Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Constructed Lives

Last weekend's Wall Street Journal had another of its book-excerpt-as-human-interest-article pieces. Past installments have managed to make quite a splash, with examples such as the Tiger Mom piece which seemingly everyone was talking about for week (I hope that author got some good book sales out of it as everyone decided that she was psycho -- there ought to be such compensations for such self pillorying) and an excerpt of Bryan Caplan's book outlining "selfish reasons to have more children."

"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.

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.
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:
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.

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.
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.

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.


BettyDuffy said...

My sister's in town, and I read this article over her shoulder, both of us periodically reading parts aloud--because it seemed so adept and outrageously persistent at avoiding the obvious. She wanted so badly to have a good excuse for not having children when she could have, but there is no excuse except, as you said, she built her life on a different set of values.

If you want to be a mother, date for marriage and put off career rather than babies--but that's such a dangerously anti-feminist message to give young women. We tend to hate the message and the messenger both.

BurgoFitzgerald said...

I was about to go into a great blustering commentary on the article and the author, but I realized I am too weary.

I have found the older I get the less I speak because as I am battered by a never ending tsunami of 'truthtalk', I get very still and wonder if people actually hear themselves. The author writes as though she sees herself on a stage delivering a sort of monologue to an audience wearing different clothing but resembling herself. It reads like lines from a script.

Does she believe it when she rehearses it in the mirror to later entertain with it at cocktail parties?

"An entire generation not on to itself." Peter O'Toole said these words in a ghastly made for television version of "Svengali" I think of those words whenever I hear, and I hear them quite a bit, people 'perform' words like the ones in the article from The Wall Street Journal.

The author paints herself as some sort of tragic heroine. She mythologizes her past, her choices. She inefficiently and embarassingly tries to gild the pedestrian quality of her commonplace 20th century decisions.

I think the most telling line is the 26 year old business student playing with a Tamagotchi line.

It is frightening to be shown just how incapable so many people are of handling the moment when they truly realize that we've never been made promises that will be honoured here on Earth.

Anonymous said...

Betty - I'm with you on "put off career rather than babies." That's fine, if you have someone with whom to have babies. Wouldn't it be irresponsible to put off a career in favor of waiting for "the one"?

My question though, is how do you date for marriage? It's obviously different then dating for casual s*x, but you write it so casually as if there is a special bar you go to when you want to meet someone to marry rather than someone to get you through the holiday or wedding season. Surely, there are many people who are or think they are dating for marriage and find out after a significant investment of time, that they're not.

I read a lot of blogs of this genre and there is a fair amount of overt (and sometimes not so overt) condescension or criticism towards people who find themselves approaching middle age and wanting to have a child. There seems to be an implication that all of these people (of which I am admittedly one or almost one) have made a series of bad choices that they now have to live with. There are certainly some cases where this is true (although, even in these cases, the "you've made your bed" approach seems rather harsh) but there are just as many if not more cases were these people made the right choices but haven't yet been blessed with someone with whom to marry - do you still think they've somehow done something to deserve a childless life, perhaps alone? IVF isn't the answer, but there should be an option other then "you made your choices", which I always unfairly imagine being said as you roll your eyes and turn on your heel.

Prolific families like your own are undoubtedly the future and often the foundation of today's Church. As such, you might want to consider being more sensitive and welcoming to your young(er)lay brothers and sisters.

Or maybe I just need a thicker skin.


MrsDarwin said...

Anon, I think what Betty is reacting to -- and what struck me when I read this -- is the key phrase, "I didn't want to settle when I was 25." This is not the language of the faithful Catholic who is still waiting for the right guy or girl, but a dismissal from one who indicates that she views marriage and children as an end, not a beginning. Betty's words, which I read as directed to Ms. Finn, seemed appropriate in that context.

This current assumption that one could never possibly travel or have intense conversations or adventures after marriage and children is a very silly mental block, and perhaps it's part of this "romanticism" that Ms. Finn now sees as the tarnished worldview it is. Or does she? "I trusted that marriage and children -- my family -- would just happen." Any marriage actually founded on that shallow premise seems to me likely to dissolve at the touch of other things that "just happen", such as job losses, infidelity, sickness, or other major trials. And I believe that the single Catholics I know, who do long to be married and have a family of their own, would agree.

