Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Diversity & inclusion, infertility & loss

I attended a workshop this morning on diversity & inclusion. It was kind of an obligatory thing we all have to go through at work -- but it turned out to be a really interesting presentation, & a great speaker. Most of the material we explored was stuff that I already knew -- but he presented it so well, it really got me thinking about these issues in a fresh kind of way.

Part of the presentation was to open us up to the idea that diversity is more than just the four groups designated under Canada's Employment Equity Act -- women, Aboriginals, persons with disabiities and visible minorities -- that diversity encompasses all sorts of things about us. Our religion, political views, education, age, education, socio-economic background -- and lots of other, more subtle things about us, too.

The part of the presentation that really hit home for me (& got me taking notes) was the idea of privilege, of insiders and outsiders. To make the point, he asked who was left-handed, and then had the lefties in the room talk about the challenges of being left-handed -- how the world was tailor-made for right-handed people, simply because they are the majority. (Everything from door handles to light switches to scissors and student desks are built with right-handed users in mind.) How left-handed people have to take that extra step, make that extra effort, ALL THE TIME, to navigate through a world that is not built to accommodate them. How so few right-handed people recognize this -- stop to think about what it's like for left-handed people -- unless, perhaps, they know or live with someone who is left-handed.

Life is easy when you're an insider, isn't it?

He also talked about "unintentional intolerance." Most of us like to believe that we're nice, tolerant people. We don't mean to be exclusive.

But we are creatures of habit. We have our comfort zones, and we stick to them. We hang out with people who are like us, who agree with us, who reinforce our beliefs -- about the world and about ourselves and our place in it. It's just easier. It requires less energy & effort. We don't have to think about it.

That leads us to make assumptions, even when we don't realize it. We don't consider alternatives. We don't LIKE having alternatives, being challenged with new ideas -- it's too much work! When we're challenged, we tend to retreat to our comfort zones. And we tend to absorb messages from our families, from the media, from our peers, that we unconsciously fall back on & regurgitate, even when when we don't necessarily believe they are entirely true.

As you can imagine, throughout the presentation, I was thinking about my own particular frames of reference -- bereavement, infertility, childlessness -- and the challenges they present to the majority worldview. About how so much of the world is built with families in mind -- not childless couples (or single people, for that matter). How so many people just assume that they WILL get married, get pregnant within a reasonable timeframe, bring home a live, healthy baby nine months later (and then perhaps another one or two after that)?

Until they don't.

And how, when the way we try to build our families falls outside the "norm" -- dead children who are nevertheless talked about openly and treated like the important family members they are -- adoption, IVF, donor eggs, surrogates -- families of two (without children), families with two dads or two moms -- then people who have never had to think about building their own family in any way except the "norm" somehow feel threatened. Their assumptions about their cozy, easy, privileged world have been challenged. They find it difficult to relate to us in the same way they did when they assumed that we were just like them.

I wonder how many fertile people would think of themselves as privileged or an "insider" because of their fertility?

And how many of us who have had difficulty achieving what most consider to be a "normal" family structure perpetually feel like left-handers in a right-handed world?


  1. More of my friends/relatives have had problems (miscarriages, infertility, etc) with reproduction than not, and yet I still feel like an outsider. How odd. It's especially apparent when I run into a pregnant woman and a bell in my head clangs every time she takes something for granted. I guess it's because (surprisingly) I know better than to disabuse her of her notion that everything will turn out as expected. Fascinating topic...

    Here from LFCA to wish you a happy birthday! You don't look a day over 29!

  2. Insightful as always.

    After losing Serenity, I am now more cautious in asking about people's kids, how many/why they don't have any. It is not safe to assume anything about another person's situation.

    And, it doesn't surprise me that you kept a diary as a kid!

    And happy birthday tomorrow!

  3. Very thought provoking post (but don't you always?)

    My husband is left handed, and I am right. Honestly, I forget he's left handed most of the time. I know he copes differently, but most of the time I don't think anything of it because it doesn't seem to bother him at all.

    The last part of the post is very poignant. Lots to think about there.

