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Devil’s Advocate

Wrapping up the discussion of the Pain Olympics, Stumbling Gracefully has a very interesting post on belonging in this community and how we judge who is fit to be in it — again, an off-shoot of the whole Pain Olympics idea. More than one commenter on my posts mentioned they either felt as if they didn’t belong sometimes because they “didn’t have it bad enough” and even one person had it said to them in their own space — that they weren’t infertile enough to call themselves infertile.  Even though in all these cases, the person fit the definition for infertility or pregnancy loss.

Esperanza mentioned the Redbook blogger brouhaha (it came about three years after those original Pain Olympic posts) and points out the judgment inherent in the complaints.  Julia and Lili were still infertile — parenthood hadn’t gotten rid of the underlying problem nor had it erased their memories of all that came before.  To claim they were no longer infertile or couldn’t write about infertility was small-minded.  Or maybe I just think that because I’m someone who is parenting after infertility who often writes about infertility.  I’m assuming my thoughts are still relevant.

Some of it may have come from how it was billed.  The Infertility Diaries makes me think I’m going to hear about the process of confronting the diagnosis and building a family.  Diaries are real time.  Life unfolds and we record it.  As long as they kept infertility in the forefront, I don’t think there would be a problem because plenty still unfolds in real time in regards to infertility (especially the underlying causes that don’t magically go away with parenthood) and thinking about infertility even after one is parenting or has resolved by actively living child-free.  I only think the title of the section would become problematic if infertility went into the background.

But I could also see people reading that and thinking they’d be seeing a day-in-the-life of someone actively family building.  And no, when you are parenting (unless you are trying again), you aren’t actively family building.  So if you were going to the Infertility Diaries to get information or ideas on how to treat infertility by reading how someone else is tackling their own diagnosis, you were shit out of luck.  But if you were going there to process the emotional aspects of infertility, you could have found a gold mine.  I want to point out the same is true for my blog: while there are posts in here (especially Operation Heads Up) which can be read as a concrete how-to that you can apply to your own diagnosis or family building path, the vast majority of my posts about infertility have to do with the emotional side.  The processing of the diagnosis.

You can want something else here, in the same way that I would love it if McDonald’s had a full vegetarian, low-fat menu made with local ingredients.  But I also know that if I were ever to step foot in McDonald’s that wouldn’t be what I’d be getting.  Parenting after infertility; that’s what I serve.

But diversity obviously matters.  I take care of diversity on a personal level by reading a wide variety of blogs.  Some are still family building, some have completed their families.  Some are straight, some are gay, some are married, some are single, some are Jewish, some are not Jewish, some are African-American, some are not African-American, some are American, some are not American, some are pursuing adoption, surrogacy, or living child-free… you get the point.  My Google Reader is like a salad.  It has a big base of a certain type of blogger — the lettuce — and then I’ve thrown in dozens of kinds of vegetables to make it interesting.  I read blogs both to have my thoughts confirmed or reflected back in a new way AND I read blogs to be challenged or to gain understanding of an experience very different from my own.

Esperanza points out why diversity matters when we leave the personal blog and we move to the group blogging project or even an organization: we all want our stories represented and heard.  If we can’t have our unique story that belongs only to us heard, we at least want some aspect of ourselves represented.  So Redbook changed and brought in what they thought people were asking to hear: people actively in treatment.  Again, with only two bloggers, it could only be so diverse.  As far as I remember, all the bloggers were doing treatments with their own gametes.  I don’t think there were any donor gamete, surrogacy, or adoption stories in there (again, I could be totally wrong — I can only remember four bloggers and there were definitely more).  All were married, straight women.  I believe all were also white.  But again, one or two slots — how diverse could they be?  We have 52 possible categories on the blogroll, and that doesn’t even take into account things such as religion or race.  There were certain limitations that people had to keep in perspective.  Plus, we were talking about infertility bloggers at a magazine, not cabinet positions.

