Sunday, June 03, 2007

Book Tour: Waiting For Daisy
by Peggy Orenstein

I really liked this book. Orenstein is a great storyteller, and isn't afraid to cast herself in unflattering light. She's honest with her prejudices, quick to admit when she was wrong and doesn't attempt to reconcile paradoxes which cannot ever fully be resolved.

In the epilogue, Orenstein struggles with what might be called the mythology of infertility: the messages and assumptions that it's all worth it in the end; that it's a matter of luck (the chapter's title is "Meditations on Luck"); that everything has worked out for the best; that adoption might be an emotional/spiritual cure for infertility; that some couples may be too quick to seek medical assistance; that she may have waited too long to begin trying to conceive; and, as another woman told her earlier in her journey, that "the pain goes away." Her husband warns her to not become a revisionist, but she acknowledges that becoming a mother has been a "surprisingly redemptive" experience and seems to not entirely reject the above messages. Describe how you feel about the presence of this mythology, both in Orenstein's epilogue and in your own life. How has it affected the way you tell your story, on your blog or elsewhere, and how you interpret others' stories? To what extent have you revised or even rewritten your own story of infertility? Is it inevitable, perhaps even necessary, to do so?

Especially when the ending of an IF narrative is a child, it is hard not to wrap that narrative in a neat little bow and ignore the fact that it corresponds so well to our notions of explication, complication and resolution. We know too well that life isn’t always so neat. Orenstein knows that too and is suspicious of her own dramatic arc. I wouldn’t describe it as a mythology – because the experiences are real. It is whether or not we can ascribe some universal meaning outside of the specific experiences that give me, and I think Orenstein, pause. Her “redemption” may resonate with others who have similar experiences, but in the end it has meaning only for her. Our narrative – perhaps less dramatic, but equally redemptive in my humble opinion – gives our lives some coherence. We try not to revise it – but the vagaries of memory make revision impossible. And yet, in talking to others, I’m not sure there’s anything to learn from infertility that one can pass on to another, other than make them feel less alone in their travails. It sort of ends there. I wouldn’t hold up our happy ending as a reason to keep trucking, but I would share my disappointments and experiences with despair, not to diminish someone elses’, but to let them know that it is okay to feel what they’re feeling. Whatever other guilt they’re experiencing, they shouldn’t have to apologize for their pain.

Were others as selfishly frustrated as I that what we all consider to be the universal "assvice" - "Go away on a romantic vacation and it will happen!" - turned out to solve Peggy's problem? Has this outcome put more pressure on other readers' non-treatment cycles?

I don’t see it as bringing more pressure to our lives (Mel may disagree). I think it is sort of a deadpan punchline to a long joke. It is like the story of the boy who is humiliated at the circus as a small child when a clown squirts him in the face with water from his boutonnière. He plans his whole life around getting his revenge on the offending clown with elaborately orchestrated act of vengeance constantly percolating in his mind. He develops an acerbic wit, an arsenal of deadly put-downs, he has no friends because no one can tolerate the constant tongue lashings he administers, his wife leaves him, his children loathe him…so on and so on. Then one day he hears that the clown who so humiliated him is back in town with the circus. He buys a front row seat and when the clown approaches him to squirt water into his face from a flower in his boutonnière, he shouts, “Fuck you clown!” This is a much truncated version of this joke, for a fuller version click here.

Did he need to put his life through that ringer to get that result? No. The non-treatment cycles that result in living children are kind of the equivalent of that punch-line – without the psychotic bent of organizing your life around getting back at a clown. How can we ever make a child? After clomid, IUI, IVF, egg donation and cancelled adoption, the punch-line is: Fuck you clown. Not because it is funny. But because it is true. And it’s only true because it almost never is.

Orenstein's friend, Larry, says on p. 47, "you can only feel the loss of something you've had." Orenstein gives her thoughts on the matter on page 50. Do you agree with Larry or Peggy?

I agree with both of them. Larry focuses on the word “loss” and by giving that word its full weight. Larry decides he can’t truly lose it if he didn’t have it. It’s like asking a life-long vegetarian if they miss eating meat, or even better, asking a bird if they miss being a dinosaur. Peggy declares that Larry is wrong, but reframes the discussion from being about “loss” to “phantom longing.” Which is a very different thing. I can long for plenty that I’ve never had and never will have. I can even “long” for lost opportunities that never came my way – whether because I chose to focus on my career or because I wasn’t born into a community of Amish farmers. But it is not the same thing.


Bea said...

"I think it is sort of a deadpan punchline to a long joke."

I love this line. And the people who swarm around to say, "See, I *told* you to relax!" just aren't getting the joke.


Pamela Jeanne said...

Thanks for your insights. Lots of good food for thought.

The Town Criers said...

It's so true--the emotions are similar, though you can never hold up someone else's positive as a promise for your own happy ending. Everyone has a different journey.

The difference with the life-long vegetarian is that I don't miss meat because I don't need meat. I don't care about it. It doesn't cross my mind on most days except when we're planning a vacation to somewhere that only had fish restaurants :-) But having a child is a need for some. And that need is very much known--you can observe the benefits and drawbacks to parenthood all around you. You know what you're missing. Isn't that more than longing?

Um...and I love you.

And I'll see you at home tonight.

Karaoke Diva said...

"Fuck you clown"

That one is going to stick with me.

I love what you say about longing vs. loss. They are very different things.

Stacie said...

For me one of the difficult things about this book was how very much I ended up disliking the narrator. You mention she isn't afraid to cast herself in an unflattering light and that is certainly true. From her IVF cycles that didn't begin to address the problem of her miscarriages to her "go on vacation and get pregnant" solution she irritated me. Sigh.

Sunny said...

I don't even know how to comment to your very wise thoughts. :)

I like what you had to say about not really being able to help someone going through IF but to let them know they aren't alone. I do think though we can help those who are just beginning to answer their questions and help them learn along the way. Sometimes you feel so overwhelmed by emotions that you are too afraid to ask for answers. When you have walked that road you know what to ask and how to help guide.

Once again, GREAT thoughts!

Jackie said...

I also don't feel as though the way Peggy came to get pregnant puts more pressure on our non-treatment cycles. I feel like with infertility problems there is a sliding scale of chance to get pregnant with a chromosomally normal embryo, stay pregnant with a healthy fetus, and finally deliver a viable child. For some people there is 0 chance. Normally fertile people have the maximum chance. Clearly Peggy had some chance on her own, although it may have been low, it was there. And she got pregnant as a matter of finally getting lucky.

Ellen K. said...

Very interesting. I was struggling with my own irritation with the ending, but your interpretation of the "deadpan punchline" does ease my mind.

What makes me want to scream, though, is not the people who don't get the joke, but the people who do hold up their own or another's success as a promise or guarantee. And so many people do this, even after personally experiencing infertility. Thus they contribute to that mythology/narrative of how IF works and is resolved.

BestLight said...

I became a mom through adoption. I can't tell you how many times I've heard: "Now watch. You're sure to get pregnant now." Ummmmm, no, I won't. Thanks for your infinite expertise on my body, though.

Aaaargh. I was a little put off by the happy ending. But so enjoyed the rest of it.

Love the clown story. Useful in a variety of ways.

millie said...

I do think there are losses that are things we've never had but are not longings. There's the loss of the not 'falling pregnant'. There's the loss of privacy and the losses with whatever diagnosis you might get (if you even get a diagnosis). And for some of us there's the loss of the genetic connection and the loss of creating a child that's part of my partner and part of me. I do think those are real losses, not just longings.