Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pregnancy Piranhas and the Pursuit of Identity

About two weeks ago my mother in law (MIL) approached me about helping her with an activity for her women's group at church. Normally my sister in law would have been the one to help her since they live in the same area and go to the same church building but she had a prior engagement that would not allow her to be available when my MIL needed her. Now MIL and I aren't very close, not for any particular reason, but lately I have felt that I should make an effort to develop more of a relationship with her; so even though the timing of the activity was going to be a bit inconvenient with work, and I wasn't going to know anyone there (thereby meaning I'd probably stick close to her like a little puppy dog) I decided to say yes.

The help MIL needed was pretty simple; keep the cupcake decorating table stocked, cleaned and moving. No biggie. That part of the activity was finished in under an hour and then we sat down with the whole group for dinner. I'm not one to turn down a free meal but I am also an introvert at heart. I dread small talk and schmoozing. I suck at it in an almost painful way. So I was aware that sitting at a table where the only person I knew was MIL (who I also have a hard time talking to) was going to be a slightly uncomfortable experience. Then out came the brag book.

MIL is like most typical grandmothers and enjoys any opportunity to talk about her grand kids. The birth of the triplets has only magnified this as not only does she like talking about the triplets but people love to ask questions about the triplets, which is totally understandable because they're amazing and even I enjoy talking about them. However, I knew that this discussion had potential to open up THE questions. The bringing forth of the grand kid pictures was like dangling a toe in a river of pregnancy piranhas and I only hoped to make it out with all my limbs intact. Here's how it went down:

MIL- "This is a picture of them when they were just 22 hours old...and here they are when they came home...and here's their older brother... and here's a picture of them taken just last week....here's one of my oldest grand kid with her husband, they just had a baby...and here's another one of the triplets, they're the youngest...well at least for now." She turns and nudges me, "Right, huh, huh, right?" Nudge, nudge, nudge.

Me -"Uh, um, well we hope so."

Snap, snap, snap it's feeding time for the piranhas. 

Piranha #1 - "Are you expecting?"

Piranha #2 - "Wait what? Is that some kind of announcement? "

Their eyes greedily gleamed at the prospect of pregnancy fodder.

Snap, snap, snap!

Ahhh! Quick, jump in the life boat and save yourself from the carnage.

Me - "Uh, no I'm not.  It's not an announcement"

Their faces fell at the realization that there wasn't any pregnancy news to feast upon.  Luckily that was as far as it went and I was further saved since it was time for the activity coordinator to give a speech to the group, but the damage was done and I felt my shy self take over, pulling me into silence.

I didn't know either of these women from a fart on the wind and yet they had pounced at the slightest mention that I would at some point have kids. Their zeal caught me a bit by surprise, and yet some part of me expected that the topic would come up that night surrounded by women who are moms and grandmothers as kids are just a natural part of their everyday lexicon.  One day I will be able to participate in that discussion but for now it's outside of my purview.

I think what stands out to me most about this encounter is that for these women the most exciting aspect of my identity was the possibility that I could be pregnant.  We had briefly talked about Dr. Love's work, we may have talked about my work (though really now I don't remember), yet none of that compared to the excitement that the mere mention of pregnancy elicited.  Recently I have started trying to define my identity in more terms than just my infertility. It is almost effortless for the big IF to become the crux of how you see yourself when it's part of daily life in one form or another; whether that be taking pills, making appointments, supporting others, IF is always there...yet it is not all that I am. 

Because I think it's important, and I need to have it beat into my brain more, I'll say that again.  There is much more to me than just my infertility. 

This is only half the battle though.

In a culture where family, and thereby motherhood, is so important, cherished and celebrated, how do I get these other women to define ME in terms other than those related to the status of my reproductive parts?  How can I be successful in seeing myself as more than childless when that's how they evaluate me as well?

MIL and I share the same religious beliefs so this conundrum is not only relegated to this one activity with this particular group of women whereby I could avoid it by simply not going back.  I know similar situations with other pregnancy piranhas will come up again at church and elsewhere; pregnancy piranhas lurk all around just waiting for something to strike at.  I realize that any attempt to produce a mass change in the pregnancy piranhas thought process would most likely be futile as there are just too many.  Meanwhile I think my best bet is to invest in a good chainmail suit and build up thicker skin so these encounters don't bother me when they do inevitably come up so that I can walk away unscathed.  Hopefully in the process there will be a few who will stick around long enough to see me for what I am.


  1. I cannot tell you how much I relate to this post!

    First of all does your MIL know about your IF? Mine doesn't . . . yet. My MIL is the type to start finding faults of me and tying that to the reason we're IF I know this because my SIL (her daughter) has very energetic kids. Well every time (and I do mean every time) that she sees the kids be super active she tells everyone around who cares to listen that they're like that because their father likes to drink red bull!

    LOL-Yes I am so not joking! Apparently she feels there's a direct link between the source of the sperm drinking red bull and hence having hyperactive kids. With this theory alone I don't even want to start to imagine what theories she'll come up with when she finds out we're IF.

    I loved this part you wrote: "how do I get these other women to define ME in terms other than those related to the status of my reproductive parts?"

    It almost seems like you can't get away from it. I feel as you do and am trying to overcome IF being my life and who I am. But it's when you're at social events . . . when everyone asks "Are you going to have any kids? And they hang off of every word in your response in such a judgmental way.

    I know my husbands brothers criticize us because they believe we haven't had kids yet by choice. I can never leave a holiday gathering without one of his brothers making a comment.

    This really drives me crazy. Sorry I'm going on a bit of a rant here, but I hate how people do this. If only they realized how hurtful it is. I'm not there yet but I do realize that one day I may be forced to come to terms with this as a way of life . . . for the rest of my life.

  2. @Cyndi - No MIL does not currently know about our IF. On Dr. Love's side we have only "come out" to one SIL. Occassionally we'll get comments from his family members, similar to the ones you get from your BILs, where you can tell they think it's all by choice. I can't really blame them though since we haven't given them any information to the contrary, but I almost feel like that perpetuates the cycle, i.e. they define me as childless - I tell them why - they then define me as childess but with a reason. KWIM?

    I'm sure we'll tell them at some point. I'm just not ready to wear the Scarlet I in their circle yet.

  3. Leaving you a big hug for ICLW! Those piranhas look quite scary!!

    Fran ICLW #131

  4. i LOVE the term pregnancy piranhas! very witty. i'm LDS too, so i totally relate to the pressure you feel and the status that comes with havinbg children. it's like we've been excluded from the mommy club and everyone is just watching and waiting for us to join. great post! and thanks for stopping by my blog for ICLW!

  5. Here from ICLW!

    I hate those piranhas, I would practice the "lines" I was going to use at events like that so I was ready for the questions.

    Happy ICLW

  6. I totally get this post. My first day at church as the new Miamaid Advisor, and in meeting the Secretary (with 5 kids) she did the standard,"How long have you been married?" and then upon hearing 3 years,"How many kids do you have?" My reply,"UH, none." She then started in with,"Oh, you are just like us...we waited to have our first kid, too." Um...I'm NOTHING like you, because you CHOSE to wait, and now have 5 kids. I have been trying for 2 years, and have nothing to show for it. UG. Unfortunately, you are right, it's part of the culture. I just wish more ladies learned to be more sensitive to the idea that fertility doesn't come as easily to others as it does to them, and not assume everything is by choice.

    Love you. Hang in there.


Help feed my comment addiction.