Weights and Measures

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

26 thoughts on “Weights and Measures

  1. The other day, I was forced to sit in a room with a woman who kept repeating how “small” her son is. “He’s so small he can’t reach.” “I don’t know how to make him grow.” And I had to bite my tongue SO HARD to not say something because her “so small” son is indeed a perfectly normally growing little boy – smaller than average, but most decidedly within the range of normal.

    A friend pointed out that maybe she’s a first time mom (she is) who doesn’t understand anything more than her son is smaller than many of his peers. And while that is probably true, I still can’t get myself to engage in conversation with this woman – conversation in which I could undoubtedly reassure her that he’s normal based on my extensive experience with ABnormal growth – because all my mind screams is STFU STFU I hate you STFU.

    I don’t know why I feel like I need to judge and, yes, hate her. So like you I’m left with these questions of what it means about me as a person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe it’s just as simple as this: it’s hard to hear someone fret and kvetch about luxuries you wish you had. Just reading your post the other day and hearing how you hurt over the struggles you have to watch your son face without being able to help or influence the situation – that is really difficult stuff! So from that vantage, there is the impulse to scream, “You are lucky!” I felt it with this show. Ultimately, we have to lean back on the more rational part of us that can acknowledge that this is basically the flip side of the adage, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Her situation and my situation are irrelevant to each other, and offering her compassion doesn’t cut into my access to compassion. And I don’t think the initial reaction says anything about our character if we’re able to step out of ourselves and see that.

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  2. I initially had the same first reaction, that she should be grateful for her one heart beat and that she found her success. However, the more I thought about it, the more I agree with you, that why couldn’t she grieve the loss of a dream of having two there? It is indeed a loss to her, and if I were in her shoes, I might feel the same way too. Who are we to judge her for how she’s feeling? Her gratitude for having her daughter doesn’t negate her feelings of not having the other embryo implanted. I think we often jump to the conclusion too soon and judge others quickly.

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    • She says in one of her interviews about the situation, “This is a happy moment, but it’s also sad.” Her face is red and puffy, eyes welled with tears. From her perspective of having no clue what it feels like to learn that reproduction is not in your control, I’m sure it does cut pretty deeply to mourn that dream. Jim says to her while she’s crying, “There’s a baby in there that wants you to be its mama,” and that really unhinged me. I think she has ultimately been able to refocus on that, which is what matters, so, sure, she’s entitled to experience whatever emotions the initial news provokes. And we can all be a little less stingy about it 🙂

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  3. I watched my DVR’ed copy of that episode yesterday, and I was completely ambivalent, exactly as the 2 camps you described. During my first pregnancy achieved through IVF with my own eggs I admit to feeling a sense of disappointment and loss that we weren’t going to be having twins – after infertility the blessing of 2 babies is a bounty of riches that it’s hard not to covet. When that pregnancy failed I felt a deep sense guilt that I had not been satisfied with my one baby. When we went to do the final transfer (IVF attempt #4) and the doctor asked if I wanted 2 eggs transferred I said HELL YES. I felt both of them implant and walked in to my ultrasound absolutely confident that I was carrying twins, which, as you know, I was. If I had lost one I would have been devastated. If I had known, as Megan did, the sex of those embryos I would have been even more attached and even more devastated. So, I’ve been on both sides of this – quite literally. I think your final point is the most important, however. We need to be kind to each other and honor the process. Honor each others pain. Honor each other. *steps off of soap box*

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    • The comments in your post really resonated with me because my initial reaction was definitely influenced by the way she conducted herself throughout the cycle, so my month-long eye-roll just carried into this scene where she had the gall to grieve the embryo that didn’t implant while this beautiful little heartbeat was shimmering on the screen. I have to remind myself that I would probably be presumptuously optimistic about IVF too if I had started it without ever having had a loss or struggled to conceive. Then it would indeed seem like a few needles were my biggest problem, and I too might be showing off my “bump” by the pool during the 2ww. It’s all about perspective, and I gotta keep that in perspective 😉

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  4. Pingback: A bounty of riches… | Hope is something you pee on…

  5. People grieve and handled things differently and who are we to judge? Probably the fact that they knew the gender of the embryos also made the loss feel more real. If I implanted two embryos and one took I would be delighted to be having a baby at all. I might think and wonder about the other lost embryo sometimes but in general I would be happy with the outcome. But like I said, people handle things differently so I do feel sympathy for them. Sad that most of the comments were so judgemental

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    • Knowing gender makes their lives much more real because it gives your mind something to run with, so that you have concocted not just a sexless infant but a two year old in sneakers or dresses, a full-grown adult walking down the aisle in a tux or a bridal gown. One of the reasons we declined to know gender at transfer is because we are jumpy from the Loss, and I don’t want them to become to real until we have cleared the anatomy scan and feel like we can afford to become attached to their lives more completely.

