I’m leaving this up, but please be sure to read “A Response“, in which the author responded. It makes the entire situation much more understandable, less upsetting.
Reading at Slate the other day, the headline of an article sucked me in. “Pregnant Too Soon,” it screamed out. Underneath, it read “I got pregnant at 26. In New York City, that’s a weird thing to be.” I clearly have some sort of masochistic streak, because before I knew it, I had clicked and started reading.
Author Kate Fridkis’ angst about not quite fitting in with her friends and the prevailing trend of delaying motherhood is understandable. I’ve felt a similar sort of worry because where I live, all of my friends with children got pregnant at age 21 on the earlier side and 27 on the later. I waited until I was 29 to start trying for various reasons. No matter which side of the age issue you’re on, it’s hard not to feel a little nervous or do a little soul-searching when you’re doing it different than virtually everyone you know.
It’s also understandable to feel some ambivalence or worry towards a pregnancy, as Fridkis expresses. I can’t fault her for that, because I’m sure if I ever get pregnant, despite how badly I want it, I will have at least a few freak-out moments where I wonder if I’m ready to raise this new life or if I’m going to completely screw up as a mother. It also makes sense to me that there’s some concern about achieving other life dreams. It’s true. All dreams come with a cost and sometimes that involves making a difficult choice between two deeply held desires, whatever those are for each individual.
Then this passage:
In the middle of the night, during the first trimester, too sick to sleep, I found myself downloading books about infertility. I didn’t know why, but suddenly I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on about and by people who wanted a baby more than anything and couldn’t have one. I didn’t realize at first that I was seeking some justification for feeling accomplished just for getting pregnant. For my whole life, I’d wanted to stand out and go further and be more impressive than other people. But becoming a mother is completely ordinary. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to feel proud of myself, and I was a little embarrassed that I did.
A pair of reactions came out. A small part of me felt bad for how incredibly insecure Fridkis felt embarking upon pregnancy and motherhood. I felt bad that she appeared worried that everyone would judge her as a failure because she had chosen to get pregnant instead of focusing on her career.
The other reaction was one of pure fury. I don’t know if the (clearly fertile) author could comprehend how tone-deaf that passage was, but a part of me doesn’t care. So I’ll lay it out clearly:
I am all about sharing my story and educating people about infertility. I’m very open about my struggles, and want to ensure that fertile people get a better understanding of infertility as well as act as a support to others struggling with infertility. I don’t mind explaining about my evil ovaries if it helps someone else.
In all this, however, I never considered that perhaps someone would come and use my story as a way to look down on me. I figure if fertile people read here, generally it’s because they have a friend or a relative struggling with infertility and want to understand better. What Fridkis is implying is a completely different beast. The way I read it, she’s using the stories of infertile people to essentially find someone to beat in life’s game. That she’s the winner because she’s fertile and pregnant, while so many of us struggle desperately to achieve what she did so easily.
That upsets me.
In some ways, I wish that I could sit down with Fridkis and truly have her comprehend the hell of infertility. How the expense of starting my master’s degree is too expensive with not knowing how much fertility treatment costs will end up running us. How my husband and I delayed lots of other major life goals such as home ownership because we have only so much money to allocate, and the decision for us is to prioritize fertility treatments. How my husband and I wait at each ultrasound, each blood test, each month, wondering if this will finally be it. How much sadness the two of us feel each month when it doesn’t work. How much guilt, worry, and anger at my own body I carry because I can’t do what it feels like almost every other woman on the planet can: get pregnant.
I think if she understood that, perhaps she’d understand just how uniquely painful this passage is. The author says it herself: “…becoming a mother is completely ordinary”. Yet another reminder that I am abnormal, that I can’t do what’s so “ordinary”. It contributes to the shame I feel as an infertile woman. It confirms that some fertile women really do hold their status above mine.
So, Kate Fridkis, I hope you do read those books and articles by infertile women. I hope this time, you actually take the time to attempt to comprehend the challenges of infertility instead of simply looking at infertiles as a way of self-congratulation, of winning. You might discover something surprising: we’re not as different as you might think.
Like you, I want to find a way to fulfill as many of my life goals as possible. Like you, that means some of my dearly cherished ambitions may not happen or will be delayed because of my decisions. I am looked down upon because my womb is empty, and you worry about being looked down upon because yours is full. These are two sides of the same coin. Like you, I am a woman with many complex decisions to make.
Instead, you make me the proverbial “other”, someone who is less than you, someone you perceive as not achieving as much as you. Your article does to me what you were so afraid your friends would do to you. It reduces me to someone you have triumphed over in your game of life. It’s a damn shame that in favor of being “more impressive than other people” it seems you can’t treat me as your article expressed you wanted to be treated: with respect.