Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Scarlet Letter 'I'

When I was caught up in the day-to-day struggle of infertility, I tended to avoid the company of those who were either pregnant or raising small children. Sometimes, it was simply too painful to be confronted with such a tangible reminder of what I myself could not have. At other times, I found myself bored by lengthy conversations about the intricacies of weaning or potty training - let's face it, other people's children's toileting habits just aren't that interesting. But what used to infuriate me the most was the ever so slightly smug, self-satisfied and patronising attitude that certain (though by no means all) women with children tend to adopt towards those without children. I can well remember having a (rather one-sided) conversation with a fellow PhD candidate who had recently given birth herself about the joys of motherhood. 'Of course,' she said to me confidentially, 'you'll only really understand what I'm talking about once you have children of your own.' I resent the underlying implication behind such statements: that those who remain childless - whether by choice or as a consequence of infertility - are somehow to be considered 'less womanly' than those who are mothers.

But I also found that my resistance to spending time with these women was often matched with a certain discomfort on their part. As we grow increasingly vociferous about our condition - whether as individuals or as a community - we force others to confront an uncomfortable truth: that infertility can happen to just anyone. We serve as visible reminders of the fact that it could just have easily have been them with their feet in the stirrups. To certain members of the 'mummy brigade', the realisation that pregnancy and motherhood are by no means a 'natural' or inevitable stage in every woman's life strikes deep at the very core of their identities.

Yet now I find that my pregnancy appears to have afforded me automatic entry into a club that had hitherto eluded me: other pregnant women catch my eye in the supermarket and smile conspiratorially; harassed mothers struggling to deal with tantrumming toddlers ruefully tell me that I 'have all this to look forward to.' For the past few weeks, I have been attending a weekly 'yoga for pregnancy' class. I'm finding it helpful not only to stre-e-e-e-e-tch, but also to pick up practical tips on how best to prepare for and cope with labour. But on another level, I find it difficult to accept that I really belong in this room full of pregnant women. I cannot escape the feeling that I still have a scarlet letter 'I' for Infertile emblazoned across my chest for all to see, and that, sooner or later, I will be found out and asked to leave.


womb for improvement said...

What really struck home is the idea that infertility can happen to anyone. I have the hip/waist ratio that screams fertile, I cannot count the number of friends who tell me what great Mum I'll be. I'm not made for the infertile life - but it happened to me, it could have happened to them.

My word verification for commenting is - culub. You have joined the club - enjoy it.

luna said...

I imagine that would be quite an adjustment, being part of that club of mums.

I asked K, our expectant mom, whether other pregnant women and moms smile at her and make comments like that, whether people want to touch her belly, and she said not yet. still, I wonder how she even feels at prenatal yoga, with everyone else preparing for motherhood while she is not, necessarily.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

what is SO striking about your discussion is that you have recognised that this is the situation you find yourself in: you continue to bring your analytical sensibilities even to a situation as emotive as being pregnant after infertility and still aware of your kinship with those supporting you through infertility. As you so eloquently express it, infertility depends on so many factors that it can happen to anyone. And anyone who highlights that is inevitably going to be presenting a challenge to any insular defining club of those who are having/had children.

Look after yourself - as ever much love xx

Malloryn said...

It must be so strange to be on the other side of the fence, but at least it's for a very positive reason. I hope you're feeling well and I look forward to your updates.

TABI said...

I think your feelings are really on the mark both in terms of recognizing that weirdness with pregnant women and mothers who maybe are deeply rattled by the notion that infertility exists and also your own feelings of being part of this new club. I've heard from other friends who finally had success after infertility who say they still hate pregnant people. I think I will feel the same way in that even with eventual success, infertility is a personal battle scar as well as often this public "scarlet letter I" that you are marked forever somehow by infertility. But the main thing is to enjoy the pregnancy and know that we have a perspective on things that other parents won't have. Thanks again for still posting about infertility issues as I know many blogs become pregnancy diaries.

Shinejil said...

I know a lot of well-educated American women see pregnancy and child birth as an event of empowerment, thanks to certain hippy-dippy midwifery books (replete with stoned moms ecstatically giving birth) and their indirect impact on pop culture.

That means, as a childless women, you are either a) already empowered, something they could only managed with help from a man (or at least a man's sperm)--and therefore a threat or b) not empowered, and thus to be pitied.

It's sad that bodily functions have been so heavily weighted and mystified.

The secret diary of an infertile said...

So much to say.....

I have a set of friends who have children. Seeing them is definitely painful and, at times, boring because I am not interested in all the details of parenting that they are. They want to share stories and experiences that I can only dream of.

I think, at first, they thought that I would eventually get pregnant and so they weren't totally uncomfortable with my company. Two and half years on I get the distinct impression that they would rather avoid me because I may never have a child and then what would they say to me? What would they have in common with me?

I certainly look at pregnant women differently to when I was first started ttc. Now, I do wonder whether they have experienced difficulty in conceiving.

And, if I was to be successful with this conceiving business I'm not sure that I could feel comfortable as a member of the club.

loribeth said...

Great post, so very true!!

I think your discomfort at now finding yourself part of the "club" is very common among women who get pregnant after loss or infertility. It's hard, but try to enjoy it. You've more than earned your membership!!