What Bristol Palin And I Have in Common

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An anvil dropping on my head — that approximates the combined effect of a Salon article about Bristol Palin’s suprisingly blunt assessment of unintended motherhood magnified by the equally thought-provoking comments readers left on my last blog post suggesting we set aside feminism as the catch-all scapegoat for infertility. How could I ever put those two ideas together you wonder?

Well, we’ll start with Geohde‘s comment because they came on the heels of reading the Salon piece and provide the best segue. She wrote: “it isn’t easy no matter how and when we attempt reproduction. My career is currently on hiatus, and it’s going to be hard to get back. To be honest, it’s exhausting trying to fill so many roles in life.”

As I started to reply to her comment a stunner notion hit me. Yes, it is hard to fulfill so many roles especially if one adds motherhood to the mix — but it’s exhausting in a different sort of way for infertiles trying to create or fulfill elusive as well as real roles. That’s right. Think about it. There are the actual roles in our lives and the wished-for roles.

In my mind’s eye during my earliest adult years,  I envisioned myself juggling the demanding but fulfilling roles of a working mom — mostly successfully, of course — this is fantasy after all.

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And while the reality of the situation was that I wasn’t able to conceive, I feel a bit exhausted nonetheless by the emotional drama of not living up to my long hoped for role.  There’s heavy baggage I’ve been carrying around in failing at something that comes so naturally to hormonally super-charged teenagers. In short, my life is not what I expected and it can be disorienting even now.

And that’s where Bristol Palin, the teen-aged daughter of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, comes in. Oddly enough, Bristol and I share something in common when it comes to making sense of elusive dreams — and feminism has nothing to do with it. Here are her words In an unscripted TV interview captured in Salon:

“I don’t know if it’s what I expected,” Bristol said of young motherhood . “But it’s just a lot different. It’s not just the baby that’s hard. It’s like I’m not living for myself anymore. It’s for another person.” Later in the interview, she again repeated this line — a heartbreaking point if ever there was one, and one we don’t talk about much because we feel obligated to acknowledge that of course motherhood is a sacrifice, of course there are consequences, of course for many women and men, choosing to have children and become less self-obsessed is a pleasure. “

I have only the vaguest notion of the demands of motherhood — and those are based on my teenage babysiting years tending to the monotonous and never-ending needs of infants and toddlers, and watching my college-educated mother set aside her ambitions to raise the four children she had in five years (need I remind you that my parents are Catholic?)

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The Salon reporter watching the young, unwed Bristol on Fox News observed:

“…Van Susteren was determined, in this mother-and-child-worshiping world, not to lose sight of how blessed and happy Tripp’s very existence is. ‘I realize what joy a child brings to a family,’ Van Susteren continued delicately, ‘but was there any sort of sense that maybe this would happen a year or two from now?’

Bristol did a lot less beating around the bush. “Of course,” she replied matter-of-factly.  “I wish it would happen in like 10 years, so I could have a job and an education and be, like, prepared, and have my own house and stuff.’ ”

And that’s about when the anvil fell. There is no easy way to be a mother — regardless of age — but it’s equally hard to be an infertile amid the romanticizing of the “mother-and-child worshiping world” we live in.

Now, I do have “a job and an education and my own house and stuff” but there are no children, which I thought would have come along say 10 years or so ago.

And I can’t blame feminism. Some couples just aren’t equipped to make babies, no matter how hormonally charged we may be.

It seems all of us will find ourselves emotionally exhausted and disoriented from the interrupted dreams of what we thought our lives would or should be.

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13 Responses

  1. stepping up

    February 19, 2009 1:35 am

    This blog never ceases to rejuvenate me into meeting each new day and what it may bring. Inevitably, each day finds time to remind me that I will never know motherhood. I also TRY to keep my mind open to finding peace with that.
    One of my students’ book reports contained a quote that caught my eye. Maybe it may help another reader.
    “Don’t focus on something you cannot do. Find something in your life you do WELL and make it a positive part of your life and being.”

    Thanks always, PJ

  2. loribeth

    February 19, 2009 2:20 am

    Well, that title definitely gave me a pause…! ; ) But good point, PJ (& I like how the Salon reporter brought up the “mother & child-worshiping world” line).

    I actually had a bad case of the February blahs today, & kept thinking about how my life is in such a rut right now, & certainly not the way I thought it was going to be. And then I thought that there’s probably some mother out there thinking that HER life is in a rut & not the way SHE thought it was going to be either — the grass always being greener on the other side, etc. etc. I think the truth is, there is no easy way to be a WOMAN sometimes — mother, infertile or childfree by choice.

  3. luna

    February 19, 2009 6:50 am

    this is a really excellent post, pamela jeanne. I couldn’t even link to this story (much like the octomom’s), yet you’ve managed to bring insight and meaning that I could never articulate. though it’s not like I’m surprised.

  4. Jeanne

    February 19, 2009 8:12 am

    Pamela Jeanne,

    I just love your writing. Amazing post! Glad I saw your twitter message about it to draw my attention.

    Jeanne

    P.S. I posted my 1st vlog. Check it out if you get a chance. It’s 6.5 min long and it’s about endometriosis awareness and the media. I’m hoping we can help others!! 🙂

  5. Ellen K

    February 19, 2009 1:48 pm

    Oh, I read the Salon piece yesterday too, and in fact was just telling D. about it over our morning coffee. (Does anyone really think that Bristol Palin had any actual choice in the matter — whether to keep the pregnancy or to parent the child — once her pregnancy was announced?)

    I’m working on a blog post about the supposed selflessness of motherhood. I have not found much of that so far. Love for one’s child(ren) is not the same as altruism.

