Monday, March 05, 2007

Barren Bitches Book Brigade #2: Children of Men

I decided to participate a book tour (after years of starting and never finishing books!) to discuss the novel "Children of Men" by P.D. James. The topic of infertility, of course, was interesting. But, the plotline of global infertility really made me curious about how the topic of infertility would be handled in the book. There is a movie of the book now. However, after reading the book and knowing that some of the plotlines have been changed in the new movie version, I have no plans to see the movie.

There are 22 questions presented by the readers in the book tour. We get to choose 5 questions to address per blog. Below are my answers. Please feel free to comment and discuss your opinions.

1. Though there are interesting female characters in the forefront of the novel, the cast of thousands of infertile women in the background are portrayed as crazy, desperate, and delusional. Did you feel P.D. James captured the emotions of infertility or do you think she merely repeated the image presented in the general media--infertile women are desperate and single-minded and obsessed with babies and pregnancy?

No, I don't feel she did a good job. Infertility is dealt with in so, so many ways (all you have to do is read through five to ten blogs to see how some handle it with humor, some handle it with anger and rage), there can never really be a "stereotype" of how women react. Would we put a stereotype on people who suffer with cancer? No. I am sure there are women out there who deny their infertility and act the way these women did in the book - but there are many more who deal with infertility and have themselves a little more "together" than to walk around with kittens in a stroller on their way to baptize them.

Besides, the author could never really get into the real "feel" of what we go through with the scope of the novel the way it was -- this novel did not focus on the infertility, but how infertility was dealt with in the gobal society. I don't think the novel ever really intended to cover what individual women go through with infertility - and I don't see how it could either.

My life dealing with IF does not really coincide with the author's image of it in the novel. Although there were times when I felt desperate to have a child (really, before I finally conceived my son), I doubt I would have pushed around a kitten in a stroller to satisfy the want of having a child.

5. In Chapter 7, Jasper Palmer-Smith says to Theo within a tyrade about society, "Now, for the rest of our lives, we're going to be spared the intrusive barbariam of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism. My God, we might even succeed in getting rid of Christmas, the annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed."How do you feel about this statement? Do you agree in certain respects with it (and the rest of his statements, not quoted here)? Do you think this has become a true generalization of the youth in America today? If you have children now, how do you plan to raise your children so that this statement does not pertain to them? If you do not yet have children, how would you parent your children so that this description does not fit them?

In a way, I do agree with the statement.

When I am out with Chris and I publically reprimand him for something (say, I tell him he either has to sit in the high chair at a restaurant or we have to leave the restaurant if he is going to continue to whine to get out - and we do leave if he does not stop), I get stared at as if to say, "Holy cow! She really followed through with her consequences!" People are astounded that I really do what I threaten - and none of my punishments need to be physical to get my point across (although, I think a slap on the hiney if Chris was about to run out into the street with a car coming is not unreasonable).

There was a time I was out shopping with my mom (when I was still expecting Chris) and this lady followed us throughout the store with her two screaming kids in the cart. She gave them no real punishment, no real parenting. By the time we left the store, my mother and I had a twitch - and the kids were still crying. That is not appropriate - and, in the end, what benefit does it have for the kids?

There are good children out there in the world - polite, sweet, loving. But, there are also more children now who are rude, expect they deserve things, have no respect for others and their property, and the laws that govern our society. I am tired of people (and I won't just pin this on the young because I see people my age doing it too) just bolting out in between the cars, expecting you to stop for them - or, better yet, never even bothering to look that a car is coming in the first place and just step out expecing you to stop! I can't stand those sneakers with the built-in rollerskates and the kids who crash into you with them on (and the parents who look at you as if YOU should have moved!). I can't take the "I need" attitudes about cars, iPods, cell phones and Playstations. What happened to working for what you get?

Chris is being raised "old school" - He has to say "Please" and "Thank you" for things. He has to say "Good bye" when we are leaving. He does not just get something when we are out at the store. He has to clean up his toys (or at least help) when he is done playing. We leave parties if he has to take a nap. I want him to be polite, have manners, be kind and loving. But, I also want him to be able to stand up for himself when he needs to. I won't allow him to just expect that he will get something because he wants it. I think that just leads to false expectations of your future.

8. What do you think is the significance of the fact that the two people who are finally able to conceive are both considered "flawed?" (Luke had epilepsy and Julian had a deformed hand)

I think it this part of the novel is very "real" - and for a variety of reasons.

It speaks about how our society has become in the past few decades - how the "pretty people's" children will be beautiful and how the "pretty people" will succeed in life, and will be more accepted, more popular, more perfect. I think it was Conan O'Brien who had the skit on late-night TV where they mash the likings of Billy Bob Thorton with Angelia Jolie and come up with a weird, baboon-like child concoction on the computer? What does that say about how we view people? Strangers still look at special needs children as the thorn in society - even with the efforts of mainstreaming the "trainable" children, these children are still not always accepted for who they are but what they look like.

