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.


Kami said...

Just coming over from Jenna's blog. I think biology is important. Right now a genetic offspring is VERY important to me as it is something I will never have. And yes, people think it is no big deal. I'm pregnant, why should I complain?

I haven't really explored the rest of your blog yet, but I intend to keep an eye on it.

I would be happy to share my story too. My email address can be found on my profile.

Deathstar said...

Prior to trying to conceive, I looked at being pregnant and giving birth as an achievement to having a stable and successful relationship. Then while trying to conceive, it was a potent way to bond with my partner. As it became an IVF journey, I finally felt the strong yearning to intertwine my DNA with my husband's, a physical manifestation of the love we had. It was now this link with the past and the future, another generation of what we meant to each other that eluded us. I grieved and continue to grieve something that we cannot produce. Our biology became very public, but our pain was very private.

wifethereof said...

I loved you comments about the double standard between those that are mother's and those that are struggling to become one.

I would love to share our story of 4+ years of IF for any research.

Baby Step said...

I would be honored to be a part of your research. My husband and I have been TTC for almost 5 years, starting our first IVF cycle now....

You can find my e-mail on my profile (I prefer to remain completely anonymous).

Thanks for you hard work.

Waiting Amy said...

I'm a strong believer of the power of academia (even if its not sexy). So I'd be very happy to provide you with a data point. I'm technically a SIFer. My email is also on my profile, or here:

waitingamy at gmail dot com

Pamela Jeanne said...

I applaud your efforts to educate and your compassion. If only the world have more women like you. I'd be happy to help you in any way I can. You can visit my blog here: If after reading a bit more about me, my story sounds useful, drop me a comment and I'll send you my email.

Jenna said...

Hurray!!! Look at all the great ladies whi are going to help you out. You know you can always count on me too, so just let me know what you need.

MLO said...

Wonderful idea! And, sometimes, the media actually picks up - albeit haphazardly - on what is being done in academia.

If you need stories, I'm willing - and I'm sure there are others about who would be willing to talk about it.



LittleFoot said...

I loved your comments. I am willing to share my story of ttc for 3 1/2 years.

Allison said...

Very insightful post.

We have been struggling with IF for almost 3 years, including 1 failed IVF cycle. We're on a break right now until the new year.

I feel like IF is virtually ignored in all spheres, so I'd be thrilled to contribute to your research. I'm at allihoo28 at verizon dot net.

Barb said...

Great post! Sign me up! We've been trying almost 2 yrs.

Blue105 at yahoo dot com

Yodasmistress said...

I found you through Jenna's blog as well. My story is not as harrowing as that of many others, but it is a tad different in that we have a chronic illness thrown into the bag as well. I'm happy to participate if you so desire. My blog pseudonym at Yah00.

Daisy said...

What a wonderful blog. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. Society has a double standard for women with IF. Women should be empowered to CHOOSE, choose to have an abortion, choose to have 16 kids, choose to be a career mom, but somehow OUR choice to be mom's isn't good enough because God has already divinely sterilized us? PLEASE.

We've been trying for 3 1/2 years and would love to be a part of your research.

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Wow, I followed a link to this post from another blog, and I'm glad I did! Thanks for putting so much wisdom into your words, especially "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 just published a book, Praying Through Your Adoption, after surviving infertility and a difficult adoption process through prayer and faith. Thanks for expressing so well how faith and pain interact but don't cancel each other out.