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  6. love this.
    i still have difficulty (always have, really) authentically feeling empathy/sympathy for women experiencing secondary infertility. i can get there, but have to take a few extra steps to get there.
    also, i yearned for twins, but was pretty quickly happy that just one had implanted.
    but we never know what it is actually like to walk in someone else’s shoes and i remind myself that the pain they are feeling is just as real as pain i have felt. they are not manufacturing their suffering.
    my wanting them to STFU and be happy with what they have is probably a feeling others have had about me because even though i didn’t have a baby i was in a good loving relationship/married, or something like that.

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    • Yes, yes, and yes. Funny, because I don’t think this gets enough acknowledgement, but many of the women reacting to this have the luxury of experiencing their feelings while decidedly *not pregnant.* If for that reason alone, they cannot walk in her shoes. I feel a little closer to her level of sensitivity because, like her in the scene, I am in this dastardly first trimester and the dumbest most trivial shit makes me cry. I was watching the stupid Wedding Ringer the other day and blubbering over a fake best man speech. Lol. Her hormones are not irrelevant to how intensely she experiences her grief.

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  7. The deeply cynical part of me (which is about 78% of my personality) thinks this boils down to our deep discomfort as a society with feelings. Someone’s crying, and we don’t know what to do. So we tell them they have no right to cry because [INSERT PERFECTLY RATIONAL REASON.] It’s their fault we’re uncomfortable so quit it.

    The trouble is that feelings aren’t rational. Good golly, grief is the worst of them all, creeping up on you when you least expect it then refusing any and all eviction notices.

    We’re also largely a group of people who struggle with the idea of “holding both,” honoring both good feelings and hard ones. There is no reason she can’t feel sad about one loss while also feeling blessed by the tiny heartbeat that is there. But that’s complicated, and we don’t “do” complicated.

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    • You know, from my entirely unscientific conclusions after reading the comment threads, it was the women who *had* suffered infertility or loss who were the least compassionate. Women who had children easily were incensed that other women, who could identify with loss, were so unfeeling. I think sometimes we wear our pain like badges we’ve earned (I can attest to this, even if I’m not proud of it) and they talked about her in this very territorial way, as if she had encroached on some finite supply of sympathy that belonged rightfully to them.

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  8. Yes. Some days (who am I kidding? Almost any damned day) I would bend over backwards for that naïveté. I tell myself it makes me a better parent to have nearly killed myself emotionally financially and health wise (don’t get me started about how sick my immune system is now post pregnancy) to have the two kids I got out of the 10 recorded pregnancies I had. But that’s a lie. It just leaves me scarred. So sad we sometimes mask the scars with an amnesiac or occasionally insensitive shell – if only to survive. If only we humans were more charitable beasts as a lot. But then the Housewives wouldn’t be so entertaining I guess.

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    • Indeed. I used the word “jaded” in this piece, but we could easily substitute calloused or scarred. I have to bear in mind that I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, so even if her naivete irritated me throughout the coverage of her IVF, in the more principled part of my thinking, I am happy that she has the luxury of being so sensitive. It means she was spared, and that’s a good thing.

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  9. If she decided that embryo was her baby boy, it’s her baby boy. Nobody is going to convince her otherwise; it doesn’t matter what their arguments are. This really should be obvious. The people criticizing her are probably trying to comfort themselves in some way, convince themselves and others that their hurt is greater and more deserving of sympathy. And they are right about that. Everyone could use a little compassion.

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    • That’s the thing that gave me pause: as someone who has suffered more significant losses, this initially struck me as attention-seeking and, yeah, maybe a little disrespectful of those who had suffered “real,” as many of the commenters termed it (read: more significant) miscarriage/baby-loss. Then I thought, where’s the line? My late-term loss was after twenty weeks, so it is technically a “still-birth,” but is calling it that disrespectful to someone who carried for 9 months and was shocked to learn that her full-term baby was no longer alive? Or another whose child dies of SIDS at 2 weeks old? Maybe we could just have the humanity to recognize real suffering when we see it and dole out some compassion to anyone who seems to need it.

