"My Fertility Crisis" tells of the author, Holly Finn's, attempts to have a child via IVF. She's in her early forties and didn't start trying to have children until she was 39, not, she says, through any lack of desire to be a mother, but through a belief that she needed to have her adventures first -- and because she never seemed to find the right man to have children with. (She still hasn't.)
I'm not that woman from the Roy Lichtenstein print who forgot to have children. I was never so wrapped up in my career that I didn't think about starting a family. But I'm not over 40 and childless for no reason. I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition that makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to conceive. I gave too much time to the wrong men. I smoked in my 20s. I preferred red wine to sparkling water. I ate too much milk chocolate. I liked limericks. I know all the wrong that I've done.Reading this, I can't discount the authors genuine yearning to have children -- and yet there's simply so much wrong with what's going on here. It's criticism Finn seeks to fend off:
I was 39 when I started treatment; I am 42 now. And still I feel lucky. Unlike many infertile people, I have the resources, though they're not endless, to keep at it. Choosing to have children is not like choosing a pair of shoes. Most people know how serious a decision it is. But women who rely on reproductive medicine are still often seen as privileged procrastinators. Our supposedly arrogant delay—we'll get around to having children when we're good and ready—has put us in a pickle, and now we're buying our way out.
That may be true for some. But in my case, there's never been a time when I was "not ready" for children. At 6, I loved my Baby Alive doll like a real child and wanted to be a "baby nurse" when I grew up. By 26, not much had changed. I was in business school but could have cared less about derivatives class. I was too busy dating and taking care of my digital egg, the Tamagotchi. Telling toys.
But here's the guilty glitch: In my early 30s, I took the morning-after pill. My then-boyfriend, the hunky one, said with a sweet smile that he wouldn't mind a baby. I wish I had listened, really listened, to him. But I was still piecing myself back together after a bruising former relationship and broken engagement, and something stopped me from saying the truth: I wouldn't mind a baby, either.
On a walk by the sea one blustery day, a friend told me he'd never hire a hooker. "It's efficient," he said, "but there's something so sad about not being able to get it for free." Picking a sperm donor feels like that, at least at first. For months before I started IVF, I sat down at my computer, logged on to a sperm bank and stood up again.
I've never wanted to pick a man just so I could have children. I craved something less logical. My first love was the man who drove all night in the snow to New York City. He called me from the corner of 93rd Street and Third Avenue and said nothing except, "Look out your window." There he was, shivering at the pay phone, gorgeously spontaneous. I miss pay phones.
And I believe in soul mates. So how did I end up cruising a cryobank? Is this the punishment for romanticism: having to do the least romantic thing in the world? Like many, I trusted that marriage and children—my family—would happen. In the meantime, I lived my life. I fell in with some fascinating men, up close and unvarnished, and had conversations I can still quote. I didn't want to settle at 25. I wanted adventures. I just didn't imagine their cost, and how I would struggle to keep paying it.
The fertile also can be unthinkingly callous. I've had friends suggest that my experience could be a great lesson: This is the first time I haven't gotten something that I wanted (I promise, it's not). Others imply that IVF is a prideful attempt to outmaneuver nature, which may be true. But that's hard to hear from people who used contraception for years, then timed sex according to an ovulation kit, scheduled their C-sections around work and dye their hair.She's right, I think, that in a contraceptive culture people demand to have children on their own terms -- first to have sex without worrying about children, then to have children without worrying about age or biology. She's right to see this as the flip side of the couple that uses contraception to schedule their children for exactly when it's convenient -- and that's why those of us who are counter-cultural enough to accept the Church's understanding of sex and contraception reject both sides of that coin.
There's also, however, something more human and universal going on here. Finn says that she's always wanted to be a mother, yet somehow the choices that she made over the course of her life, from the men she fell in love with to the morning-after pill she took when she thought she might have got pregnant at a time when she didn't want to, built a life that didn't include children.
The house or office you are sitting in was built according to a plan and a purpose, a purpose from which it is now only able to deviate to a limited extent. My house cannot suddenly become an office tower, though it has an office in it. My office building would make a very poor house. But they are built knowingly, according to a plan. And yet, our lives seem often constructed to a purpose without the architect know that he is in constructing something with walls and doors -- an edifice which will suit some ends well, and other poorly. Individual choices pile up unto some particular type of life, and once that life is built people sometimes find it is not, in fact, the kind of structure they want to live in, and yet tearing it down and rebuilding in some other way is difficult. Some people tear things down and remake them -- going through the chaos that is some sort of conversion of life or belief. Others attempt to repurpose the structure they have have built without making changes -- like trying to build a cozy country kitchen in an office cube.
All this would be a variant on, "It's all your fault if you don't like your life," except, of course, that we are not the only builders of our lives. Enbrethiliel writes about the men in women's lives who aren't there.
A few years ago, on the 'blog of a Catholic lady whose special niche was romantic relationship advice, I said that I sometimes thought that the man I was supposed to marry was aborted before he could even be born.I'm not sure I believe in the idea that there is some particular person one is meant to marry. Thinking back over the 14 years MrsDarwin and I have known each other, I realize how much I've changed because I know her, and she because she knows me. By God's will and Clotho's twisting threads we met, and by various chances and choices we found ourselves together and grew together until we are what we are now.
She replied that if he had been, then he wasn't really meant to be my husband.
I always found something wrong with that answer.
I suspect the hundreds of thousands of marriageable women in post-war Britain, startled to realise that the loss of hundreds of thousands of marriageable men meant that nine in ten of them would be old maids for life, would find it downright offensive.
Had she never existed, or gone to some other college, or had we simply never run into each other, we would have both continued down paths, different for being unshared. Had I not met her, I'd be a very different person now, in tastes and experiences, whether I'd remained single or found some other woman with whom I'd fallen in love. If we never met until now, would we still be the sort of people who fell in love, or would we have grown into people who wouldn't be interested in each other?
The ravages of abortion, war and all the other evils of the world take people away, people who might have formed a part of and changed the plan of other lives. And those who would have met them keep on building their lives out of the pieces that are left, and may never find the pieces to build the kind of structure they desire.