I can’t help but wonder if there will ever come a day when the shadow of infertility doesn’t follow me wherever I go. I get that there’s always going to be a pregnant woman or baby unexpectedly showing up in my periphery. And I’ve come to accept that when I catch sight of them I’m going to ache some, but infertility thoughts in long abandoned palaces?
It’s hard to miss the importance of progeny — and the inevitable mulling of what my life would have been like in a different time and place — when surrounded by larger than life portraits depicting the lineage of once powerful rulers. Their very future and ability to exert influence depended on successfully mating and reproducing. The piercing eyes staring down at me from ornate walls brought back to mind a scene in the HBO series Rome. I cringed when I first heard Cleopatra whisper to Caesar, “a man with no sons has no future.”
Sure, it’s the 21st century but the importance of fertility still matters greatly. In countries with declining birth rates there are generous incentives to encourage baby-making. These pro-natalistic policies may not always work to encourage large families, but the fact that they’re in place says something about the value of fertility — and sends a strange message to those who can’t conceive. It’s hard not to feel, well, devalued.
On my way out of visiting the last palace on our trip I had a new appreciation for Japan’s Princess Masako and the intense pressure she faced to produce an heir. It’s hard enough to deal with the heartbreak of infertility in private, quite another to have to face it along with the judgment and disappointment of prying eyes — whether in the 1700s or today. The palaces may be emptying out but we still have a long way to go to shake loose those crusty but powerful views from the past.