dislike him very much. I’ve got to figure out a good cache of responses for sh*theads like him, go forward).

  21. I must add one more brilliant observation that a friend brought up last night:

    The friend said, “This is also off topic but have you noticed all of those commercials are from a dude’s perspective looking at a young lady in the iphone? there’s expecting “Do you got a minute?” chick, the teen with new braces talking to dad, and the girl with the pixie cut talking to boyfriend. Yay male gaze.”

  22. I want to respond to every single comment here in addition to the original post. SO MUCH. But I’m crazy busy and I need to put it off until next week! Great conversation, everyone. oxoxo to Christine.

  23. lucy

    Great discussion! Most thought provoking and enlightening. And Eve, the “dark side” of adoption never occurred to me.

    I’d say it’s more like “You don’t really grow OLD until you become a parent”. I feel less like the hero in my own story after the fact and more like a supporting character. The one who’s cleaning up projectile vomit while holding up a sick and sleepy toddler next to a toilet til 4 am until she’s pretty sure she’ll stop puking enough to put to bed. But that was last night.

    A writer/actress friend stated on her FB status, “Sometimes I feel that my soul force, all that once was me, is subsumed by the act of, or attempt at, parenting my children. In such moments, a break is needed.”

  24. Did you hide me? 🙂 First of all, this is a beautiful post. So honest and moving. Second, I don’t think it’s true that people without kids are pitied (single people are a different story). My closest friend can’t have kids because she had cancer at age 30. She lives in a huge house, goes out to dinner and on vacations all the time, has a million pairs of shoes, and I am ENVIOUS that she has the time and money to do those things while I have to spend all my time and money on childcare. Parenting is so hard, and so much work, but it’s taboo to talk about the negative side because we’re conditioned to believe that we’re bad parents if we do (take Ayelet Waldman’s “Bad Mother” for example). We’re SUPPOSED to feel joyful and ecstatic all the time about being a parent. We’re NOT supposed to feel the way we really feel – which is ridiculously exhausted and broke and frustrated that we have no time to ourselves. Just having said that makes me uncomfortable, makes me want to say, “But I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world.” The truth is, we don’t know what our lives would have been like if we’d taken the other path – not had kids and used our time and money to travel, write more, exercise more, do lots of things more. We all want to believe we made the right choice and that we have good lives. I’m happy with my choice, but if you want to hear the other side – if you really want to know – I’ll talk you to sleep with stories of how f—ing sick I am of cleaning up food off the floor, chair, and wall, EVERY time my baby eats a meal, how I’m going to tear my hair out if she dumps every book on her bookshelf onto the floor again today, how I’m going to end up in the nuthouse if I have to do one more load of laundry, how I never have time to write or blog or do yoga or watch movies or have SEX anymore. How I long to sleep in as late as I want just one day a week. How I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired. How I have no clothes because I have no time to go shopping. How I desperately want to go to Hawaii but can’t afford three plane tickets plus a babysitter plus a condo big enough for five of us, and on and on and on. It feels ungrateful to talk about these things. It feels wrong. So instead we post updates about how cute our toddlers are when they say funny things and videos of first steps because that’s what our lives have become – a marathon of dirty diapers and potty training charts and milk-coated Cheerios crusted to the seat of the car. We miss our old lives, but we can’t have them back. We’re stuck here in parentland for the next 18+ years, and we want other people to say, “OMG he’s so adorable!” to make us feel better about that. I think if there’s any pity going on, it’s not for people who don’t have kids but for people who desperately WANT kids who don’t have kids, the same as one would feel pity for anyone who desperately wants anything they don’t have–more money, a partner/spouse, a different job, more sleep, etc. Because we want everyone to be happy, to get what they want. At least I do.

    • @Meghan: you are incredibly brave to share such an honest comment. It doesn’t make me stop wanting kids, but it makes me feel less awful, which is an amazing gift to give me. You are an awesome friend. (And I didn’t hide you on FB).

  25. I was having a beer with a couple of American friends, both of them married to Korean women — one childless, the other a little older and father of a few kids. The father told us his sense of his life decisions having mattered suddenly in a way they hadn’t before, when he had a kid. Everything that he’d done or not done had led him to the existence of a human being — not the current state of a human being, like his wife or other friend’s wife or my girlfriend or our friends (and so on), but the very *existence* of a human being, like his kids.