I am sure I am going to offend someone in the blogosphere for this, but I find it disheartening when people choose to go through IVF specifically so they can have beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, unflawed children (and of a specific gender, of course) who will do excellent at math, science, literature, who will excel in school and have a great career, who will always be let into the elite programs, etc.

All I want is another child - and there are other women who just want one child to love and hold. What right do we have to "shop" for a child like we do for packaged meat?

No one is "perfect" when having a child (physically or emotionally) - and, sometimes, those who are not deemed as "physically the best" can be emotionally the best at parenting. Julian (and Luke) did what was best for the child - not for the power or prestige of being the first to usher in a new generation of children. With how society became after the Omega, there were not many genuine, perfect people left to "parent" the "new world". I think it was rather fitting that someone who loved the child for the right reasons was the first to bring new life into the world.

17. James' book makes much of the role of history--what should be (and so, is) kept and what should be discarded. These concerns seem a question never far from the handling of infertility and loss--how we reckon with our bodies' past failures, what we carry of that into our daily lives, and what we choose, instead, to put away. James' character Theodore writes in his diary of the "half-demented women" who fawn over dolls as replacement children in this invented, infertile world, but in our real world, infertiles are often cast as desparate, insane, ready to look madly for any replacement for a child. How, then, do we make known an "appropriate" history, of our hopes and failures and losses as we struggle to make a child when the body--and seemingly, at times, whole world won't allow it? How do we keep more than we lose, keep more than we hide, deeply, away?

I think part of the answer is education - just like how education has given more liberation to those who suffer from AIDS and AIDS related illnesses, and those who suffer through cancer.

Blogs such as ours, message boards, books, articles, conferences, news segments - all of these venues are appropriate paths to making a new history for infertile women or women who suffer through pregnancy loss. No one can begin to understand what we go through until we are willing to come out of the shadows and TELL PEOPLE how we really feel, what we really go through emotionally and physically to have a child - which is something that comes easily to most women.

And, I think women who really do suffer with IF need to be willing to stant up for themselves when other women start whining they have not become PG in three months time (or similar scenarios that we have all heard first-hand) - that is not suffering with infertility. Not being able to conceive for months and months on end, years and years on end - who's marriages, other relationships, jobs, lives suffer because of it - is what real infertility is. It is not a "club" to join. It is not a "popular" thing to have to suffer through.

19. In the book, there is a passage (Chapter 16, p 116) in which Theo describes the majority of the population's attitude towards intercourse. With the decline of humanity's fertility, there is also a decline in the physical pleasure of intercourse. The State has to actively encourage pornography to get people to "enjoy" sex. In the novel Theo assumes that because people are freed from the act of trying to conceive, people should be "liberated" and more uninhibited, yet the very opposite happened. Sex becomes synonymous with comfort rather than physical pleasure-in fact, it's relayed that women associate sex with physical pain rather than pleasure. As infertiles, the very act of intercourse suddenly and irreversibly has a different meaning for us-especially those of us who have been raised in religious faiths which stress that sex is for the main purpose of conceiving children. So, here's my has infertility affected sex for you? How has it affected your relationship with your spouse or partner? And, how have you worked through those feelings?

Infertility has had a positive yet negative affect on our sexual life.

On the positive side, since I don't ovulate on my own and you need to ovulate to get PG, avoiding pregnancy with birth control has not been necessary - so, we save money on condoms, the pill, etc. We just don't need it and don't have to worry about it. So, the "Oh, stop. We need to put a condom on" times are non-existent, making sex a little more spontaneous and worry-free.

But, on the negative side, it becomes very hard to distinguish the difference between "pleasurable" sex and "necessary" sex. When you have to live your life depending upon when you are going to ovulate (via OPKS, the wandings, the bloodwork) and when the best time for intercourse would be to catch the egg, spontanity is out the door and the act becomes full-time employment. That view of sex - as work - is something that can begin to eat away at a marriage.

Hubby and I handled the issues by being open about what we need and want in that part of our relationship, and how we are going to go about changing the "ritual" sex. It took us a while to change our mindset away from TTC to just having sex for sex sake - but it is possible to do.

Also, by taking such a long break from TTC and beginning to straighten out other lingering issues due to my pregnancy losses, we were able to have sex only for pleasure again - and it has become like a second honeymoon. There is no pressure to time it right, to make sure everything is done right, etc. It is what it is, and it is in the moment.

Intrigued by this book tour and want to read more about Children of Men? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list at Stirrup Queens ( Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #3 ( The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger) and all are welcome to join along. All you need is a book and blog.


The Town Criers said...

I love this sentence: I think it was rather fitting that someone who loved the child for the right reasons was the first to bring new life into the world.

It's so true. As were your thoughts on the fact that parenting is part of the job of being a parent--molding that behaviour, teaching those lessons. It's hard work, but it's necessary work.

spyderkl said...

Very thoughtful answers. I especially liked when you talked about what it really means to suffer from IF.

