My first guilty pleasure (as I’ve divulged previously on this blog) is the Real Housewives franchise. My second guilty pleasure is reading the Facebook comments on postings by media outlets, from decoding British colloquialisms on BBC and The Economist to gaping dumbfounded at the spectacle of human behavior any time The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal reports on the presidential nominees. In select cases, the comment feeds on Bravo’s posts intrigue me and I can’t help but lurk through this fascinatingly unfiltered cross-section of women responding to women about things that happen to women. Recently, the RHOC fan page posted a series of links to the video of Meghan King Edmonds at her first pregnancy scan after a successful IVF cycle and the subsequent blog, wherein she responded to fans with a plea: “Please don’t undermine my pain because I still lost my baby boy.”
The comments on both the original clip from the show as well as Meghan’s blog postings were uncharacteristically visceral, a deviation from the typical “I hate xxxx she’s such a xxxx and I wish they’d take her off the show!” stuff. Among the umpteen thousand commenters who talked about having embryos “implanted” when they really mean “transferred” (a personal peeve that drives me bananas since implantation is a mystical process I’ve been battling 7 years to control) these were otherwise thoughtful and impassioned women pleading and raging with equal measure on one of two sides, which I can best reduce down to the following bullet points:
- What the hell is this girl so upset about? She did IVF and it was successful, so she should consider herself lucky. An embryo is not a baby. She needs to stop with the hysterics. It’s not like she had an actual miscarriage. In fact, the way she’s acting is an insult to women who have lost babies.
- A loss is a loss is a loss, and who are you to judge someone else’s pain, especially since she is obviously hurting sincerely? P.S. You’re an absolute bitch with a dead, rotten heart, and I hope you die.
Confession: When I first saw the footage, though I didn’t feel the need to broadcast the murmurings of one aforementioned ‘dead rotten heart,’ my initial reaction fell well within the philosophies of the first camp. As a woman with a range of experiences that includes IVF failure, early loss, near-fatal loss in which growing embryos tried to blow up parts of my insides, and late-term loss, I could not identify with her level of attachment to the second embryo, and I was dumbstruck at her grief upon receiving what most of us would consider good news. I am jaded, and she struck me as naive, ungrateful, blissfully unaware of how totally abominable this can get. Smile, girl, you’re fucking pregnant on the first shot, and she has a heartbeat.
Then I watched the episode, and the footage caught me, this time, in a more vulnerable mood. Blame it on the soaring progesterone and hcg taking siege of my body and senses, but I heaved great irrational sobs at this scene. Something about the crinkle of the paper under her head as she squirms uncomfortably to strangle the rush of emotion, the flash-glances between ultrasound screen and husband, the knowing look of male concern, the squeeze of the hand, the “I know, I know” whispered into her cheek, the waiting for the doctor to leave so she can bury her head in his chest and unleash a body-wracking grief, which is not included in the short clip but airs in the full episode. This is intimately familiar to me. This is real sadness, so I hear the admonishments of the second camp. Who am I to judge what qualifies as loss? Granted, she is indeed naive in about a thousand ways, but why wouldn’t she be? She needed IVF because her husband had a vasectomy and her only chance was his frozen sperm. This means she has never tracked, temped, peed on OPKs, scheduled sex, woken up that fateful morning after the first cycle of trying to find blood in her panties. She has a virginal, uncalloused vulnerability to the stab of reproductive disappointment, and she got her first taste after Big-Mama-IVF. Maybe it’s okay for sensitive people who have endured less to hurt over smaller things.
Why are we – as women, as human beings – so inclined to divide, categorize, measure and rank, organize experiences and their validity into a hierarchy? I am as guilty as the rest, having regarded the whole thing with an exasperated eye-roll on first viewing. Maybe I’m giving the TV drama entirely too much air, but those comments struck me as a microcosm for a dynamic that I see between women too often (speaking of the presidential election…) and my reaction left me with more questions than answers.