Well, in the midst of partaking of our nation’s chaos, I, like many of us, am processing STUFF in my own life. And watching videos of the mostly male insurrectionists storming the citadel of western democracy got me thinking about how gender roles play out in my life (honestly, a subject I think a lot about anyway). Although some of the men were indeed armed and very dangerous, a good portion of them seemed to be playing out their fantasies of strength, of rebellion. Like participants in a role playing game…which unfortunately was very real for those in The Capitol and those who lost their lives. These men seemed so overjoyed at somehow claiming a birthright of battle.
I’m certainly not a scientist (although I’ve played one on TV), but I am aware of and have read a bit about studies on gender and how nature and nurture affect it. Past studies have focused solely on the male / female ends of the spectrum; yet, gender roles are more fluid today than ever. Perhaps this is why such an old-fashioned explosion of stereotypical male rage jarred me.
In the nature camp, we are homo sapiens after all. Typically, the muscle mass of the male-born of our species has been more dominant, the sperm count plentiful so as to allow it to venture out into the world and ‘father’ many offspring. And of course, the female-born of our kind has only one egg a month so as to limit its reproductive capabilities for quality over quantity, is the one to give birth, and the one to attend more closely to the needs of offspring. These are the rudimentary facts of our biological nature.
In the nurture camp, we have not only the beliefs of our families of origin, but we have billboards, magazines, mass media of all types: movies, TV dramas and sitcoms, reality TV (heaven help us), soap operas, romance novels, the occasional piece of decent literature, and now…THE INTERNET. With so much noise, how do we determine what we want, who we want to be as individuals vs. what society tells us we should want, who we should be.
In the past, and still far too often today, women have been defined as appendages. We have been trained to derive our self-esteem, self-worth from caretaking. Since we do indeed live in society with each other, we all operate under conventions and norms which may not align actually with what we want, or what is best for us in the long run. ‘You want me to be a caretaker? Well, I don’t want that.’ What now?
Take for instance, wait for it, wait for it…not having children. After all, trying to have children, and ‘failing,’ is not the world’s biggest tragedy, but it does set a couple apart from the ‘norm.’ It does set a woman apart from the norm. And in my experience when you are set apart from the norm you have not only the negative feelings of being ‘different’ but the opportunities to reflect, to research, to analyze. When the option or reality of motherhood is absent, what do I have left? What is a woman’s worth in our society when she isn’t a mother? Or when she may not become a mother some day? There is just not a lot of writing out there on this subject. There is though, a lot of pop culture (old and new) in the form of novels, plays, and films about villainous ‘barren’ women who steal other people’s babies, etc. Hmmmmm…no thanks.
“I’m completely happy not having children. I mean, everybody does not have to live in the same way. And as somebody said, ‘Everybody with a womb doesn’t have to have a child any more than everybody with vocal cords has to be an opera singer.”
—Gloria Steinem, Chelsea Lately, October 2011
This is tough for me to admit, but I honestly don’t know whether I really wanted a child. Now that we have made the decision to really stop fertility treatments, I am left pondering why I spent the last six years dedicated to trying to have a child.
When I was pregnant in 2016 (before we lost her at 16 weeks) I remember explaining to a male friend that I finally felt like a woman. I finally felt like I earned something, like having that child in utero made me feel complete. Where did THAT come from? Perhaps from trying to avoid being one of those insane barren gals from a wannabe Hitchcock flick?
I now see how much of society / culture / whatever has conditioned me to think this way. I never pined for a child. I was never the little girl with a baby doll. I was the girl who wanted to do my doll’s hair and makeup or redecorate my Easy-Bake Oven with magic markers (instead of baking in it - don’t even ask my Mom about that mess), I wanted to make plays in the backyard, I wanted to be school president, to dance, to sing…I spent most of my 30’s single, independent, I paid for my own rent, put myself through grad school, worked at theatres all around this fair nation of ours, and at random day jobs all around this fair city of ours. Yet, at some point, once I was married, and Jeremy and I found a rhythm to our lives, I assumed the natural next step was to have a child.
Of course, this is the natural next step for many people in a committed relationship. And more often than not it simply happens. That is the norm. (Certainly there are a LOT of people sitting in waiting rooms and exam rooms in fertility offices all around the world, but although those numbers are great, it is of course still the norm to get pregnant naturally, at home, as our good ole DNA intends). And yet, we don’t question WHY people have kids the same way we questions why people DON’T. I really did think I wanted to have a child. Maybe I really did. Maybe I still do, but can’t ‘feel’ it right now.
One day during the prep time before our most recent embryo transfer this past fall, I was feeling very anxious, more so than usual. Perhaps the last six years of treatments, of trying, of failing were barrelling down on me. And thoughts were swirling in and out of my head; what life would be like after this process, whether it be successful or not? Would I be a good mother if it worked? Where would I put my attention if it failed? And my acupuncturist helped by cutting through the mental noise. She said, ‘Well, if you are happy now, you will be happy after it’s done. Whatever the outcome.’ And then. Then I realized. I better make sure I’m happy now.
So I made a conscious decision to seek out as much damn happiness as I could. And you know - it worked? When I got the call that the embryo transfer failed, I was upset, but not ruined. I cried, but didn’t take to my bed. We got an amazing pizza and cuddled the cats. And getting through the holidays had its tough moments, but I was way more focused on what I did have than what I didn’t.
And now it’s a new year. A new beginning for our country. And an open book for me. I still have a great deal of that little girl in me who never pined for a baby doll, who still likes making theatre in weird places. Yet I am now the woman who experienced very real, adult pining for a child of her own, and tragedy along the way in attempting to make one. I think I will mix it all in the Easy-Bake Oven of life and see what emerges.
PERTINENT ARTICLE LINKS:
COOL OR FUNNY OR INFORMATIVE STUFF WHICH CROSSED MY PATH THIS WEEK:
This is very much worth it:
Luke Mogelson’s Among The Insurrectionists in The New Yorker
Just a reminder about how great The Paris Review is…as designed by the brilliant Charlotte Strick
Thanks Everyone for reading. And feel free to share your experiences with gender roles and society, loss and the other side of it…light fare for a Sunday, right?
Take care, Stacey