Thursday, February 11, 2010

What if?

One of the current affairs blogs that I read recently had a post about the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that got me thinking. Here's an excerpt:

Rich says that it's no big deal to live hiding one's sexual orientation. If you're straight, try it for one day.

Try never mentioning your spouse, your family, your home, your girlfriend or boyfriend to anyone you know or work with - just for one day. Take that photo off your desk at work, change the pronoun you use for your spouse to the opposite gender, guard everything you might say or do so that no one could know you're straight, shut the door in your office if you have a personal conversation if it might come up.

Try it. Now imagine doing it for a lifetime. It's crippling; it warps your mind; it destroys your self-esteem. These men and women are voluntarily risking their lives to defend us. And we are demanding they live lives like this in order to do so.

I haven't thought this all the way through yet (so bear with me...) but reading this, I kept wondering what would happen if we substituted "stillborn babies" or "infertility" for "sexual orientation."

Of course, bereaved parents/infertile couples have not been persecuted in the way that gay people have been (and, sadly, often still are)(although I sure wouldn't want to be an infertile woman in some cultures, even today...). (And there are lots of gay people who are dealing with infertility& loss issues themselves.) The parallel being that infertility & pregnancy loss, like being gay, are (still, sadly) somewhat taboo subjects that carry stigmas in certain quarters.

I got thinking about what would happen if we (those of us who are involuntarily childless/infertile/parents of dead or miscarried babies) asked clueless fertile parents -- the ones who talk about planning their pregnancies (and then actually have things go more or less according to plan) --- the ones who don't plan at all ("oops!") -- the ones who ask us "what are you waiting for?" -- but then breezily assure us that parenthood isn't all it's cracked up to be -- the ones who tell us we can "just adopt" or tell us to "get over it," etc. etc. -- to deny their parenthood -- even for just one day.

Hiding or minimizing our identity as infertile or bereaved people is something that many of us, in this community, do every single day. Calliope recently asked her readers whether they talked with others openly about their infertility. A majority said they did -- but I know there are many of us who do not. Instead, we sneak into the office late on clinic days. Wear long sleeves to cover up the needle marks in the crooks of our elbows from daily blood draws. Remain silent when moms at showers swap labour & delivery stories. Even when we do feel comfortable speaking out, people often aren't too comfortable hearing what we have to say. (Who wants to hear MY (still)birth story? Anyone??)

So -- for one day, these parents don't get to be a mom, or a dad. They are not allowed to openly be who they are, to acknowledge the most important people in their lives. They must suppress one of the most important (if not THE most important) pieces of their identity. No talking about their kids or their activities or the cute (or frustrating) things they say & do. Just pretend they don't exist.

I suppose there are still some parents, particularly in traditional corporate settings, who do try not to talk too much about their kids (at least around the senior partners), in order to be seen as a "serious," company-focused employee. And that must be difficult. But people still know that they are parents. They are recognized for who they are.

I know some parents like to complain that our society is not very supportive of children and families. (And to some extent that's true, e.g., when you think about public policy matters, such as adequate parental leave, flexible work options, and affordable, quality child care options.)

But I don't think they realize just how pervasive all things pregnancy/baby/child/family-related are in our culture -- particularly these days, with "helicopter parenting" in vogue and baby bumps & pregnancy rumour headlines screaming out to us from every newsstand. It sure seems obvious to those of us on the outside, with our noses pressed against the glass.

I don't think they realize what it's like to be in the minority, on the outside of things. To want something that the vast majority of the population simply takes for granted will be theirs, approximately when & how they want it (or maybe even before they're really ready for it). If they give any thought to it at all, they probably just shudder & thank their lucky stars that they are not in our shoes.

It would be an eye-opener if they actually deigned to try those shoes on for size. Just once. (I think. I hope...).


  1. The universe must be sending out "don't ask, don't tell" vibes... I was just randomly talking about this with a friend last week. Interesting!

    I think you raise a very valid point. I'd really like to see that happen, to give the lucky a chance to know what it's like to be one of the unlucky. Though it doesn't speak directly to the issue of loss, I do wonder whether discussion of infertility treatments is, in part, taboo because the normally fertile don't generally breezily share the path they took to conception (I mean, certainly among friends and in certain environments, some people would gladly talk about the horizontal tango that created dear Junior, some even going so far as to classily name their child after the blessed location where the glorious event occurred-- I suppose I should name the twins Embryology Lab #2, then, right?--) BUT, on the whole, it isn't considered polite conversation to talk about boffing your husband, and on the other side of that, it isn't necessarily considered polite to talk about medical procedures (though infertility procedures are certainly more verboten than others...).

    So, I really wonder sometimes if that double whammy of "*I* didn't talk about how Little Susie was conceived, so I don't want to hear about your difficulties" plus the "Talking about medical problems is too intimate" leaves us infertile women feeling like infertility is harder to talk about. Or if that leaves the general fertile population wondering why we'd feel slighted by not being able to be open about infertility.

    I don't know-- that's just the thoughts that came to my head after reading your post. You are 100% right though. Just one day of walking in someone else's shoes is often enough to change perspectives in a very serious (and beneficial) way.

  2. Good analogy. I also wish pregnant women could be included in this don't ask don't tell day. Most pregnant women can't seem to ever shut up about their pregnancies. I'd like to see if they could even go a whole day without bringing it up. I get it. They're excited. But there is a women at work who ONLY talks about what's happening with her pregnancy. It's to the point where you can't even ask her how she's doing without her saying, "oh, the baby's kicking today!" It would be great if she could have just ONE other topic of conversation. The worst part is, she knows all about my infertility issues. Talking nonstop about your pregnancy in front of someone who you know is dying to be pregnant is just bad manners!

  3. You nailed it with this post! I hate it when everybody goes off about their pregnancy stories and when I chip in something too, everyone gets silent and awkward. Should I just pretend I've never been pregnant so just to make them feel better? Hell, no.

    They wouldn't want to even imagine wearing out shoes. One friend even said to me: It's too terrifying talking about it. Oh, yeah? Welcome in my life.

  4. This post brings several thoughts to mind.
    1) I can't believe we are still fighting for all humans to have the same 2010 for Christ's sake!
    2) What a different world it would be if what you propose could come true.
    3)It's really sad to be the ONE that everyone hopes they don't become.
    4) This post made me feel not so alone.

    I had to post my comment anonymously because I am having trouble posting comments using my wordpress log in. This is Guera! at