Plus I really don’t like the message that is sent when we argue about the people who were chosen.  Because their stories were just as valid.  Even if they only speak for a certain subsection of the community, that subsection of the community is important too.  Nor do they speak for everyone: they speak for themselves.  They tell their own story, not our story.

But I am going to play Devil’s Advocate because I thought of an analogy that gave me a very different perspective on the need for diversity (and y’all know I love an analogy).

If I hear that “Ladies Who Lox”* is a Jewish women’s organization, I would feel a little off if all the members were former Jews who were now Catholics. They still obviously understand Judaism and know the culture as well as the religion. Once a Jew is always a Jew — I mean, you can’t just forget formative experiences. You can’t unlearn a chunk of your life, even if you believe something else now. But there is a difference between an entire organization run by Catholic former Jews and an organization that is run by a wide range of Jews (reform, conservative, orthodox) which also has a few Catholic former Jews thrown in here. In one case, they bring a new diverse, interesting perspective to the whole. And in the other, they guide the whole perspective.

And perhaps that is the problem when we try to have a limited number of people present a perspective on a very varied topic.  It is easy to turn it into the equivalent of an organization run by Catholic former Jews (or, in the case of IF, those parenting after infertility or loss), where the perspective doesn’t simply add to the whole; that sole perspective becomes the only perspective.  Even when an organization or a blogging project strives for diversity, there are still members of the community that slip through the cracks.  There have certainly been times, for instance, when we’ve needed to add a new category to the blogroll because a group wasn’t represented.  As long as the organization is willing to keep bringing people into their membership, I’m cool with the fact that there are cracks.  On the other hand, I’ve distanced myself from organizations or projects that don’t fill those cracks when they find them.  Who the hell wants to be part of an infertility organization or blog that looks at someone who clearly fits the definition, clearly has a need to belong, and shakes their head saying, “not infertile enough?”

I blog for myself here, even if others benefit from my words (I hope), so the only perspective you’ll get here is a Jewish woman parenting after infertility.  And that’s all any of us can do on a personal blog: present our personal point-of-view and not speak for others.

The opposite is true for organizations and group projects: to try to present something panoramic and more-encompassing (since I think “all-encompassing” is usually an impossibility).  It’s a big responsibility.

So… playing Devil’s Advocate since I’ve already stated where I stand on these thoughts: could Ladies Who Lox, run entirely by Catholic former Jews present information and programming for Jewish women just as well (though obviously different since each person always brings in a new way of doing things) as an organization of actively-practicing Jewish women?

Some of you who are in the Jewish world can probably see the larger scope of this question: can you still be considered Jewish if you aren’t actively practicing (I say yes, I know others who say no).  What about if you’re Catholic and you’re converting to Judaism — can you program and teach in the same way as someone who grew up with the religion?  Apply these types of questions to the infertility community and you can see why I think that it’s more important to focus on the quality of the perspective than the static logistics of the perspective.  I think it’s more important to have a good writer who can help the reader understand than I think it’s important to hear from someone with X diagnosis treating it with Y solution.  Though in an ideal world, you’d have good writers who represent a wide-range of experiences and situations.

* While this is a fictional organization, can we talk for a second about how the smell of lox makes me throw up in my mouth, and just writing the word makes me do the same?  Why did I choose it?


1 Bionic { 02.07.13 at 2:01 pm }

My answer to your actual question is no, I think. Or at least, those women shouldn’t be the lettuce in such an organization. Their perspective on Judiaism is no doubt an interesting one, but it is crucially (terrible metaphor, under the circumstances) different from the perspective of someone who is right this very minute grappling with how current events, both personal and public, interact with her Judiaism. In addition, time and distance do change our understanding of things. Sometimes that space to reflect is just the ticket (memoir, for instance), but sometimes it also blurs hard edges and gives a sense of narrative completion that wasn’t present in the moment. I was thinking of that this morning, when I walked back into the fertility clinc for the first time in 2.5 years and compared myself to the me who’d walked in there for the very first time…and then realized that wasn’t comparing myself to her at all, but to my memory of her, a memory very much colored by my knowledge of what happened next.