  4. FANTASTIC POST, Loribeth!!! I love this. Isn't it amazing when worlds collide (mandatory work event with "real" life for example) and when one can actually speak to the other? I had a similar experience a few months ago at a work-related event listening to the founder of Back on My Feet - talking about running as her salvation from grief and how she turned it into her life's work - helping people get back on their feet. While her grief is not the same as mine, her descriptions, her rationale, everything she said rang so true, I found myself stifling sobs among my peers. Thank goddess for dark rooms.

    I am so glad this training was worth more than you anticipated, and I really appreciate you sharing your insights here.

  5. This is so well said. After losing my baby, I wanted so desperately to go back and be an insider. To be smug and confident and not scared. To naively trust that once I got pregnant, I was guaranteed to get a healthy baby nine months later. I didn't want to be aware that life was this hard, not just for me, but for so many other people. I wanted my privileged insider position back, with all the entitlement and intolerance that came along with it. And now, just a few weeks out, I can say that I don't mind that my eyes have been opened to this side of things but I so desperately wish that my baby hadn't died to make that happen.

  6. Excellent points. Its true, I have for sure felt like the "outsider". It is one reason I have trouble relating to the moms at the park.

  7. Thank you for this post! I have been feeling this way and never managed to find the words. You've given me a new way to look at my feelings and deal with them... In response to your previous post: I just found you between Christmas and New Year, linked from either Grieve Out Loud or a blog they linked to and have really been grateful to read about your journey and to see your perspectives.

  8. Here from the the stirrup queen's analogy project. This really resonates, thank you.

  9. This is one of the most accurate, vivid and brilliant analogy I have ever read.
    Your posts are always food for thought. Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts with us.

  10. Loribeth, I think I read this when you first posted it, but obviously didn't comment. I think "unintentional intolerance" really sums up the comments, looks, attitudes and judgements we are on the receiving end of.

    And the left-handed/right-handed thing is a great analogy.

  11. This is an amazing post and so very true! I loved it! So poignant!

  12. Great post... (and I had never heard of the Canadian 4 groups... amazing how each country approaches the topic differently)

    Thanks for sharing about your workshop... the ideas of insiders and the majority really resonate with me. And that idea of a 'normal' family structure... the strange comments I've gotten about how my living situation isn't as 'adult' as someone who has kids at home particularly drives me mad!

    thanks for such a well written post.

  13. Stopping by from Pamela's post. This is a fantastic point. I started thinking recently (prompted by a post on, I think, feminist Mormon housewives - an intriguing name/concept for a blog and fascinating reading for this non-feminist Catholic working childless wife!) about the idea of "unexamined privilege." Sure, some people have a lot. Some will always have more than others. I can't (logically) hate people for having a dozen healthy pregnancies. But I will absolutely hate them if they take that for granted, if they're insufferable about it. Some of the non-infertile folk I know who are the most comforting have the most of what I don't have. But they KNOW that they're blessed (and not in that "aren't I so blessed?" way), and that makes all the difference. Now, I try - really, really try - to recognize when I have more than other people, and to never let whatever abundance I have be an unnecessary cross for someone else. I don't know how well I succeed.

    I also think that that suddenly being on the other side thing is so poignant. I have tried to explain to people that it's not just that I don't have kids (no, I don't need to see your doctor, thank you), it's that even if I DID get pregnant (no, prayers not needed - it won't happen, pray for someone else, thanks), I could never be innocent. I would believe every moment that that baby would die. My innocence has been shattered, and you can't have that back. And as another commenter said, I know better than to try to take that innocence from someone else. I wait until there's NO possibility it will work out for them. And I downplay the starkness of that outcome. I get angry with a lot of people, but I'm not trying to take them with me. That may be the only virtue I'm practicing :).

  14. Thanks, Misfit. FYI, I have actually been a fairly regular reader of Feminist Mormon Housewives for awhile now -- although I am neither Mormon nor a housewife (although I was an Osmonds fan when I was a kid -- does that count?? lol). I also find their posts fascinating. They have occasionally covered ALI issues there. You'e so right about the awareness of privilege being the difference.