Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Infertile Identity

With my teaching drama out of the way, I thought it was time to explain why I have Oprah Winfrey on the sidebar of my blog. I have joined the Traveling DVD Club, started by author/blogger Jenna, who I stumbled across while reading an infertility message board. Jenna recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show where talked about her experiences with infertility. She has also written a book entitled The Empty Picture Frame that highlights her personal journey. She is determined to educate the public on the issues relating to infertility and the medical and emotional trauma that affects approximately 2.1 million couples in the United States. As part of the Traveling DVD Club, I will view her appearances and provide a written review on my blog. While I wait for the DVD to come to me, I will provide a preface and talk about my own experiences with infertility and how it has affected my life, my family, and my career.

As I mentioned in the first post of this blog, Ebo and I are unable to conceive a child without Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Ebo has Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic condition that mainly affects the lungs and the digestive system. Most people who have heard of CF know about that part, but few realize the CF also affects the male reproductive system. 99% of males with CF have a blocked or impaired vas deferens. I won't draw a diagram, but the important fact is that we are unable to conceive "naturally." Period. There is no maybe in this equation. No surprise ending.

Ebo and I knew this fact going into our relationship. Like I said before, when I was in my early twenties, I didn't think it was a big deal. So what if we weren't going to have kids? Having kids was the last thing on my mind. I couldn't have a child when I was backpacking though Peru or climbing the volcano Cotopaxi. Then two events hit me like a ton of bricks. I already talked about my beautiful goddaughter, D. being born. As soon as I held her in my arms, my biological clock began winding and the reality of our infertility began to kick in. I began to notice how many pregnant women were out there - and they all seemed to be in Target at the same time.

Around the same time, I decided to concentrate on medical anthropology in graduate school. I must explain that although my research has nothing to do with reproduction, a great deal of the research in this field revolves around pregnancy, childbirth, and midwifery. Even my advisor, for whom I was analyzing data, was completing a project on childbirth among African immigrants in France. I can't tell you how many articles I had to read about childbirth. One book in particular was called Birth as an American Rite of Passage by Robbie Davis-Floyd. She talks about women, though their childbirth experiences are "socialized" into the technocratic medical system. Although Davis-Floyd was very critical of the biomedical way of birth, I couldn't help becoming kind of sad that I wouldn't be welcomed into this system because I was unable to give birth.

Then came the final straw - Robbie Davis-Floyd was going to be teaching a class at my university. Not just any class, but one that was required in my program. I had to endure a whole semester of her talking about birth, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. I was forced to sit through a film entitled "Birth in the Squatting Position." She also assigned a book (which she edited of course) called Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots which critiques reproductive technologies like In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Needless to say, this class left me depressed. Not only was I not going to be part of the birth rite of passage, but it was also wrong for me to try IVF to try and do so.

After that horrible semester, I did another summer of research in Quito. While I was there, I thought a lot about if I was going to have a future as a parent. When I got home, Ebo and I decided not to think of children as something that will happen to us in the future, but start to make the idea of children happen for us in the present. This is when I began to discover the myriad of infertility message boards and online support groups. Thus our journey began.

I will post about our experience about each of our children later, but I will conclude now with this thought. My infertility journey was short compared to most. I don't claim to be a veteran and my scars do not run as deep. However, infertility is part of who I am. Even with two children, Ebo and I are still detached from the rest of the world. Perhaps it's because we haven't participated in that "American Rite of Passage."

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