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Twenty Questions–Part Four

In Ann Douglas’s book, Trying Again, one interviewee states on page 132 that her “body was responsible for my children’s lives and deaths.”

I thought this was such a profound, frank, and frightening thought. Obviously, outside the womb, we understand the weight of this responsibility for another human being. But what about inside of our body–is a system that is almost entirely outside our control truly our responsibility? If my body is mine, am I by default part of this blame or celebration? We certainly congratulate the woman on giving birth as if she has done the hard work. Yet we don’t congratulate each other on other bodily functions during the course of the day (by the way, everyone, great job breathing today). The way we discuss childbirth does point towards this idea–that we are responsible for the lives and deaths of our children–even if the actual process is mostly out of our control.

Based on what we’ve been talking about for the past two days and ideas of femininity, are we simply too hard on ourselves? Do we accept the responsibility that others place on our shoulders or is it better to throw off that blame or accolades? Should we rethink how we discuss childbirth or should we embrace this idea of responsibility?



1 DD { 01.24.07 at 7:49 pm }

I accept the blame for the loss of my babies, especially this last pregnancy which resulted from anonymou donor sperm. The sperm was “proven”. I thought I was proven.

In the cases of pregnancy loss/harm, if we were to give a blanket pardon, then we would not have women convicted of child abuse to their unborns; we wouldn’t have pro-choice vs. pro-life; we wouldn’t have pre-natal care.

I’m not saying that’s right, but there is a certain level of burden we carry. If we were to have a surrogate bear our children and something were to go wrong, wouldn’t we let some small part of us blame her?

The upside to this is that the woman bears this *because* of her feminitity, not in spite of it.

2 Ms.Once { 01.24.07 at 8:30 pm }

Bitch PhD posts from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women conference going on right now with an interesting take on this issue (under the purpose of Blog for Choice day):

“If there’s one thing we should, as feminists, recognize, it’s that human beings are not brains on sticks. We cannot, and do not, have conscious deliberate control of what happens to our bodies. Thank modernity that we can consciously and deliberately control enough things about our environment to make it easy for some of us to forget that fact much of the time. As long as we are embodied–which is to say, as long as we are alive–our ability to control our quality of life, and in some cases, our ability to live, period, depend on our having access to the range of medical interventions that help us maintain that illusion.”

Full post: http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2007/01/blog-for-choice-day.html

3 Anonymous { 01.24.07 at 9:19 pm }

Well, I do like the idea of cheering myself on for all the bodily functions I do manage to get right. I didn’t pee on myself once today. Yay me! But I did trip over my own feet, so I do need to work on my walking skills.

I feel responsible for the loss of my babies. Even though rationally I know I did everything I could and the losses were beyond my control, I still feel blame. It’s not rational, I know, but it is what it is. I think it kind of ties to what you posted earlier about feeling womanly. If I were a real woman, or sufficiently womanly, I would be able to carry children. I can’t, so there is something wrong with me. And this defect- even though it’s not my fault- causes the death of my babies. My body is still to blame. And now I’m starting to feel even more culpable… I KNOW that I destroy embryos, but I still keep trying.

4 Thrice { 01.24.07 at 9:48 pm }

Yes we are too hard on ourselves and our bodies. Just as we accept the impossible standard of beauty (http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/flat4.asp?id=6909), we do the same with conceiving, childbirth and parenting.

Why do we strive to be an ideal? Why do we feel that we fail, when we had no control over a rotten egg or an unhealthy sperm? Why did I feel that I failed when I had to have a c-section instead of a vaginal birth? Why did I feel that I failed, because I had PPD? Why do I think that I failed, because I have a peripartum cardiomyopathy?

I’d love to change the imaging, but I don’t know how. Anymore than I know how to tell teenage girls NOT to get breast augmentation. Or tell their mothers NOT to get labia reconstruction.

5 thrice { 01.24.07 at 9:50 pm }

ooops the link didn’t come out right:


6 Anonymous { 01.25.07 at 12:53 am }

1. Ann Douglas says “her body was responsible” but, much as you’re not a brain on a stick, you’re also not a uterus or a sack of meat and gristle with typing skills. To say your body is responsible is not to say *you* are responsible.

2. People tend to speak about praise in two different ways – one reflects our talent, the other reflects our application to task. Higher praise is usually given to our application. Rightly so, I think. (Oh well done – you learn fast! Oh very well done – you have learnt through long and difficult application!!)

Blame, on the other hand, is never rightly assigned to those who “can’t help it”.

With that in mind, the way some people talk about childbirth etc does irritate. When, eg, my mother hears that someone has successfully given birth with little or no intervention, she says, “I’m glad it went well,” rather than, “Well done her!” But I’ve heard the latter too many times, and it should stop.

When my cousin says she’s “proud of herself” for labouring at home for twelve hours before going to the hospital, it gets up my nose. I’m glad she can keep a level head, but I’m prouder of a woman who’s not afraid to look the fool because she puts her concern for her unborn baby first. Repeating her tale of pride over and over sends out entirely the wrong message. In fact, I often wonder if some of these easy-breeder women are trying to compensate for not “having been tested”.


7 Anonymous { 01.25.07 at 7:56 am }

Absolutely. I accept the blame for my uterus which killed our embryos. I’ve felt all along that I was the responsible one in the situation. Because, regardless of whether or not I could actually control what was happening, it was MY body, so at some level, it is my fault.

This is an interesting thought. Because if we are going to take credit for being responsible for our children’s births… then we should also take responsibility for their deaths too. You can’t have it both ways.

The thing is, with infertility, we tend to think in terms of failure. That even when we do get pregnant and deliver children, we are still a failure because we needed assistance to get to that point.

I do think it’s being too hard on ourselves, yes. But as thrice said, we have a lot of practice in trying to live up to an ideal in which we cannot meet.

