Friday, October 26, 2007

Paper update, thank-you, and one year anniversary

I have been meaning to post, but life sometimes gets in the way. Since I am not teaching this semester, I am earning extra money by working as a "contract ethnographer" for a market research firm. I don't work often, but when a project comes my way, it consumes all of my time for a couple of weeks. The work is very "exotic" - my field site is a local electronics store. My subjects are the culture of people who buy televisions. Okay, it's not very uplifting work for an academic anthropologist. In fact, I kind of feel "dirty" at the end of the day. But then again, it pays a hell of a lot more per hour than teaching adjunct - sad but true.

I would like to thank everyone who has offered to help me with my WO-man up Challenge. I am still trying to outline how I want the research to go. Here is the abstract that I turned in for the conference:

The Infertile Identity in the United States
Although new developments in reproductive technology have created hope for many who suffer from infertility, those who experience success after treatments or adoption do not do so without many losses and significant financial investment. This paper explores the experiences of women in the United States who are at various places in the “infertility journey” and their struggle to legitimize their physical and emotional pain to the medical community, their peers, and themselves. I also look at the ways these women find support through support groups, online communities and blogs and how these groups influence the current debate on increased insurance coverage for infertility treatment.

I know it's vague. But I come from the camp that believes that your informants should dictate which direction your research should go. I hope as I hear more stories, I can write a paper that accurately represents the infertility community. Here is my plan thus far:
  • Collect stories and/or conduct open ended interviews by phone. Some people would prefer to communicate with me via email only, which is fine. I need to come up with a format for both types of data collection.
  • General survey (online): Using the information I gather from the interviews, I will construct an online survey (probably via Survey Monkey).

The conference is in March, so I hope to get all of the data collection finished by the end of January. This means I will hopefully have the survey up an running by the beginning of the new year. Thanks for your support on this project - I'm very excited. As soon as I'm done with this current contract job, I hope to start talking to some of you!

Finally, next week marks the one-year-anniversary of my trip to Korea. A year ago, I traveled (alone!) to meet my son and bring him home. I will be posting my thoughts on this in a couple of days - I just can't believe it's already been a year. Destructo Boy - I can't imagine my life without you!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Contraditions and Amateur Preachers - post on the Traveling DVD club

First of all, thank-you Jenna for including me in the Traveling DVD club. I received the DVD last Friday and meant to post by Sunday, but I have been busting my anthropological butt trying to re-work a chapter. It's least for now.

I had watched the Oprah show on Women in their Thirties when it aired the first time. I heard about the show (and Jenna) on a message board that I have been a part of since I began my IF journey. However, since I am forced to live without cable television, I had never seen the After the Show segment that aired on the Oxygen channel. Knowing that I would be blogging about the Oprah show, I was making a list of things to talk about long before I received the DVD in the mail. One thing that jumped out at me at the time was the contradictory messages women/couples with fertility problems face. The order of the show itself embodies this idea. For those of you not familiar with the show, Ms. Winfrey was interviewing various women across America who are in their 30's. Two guests before Jenna, a woman came on talking about what it was like to be mother of eight children. As the audience, we were wowed at this woman's daily routine, we laughed as she cracked jokes about pregnancy and breastfeeding, and we agreed when Ms. Winfrey commented,"Motherhood is the hardest job in the world." Now, I am not a regular Oprah watcher, but I know I have heard her make this comment at least twice before on different shows. But as Jenna came on and talked about her longing to become a mother, did we as an audience understand? Did Ms. Winfrey understand? Maybe we did, but there was little empathy coming out of the audience or the big O. Only the advice (or ass-vice) to "let it go" or "be at peace" with not being able to have children.

We admire the woman who becomes the mother but we berate the woman who is trying to become a mother. What's wrong with this picture?

This is one of many contradictions the IF community has to deal with. Here are a couple more to ponder:

  • Having children is a private matter and a personal decision. But if you are unable to conceive, your [in]fertility becomes public domain - you must surrender all privacy to your doctor and other members of the medical team. If you adopt, your decision to become a parent becomes your agency's, social worker's, and state's decision as well. And don't forget add the well-meaning but highly annoying family members and friends giving you unsolicited (and mostly incorrect) advice about what you should be doing.

  • Biology is important. Now I have never agreed with this, but the messages are all over the place. DNA is king - your children are supposed to be little reflections of you. But if you have IF, you have to surrender this belief and just accept a non-biological connection. Just accept it, damn it! "Just adopt!" (God I hate this phrase, especially as an adoptive mom who bent over backwards to have her son!!)

  • Having children is very important. But if you have IF problems, you should just accept it. As a society, we love children and go out of our way to honor those who choose to have families (think about how much we spend on Mother's Day), but yet we feel little compassion for those who are struggling to build their families. This is reflected in the lack of insurance coverage for IF treatments, the dearth of adoption subsidies, I could go on and on...

I finally got to view the Oprah - After the Show segment that featured Jenna. The big theme of this segment? "Be at peace with it." Winfrey, as well as one guest after another got on their religious soapboxes and preached to all those longing to have children: Pray, be at peace, let God's will be done. Mind you, I am very much a religious person. As an anthropologist, I have studied many religions at many different angles. As a practicing Christian, I also have lead many spiritual groups and taken some theology courses. So it bothers me when people talk about "God's will" and the "power of prayer" like it's like a magic eraser for pain and loss. Yes, prayer helps people deal with their pain, but it doesn't take the reality of the situation away. I also dislike the use of "God's will" - what makes them know what God's plan is better than Jenna does? Or any other woman suffering from IF? Furthermore, does talking about what God plans offer any comfort for those who experience pain and loss? I was recently supporting some friends by attending with them a special service for those who have lost children. During the homily, the priest said, "When you are suffering this kind of loss, 'God's will' is a feeble explanation for something we are unable to understand." As a friend, the best way for me to give my support is not to tell them what God's will is, but to carry out "God's will" by being a good listener and acknowledging their pain and suffering as real.

I have much more to say - I never thought I would have so much to write about one Oprah Winfrey show. I will stop here and let future DVD club members make their points. As for my WO-Man up challenge, I have decided to contribute to this cause by doing what I do best: write an academic paper. I have submitted an abstract to the Society for Applied Anthropology for their next annual meeting. While writing about my own research, I have come across a lot of research about infertility. (Believe it or not, there is a lot of reference to infertility in research about disability, but that's another blog entry.) While finishing my fieldwork in Ecuador, I even met a fellow graduate student who writes about IVF in South America. Anyway, I would like to write a paper on how women/couples make decisions about their infertility treatments and the factors that influence these choices (financial, emotional, religious, etc.). Hopefully, I can generate some much needed discussion and maybe collaborate with other reseachers. Academia is not a very "sexy" or a quick route for social change, but it does still have some influence in this country. If anyone would like to volunteer their story for my paper, please contact me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dissertation update

Last week, largely because of an important meeting with my advisor, I cranked out a decent chapter of the ole diss. I finished in time for the meeting. Good news.

Said advisor liked what she saw and said that I was making good progress. Good news.

In the middle of lunch, advisor confirms a rumor circulating among the graduate students - she's leaving the university after next spring. If I don't want to start over and form another committee, I should finish everything by May. Good news?

Normally, I think I would be in a panic. After all, I have been working under this woman for six years and she has grown to respect my work. If I had to start over, I would have to establish that type of relationship with a whole new person. And anyone who works with academics knows that these personalities are not easy to work with. However, I actually this new development is kind of a blessing. I now have a tangible deadline. I have to be done next year - no excuses.