I think we can acknowledge Ms. Finn's pain without turning a blind eye to the fact that at least some of it is self-inflicted.

Darwin said...

Also, it strikes me, bridging the two halves of the post (the first about how one's own decisions form one's life, the second about how factors beyond our control affect the pool of people available to marry) none of these decisions happens in a vacuum.

When a man decides he's going to focus on his career and "having adventures" till his mid thirties and only then start thinking about marriage, that's necessarily one less potential spouse for women in his social set who are the same age. Some woman he went to college with might have been very happy marrying someone like him, if only he hadn't decided to be someone who didn't get married any time soon. (And likely sought somewhat younger women once he did.)

In a society heavily focused on nearly every attraction other than family, the odds are made that much difficult for those who swim against that stream.

So in a sense, we're not just stuck living with our choices, but stuck living with everyone else's too.

Julia said...

Thanks, a single Catholic woman now in my mid 30s and still hoping to marry and have as many children as time will allow I appreciated your thoughtful consideration of the fact that we live with not only our own choices but those of everyone around us. That is a very Catholic understanding of the interconnectedness of our lives in community. The lack of eligible Catholics may just be an example of how individual sin(s) do really hurt us all!

Pentimento said...

Nice post and thoughtful comments. I read the WSJ piece and I do think that, as Anonymous suggests, the happy-Catholic-mothers-of-many who criticize people like Ms. Finn are not seeing the whole picture. In fact, Ms. Finn provides not only a cautionary tale, but also an easy source of affirmation for the soundness of the choices made by those women who are strenuously not like her, and when we stop to compare ourselves favorably to other poor f*ck-ups, we tend to be treading pretty close to Pharisee-and-publican-land.

I'm Ms. Finn's age. I lived like her, sort of, for the longest time, only a lot less comfortably (since most of what I cared about was becoming a good artist, but there's no need to retread any of that and I've written about it extensively elsewhere). After I made a great many poor choices and suffered much pain, I became one of those people who, as Darwin nicely puts it, go "through the chaos that is some sort of conversion." Then I met my husband and got married and had a baby. Then I lost a lot of pregnancies and had secondary infertility, and it's probable that I can't have any more children naturally at this point (though we are in the process of adopting). Interestingly, when I told my very publicly Catholic OBGYN about our adoption plans, he suggested we try donor eggs, which I note only to underline the fact that not everyone knows the truth, even people you'd expect to. I think that fact is salient here. Indeed, if you are one of the happy-Catholic-parents-of-many, it's probably because you did know the truth, and your parents inculcated it in you from a young age. If that's the case, you don't know how lucky you are.

People like Ms. Finn (and me) did not have the advantages of your family background and/or your catechesis when it came to making decisions. And perhaps there was something more, something darker, that drove her to try to make her own way and damn the consequences, as there was for me. It's unfair, I think, to assume in every case that someone like Ms. Finn was a coldhearted, ambitious bitch who refused to settle for a good man when she had the chance, because maybe that wasn't the case at all. Maybe there was some bereavement, some disruption, some dark loss, some abandonment, some betrayal, that made her mistrust the men she was presented with. Maybe she didn't believe anyone could ever really love her. And on and on. The truth is, we don't know, and why should we set her up as a straw woman to prove the rightness of our own decisions?

As for me, I can never for a minute rest on the rightness of my decisions. I can never think that God allowed me to be a Catholic wife and mother because I'm a good person, because I'm not, or because I made good choices, because I didn't. The fact that these things happened to me is not because I dated for marriage or did any other particular thing right, since I did not. They are only proof of His abundant mercy.

What can I say? I pray for Ms. Finn. I hope things work out for her. I hope she gets her baby, even though I'm supposed to abhor IVF and all that (I'm actually one of the mean people who think she should adopt, because I think adoption is a great, great thing, but whatever). The fact is that I could have been her, and, but for the mercy of God, we all could have been.