What I really wanted to respond to in your post was the “how diverse can they be with only two spots” problem, which comes up all over the place. It is a problematic excuse for any organization, at least when the two (or whatever) slots seem to just happen to go to the same types over and over again. Talking with a friend about that Anne Marie Slaughter article in the Atlantic last year (the “can women have it all” one) and the problem of its discourse being limited to well-educated, relatively rich women working high-end jobs (as opposed to women generally, as its title and thesis implied), I compared this to a theatre company criticized for producing season after season of plays by white men. Does that mean a particular play or author is “bad?” Certainly not. But does the pattern nevertheless represent a problem? Certainly. In the same way, though I did not follow the kerfluffle at the time, I can see as someone parenting after infertility, how intensely frustrating it would be to feel that a rarely addressed issue was finally being taken on in a milieu dominated by discourse around child-rearing…but only being taken on by parents. However much those individuals are, like the white male playwrights, real people whose ideas matter, the overall pattern is not great.

2 FrozenOJ { 02.07.13 at 2:45 pm }

I have known women who changed after pregnancy/child birth. It’s like they forget what it was really like in the thick of things. All of a sudden they are the ones saying platitudes like “just relax, it will happen!”, “God has a plan for you!”, etc even if they hated having those things said to them. So while I think some people who have resolved can still be just as informative and relevant as someone dealing with it currently, I don’t think everyone can. And while diversity is hard when there are only two spots, I think an effort should be made to fill those spots on opposite ends of the spectrum. Say have someone who has been trying for years without a single pregnancy and someone with RPL. Someone who doesn’t ovulate and someone dealing with male factor. Someone able to visit the best REs in the country and someone with no fertility coverage and not enough income for treatment. I think complaining about lack of spots is a poor excuse for only telling similar stories.

3 a { 02.07.13 at 3:15 pm }

You know, it depends on the scope. If Ladies Who Lox is a group who is providing the best Lox, then really, anyone with discerning tastebuds (or in the case of lox, no tastebuds. Although I’ve never actually had lox, but the idea of it does not appeal) will do. If Ladies Who Lox is a group discussing the effect of history on current Jewish culture with added food, then I think, no. If Ladies Who Lox is a community group of women who went to the same Hebrew school who have grown up to like meetings and alliteration, then Jewish or Jewish-born but converted to Catholic doesn’t matter, as long as they share the basic qualities and are good at organizing (or just attending meetings).

That’s the thing – everything can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts, and then the mass appeal is diminished. When you address the overarching concept, there is a common ground for everyone. And within the overarching concept, there is room for subdivision – for finding the like-minded while not rejecting the whole.

4 Peg { 02.07.13 at 4:26 pm }

I read your blog and I read other infertility blogs now becuase I love the writing and have found common themes of loss, parenting, and adoption which mirror my own life.

I have suffered a miscarriage. I have felt the dissappointment of getting my period when we were actively trying to get pregnant. Our family is certainly not what we envisioned. I do not however consider myself infertile having had three biological children without needing medical intervention to conceive and maintain my pregnancies.

I started reading infertility blogs as a way to understand and support my sister through her own struggles to start a family. I wanted a more intimate view what she was going through beyond the black and white versions provided by the medical community. That was over 7 years ago.

For years I hesitated with commenting on this site and others. I don’t fit into this community. But then I started my own blog after adopting my nieces when their parents died. My struggles fall on a different part of the loss and adoption spectrum than others but for once I kinda felt like I “could” belong. I wrote my first comment. I wrote a few more and I realialized that it didn’t really matter if I officially fit the ALI definition.

So, can I not be infertile and still feel like a part of this online community? I think so. I hope I don’t insult anyone by feeling this, but I do since, for me, the idea of community isn’t about fitting the labels, but about feeling part of the discussion.

I’m Catholic. Mel, you’re Jewish. I love learning about your faith and perspective on this blog. I think I’d read and comment wherever you decided to write–whether it be Stirrup Queens or Ladies who Lox or a Harry Potter fan club blog. Infertility may have been what started you writing, but I don’t define you or this blog by that. It’s just part of your life picture (a big part), but not the whole story.