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  10. I’ve been sort of thinking this post over in my head for the last couple of days. So many reactions there. I’ll confess, when I read Edmonds’ blog post, I felt a real flare of jealousy of that initial positive, excited, this-will-work attitude. While I hadn’t experienced pregnancy loss yet when I went into my first IVF cycle, I’d gone through more cancelled medicated cycles than good ones and I couldn’t muster that sort of faith in reproductive medicine, nor in my own body that had failed so much. After I went through a couple of back to back losses…well, there’s a sense in which I’m keenly aware that most women do not automatically start making plans in the back of their minds about how to handle a miscarriage when they find out they are pregnant, among other things. When Edmonds talks so openly about her sadness, it reminds me of the stuff I know, that I wish I didn’t know, and I sort of find myself resenting her for having the good fortune *not* to have known. It’s funny how I can be happy with my own situation, grateful for what I have, know how privileged I am in many ways, and yet seeing Edmonds’ naivete about IVF sort of puts me back in that hard place in which I am reminded that somewhere along it all, I changed in response to pain and can’t really go back to who I was before it all.

    That being said, I can think of several instances in which people were generous and sensitive to me, though many of them were going through awful situations of their own. In the moments I want to be uncharitable to women like Edmonds, I try to remember those examples and emulate them – because their kindness meant the world. You’re right about extending compassion and humanity.

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    • I just watched this interview (http://www.bravotv.com/the-real-housewives-of-orange-county/season-11/videos/meghan-king-edmonds-discusses-her-ups-and) where she comments directly on people’s reactions, and I actually think she’s wrong. She says that people who have ever experienced any kind of a loss seemed to empathize with her, but I found the opposite to be true. I think people (even in this comment thread) who have had more significant losses really struggled with her tra-la-la optimism, as if twin was a foregone conclusion from the first injection, and it was those women who needed time to come around. When I read the first comment that called her reaction “disrespectful” to people who have suffered “real” losses, my gut kicked up with a resounding, ‘yeah!’ It was only after thinking about it (maybe too much) that I decided my line for what constitutes valid loss is subjective and therefore arbitrary and thought we could all spare a few soft feelings to send in her direction. Like you, I have always been grateful when they were mustered for me, even when my losses where mere chemical pregnancies in an arena where others had lost babies with heartbeats and faces.

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  11. Yeah, I have to admit my first reaction was wait a second,you still have one baby, don’t despair, it was early days yet. But then I’ve never been pregnant. Spent 7 years on that train and didn’t make it. When I discovered that after my first IVF where2 embryos had been transferred, that I was not pregnant, I was gutted. I had already convinced myself I was pregnant even though I never was. I was so attached to that outcome. So I could understand that naivete and her grief.

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    • This comment made me think about my own history, and I realized that I have never had a successful IVF where only one of the embryos took, which is her specific situation. For me, it’s always been an all or none game, and maybe that’s what makes it hard to for me to understand. My IVF failures also left me “gutted,” probably even more so than my chemical pregnancies even though those are probably more significant “losses” if we measure by development or the arbitrary marker of implantation. I’d like to think that if one had implanted instead of none in one of those double-transfers, I probably would have been dancing on the moon, but then my expectations were curtailed by the experience of infertility and loss prior to ever even getting to IVF in the first place. She came in with a lot of bold presumptions about outcome, and I think that’s why she was so rocked by the failure of the other embryo.

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  12. Such an interesting situation, and an interesting post. I think this is the meat of it: “Who am I to judge what qualifies as loss?” I agree with Torthuil. If it was a baby boy to her, it was the loss of all the potential of that baby boy.

    I used to be terrible about comparing losses or hardships, and as I’ve read more and more perspectives different from mine, my empathy has grown. But I find sometimes that people have a need to compare and put others down for a loss that isn’t as significant as theirs. I have a friend who was so mad at another who got pregnant (on HER FIRST egg donor cycle) and had bleeding that they attributed to either a small SCH or the early loss of a twin. Her friend kept referring to it as “her miscarriage,” while my friend had suffered two miscarriages at 8 weeks, and she was outraged that her friend could grieve what she saw as “not really a loss.” She wanted me to agree, and I had a hard time lumping myself with my friend, because she got pregnant on a BREAK from IVF and has a baby daughter at home, and seven years later I have nothing and will never be pregnant. I could see why she felt upset at her friends’ reaction, but I could also see why her friend was upset at the loss of a potential twin.

