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.
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.