5 Anne { 02.07.13 at 5:25 pm }

When I was 33 and I got pregnant naturally after getting an infertility diagnosis 1 year earlier. I decided to call myself subfertile, because it seemed so possible that it would happen again. And I felt like it wasn’t fair to those who had gone through so much loss and pain and still didn’t have children. That said, I never did get pg again…so I think I was wrong about the “sub” part.

6 Sara { 02.08.13 at 12:05 am }

I hate to side with the Devil or his advocate, but my answer is No also. I think that Catholic former Jews can probably be excellent LWL members or even leaders, but that other voices should be included in leadership roles of an organization designed to meet the needs of Jewish women. Now that is my answer in the case of your specific analogy, and not a comment about any actual group of people running any actual organization. In the real world, we muddle through, and I admire anyone taking it upon themselves to do advocacy work for the ALI community. We shouldn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. I can definitely understand the negative emotional response that someone having a bad day could have upon discovering that “The Infertility Diaries” were written entirely by parents, though.

Like Bionic, I think that my perspective as an infertile parent is different from what it was as an infertile non-parent, even though I’m still technically (unsuccessfully) trying to conceive #2. I haven’t forgotten what primary infertility was like, but I’m not living it anymore. It’s a different thing.

One of the Redbook bloggers, Julie, did use donor gametes, BTW. But your point about diversity is still valid.

Just the word Lox makes me queasy too. Yuck.

Peg–I always wondered how you came to the ALI community. I have always felt like you fit in, despite your very different back story.

7 Ms. Future PharmD { 02.08.13 at 1:00 am }

I’d say no in your specific analogy. But I feel like to really develop an understanding of what living with IF means takes time, maybe a year or more. As time goes by, the odds are that you move toward some final solution of pregnancy/adoption/child-free. Therefore those best equipped to talk about the process of treatments is inevitably reaching the end of them. An analogy that feels more fitting to me is a group of sophomores getting together to talk about the college admission process in the hopes of smoothing it over for newcomers. Yes, their perspective is different from someone closer chronologically to it, but it’s still valuable to newcomers in a place to listen. Would first year students perhaps be better? Maybe. Group endeavors are hard and I’m just glad someone has stepped up to try to speak to/for the group.

8 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 02.10.13 at 8:23 pm }

I think the analogy is hard for me to understand, because, to me, parenthood doesn’t mark an end to infertility. Parenthood marks an end to childlessness. So, if you could be Jewish, but then pay a lot of money to a super-exclusive sect of Judaism, would you still be able to write about the experience of those still waiting to get a chance to join that super-exclusive sect? I kind of think so. The struggles that you’ve experience don’t suddenly not exist just because your check has cleared and you’re now in “The Club”. Your perspective on your prior struggles may change after having joined “The Club”, but for people who are still struggling to join, some may feel that your perspective is nice, while others may feel that the pangs of jealousy make your story hard to read. I mean, would practicing Jews feel jealous of people who convert to Catholicism? I somehow don’t think so. I think that it might be annoying, and there may be an element of “that is so totally foreign to me and my story that I can’t relate”, but I don’t think that currently-practicing Jews would be thinking, “I can’t listen to what these former Jews say, because I have been waiting to convert to Catholicism for years, and I can’t afford it, and people keep telling me to just join the 7th Day Adventists, but I want to be a Catholic, and I’m MAD that I’m not there, that my struggle isn’t over, that I’m left on the sidelines over here and I want it so bad, and those people shouldn’t speak for me!”

Um, yeah. So, I think if you’re infertile, you’re always infertile. I may not be able to speak currently to the condition of wanting parenthood, of being childless, but I certainly can speak to the condition of infertility. I would never presume to speak FOR anyone else, but I don’t think that invalidates my experience living as an infertile couple.

9 Tiara { 02.11.13 at 1:00 pm }

I have been pondering this post since last week & can’t seem to form my thoughts into a coherent comment but wanted to thank you for writing this post & the others on the Pain Olympics

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