Anonymous said...

I've never quite read anything like this... I have such a visceral desire to slap that author that my hand is twitching.

Oh infertility is so hard for her! She wanted children so much she did what? Put them off for something like twenty years? And then she indulges herself with IVF? She doesn't even sound like she regrets her choices!

My husband and I did everything right. We built our lives expecting to have large families. We married right out of college. I never in my life did anything that could damage my fertility. And I still had three miscarriages before I was thirty.

And then I have to sit and be polite while people who know only that we have the one child encourage us to give him siblings. Or worse, sneer at our 'contraceptive mentality.'


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your last three paragraphs, Darwin. I'm doing a series on marriage at the moment on my own blog, and I must remember to quote you when I get to this point.

I think a huge amount of damage is done by the romantic 'ideal' that we need to find and marry 'the one'. There is no 'Mr Right'. There may be a number of 'Mr Possibles'. And after marriage, they'll change and so will you. I've been married 40 years this year, and I calculate I'm on husband number 7, and he's on wife number 6. We've been blessed to fall in love again each time we've grown apart, and we intend to keep doing so. Mr Right? Yes, absolutely. Because we choose to make it so.

Foxfier said...

On the growing with your other half-- maybe it's partly worldview?

A lot of folks see marriage as two puzzle pieces.
Some see it as a plant on a trellis, or even two.
I think a better way to see it might be two plants growing together. I read about some style of raising plants where you put specific plants in at specific times, and it lets them grow in places that none of them would be able to survive otherwise. That's what family is like.

I got lucky with my Elf. Neither of us is perfect, but we fit, and the things we tolerate match up with the flaws in the other very well, while the things that drive us nuts aren't major points.
When I look at my classmates, many of whom are almost exactly the same people they were a decade ago, and when I look at our cousins, and notice who's had to shift themselves around someone else or grow in other ways... it's amazing. Even comparing the friends we had on the ship shows major changes between those who Have Someone and those who are just "having fun." They're reaching the age where they start to feel lonely, and wonder if they'll find someone.

My brother is an example of a guy who is looking, isn't that old, and can't find a girl that fits who doesn't just want to "have fun;" the very idea of looking at each relationship as possibly being life-long-- a good habit to have even for friendships-- is alien to them. (And yes, before someone suggests: he's tried at Church, too. Found the same thing I did: most of the college age people that go to Church are already taken.)

BettyDuffy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BettyDuffy said...

Experiencing commenter's regret here.

I apologize for being insensitive to the plight of the unmarried and childless. I committed error in implying the author's "Fault" for not marrying younger.

I also don't think there's a pharisee-publican implication to acknowledging the sacrifices inherent in any set of choices. Culture already makes the point that marriage and babies, and missing out on money, travel and high-powered careers is a major drag. The flip side is that the window for natural conception is relatively narrow, and once past, conception may be impossible. Going through one door may mean that the other door is going to close.

There appear to be two straw men in this combox: "the coldhearted, ambitious bitch who refused to settle for a good man when she had the chance" and "the happy-Catholic-mothers-of-many" who self-congratulate and criticize the choices of others.

Is it possible that the two are not actually at war?

Pentimento said...

I apologize if I've contributed to the setting up of any straw men or ladies, Betty.

Darwin said...

I think that a point to be clear on, however, is that there is a fair amount of daylight between criticizing a set of view put forward as views ("Oh, man, this is just wrong and driving me up the wall!"), and criticizing a person in some substantive and comparative sense, ("I'm sure glad I'm not a greedy, stupid bitch like that person!")

In this case, it's particularly complicated as Ms. Finn is herself critiquing her past self, while simultaneously outlining her solution (IVF as a single woman) and urging others who are less far down the road than her to take another path ("The first thing I'd like to tell women ages 26 to 34 is: Start having babies. I know it's not polite or funny. But I don't want others to go through what I'm going through now.")

