Monday, March 05, 2007


Children of Men book club

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my 10-pages-in book review of PD James' Children of Men. At the time, I mentioned I'd read the book to be a part of today's Barren Bitches Book Club tour. The idea is that each person who participates in the book club submits a question to the group, and then everyone answers five of the questions on his or her own blog.

With the birthday festivities of the weekend, I didn't get the chance to devote much time to this, so I'm going to cop out and answer only three questions. It was hard to choose only three!

1. Some of the most memorable passages were those that described how dolls and even kittens came to take the place of babies for people after Omega. In all of these scenes, it is women who are pushing dolls in their strollers or taking kittens to be christened. Why do you think P.D. James chose to only portray women in these scenes? How does this fit with your own experiences of how men and women cope with infertility in similar or different ways?

One of the things I found striking about this book is the detachment of the protagonist, Theo, through the first half of the book. (Especially in contrast to the second half.) He seems detached not only from the global tragedy of the crisis of infertility, but from his own life. It's especially obvious when he talks of the accidental death of his daughter Natalie, beginning with the horribly abrupt way he introduces the subject: "Today is my daughter's birthday, would have been my daughter's birthday if I hadn't run her over and killed her."

Back to the point, I do think this detachment is reasonably representative of men coping with infertility. While there's no doubt infertility is equally painful and difficult for men and for women, I think men are much more stoic. I think that women internalize the infertility and make it a part of their identity, of who they are, to a much greater extent than do men. Maybe this has to do with the fact that women tend (sorry, painting with very broad strokes here) to identify themselves as a mother first, when men tend to identify themselves based on their accomplishments or employment. Finally, I think it has to do with the fact that infertility is such an emotional issue, and women are simply more open (again, generally speaking) to expressing their emotions than are men.

2. In describing the world's "universal bereavement" over it's lack of children, the narrator tells us, "Only on tape and records do we now hear the voices of children, only on film or on television programmes do we see the bright, moving images of the young. Some find them unbearable to watch but most feed on them as they might a drug." How is this like your life dealing with infertility? How do you cope when you are confronted with images or reminders that are painful to you?

I pulled that quote out in my book review, too, because it resonated with me. I'd say I've passed through both points on that spectrum, both needy for the companionship of the children of my friends and acquaintances, and unable to tolerate them. In the darkest times, I remember being unable to visit our friends in their child-filled house in a child-friendly neighbourhood simply because I was too full of fear that it would never happen for me. There were times when strangers holding babies and pushing strollers in the mall made me cry just by virtue of being there.

For me, though, the hardest part was not the children but the pregnant bellies. Actually having a child was a mythical thing that I may or may not have been able to achieve and that I yearned for in a vaguely abstract way, but I ached to be that woman with the beautiful round belly. It was especially hard because a very good friend was pregnant at the same time we lost our first baby and went through the unsuccessful IUIs and made the decision to finally pursue IVF.

Even now, two beautiful boys later, I still find myself on a bad day with an unsettled sense of resentment when I see strangers with new babies. I think of the baby we lost in November, the baby I expected to arrive in May, and I feel a tug of regret.

3. The Omegas are portrayed as cruel, self-obsesssed and cold. Do you suppose that's a function of the way they were raised (as the last generation of children) or something inherent in them? Do you think that infertility has an effect on parenting?

To answer the second question first, I used to think about the effect infertility had on me as a parent a lot more than I do now. I don't think it has affected things like discipline or how I treat the kids, but I do think it had, especially back in the earliest days, a huge impact on the guilt factor. On the very worst days, deep in the dark of night when my nipples were bleeding from a poor latch and Tristan wasn't gaining weight and I was exhausted and terrified and my life was suddenly inside out, I keenly remember being wracked with guilt about not being beautific with joy after finally having the baby I wanted so badly.

And to the first question, I do think the author intended to insinuate that the Omegas were a product of an indulgent upbringing. Theo observes,
Perhaps we have made our Omegas what they are by our own folly; a regime which combines perpetual surveillance with total indulgence is hardly conduicive to healthy development. If from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.

I think this is an interesting reflection on how central to our lives our children have become, and how parenting in the 21st century seems to be largely about overscheduling children with activities to make sure they are challenged and engaged for the maximum number of hours possible each week. While I'm quite guilty of making the boys the centre of our family, rather than equal partners, I hope that as they get older we'll be able to restore a bit of equillibrium so that everything is not entirely about them. (Some day I'll get around to writing a whole post about this, instead of flying past it in one quick paragraph, as I've been thinking a lot about it.)

And now, a message from the Barren Bitches Book Club organizers: 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.

Coincidentally, The Time Traveler's Wife was the book that was the genesis of my 10-pages-in book reviews, and one of my favourite books of 2005 - perhaps even of all time. Highly recommended reading, and if you're reading it, why not join the book club tour?

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