Reproductive Writes: A Pregnant Pause

Holly Grigg-Spall
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Celine Dion stares at us from the front page of People this week. ‘My Private Hell’ the headline shouts, without a hint of irony. There’s nothing private about Celine Dion’s IVF treatments in pursuit of a second child. ‘Daily injections, painful tests’ - we can know it all, if we want to. Looking at this cover, I wonder, ‘How does this make women going through IVF treatment themselves feel?’ I know how it makes me feel, and that’s scared. Scared that when I hit my mid to late thirties I am going to be overcome with the unstoppable, uncontrollable, overwhelming ‘maternal instinct’ that will make me need to get pregnant with my own baby at whatever cost.

People magazine makes out like Celine Dion is suffering from a terminal illness – the illness being infertility. On first take, it could be thought that such celebrity confessions make us all more aware of the ordeal infertile women must go through to become pregnant, and that through this awareness they will inspire our compassion and understanding of the situation. Yet, in the vein of sociologist Foucault’s estimation of sex in culture, the endless chatter about infertility only reinforces the social importance of fertility, and as such vilifies infertile women (or women who choose not to reproduce regardless of their fertility) whilst appearing to be empathizing.

Dion has stated she feels that by being ‘an open book’ on her experience she is ‘bonding’ with other women who are going through the same treatments. Regardless of how Dion truly feels, as soundbites and five minute morning television slots and well-edited cover lines her attitude appears selfish and bordering on pathological. She told Good Morning America - ‘I have - I have - to try.’ A survey of the comments on the People website shows many women undergoing infertility treatment who are, at best, irritated that, despite already having a son and all the money she can possibly need to keep trying, Dion suggests she is connecting with them through publicly discussing her experience.

The message put out by celebrity magazines is often that famous women – powerful, successful, ostensibly happy women – are unable to find fulfillment until they have been pregnant and become a mother. The depiction of celebrity pregnancy and celebrity motherhood often serves to undermine the achievements of the women previous to or apart from their motherhood. It’s no wonder a famous woman like Dion would feel encouraged to share her story of infertility – at least we know she’s trying.

The Celine Dion story not only equates fertility with female worth and the social value of women, it also presents the desire to have a child, or the maternal instinct, as a kind of mania. Many a time have I been told that some day, I too, will want a baby - not as though I will make conscious decision to have a child, but that I will be overcome by my womanly instincts and be unable to resist this impulse. This is comparable to the social attitude towards the male sex drive – an instinct it is often suggested they have little conscious control over. The mania of the maternal instinct suggests women are controlled by, and victim to, their ‘hormones’ - the same source of judgment for PMS, or any behaviors to do with menstruation and pregnancy. Dion is shown here to be driven to a kind of masochism by this primal need. The story bears reflections of the diagnosis and treatment by Victorian doctors of ‘hysterical’ women.

Celine Dion is making a choice, however informed by her funds, to keep trying for a second child. But the media interpretation of her experience suggests women are incapable of choosing when it comes to children and must, like Dion, pursue pregnancy and motherhood at all costs.

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

I do not get this mania

It is an odd byproduct of feminism that women find ourselves outpacing our own fertility. Perhaps future generations of women will freeze their eggs, or reproduce at a younger age, or whatever. But, while I sympathize with women whose needs and desires are different from my own, I can't help but feel that we are driving ourselves to unnecessary distraction by insisting on giving birth, at any cost. If you pursued a career during your "fertile" years, why not celebrate your accomplishments and explore adoption? It's an incredible privilege to provide a home for a baby who needs one. I know because I've done this. And it doesn't make you any less a mother than a woman who's given birth. We can choose to redefine femininity and motherhood any way we want. We can choose to let go of the mania of biological reproduction.

In my mind, I couple the

In my mind, I couple the argument made here about childbearing as a socially constructed female biological determintive, with the cultural idea that it's important and noble for celebrities to share aspects of their private lives in very public ways. On some level, celebrities are obligated to share, but what they are allowed to share is so limited. They are expected to tell "their story," but it usually ends up being reported as one of several currently popular celebrity narratives. When I try to think about how this might make infertile women feel, I take into consideration that on some level I think we all care about celebrities and identify with them. On an other level, though, we don't identify with them and are conscious that their wealth makes them not like us and that the media distorts who they are anyway. Sometimes I almost feel like "Celebrity Infertility" is a completely different thing than regular people infertility, talked about, understood and rationalized through completely separate narratives, that people sometimes but not always connect to their own experiences.

I'd like to offer one small

I'd like to offer one small observation about Celene Dion and her efforts to have a second child. She is the youngest of 14 children. She could possibly be influenced by a deep seated idea that a family is supposed to be large and that a "proper woman" can always have a baby.

I speak as a woman who is childless and infertile, yet who decided not to use medical means to conceive and give birth. My mother had similar problems. I was her only child, but she wanted to have more. She came from a very large family and most of her brothers and sisters had at least 2 children (one had 8), and I know that bothered her a good deal. She believed that a family should have several children to be "real" because that's what she knew.

I know that I sometimes feel I am "broken" in that I cannot have a child, but I've never framed it in terms of what society expects of me or family pressures (there have been none). It bothers me because, now that both parents are dead, I feel sadness that I have no one to whom I can pass the memories and special objects of my family. However, I never had any 'baby mania'. I let nature take its course, it did not happen, I know why, and that's how it goes. My husband and I decided that a childless life had advantages, and we are pleased with our choice.

I don't particularly like or care about Dion herself, and knowing she has the money to go through all these treatments does make me wonder about her perspective, especially with the media surrounding her. However, I look at her large family and her upbringing, and can imagine she, too, might feel this desire for a second child no matter what because that is what she believes a family to be.

You have got to be kidding me....

I guess I don't get it. I guess I am just an infertile an infertile bitch who thinks maybe a little effing compassion might be a really nice start.

i can't stand celine dion but I do know that contrary to what people think, infertility is an extemely painful experience no just some inconvenience.
Yes, she has money now, but does that mean her hurt is any less real?

I am infertile. I accept that. But would it be so awful if people understood that the stress of infertiltiy has been shown to be as stressful as being diagnosed with a terminal disease.

If a star were on the cover of a magazine taliking about having a disease like MS or something would it bother you so much that they wanted to seek treatment??

Walk a mile in the moccassins. then let's talk

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