For me, the "IF club" is not something I would have chosen; and if I could have wished it away, I'd have done so a long time ago. I really do wish more people would talk about this.

Josh said...

I liked your comment about parenting by making children aware of consequences. It is what we're trying to do -- it is harder than parenting through punishment, because you need to be consistent for it to work and sometimes it feels like less effort just to let them keep screaming on the floor of the restaurant. But it is empowering when kids realizes they can positively control how they experience the world with their behavior -- as opposed to constantly pushing limits and wondering if this is the time mom or dad loses their temper.

Ann said...

One of the biggest differences that I saw between the way infertility was portrayed in the book and how we've experienced it is that in the book, everyone is dealing with IF - therefore, there is no shame in it, no worrying about someone finding out, or trying to decide who to tell about your struggles. I don't know that that explains some of the crazy infertile scenes in the book, but it's something I've been thinking about.

I liked your thoughts about "pretty people" and how our society has become enamored with the beautiful.

sharah said...

Lovely, thoughtful answers to all those questions. Thank you!

ncd112 said...

I appreciate your thoughts on parenting through consequence. I see both sides with my nieces/nephews. One family hasn't ever even heard of consequences and it makes every event unpleasant, while another family is very rigid in this method, so much so that sometimes the mother is sad that she has to go through with it, but events are always more pleasant. And truly that child seems happier and more functional than those with total 'freedom'.

Jessica said...

Loved your answer to #17! It is hard for others to know what we go through if we don't tell them. I found that initially it was difficult to open up about what I'm going through. But once I did, it was so hard to stop.

Cathleen said...

I really liked you answer to #17. I love the fact that as bloggers we ARE educating. (I never thought about my blog that way.)

In response to your comment on my blog..about the cause of the infertility being male factor and about that being a factor in the outcome of the story...

Maybe there was...a factor I mean. Rolf when he learns that he is not the father is quite distraught. There was a question posed(and I haven't finished reading all the posts to know if someone responded) that asks if that reaction was due to the betrayel or to the infertility. I have been thinking about this.

I think Rolf was reacting to his loss of power/control. That is why Xan so desperately wants the retain power and control. Maybe this is related to the male factor or maybe not, but as a female experiencing IF the loss of control is certainly difficult to handle.

Inglewood said...

Very thoughtul answers, I couldn't agree more with all of it.

I work for a concrete company and you should see the attitude of many of the young plant workers. Showing up late repeatedly, not showing up at all and expecting their job to still be there. Sometimes I really wonder how they were parented to think they are so above having to conform.

Ms.Once said...

Hooray for old school manners and general care for responsibility out in the world. I don't know how I turned into an old lady wagging her finger at the young, but there I am. Although I really like your point about looking all around us, at the conditions of kindness or rudeness at all generational levels, and that it's certainly not just the kiddos who think they're at the center of the universe.

But I am wondering about you comment that you "find it disheartening when people choose to go through IVF specifically so they can have beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, unflawed children (and of a specific gender, of course) who will do excellent at math, science, literature, who will excel in school and have a great career, who will always be let into the elite programs, etc." Have you met anyone who fits this category? I always thought that image was a kind of urban legend, a warning story without much basis in the reality of people who really undergo IVF treatment for very different reasons. (This is a legitimate question, not a provocation, as I might be guilty of categorizing couples who try IVF, just in different ways.)

A good note about education, too. It was a process for me to come to be able to talk about loss, and it really took until my second loss for me to come out and talk to people and speak up. You're right that standing up and speaking out is so important, and that sometimes this happens in single, small conversations that can have a wider effect.

Tina said...

Ms. Once: Thanks for the post - and I know this is not a provocation. :) I've been on your blog and I know you are not like that in any way.

Actually, I have a friend from grammar school who, after her DD was born in 12/05, told me that she wanted to do whatever method of fertility treatments she could so she could have "the boy" they wanted. I was rather shocked at the statement she made (especially because she had an abortion when she was 17 years old that I helped her to pay for since she didn't want to trust in her parents about it) - and now she is regretting it because they have been TTC and she can't get PG now. Now, I don't know if she would really carry that out now - although she loves being "perfect." I still love her dearly, even if we disargee on this one.

I have another close friend (who is a blogger as well) who has gone through 3 IVF attempts with no child to hold (but one angel she carries with her always) - and it just hurts to watch her go through it time and again, when others get PO'ed about the wrong gender conceived.

I guess what I should have explained more clearly is that as cloning and such technologies become more developed and more accessible, people are really going to start using them to have "the perfect child." I know people have their opinions in life - hell knows I have my one! - but I find it terrible when women have abortions "because" it is one gender vs. another... Those are the women who will use it for "the perfect child." I can't imagine being upset because you conceived a boy when you wanted a girl...all we want is a healthy CHILD - we are not pickers and choosers, waiting for the best "child" to come along. We just want a child.

Glad I am not the only "fuddy-duddy". I have this sinking suspicion I will be wearing old support hose when I am in my 70's with the standard "granny hair do'"! LOL!