I never understood the purpose of the medical exercise of tapping one’s knees with a rubber hammer in just the right spot to make the lower leg involuntarily swing. All I remember is that it made me giggle and seemed to be a very Marcus Welby, country doctor kind of exercise. This is just one of many reasons why I am not in the medical profession.
The exercise, though, is useful in one respect, namely that it reminds us that there are many stimuli out there that make us have that knee-jerk reflex. For me, the stimuli is the gratuitous mention in thoroughly inappropriate places or situations or completely unrelated discussions, articles, etc., that someone is either expecting or has children, or – worse – grandchildren. The knee-jerk reflex that is produced by this stimuli sounds much like the childish game where you add “in bed” to the end of every sentence except my phrase is, “and you don’t” or “you aren’t” or “you never will be”. I think an illustration would be helpful at this point.
I was at a professional conference today listening to talks by learned professionals in my field. It is a wonderful respite from the world of reproduction since the topics that are discussed do not in any way have anything to do with the reproductive luck of the speakers. In fact, there is an unwritten rule that it is rather tacky to mention one’s family in one’s biography that accompanies one’s talk. So, when I was reading the biography of the upcoming speaker, I skimmed the mind-numbing recitation of honors, awards and other blather and skipped to end where I actually look to see if the person is tacky enough to break the unwritten rule and mention that on top of all of these wonderful professional accomplishments, they have managed to procreate.
This guy did not disappoint. Not only did he plug that he has two children, but they were ‘well-adjusted’ children (which apparently is not the norm in our profession – news to me!) and, he is a first time grandfather to twins, for whom he also thoughtfully provided their birthdate. OMFG. It was the motherlode of stimuli. My synapses were firing, my head was hurting, my inner reader was adding “and you don’t” to the end of every nauseating sentence. And, inevitably, I was feeling worse and worse because I was making myself feel like I was less of a person because I didn’t have these things that were so obviously important to this guy.
I didn’t use to be like this. With some things, I am still not like this. I am still confident in the choices that I have made and happy and satisfied with them, ups, downs and all. It is only when there is that statement of obvious pride at the sheer act of procreation or the gratuitous mention of one’s reproductive status which is obviously placed for no other purpose than to elicit the “ooh congratulations” response, that my knee jerks right out of its socket. They say, “I’m a proud mother of two!” and I hear, “And you aren’t!” Because, to me, it’s as if the person knows that I have not been able to do something that was so obviously simple to them and they are rubbing my face in it that they can do this one seemingly simple thing. I know that’s not what it is, but that’s what it feels like.
I know that this guy at the conference doesn’t know me. I know that he didn’t include this information because he woke up this morning and decided, “It’s a beautiful day to remind Mrs. X that she is infertile and barren, ha ha!” I know that he just wrote it because he wanted to let others in the profession know of his pride at having raised well-adjusted kids despite his profession and has been rewarded with twin grandchildren. I know in my head that he didn’t put this blurb in there because he wanted to hurt me. But, that doesn’t stop me from hurting at the reminder.
I am not advocating that people suddenly stop bragging about their children around me or decide not to sneak into conversation that they are expecting because they have every right to be happy and proud (and geez, what else would people talk about with each other?). I know that this is my problem, not the world’s. I know that I am generally happy with who I am and where I am even if I haven’t been able to achieve everything that I want. I know that the measure of my success in life is my own yardstick and not someone else’s. I know that I can turn off the knee-jerk reaction because even though I may not have that one thing, I have a full life and I don’t need to focus on what I don’t have to see what I do. But, my knees are twitchy things and it will take some time to reprogram the system.
image: Jeff Youngstrom