While there are levels of criticism which I think would clearly go from discussing the ideas to ripping on the person, it does seem to me that there's a fair amount of latitude in this case for spirited disagreement with what Ms. Finn lays out to be the source of her problems and her suggested solution. She is, after all, writing an opinion piece about how people should live. Responding in kind seems appropriate.

I think there's a line that we as Christians in particular are always being called on to walk between "I would never be like that person" thinking on the one extreme, and refusal to actually talk about what is right and wrong on the other.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here. I’m not generally a blog commenter at all and I’m way out my league here (having just googled Pharisee/Publican to make sure I was thinking of the right thing). But your comments are all thoughtful and polite. I wanted to note one or two things.

First, Ms. Finn does imply that her decision not to “settle” was related to her desire to still have fun and not be bogged down with a family. However, at least in my experience, the phrase generally implies a decision not to marry or continue to date someone that you deep down know you shouldn’t marry - a decision to forego the immediate comforts and ease (you no longer have to spend time in the “dating to marry” singles bar etc.) of a relationship that you know isn’t the one you were meant to have. Taking Ms. Finn out of the equation, in my view its generally a good thing not to settle. A separate issue is whether current generations are too unwilling to compromise and too fixated on the perfect mate (see the New Yorker piece Looking for Someone) – but I’m not smart enough to debate that with you all.

Second, perhaps somehow related to the Pharisee/Publican idea, imagine that you or your sons or daughters were living life and dating to marry and at first it just wasn’t working out. You weren’t called to marry the people you were dating or maybe, despite your best efforts, you weren’t dating. You’d probably do the best you could, you’d work hard at your job and eventually it would become a career, you’d go to Church, volunteer, join a book club, play a sport, maybe run a marathon and travel all along meeting good people with whom you would have intentional relationships and occasional dates with the intention of marrying – none of which would actually lead to marriage. It is entirely possible to make mostly good decisions and still wind up in Ms. Finn’s predicament. You can perhaps imply that Ms. Finn should have dated to marry and chosen babies over career –but this doesn’t apply to everyone in Ms. Finn’s predicament. And that is really the point I was trying to make – I could easily soon be in Ms. Finn’s predicament and I know that people assume because I’m a single woman with a successful career I chose this lifestyle or made choices to construct a life incompatible with marriage and children and that is not the case, rather, I’ve embraced this lifestyle (and but for the lack of spouse, don’t consider it incompatible with marriage and children), because for now, it seems to be the one that was intended for me. I would imagine that if many married with children types consider a life in which their path didn’t intersect with their spouse’s when it did, they could easily see themselves down a path that might end with Ms. Finn’s current concerns.

Finally, I clearly reacted to a comment intended for someone else as if it were intended for me. That wasn’t at all fair, but since I was moved to actually comment in the first place, I felt I should clarify my point.


JMB said...

My take on the piece (being a contemporary of Ms. Finn, now 44, almost 45) is that she was raised as I was in the 70s where there was an ongoing assault on being a mother, being feminine and staying home and taking care of babies. Just think back on our cultural references: Billy Jean King, Jodi Foster, Tatum O'Neill, Kristie MacNichol, The Women's Room, Marlo Thomas and Rhoda, "Free to be You and Me". The few portrayals of married mothers with families on tv were old fashioned ones - the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. So I don't blame her for the running as fast as she could from the marriage & family front and establishing herself into a career. I did that too. I didn't meet my nice Catholic husband at the Jesuit University that I attended, I met him years later at a bar in Hoboken. By that time I was so disillusioned with my so called crackerjack career on Wall Street that I was ready to settle down. And then I had to wait until the right guy came along. It was a crap shoot for me and still is in many ways. I did just about everything wrong in college and certainly didn't (and still don't) deserve my happily married with 4 children fate.

The beauty of her testimony is that she recognizes her "mistakes", yet so much of what we do and what we have is out of our control anyway. Why are some people naturally thin and beautiful while others are not? Why are some people financially successful while others struggle? Why are some kids born with intellectual curiosity and talent and others are just so average? Why are there Derek Jeters out there? I think there are people who are lucky in love and there are those who are not. I have two siblings that are divorced, and we grew up in a very happy Catholic household with parents who loved each other very much and taught us all about the Church and her position on marriage and children. Heck, they even taught NFP back in the 70s (and had 7 kids at the time, the 8th surprisingly discovered while teaching the course).

