Do you ever know something, but look it up anyway? Like just now, I know perfectly well where Worcester, MA is but as I was working on a map, I looked it up on Wiki.pedia anyway, just to see what it would say about it. I constantly do that sort of thing – which is one of the reasons I know that the BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary are collaborating on a television series I wish I could watch. I’ve looked up cerclage, progesterone, and pre-term labor even after I’ve exhausted all the information – just to see if I missed anything. But usually it’s probably a waste of time, a procrastination technique I tell myself is an exercise in personal enrichment.
Among our blogs, we’ve talked many times about “the things people say,” and I think probably the most offensive comments revolve around the suggestion that “everything happens for reason,” and its related content: “G-d doesn’t give any of us more than we can handle” and bad things happen to teach us some lesson we need to learn (that’s not exactly right but I can’t come up with the correct trite phrase right now). A certain relative I’ve mentioned before made probably the most offensive statement of all after my miscarriage: “I believe that you’ll be parents when the time is right.” I could list all of the reasons why that particular phrase is offensive, but the counter examples make for just such an easy target. Unless of course G-d is more personally interested in protecting me and my children than in others….I never thought of that possibility….
Along with these statements I think of all the well-meaning advice I receive and witness about what to do during pregnancy, how we might deal with our pain or chiming in on when we’ve crossed an unhealthy line. One such example would be our jealousy of mothers of infants and pregnant women. I saw it suggested somewhere (vague citation on purpose) recently that we remember that those mothers are not the reason our babies died, and that those feelings are an indication that a person needs counseling to begin moving towards a healthy place. You don’t say? Because until you told me that I really thought other people had babies to spite me or that there was a universal baby quota I didn’t know about. It’s natural to feel this pain, even if it’s not acceptable to shout about it in public. I’m not going to wish something bad on a woman with a stroller or tell her how I feel when seeing her! Feeling bad is still a long long way from acting out.
And therapy might or might not help. For me, this blog helps far more than individual or group therapy. I have not historically done well with therapists. Our values and intellectual interests tend to clash – they want to analyze my feelings and I want to discern the historiography of their approach or talk about how what they’ve just said is so clearly culturally determined. I’m sure it’s possible to find someone with whom I mesh well, but the search for a compatible one would certainly just exhaust me and our insurance. I tend to think the therapy suggestion (but not the act of going) more often indicates that the adviser is uncomfortable rather than that the advisee needs professional help. And the suggestion itself reflects a broad discomfort with grief.*
Fairy tales and 16th and 17th-century witch trials include a familiar figure – the old haggard witch jealous of the young woman. Her hostility leads her to act, to try to destroy that woman. We all know what has to happen to the witch – she has to be destroyed. Those of us who are still or always will be childless are not the old haggard witches who desire to destroy fertile happiness, but in a way, the world treats us as if we are. I could carry this allusion very far & develop it into a far more sophisticated discussion if I did some more research rather than just think onscreen. But look at the hysteria around the very rare (but undeniably horrific) cases where a pregnant woman is murdered for her baby. The stories always explain the act via the example of infertility, or a miscarried or stillborn child. Yes, these stories happened. But no they cannot be explained so easily. Murder and kidnapping are not normal acts of a grieving woman. The connection there is too literal to be entirely useful. I know no one expects these acts of any of us and we won’t be literally banished to the town edges or suspected of possessing the mothers around us. But why do we latch onto the explanation that a woman who is not a mother of living children will go insane? And why do people sometimes suggest they know better than we do how we should feel? It’s the jealous old hag again. It happens for a reason. G-d only gives us what we can handle. There’s a time for everything. What happened to us tells something about us. We did something to make it happen, or we questioned G-d, or we needed a cosmic lesson. It was about us.
That’s not saying I’m not learning something through this pain. But I’ve also gained wisdom by having friends, being married, teaching, listening to the people walk by my house. I didn’t need this.
* That’s not an attack on psychology or psychiatry in general, just on how we tend to use and view it – as a place for people to go when we’re not coping well – and that’s judgment – not the purpose of the fields. I think everyone can benefit from a good therapeutic relationship if they have access to it.