    I guess it’s hard because the RHOC person had had such a naive thought about IVF, that it was a given that both would implant, and she never had a negative, so it seems she had a too-rosy attitude towards ART. I don’t blame her for not having to have done all the testing and trying and scheduling though, because I didn’t have to do that either and yet here I am. I guess I see both points, but I think she has a right to her grief, and every person who is grieving whatever loss of the “reproductive fairytale” they have to deal with should be able to grieve without being told they haven’t suffered enough. I guess the whole kindness to everyone message you give is the best — always choose kindness. 🙂

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    • I have a full resume of comparing my grief to others’, and I think I have ultimately decided that it was all rooted in jealousy. When I heard that someone lost a spontaneous pregnancy: pffft, she should be happy she can get pregnant naturally. When I heard someone was upset over a failed IUI: pffft, she’s lucky she’s never been through failed IVF. When I heard someone lost a twin: pffft, she should count her blessings that she still has a live baby in there because I’d give my eye teeth to be in that particular cat-bird seat. From this position of being on the road to real resolution (albeit a highly anxious one) I am able to look at the experience of grief rather than measure the trigger. Were I plunged back into The Bitterness suddenly, who knows? But, yeah, it is the nobler thing to always choose kindness, and that’s what I too am striving for 🙂

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  13. I don’t know…I did medicated IUI’s (14 in all) and this summer I had my 6 week ultrasound and found I was carrying twins. Two beautiful heartbeats fluttering away, two perfectly sized little beans in their own little sacs. Two weeks later, baby B was still perfect but baby A wasn’t any bigger than before and its heart was no longer beating. There was only a 5% chance of losing one, but I did. Seeing my dead baby on the screen right next to its healthy brother or sister was devastating. I had done other IUI’s that were successful where I had been hoping for twins and had multiple follicles but I ended up with a single and was still so happy for that. But it’s different once you’ve seen them. You’re not grieving just a dream, you’re grieving for what was your reality and no longer is. Having actually been through the loss of my baby’s twin I’m deeply offended by her reaction to hearing her healthy baby’s heartbeat for the first time. I still have flashbacks and nightmares of that ultrasound. I had 3 losses of single pregnancies before this where I had awful ultrasound experiences, but this was by far the worst and the hardest loss to deal with. I really hope by the time I deliver I’ll have come to terms with the fact there’s only one, but I really don’t know how.

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    • Like I mention in the post, I was similarly irritated by her reaction at first. I think that’s human. It was after time to mull and a second viewing that I decided that I was judging her based on arbitrary lines. For example, I lost my baby when I was 6 months pregnant after a series of 6 early losses on top of 5 years of multiple IUI and IVF failures. When I was in a darker and more bitter place, I may have been able to justify being “deeply offended” by your experience with trauma after Baby A stopped developing. After all, from my perspective, you never had to go through IVF, never went through it and had it fail again and again, never saw a baby with a face sucking his thumb on the ultrasound screen while a doctor at a children’s hospital told you he was fatally sick, never had him vacuumed out of you because he was dead, and, in that vein, your pregnancy will still make you a mother while I was canceling my baby shower and returning to a grueling life of treatment and childlessness. I will tell you that I am absolutely compassionate to your loss, and I think you deserve empathy and acknowledgement of your grief, but it would be hard to muster that humanity if I let myself fall victim to the baser impulse to compare and measure your experiences against mine. And a mother who buries an infant who died of SIDS or a 7-year-old after a drag through childhood leukemia might look at my grief and scoff or eye-roll. Who has the authority to draw this line between valid and invalid pain? All that said, I do think Meghan is hugely naive, and her attachment to embryos – the presumption that every embryo will turn into a live baby – is seriously ill-advised and almost a little silly, but it wasn’t the nature of her loss that touched me; it was the obvious experience of real grief that I watched on screen. That felt familiar, and that was the basis of my ultimate conclusions in this post. I think of that saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It is also the thief of compassion and connection since all trauma is relative.

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  14. Pingback: Obligation to the Public Good | The Empress and the Fool

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