One last thought: I just hope that if she is successful and has a baby, she doesn't get discouraged that the child isn't all that she had hoped for and anticipated. There is an awful lot riding on this baby.

Christy from fountains of home said...

Your post makes good points about how our culture has come to view children as a right, but only when chosen at a specific time. I think our culture has been so altered by the contraceptive ideology that we hardly know how to view children anymore. But it is undeniable that our choices play a huge part every step of the way. Be it getting married young and accepting children through your marriage, even if its more than the standard two, or putting aside relationships for career etc. We all have to come to the accept the reality of our decisions apart from what we romanticize in our minds.

Enbrethiliel said...


Darwin, I'm not entirely sold on the romantic "some particular person" ideal, either; but it's true that abortion (more than all the other evils of the world) has taken so many people away from us that we can't begin to fathom the cost. I do fixate on that "man I was supposed to marry" (for lack of better rhetoric) primarily because it's the most obvious hole in my life right now. (And because my biological clock is screaming?)

In related news, I know for a fact that I missed meeting at least one cousin who was conceived before me. I wonder about her* sometimes, although I don't really mourn her loss. Our extended family still seems full, thanks to the eleven other cousins who survived the benevolent tyranny of their pregnant mothers.

(*An aunt who tried to prevent the abortion said that when she was praying, she had the overwhelming sense that her niece was a girl.)

Pentimento said...

JMB writes: "The beauty of her testimony is that she recognizes her 'mistakes', yet so much of what we do and what we have is out of our control anyway." I think that's a very important point. It's very hard not to see the good stuff we have as the fruit of our goodness (and, conversely, the bad stuff as fruit of our badness), which goes back to the earliest beginnings of American culture, but which is a generally faulty premise from which to operate.

Oh, I had forgotten about "Free to Be You and Me"! We totally had that album growing up. I agree that women like Ms. Finn have been strongly influenced by their cultural milieu; how could it not be so? As many people have already suggested here, seemingly individual choices are not made in a vacuum.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here.

This was one of maybe 5 times I’ve commented on a blog and appreciate the polite and intelligent discussion.

I wrote a more detailed follow up comment that never appeared. The gist of it was that I was initially moved to comment because my whole life I thought I was dating to marry and growing up I certainly never dreamed of the corporate career I have. I worked hard at my job (which eventually became a career), went to Church, volunteered, joined a book club, played a sport, ran some races and travelled all along meeting good people with whom I’ve had intentional relationships (and occasional dates with the intention of marrying – none of which have actually lead to marriage). So it’s entirely possible to make *mostly* good decisions and still wind up in Ms. Finn’s predicament. And that is really the point I was trying to make – people assume that because I’m a single woman with a successful career I chose this lifestyle or made choices to construct a life incompatible with marriage and children and that is not the case, rather, I’ve embraced this lifestyle (and but for the lack of spouse, don’t consider it incompatible with marriage and children), because for now, it seems to be the one that was intended for me. These assumptions hurt so I decided to address them by anonymously reacting to a blog comment intended for someone else as if it were intended for me. That wasn’t at all fair. However, again, I appreciate the polite and intelligent discussion that followed – and that is generally blogged about around here (I came to Darwin through Betty).

And, JMB, I didn’t meet my husband at the Catholic university I attended but now I live in Hoboken (and am getting a drink tonight) – you give me hope!


MrsDarwin said...

Anon, I'm so sorry. For no discernible reason, you ran afoul of the damn spam filter. Darwin and I see all comments come in through the email, so we don't always realize when one doesn't post because Blogger needs a sacrificial opinion.

Anyway, I've posted your two comments that were held up -- our apologies! And thanks for reading, and writing.

MrsDarwin said...