    Having been on “one side” and now the other, I would say that the grass can be green on both sides of the fence, but with plenty of patches of crab grass and the occasional dog mess. And Bristol Palin is stepping around those messes and trying to point them out to others while her mom is blithely skipping about the yard. I felt quite sorry for her as I read about the interview.

  6. Deathstar

    February 19, 2009 5:19 pm

    You made me think of how I might have viewed my life had I been a mum the easy way (have unprotected sex, get pregnant) and I betcha I would be bitching about how boring my life is, how unrelenting unglamorous it is to schlep around the house in my pj’s with my baby, how fat I was, blah, blah,blah. Add a demented mother coming over for supper. I’m sure I would have been a prime candidate for post natal depression.

    In reality, I didn’t get pregnant, but I still schlepped around the house in my pj’s,bitched about my boring life, was fat anyway and got depressed. Add a demented mother for supper.

    The difference between these two world? Had I had a child or two, I would have a halo around my head for being a MOTHER. No one would have BLAMED me. I would have gotten nods of understanding and sympathy. Heck, I might have gotten a housekeeper for crying out loud. Oprah would have had me on her show.

    In the infertile version, I got scores of medical procedures, everybody in my powder puff business, constant reminders of the life I should have had, and an inordinate amount of time, money and energy spent in the pursuit of something I DIDN’T achieve.

    Yes, Bristol, your life as you used to know it – is OVER. My heart goes out to you because you’re only 16, and it was still a mindfuck when I reached the wise old age of 44.

    • stepping up

      February 20, 2009 12:15 am

      SINCE you brought up Oprah…Why hasn’t there been time to have a show about life after infertility. You’d think someone on that show could pick up this subject and run with it…going to Oprah.com right now.

  7. Geohde

    February 19, 2009 8:41 pm

    Great post, PJ.

    Perhaps life is never quite what any of us hope it would be? No matter which path we take?

    I’ve been lucky to be on the other side of the IF fence, and perhaps that alters my expectations of motherhood compared to those that never had any difficulty- who knows.

    xx

    J

  8. Rachel

    February 19, 2009 11:13 pm

    John Lennon said it so well “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

    And you are absolutely right when you say that dealing with not having children is as exhausting, if not more so, than having children. After all, the Fertiles are welcome and excepted into this world (with the exception of the Nadyas, and may there be few of those) whereas those who end up without children are left to create a place for themselves in society — and without much help from that society. It’s cruel and horrible… and exhausting.

    I, too, read the Salon article yesterday. Mostly, I was appalled by the machine that is Sarah Palin swooping in to massage her daughter’s words. She is a most horrifying woman.

  9. Danielle

    February 20, 2009 5:27 pm

    I think it’s almost part of the human condition that your life turns out different from what you planned. I once dated a guy who was a professional musician. He had a major meltdown at age 30 because he hadn’t accomplished everything he had hoped to by that time (said meltdown played a direct role in our breaking up).

    I think we all have expectations for our lives and it’s very common that we don’t meet all of those expectations. That’s not to say that we all live lives of unfulfilled misery; it is to say that we all have to manage our lives in the context of the expectations unmet and situations unforeseen, both good and bad.

    In other words, I think most of us have something in common with you and Bristol Palin; it’s just hard to remember that sometimes because we get so consumed with our own experiences.

  10. Zee

    February 20, 2009 10:18 pm

    Brilliant post as usual, and it made me actually stop gagging (a reflexive response to the word “Palin”) long enough to read the article — which I’m glad I did now. So thank you for pointing it out and putting it in the light you have. One sentence jumped out at me, and seemed ripe for the sort of illustrative parody of certain articles (i.e, changing “motherhood” to “infertility,”) you’ve done in past posts. I just changed a few key words, and, well, wow. This also seems to tie in with the points Deathstar makes above:

    “…she hadn’t fully comprehended that, in not having a baby
    by 43, her value as an adult woman with interests and desires and ambitions and
    goals would now come second to the fact that she’s never had a child.” Scary, huh?

  11. Me

    March 3, 2009 5:33 pm

    I never checked this off in my Google Reader when I wrote it previously. I’ve been ruminating on it.

    My sister is a single mom of two. On Valentine’s Day I went out to dinner with her because her boyfriend decided that was the day to become her ex-boyfriend. That night after dinner we sat in my car, in my driveway talking for several hours. She talked about how WEIRD it is to hear my pg friend/coworker talking about being excited about a baby. Because she can’t even FATHOM what it would be like to be excited to be pregnant. The first time she thought “Oh sh!t.” The second time she though “Oh sh!t. I remember this. I’m not gonna get any sleep again.”

    My sister loves her kids. But she does not love being a mother. I have another coworker who is similar. She is not quite 40, has two grown kids and one 4 year old grandchild already. She says that if she could go back and do things over she would not only have used birth control but NEVER had kids. Not that she doesn’t love her kids. But she thinks she could have been so much happier in her life without them.

    When you have infertility you lament that your life is not how you had planned, because you can’t have kids. And it’s easy to forget that there are people out there on the other side of the coin who are pretty miserable too. And although it’s easy to say that they “could have prevented it”, let’s be honest, most of us have had at least one act of premarital unprotected sex in our lives. But conception didn’t occur. So it’s easy for us to sit in judgment.

    Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It pisses me off royally how much my sister takes her kids for granted. How much attention she doesn’t give them. That my niece is behind in school but we had to literally HOUND my sister for WEEKS to get her to help us help her daughter start catching up. That’s wrong in so many ways, on so many levels. And I’ve known (and seen) plenty of women who are even less caring for their children. It often seems they couldn’t care less. And that is wrong.

    However. The fact of the matter is that there are only a lucky few whose lives turn out as they planned. Or perhaps they are unlucky because they never got to color outside the lines? I dunno. Just random babbling from a woman on her lunch hour.

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