    I didn’t have much to say about it, because, hey, sure, I guess that might be profound. But my other friend was evidently unimpressed, and (rightly) disagreed with the idea that one’s life couldn’t matter the same way without parenthood being introduced into the mix. The father insisted that we couldn’t understand, simply, we could not understand at all until we had kids of our own.

    Later, the other friend told me he and his wife had been trying, without success. Not trying constantly, not trying hard, but… well, you know. When I heard it, I realized how it must have felt to sit through that.

    My comment was, “Well, you know, the thing is: you’re fluent in Korean. You can talk to your wife in her first language and she can talk to you in yours. That’s not true of our other friend, and you could easily say, ‘You really don’t know what it’s like to be married, you really can’t even understand your spouse, until you share both your mother tongues together.'”

    (Maybe that occurred to me because I don’t share a mother tongue with my girlfriend, or with my own mother for that matter.)

    Which is to say, it’s all in where people choose to put the focus. That smug dick at the party could have stood to be told, “You’re really not grown up until you’ve experienced what it’s like to live childless, and unable to have a kid, in a world where immature shits who happen to have kids decide that having kids is *the* key to adulthood, and lecture you on it without invitation… and you handle it with grace and patience, because, really, those immature shits are still children after all…”

    I don’t have kids, don’t know if my girlfriend will ever change her mind about not wanting them (a lot of younger women I’ve known seem to do so), but I know that playing a part in the current state of people can count for a lot. Not just girlfriends or wives or husbands or friends, either; I’ve had students come to me to get help dealing with abuse, suicidal depression, traumatic events. Supporting them as much as I can, getting them off the ledge, and steering them to professionals who can help them in the longer-term all must, I think, count for something.

    But all I can say is that it’s even worse over here, where having kids is pretty much a de facto expectation… People nag you to graduate from university, until you do. Then they nag you to get a corporate job, until yo do. Then they nag you to marry immediately… until you do. Then they nag you to have kids (and, even now, to have a *son*)… until you so. Then they just nag you to wear makeup or lose weight, but, finally, you get to nag others.

    Having seen what happens to some women who fail to marry by age 30 (how they sabotage their relationships with younger women who “selfishly” date available men, how marriage-crazy some women become when everyone at church and every relative nags them like this, how desperate they get to marry ASAP) I can only wonder what happens to women (and men? but mostly women, I suspect) in Korean couples who end up unable to conceive.

    And way, Christine, remember: those people who’re lecturing you at parties, they’re kids. We live in a world full of large children convinced they’re all grown up. (This is what I tell my students to remember about their parents — they haven’t finished growing up — whenever I hear about insane nagging and nagging and terrible advice and so on. I urge pity, forbearance, and forgiveness, but never obedience, when obedience costs real happiness.)

    • @Gord: wise words. and even though we Korean Americans are far from the motherland, we get those ridiculously same pressures. I’m just blessed to have fairly noncomformist Korean parents (this means they pressure me about the weight, and the makeup, and school and uptil years ago, my career/financial path…but they’re hands off about who I choose to marry, when I marry, and if I have kids)…but this is one of the reasons I was relieved when I stopped going to Korean church years and years ago. No one needs that kind of social pressure to add to someone’s internal trauma/pressure. And sorry about your friend. It sucks.

  26. Thanks. My friend is doing okay.

    And yeah, Korean church, especially outside Korea, can be harrowing. (It’s harrowing inside Korea too, but outside it becomes a bit more like a pressure cooker, by the accounts I’ve heard.) I’ve experienced only the tip of that iceberg, but it was more than enough for me. Sometimes I wanted to say, “You know, Jesus was (a) not married, (b) childless, and (c) not a doctorlawyergovernmentofficerSamsungemployee. Did you actually READ the f*^$%ing Bible? Oh, and… he wasn’t Korean… or white.”

    (Sadly, every depiction I’ve seen of Jesus in Korea is like pretty much every one I saw in Canada: the white, handsome, hippie-looking Jesus that one of my high school teachers called “Vic Tanny Jesus.”)

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