Monday, 2 June 2008

What I learned from Voltaire about infertility

For my French A level, I studied Voltaire's satiric novel, Candide. Its eponymous hero is at the outset a rather naively optimistic young man, who has been brought up to believe that everything happens for the best. Over the course of the novel, he undergoes a series of ever more improbable adventures, and witnesses the widespread and random destruction caused by both war and natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. He is captured and tortured by the Inquisition, before making his escape to South America, where he acquires - and loses - a vast fortune. On his adventures, Candide also meets a number of different characters, who try to engage him in philosophical debate as to the broader meaning of the events that constantly overtake him. At the end of the novel, he is reunited with his great love, Cunegonde, and his old tutor Pangloss. He has also had enough of philosophical debate. 'That's all very well,' he says to Pangloss, 'but now we must cultivate our garden.'

Voltaire is right. We can waste an awful lot of time wondering 'why?' and 'what if?'. Sometimes terrible things do just happen. Our infertility was not caused by anything we did or did not do; it is rather just a piece of biological bad luck, a random instance of dodgy plumbing. And there are indeed times when all any of us can do is tend to our gardens.

We live in one of a row of small terraced houses that was initially built by an enlightened Victorian factory owner to house his workers. What my father somewhat grandly refers to as my 'courtyard garden' is in fact a small back yard, which would originally have housed the coal shed and the outside privy, but which is now filled with an ever-expanding collection of pots, in which I attempt to cultivate a selection of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Although my efforts pale in comparison with those of some of my fellow bloggers, I am quite happy pottering about in my yard.

I do have one raised bed, which has largely been taken over by a very vigorous passion flower that has a tendency to choke all other plants in its vicinity. At the weekend, I went out into the yard armed with a pair of secateurs, intending to chop it into submission. But then I discovered a small nest right in the very centre of the plant. Inside the nest are three bright blue eggs.

I am trying very hard not to attach any wider symbolic significance to the eventual fate of these three eggs.


Lisa said...

So very true! Sometimes it's hard to remember that we didn't ask for this, nor did our actions cause it to happen.

While I can't say I believe everything happens for the best, I STILL, despite everything we've been through, believe there is some reason for each occurence.

Have fun watching those eggs!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I felt quite choked up when I got to your line about finding the eggs.

Am thinking of you and yours, your garden, the eggs and all metaphors in between with herart-felt love

Pamela Jeanne said...

That Voltaire -- he was one wise soul. Yes. Cultivating our garden is a much more rewarding way to occupy time. (And if he has any tips to get one's mind off of the philosophical ponderings, I'm all ears!)

Fascinating find those little blue eggs. Hard not to attach meaning. Keep us posted on them!

Shinejil said...

Wow, so Andy Warhol got it from Voltaire! I think we should put together a (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) booklist for infertiles of books not about fertility.

The passion vine and the eggs--how amazing!

Malloryn said...

Sometimes I fall into the pit of blaiming myself for IF, but you're right... it's important to take a step back and understand that you can't control these things. If we could control it, fertility treatments would have a 100% success rate. It would be like going in and having a tooth pulled.

Finding those eggs there is something else. I agree with Pamela Jeanne -- it's hard not to wonder what it means.

Mrs.X said...

I started reading Voltaire - in English, my French sucks! - but I just couldn't get into it. Now that I know it is a parable for infertility, I think I will give it another try.

I'm glad you didn't chop down the vine!

luna said...

I love this post. voltaire was a wise soul, and so are you for seeing the parallel.

I've been thinking about you and glad to know you're pondering the philospohical significance of those lovely little eggs, all while tending to your garden.

annacyclopedia said...

What a beautiful post. I'm looking forward to an update on the eggs!