I’ve been caught up in my own reality for more than a week, so the case of Emma Alvey, the recently deceased baby in Spring Hill, flew under my radar. After Brittney mentioned it again this morning I read myself up on the issue. There is not a single person in that scenario for whom I don’t feel extreme amounts of pity. A couple wanted a baby and went through the long process of adopting a daughter from China. Eight months later, that little girl is dead from a cranial bleed. Early news reports imply the mother’s culpability in the situation. Friends have come forward in the media to proclaim the innocence of the very nice lady and to offer exonerating hypotheses. All the friends seem universally agreed that people who wanted a baby as badly as Jennifer and Phillip Alvey would do no harm to the child.
I don’t know the Alveys. I can’t make any claims to presume their actions or motivations. I do know my fair gaggle of infertile couples, though, and feel that it is safe to say that yes, many times people who want a baby will harm it. There are many kinds of infertile people, just as there are many kinds of happily reproductive families. There is, however, a special breed of Childless–The Professional Martyr. I try to only write about my circumstances when they inform the subject at hand. I realize that I talk about it more than most, but try to do so only when and if it is pertinent to the conversation. My lack of children is as much a part of me as children are to parents, and a dating life is to a single person. So I talk about it when it comes up in conversation. This conversation is about those folks who become their infertility, who allow themselves to be consumed by their desire for a baby and allow a baby to become some sort of trophy for a game well-played.
I’ve led Bible studies for infertile women, met them in UseNet groups, seen them in chat rooms. The older you get without a baby, the larger your circle of infertile friends, as you all flock together by default. Everyone else gets knocked up and moves on to play groups, PTAs and college savings accounts. You can spend your evenings as you choose. If you’re lucky you only feel the stabs at Christmas, Halloween and the occasional baby shower. It’s sort of like a cruise ship, where you focus on all the good stuff and try to ignore that you are adrift. There is a small subset, though, that can’t find contentment and doesn’t necessarily want to. These are the people who spend three or four years buying pregnancy tests in bulk and wailing at every negative pee. They’ll nail down everyone in their life with very public grief, holding funerals for failed attempts at In Vitro fertilization and naming every pregnancy that fails. [If you think I’m kidding, peruse alt.infertility for five minutes.] When these folks make the decision to adopt, they make a very public drama out of every step of red tape. Having a support group through a very stressful time–buying a house, adopting a baby, changing a job–is necessary. Telling your waiter at Casa Fiesta that you’re stressed because you’re adopting a baby from Guatemala is histrionic. Somewhere along the line the experience becomes less about a call to parenthood and very much more about being the fragile one in the spotlight. The one who can manipulate every social situation and exert a passive-aggressive control. When you spend a decade as everyone’s top prayer request, as the woman treated with kid(less) gloves, you can get used to it. You can like it. What happens when Baby shows up? Congratulations, you’ve got what you wanted. Your prayers are answered. Now we’re all paying attention to Susie, whose been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Oh, and all your infertile friends on the S.S. EPTNEG don’t want to hear it. They won’t even read your posts when you put “BM” in the title–it’s worse that poop, it’s “baby mentioned.” So the drama is over, you’re not the prom queen and you’ve got this stinking, wailing oh-so-human-of-beings totally dependant on YOU. Oh, did I mention that Babies always always always get the spotlight? So, yeah. Crossing the finish line holds a distinct lack of charm for some who found the race so enchanting. Would they hurt a child? In a heartbeat. That child who represents the end of their drama. When you wake up and realize that Baby means Person and people are complicated, the dream dies and an anger from the deepest part of your brain rises up. It happens all the time.
We were once told by a friend that we “could always buy a baby”. When I stop wanting to be a parent, and start thinking of a child as a purchase, I know that I’ve lost that part of me that deserves to be a mother.