Gloucester Pregnancy Pact

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When news first broke of the Gloucester pregnancy pact (which is now not a pregnancy pact or perhaps it is a pact, but that's not important), as an infertile woman, I thought my first reaction would be "why them and not me." Teen pregnancy contains the photographic negative equivalent of emotions to infertility:

both groups need to mourn how their lives changed--one with additional weight, one with an absence. Both groups experience curiosity and pity from society at large. Both spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the person stuck in the center--the actual baby vs. the not-yet baby.

Except here is where the problem lies--these girls wanted to be pregnant. They worked to get pregnant and they gave each other high-fives when the tests came back positive.

Which is why my reaction to the news story in Time was one of sympathy. If adults who have years of imagining themselves as parents have difficulty with the transition, I am not sure how these girls will fare when they face their own squalling infant. In turn, my sympathy also goes out to the children born to these girls.

I don't blame them for not knowing about weeks six through eight where every child cries--regardless of whether they have colic--in the evening. I don't blame them for not understanding how it feels to get only three hours of sleep a night for months at a time. Again, adults know about these things and we are still shocked by the logistics of parenthood (not to mention the emotions of parenthood). It is one thing to nod and say, "sleep deprivation is hard." It is quite another to be in the middle of it.

Much has been said this week about the Jamie Lynn Spears of this world and how they are having an impact on teenage pregnancy. But there were pregnant teens prior to the movie, Juno, and I'm not sure the celebrities of today are more alluring than every other pregnant teen who came before them. I don't think there is one single reason for the pregnancy pact, but rather, alluvium from multiple sources collecting on the teen shores.

One of those sources is the same one that leaves even adults breathlessly unprepared for parenthood. We don't do a good job explaining to each other that it's just so damn hard. So I'll tell you this if you're not pregnant yet. It is going to be so damn hard. Which is not to say that the enjoyable parts don't outweigh the difficult parts and I would do it (and I am trying to do it!) again in a heartbeat. But it never gets easier. The difficulties merely change.

Part of the Mommy Wars is this one-up-man-ship where we hide how difficult parenting is from each other--especially those who aren't close to us that are being used as venting posts. How many times do you see a picture of a celebrity holding her head, a pounding headache from lack of sleep coupled with four hours of holding a screaming infant who has apparently not read Harvey Karp's latest parenting techniques book? Or how about a picture of Angelina Jolie sitting on the basement steps trying to collect herself emotionally for five minutes while Shiloh screams in her crib? Or how about a tear-stained Kate Hudson trying to parent Ryder in the middle of a tantrum? We see the hands resting on the baby bumps and the well-rested mommies cuddling sleeping infants and the hip women with designer diaper bags taking their toddlers shopping (while the nannies linger off-camera).

I belong to a women's group that meets once a month. At the beginning of each meeting, we go around in a circle and each woman says her name as well as the names of her mother and grandmother--as far back as she can go in her matrilineal line. One night, a woman brought her newborn daughter to the meeting and when her turn came, she named her daughter instead and then added her own name as her mother and then went back through her family. It was a very emotional moment to think about ourselves as the creators of this next generation who would name us as we grew older.

For a long time, she stared silently down at her daughter and then she finally said in the smallest voice, "I had no idea that it was going to be so hard. No one ever told me that it was going to be this hard." Forget giving birth to the next generation--that is the sweet part of parenthood, the easy part. Her words, the smallness of her voice and the catch in her throat--that is the reality of parenthood.

That is the greatest disservice we do to each other as women and that is one of the many factors that convince a teenager that it is a good idea to have a child. We withhold the truth. We sugar coat the early days with adages such as "this too shall pass." We guilt each other into thinking that we need to always be happy, always look like we have it together, always love motherhood in order to be a good mother. And that these things: happiness, poise, and eternal wells of patience come easily.

I read that one reason given for the desire to have a child was that these girls were seeking unconditional love--a single person who would be there for them and bring them the love that they are missing in their lives. Except this is the problem. Babies do not love people unconditionally. They cling to you because they can't walk, and they cuddle with you because they're tired and need a space to rest, and they even coo and smile at you because they're excited by your unconditional love. Parents can and should love their children unconditionally and in an ideal world, at some point in the future, that love flows back towards them. But it isn't a guarantee.

When you sign on to be a parent, you sign on for the position and then you get your tools--the child. Some people luck out and their tools are exactly as they hoped. Some people take their tools and work with them until--after hard work--they turn into a being who matches their hopes. And others receive a set of tools and no matter what they do, their tools are never going to match the vision they had for themselves when they signed on for the job. Unconditional love is about rolling with that; about taking that child and raising that child and loving that child regardless of how that child doesn't match up with what you thought your child would be. It is about loving that child even if the unconditional love doesn't flow back in your direction.

I love my children and I am so grateful for the chance to parent. I would sign up to do this job again and again. But I'm also glad that I entered parenthood for the right reasons and my heart goes out to anyone who enters parenthood before they are truly ready.

Required Reading:

Feministing: "There’s obviously a lot to address at this school and in the community, but the focus of blame is in the wrong direction."

Once Infertile: "Seeing all these stories in the news of young’uns taking maternity so lightly just burns me. Jealous? Hell, yeah, I am. I wish that the ease in my life had come attached to my ability to conceive, but it hasn’t."

Princess Bubble: "Was this a result of these girls following Jamie Lynn Spears or the movie Juno? If media has this major of an impact on our children; isn’t it time for a new message for these kids? Reminding our youth not only that they are special and valuable; but teaching our children self respect, responsibility and that you can not expect someone else to fulfill all your needs. Happiness begin from within."

Melissa is the author of the infertility and pregnancy loss blog, Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. She keeps a categorized blogroll of over 1300 infertility blogs and writes the daily Lost and Found and Connections Abound, a news source for the infertility blogosphere. Her infertility book, The Land of If, is forthcoming from Seal Press in Spring 2009.

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