What Does Choice Have to Do With It? Plenty
Hat tips to Liana and to Christina, two smart and sassy online pals who exercise my brain and challenge my thinking in a good way. Each pointed me to articles in the past week or so that formed the foundation for this post.
Humans. We’re such predictable and simple beings when it comes right down to it. We’re social by nature, competitive on a whole bunch of levels, and we crave validation. We’re also primal and spontaneous but feel at our best when we’re in total control of our destiny — often two ideas at odds with each other.
These striking characteristics of humankind have become quite apparent to me in my seemingly never-ending quest to make sense of my life (and my often conflicted feelings about infertility). Bear with me, but this entry is a break with past posts, where I’ve drawn a line in the sand between fertiles and infertiles. Recently, I have been mulling over two distinctly dissimilar groups of adults who curiously share one very important and life-defining element in common.
In the first group, consider those who had “ops” pregnancies and reluctantly went on to become parents, and those who couldn’t conceive at all and reluctantly accepted that pregnancy was just not in the cards. In both cases, conscious choice did not play a central role, biology did.
These seemingly distinct fertile and infertile types are remarkably similar and 180 out from their opposites. The second group includes those for whom conscious choice trumped biology, and I mean kicked biology’s ass.
I’m talking about those who consciously and wholeheartedly dominated the primal thing, set a timetable and, voila, conceived and delivered whatever number of babies they felt they could comfortably raise. Their equivalent are those who consciously and without reservation decided they did not want to have kids, no way no how, and carefully controlled their reproductive tendencies to ensure no babies arrived on the scene.
(Within these groups there are various subgroups. In particular, there are those who couldn’t conceive and went on to adopt and those who conceived but didn’t see parenthood as a viable option and gave up their children for adoption, accordingly. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to leave it there. With adoption comes a much deeper set of issues that I’m not equipped to discuss with any authority. In the main, these two subgroups do, however, share on big thing in common with the second group: they made a conscious choice to be or not be parents).
Choice, if I haven’t made it abundantly clear, is the operative word here. Choice has good and not so good ramifications. Same goes for not choosing.
Take parenting, for example. Today we have two “choice” groups all but at war with each other. At the extremes are those smug, in-your-face parents who dote on their children to the point of making others around them wonder if their goal was to have children or merely accessories to show off or to demonstrate their superiority with the whole fertility/virility thing. Their counterparts are those equally smug, often dogmatic child-free by choice (CFBC) types for whom any child is one too many. They tend to prefer children, in general, be out of sight and out of mind.
Of these two opinionated groups, the “I am a Mommy, hear me ROAR types,” are the most obvious chiefly because they have the most gear. They’ve become more organized and vocal in recent years. There is an actual “mommy movement.” In the past few years some 5,000+ mom’s clubs have taken shape and, curiously, have become rather un-mom-like what with their exclusivity (since when did moms need dues and memberships? aren’t moms supposed to be nurturing and accepting of all?)
Ironically, the most dogmatic mommies don’t often do a very good job managing their children because they’re so busy demanding to be recognized for their momminess and keeping up with their Mom’s Club obligations. The die-hard daddies are no better.
To fight back, the CFBC types have their own manifestos and organizations. In OpenSalon one child-free woman riffs on the many reasons motherhood just wasn’t for her in a piece called You’ll Change Your Mind. You can read more about both extremes in Harper’s Bazaar, which offers an intriguing socio-cultural view of the two competing camps in Baby Blues.
I’ve developed a new appreciation for the tribal divisions that exist across society and the behaviors that come with identifying too closely with any one identity or ideology. Let’s look at some less super charged examples: the Ohio State Buckeye (or name your sports team fanatic) who paints his or her body parts; the “we are the center of the world” New Yorker; the Del Boca Vista Phase III snowbird; or the self-righteous boho in Berkeley — the tribal affiliations go on and on. When we align ourselves with a particular identity or tribe we need to validate our choices. It’s what we humans do. It makes us feel a tad superior when we know we’ve made the right decision. The right choice. Choice made, we tend to delve deeper into our respective communities.
Yet on the fertility front — in particular for those of us for whom conscious choice didn’t play a role — we are often in an odd state of mind. We don’t quite fit in. The parents not by conscious choice probably wonder what their lives would have been like without the responsibilities and sacrifices of raising children, but they do get the advantages of society validating the importance of being parents, and if they’re fortunate, great kids who bring more joy than aggravation to their world. You might find them still wearing “World’s Best Mom or Dad” sweatshirts following Mother’s or Father’s Day.
There are no “World’s Best Infertile” shirts in my drawer or bumper stickers on my car, and you won’t find me at any Infertile-by-Choice confabs. Have no fear, I’m not going to get all woe is me here. I do appreciate the non-messy condition of my house, the fact that I can come and go as I please on Saturday mornings, and the germ-free play dates with my husband, among other things.
And apparently marriages without children are happier ones, or so says a study reported on in Marriage Without Children the Key to Bliss. I’m quite happy with my marriage so there’s another data point.
The “deal with the hand you’re dealt” crew, well, we’re just trying to do the best we can. It is, after all, the ambiguities of life that serve up the most challenging and interesting experiences.
Now to the Momzillas and Dadzillas, and the CFBC types, do take a chill pill. We recognize your choices — you don’t have to make a federal case out of them. The competition between the “choice” groups gives me a bit of a headache to be honest. They are both high and mighty and a bit absurd in their own special and annoying way.
Hey, I know how to make them feel better: This should do it:
You both win, okay?
If you’re still reading, please share your thoughts.