Also want to point out, though all you intelligent people have already discerned this, that there are several different conversations going on here:

1) Ms. Finn's own example of pushing off anything relating to marriage or childbearing, then her attempts to try single motherhood at age 42 through multiple expensive IVF procedures;

2) The pain of infertility, and the understandable desire for children (whether expressed constructively or destructively);

3) The sadness and disillusionment of the Catholic who has prepared to embrace marriage and children, but has not met a suitable spouse.

3 is a separate conversation from 1 and 2 (though the desire for children does carry over).

As I re-read Ms. Finn's article, I keep remembering that, as Catholics, we believe that children are a gift, not a right (or a burden). This is a truth that everyone is called to embrace in different ways. The infertile couple who rejects IVF in favor of either adoption or of practicing corporal works of mercy is acknowledging that children are a gift, not a right. On the other end of the spectrum, the uber-fertile couple who practice NFP but have a surprise pregnancy (our own experience, more than once) have to acknowledge that children are a gift that God gives not on our particular schedule, but when He pleases.

(And thought I see no shame in admitting that I do prefer to space my children at least two years apart, I have to keep reminding myself that for those who want to avoid conception, sex is a luxury, not a prerogative.)

Emily J. said...

I think the response to this article would be 100% different if Ms. Finn were trying to adopt instead of doing IVF. She writes that she decides not to adopt after looking at her thumbs and remembering how happy she is to have one thumb that looks like her mother's and one thumb that looks like her father's. I'm sure she had other considerations when she decided not to adopt, but I wonder if she fully realizes how different birth children can be. Already she doesn't know what genetic material the sperm donor will contribute. Why not give hope to a child already born in a hopeless situation rather than spending tens of thousands to conceive a child who comes with no guarantee of similarity/health/capacity, etc?

Perhaps one of the hardest things about being middle-aged is realizing that some doors have closed permanently. Ms. Finn believed marriage and family would come eventually (and they may still); I believed that after having children some of my youthful dreams could still be lived out. But the potential for actualizing those desires has decreased exponentially over the years. It is a daily challenge not to give in to bitterness over those losses, large or small as they may be, but to find reasons for gratitude for the way things are.

Pentimento said...

As Darwin suggests above, the challenge for us in discussing a piece like this is in formulating an authentic Christian response to it. How do we extend our hands in loving support and friendship to people like Ms. Finn? How do we help her and others of her ilk? It's easy to forget that this is what we're supposed to do, regardless of how we might feel about her and her choices, and the way they influence her current life, and her decision to do IVF, etc. We can reject that decision without rejecting her and those of her ilk. I really think that we have to try to comfort her -- if not her personally, then the many "hers" of whom she is a symbol -- and offer them the possibility of true consolation.

Gail F said...

In response to all the above, let me say that this is only in response to Ms. FINN, and not to anyone else or about anyone else's situation.

My overwhelming thought when I read it was how easy it is in our culture to get lost and make choices that are not necessarily bad in themselves, but that end up badly. Ms. Finn is adamant that she was not selfish in her youth -- but to her, being selfish means something like working 60-hour weeks and spending all the money on lavish trips and possessions. This is like thinking that you aren't a sinner because you have never killed anyone -- a common way of thinking these days. But to this reader anyway, it is quite clear that she was selfish in smaller, less spectacular ways that, all together, left her in a place she did not mean to be in, and that she can't quite figure out how or why. This is sad, but again not uncommon I'm sure, and easily could have happened to me.

But now she is being equally selfish and does not see it. She sees her IVF treatments with sperm donated by strangers as a way to get what SHE wants. She spells out the increased odds of fetal abnormality, etc., as risks SHE is willing to take. There is no mention anywhere in the article of the possible baby as a baby, one who would grow up in a single-parent home with no father he/she could ever contact and a mother substantially older that most other mothers. And no, I am not saying that having a child when you are 40 is terrible -- I am considering this particular woman, trying to have a child in a particular way, for a particular reason.

She seems completely oblivious to her current selfishness, which seems as unthinking as her past selfishness. She ends the piece by saying that not having a child seems too high a price to pay for the life she has led. But without her considerable financial resources, she would have no choice not to pay it.

Diane said...

The comment someone made that that is a lot riding on this baby is truly chilling.