Not really on my point, but also I really like Bea’s idea that uber-fertiles feel some sort of need to overcompensate for “not being tested,” so they take credit for things in which they have minimal control. I want to think on that some more.

8 Carla { 01.25.07 at 9:07 am }

Wow, another mind-bender of a question! I haven’t gotten a BFP yet (unexplained IF, trying for 2+ years). Every month when I get that BFN, I feel like my body has let me down and I am disappointed in it, almost as though it were a totally separate entity from my brain. That makes me think about the difference between blame and responsibility. If your dog gets out of the yard and bites the neighbor’s cat, are you to blame? No, the dog is. But are you responsible, because it is your dog? Yes. So, I’m not to blame for my body’s failures (unless I’ve deliberately abused it in some way), but it is my responsibility to fix those failures (if I can) and take care of my body, because I am the one who has to live with the consequences. Logically, that makes sense.

On a more existential level, I have a hard time convincing myself that I did do something to deserve my IF. We live in a pretty big city, and last year there were more than 19,000 abortions performed here. That astounds me. 19,000 unwanted pregnancies, and we would give anything to have ONE child of our own.

I think I have to stop believing that life is fair. As long as I believe that, I will blame myself. Because if life is fair, I MUST have done something bad to deserve my IF. Otherwise, I would have 2 or 3 kids by now. Bitch PhD is right–that kind of control is just an illusion. Unfortunately (for me anyway), that is the hardest thing to let go of.

9 mandolyn { 01.25.07 at 9:49 am }

I absolutely think we are too hard on ourselves, but I also think we look for someone to put the blame upon. Pregnancy loss is so often NOT the result of anything that any one person did voluntarily, so it makes it hard to find where the blame should fall. So we let it fall on ourselves. I did at first, too. Surely it was something that I did, that my body did. I reasoned that it resulted because of me, so I was logically to blame.

But I don’t think that works. I still struggle with it a little, but I’ve come to think that it’s ok if the blame goes unclaimed. Obviously something was at fault, but that something doesn’t have to have a face. Maybe that’s just my way of dealing with it, but it’s the only thing that I can make work in my head.

My mom kept trying to “fix” my infertility after my m/c. According to her, maybe I was too stressed at work- I should quit, or maybe the doctor read the ultrasound wrong, maybe he missed something, misinterpreted numbers, etc. I had to beg for all the logic to stop. It wasn’t fixable or preventable and no one was to blame. If there was, then there was a reason and therefore a solution- it was fixable and/or preventable. I had to stop going around in circles with it.

Maybe I copped out. I see how many others take the responsibility for their losses. It’s really made me rethink my position and how I feel about all this. Do I strip myself of some femininity if I don’t declare myself to blame? That’s a lot to think about…

10 Anonymous { 01.25.07 at 10:29 am }

Part of the reason we blame ourselves is because society views mothers as solely responsible for every bad thing that happens throughout our children’s lives. Dirty clothes = bad mother, bad behaviour = bad mother, etc. etc. Total BS of course…but still we buy it. Really, we can only take responsibility for knowingly doing something to actively harm our kids.
For example, if we drink before we know we are pregnant, it isn’t logical to feel guilt, and if we have access to good medical care and research and can learn not to drink from that point on, then we can take responsibility for our future actions.
But those are a lot of conditions. A poor woman may not have a doctor or insurance, a mentally ill woman may not comprehend the information, and an addict may not be able to stop without a treatment program.
Maybe we should stop blaming ourselves and start blaming the governments and medical establishment who don’t bother to research or inform us or give us the right health care.
For example, the myth that no one can find a “cause” for pregnancy loss. Utter BS. My geneticist says cell culture & analysis is so precise now that they can always tell if a pregnancy loss is chromosomal, accurately and cheaply. (Even 10 years ago they couldn’t, but now they can) My pathologist at http://www.earlypath.org , Dr.Salafia, has been able to provide answers for pregnancy loss to almost every single women she treats, again, accurately and cheaply.
But hey, why not lie to women, tell them to shut up and forget about? Much easier than actually doing something to fix the problem…g-dm medical asshats.
And we blame ourselves…

11 Celeste { 01.25.07 at 2:46 pm }

my reply got a little out of control, so you can see it on my LJ.


i love this series of posts – very thought-provoking for me.

12 TeamWinks { 01.25.07 at 5:31 pm }

Oh, do I feel responsible right now…yup. Sure do.

13 Cibele { 01.25.07 at 11:30 pm }

I definitely feel some shame on not being able (yet) to give my husband a baby, for making my mom wait for long to be a grandma. I don’t know who or what is to blame as I am dealing with unexplained infertility I just wish my body would get it together and respond to what my heart is bagging for.

PS: Did you see Oprah today? she had piece on infertility. She was talking about what women in their 30’s in the US are dealing with, and IF was one of the topics. It was very good

14 pink { 01.26.07 at 7:19 am }

In an odd way for me, I saw my role as a hostess–I was responsible for providing a “good experience” for my guest (ie, my unborn child). So when I developed gestational diabetes, I felt like I had been a bad hostess and when I had to have a c/s, I felt like a LOUSY hostess. And then not being able to breastfeed… Yeah, it was ALL my fault.

Therapy, medication, and a healthy two year old later, I’m able to take these things in some measure of stride. Yes, I’ve got gestational diabetes again. Yes, I’m going to have a second c/s. And these are just the realities of my body and pregnancy.

I know that compared to many, I’m incredibly lucky and wish happiness, success (however that’s defined), and peace to everyone who’s had to go through such losses.

15 Jessica { 01.26.07 at 8:39 am }

I tried to answer this too, and sort of ended up with a very stream of consciousness post on my blog.

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