I love teaching, but there is no way that you can say that it isn't hard. It is, as my 95 year old grandmother (a retired middle school English teacher), would say, "a jealous mistress." You do it because you love it, certainly not for money or recognition or advancement opportunities. I love teaching Resource Room, self-contained Reading and English, and pushing into a general education English class, all at the 8th grade level. I love 8th graders, because they are in this funny middle place between childhood and adolescence (although lately it seems like it is entirely adolescence and I feel like 8th graders didn't look like THIS years ago...). They are testing out their personalities and testing out limits and discovering who they are. They are brutally honest. They have a goofy sense of humor. They need a lot of wrangling.
None of my 8th graders know that I have been trying, unsuccessfully and with much heartbreak, and over a long period of time, to have a baby. I have been told I look young for my age, and most of my students guess I'm between 28-30. (Thank you, completely blind students, possibly who have issues with math.) So maybe it's not weird to them that I don't have kids of my own yet. And it hasn't explicitly come up, so I don't really talk about it. Boundaries and all. Last year, in one of my 9th grade classes, I had a student flat out ask me how come I don't have any kids. Verbatim, "How come you don't have kids, Mrs. T? Do you not want kids?" I didn't know what to do other than to tell the (very general) truth. I said, "Well, I'd actually love to have kids. But sometimes you just don't get want you want. I hope to have kids, it just hasn't worked out yet." It was dead silent in the class, the student who asked said, "oh," and another student said, "That's SO SAD." And I said "yes, it is so sad" and then tried to steer the conversation back to Earth Science or ancient river civilizations or multiplying radicals or Great Expectations so that I didn't cry all over my lovely students.
That hasn't happened this year, which is just fine by me. However, sometimes class discussions end up in directions that just turn out to be heartwrenching and I have a hard time keeping Infertile Jess out of School Jess. I do a pretty good job compartmentalizing. I can be School Jess most of the time and tamp Infertile Jess down with very few (but spectacular) exceptions. Today was hard. Today I had to employ every strategy in my arsenal to not get sarcastic and/or burst into tears and/or have a complete meltdown and/or give 5th period English a detailed education in infertility.
You see, we are reading The Giver. Every year I read this book at least once, sometimes twice, because I teach it in Special Class English and I support it in Resource Room and this year I teach (or support) it in the gen ed English class. That's a lot of dystopia. The thing about The Giver, which I've actually written about before, is that it brings up all sorts of questions that are, uh, interesting for discussion in general but particularly if you have experience with infertility treatment. In this novel, a boy named Jonas lives in a Community that is carefully controlled so that everything is perfect, there is no conflict, hunger, unemployment, obesity, divorce, etc. -- because there is no choice. Families are made by successful adults applying for a child, and when that application is approved by the Elders they receive their new baby at the Ceremony of One, which takes place every year at the same time. New babies are cared for at the Nurturing Center, where all the pesky fresh baby stuff is handled -- learning to sleep at night, controlling crying, making babies as convenient as possible. Spouses (who had to apply for that privilege as well and are matched according to optimal compatibility) can have a maximum of two children, one boy and one girl. There is no sex and no romantic love because as soon as you become an adolescent, and you get the Stirrings, you must report it so that you can start taking a daily pill that will suppress those feelings and hormones and will make life so, so much simpler and free of strife.
So, where do these children come from, you might ask? (Unless you've read the book, which I really recommend, because it's a fabulous story despite the pain it causes me ALL THE TIME.) The new babies that enter the Nurturing Center are grown by Birthmothers. These are women carefully selected for the job, usually not the brightest bulbs in the pack but they have optimal fertility (at 12-13, which when the kids realize how this works they go EWWWWWW). They are perfect for the job. They are Birthmothers for a maximum of three years, where they live in relative luxury, eating delicious food, doing gentle exercises, and having minimal responsibility. Just brewing those fresh little babies. After their job is done they work mundane hard labor jobs for the rest of their lives until they enter The House of the Old. In this community, being a Birthmother has very little honor.
There are some benefits to this situation--if I lived in this Community, I would not qualify as a Birthmother, but my infertility would be a moot point since I'd apply for children and they'd be given to me. Sometimes students equate this with adoption, not realizing that with adoption you don't "apply" and then just get handed a baby at a yearly ceremony. But that's not what upset me. Neither is the usually somewhat awkward conversation about how Birthmothers get pregnant, since there's no talk of Birthfathers, and sex is not a part of this society. I usually explain in fairly deep detail how you can medically impregnate someone without any sex at all--just a woman, a catheter, and some sperm. I explain (appropriately) insemination and how even in our society, there are people who have difficulty getting pregnant the "regular" way and need medical technology to help. I say all this with a straight face, without at all revealing that I know all this from personal experience. I don't cry, I don't turn red, I don't start spurting all about my close relationship with that process. Sometimes students think it's weird. This year they were much more weirded out by the Stirrings conversation (awkward) and not by the insemination conversation. So nope, that's not what put me over the edge this year.
This year, today, in fact, the discussion turned to how come there's no bullying in this Community. The role of parents. How parents are very responsible and there are a lot of rules and everyone does a good job instilling politeness and relying on each other and responsibility. How one reason why you know these parents will do a good job is that they must apply for children, that they must prove they are responsible, that they aren't just GIVEN children. And then started the comparison to our society. The English teacher I work with is in his forties and has three children which I assume were conceived without much effort and carried no issue. Because what followed was this:
English Teacher: What does it take to have children in our society?
My head: TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS AND A STRONG STOMACH FOR INJECTIONS
ET: Do you have to pass a test?
Student: Yeah, a pregnancy test!
CLASS LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY
MH: Yeah, plus a clomid challenge test, an HSG, a hysteroscopy, a saline sonohistogram, an FSH and AmH draw, a laparoscopy, an autoimmune panel, a karyotype...etc etc etc. And I keep failing my pregnancy test.
ET: You're RIGHT! There's no TEST. There's no REQUIREMENTS. All you have to do is GET BUSY. ANYONE can have a baby! ANYONE! You don't have to do much at all.
MH: OH HOLY JEEZUM ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW. NOT ANYONE, actually. (my cheeks start getting hot)
ET: Think about it--what test to people have to do to have a baby? Do you need a license? Think of all the people who have babies without thinking about it. Who don't think about the responsibility. Who can't take care of them, but did they have to APPLY? NO. In our world, all you need to do to have a baby is, what did we call it the other day? SETTLE DOWN. (Settle down is a euphemism for have sex, as in "You get married and then you settle down" -- a reference to the fabulous conversation about the Stirrings.)
MH: I think I might cry. All I can think about now is all the idiots out there who should have a license to conceive, but they don't and they can and I CAN'T. Why can't he say MOST people? I wonder how many students in here will find out they are infertile later. 1 in 8, people, 1 in 8. Oh, and I needed a psychological evaluation to do a donor egg cycle that we may not have even needed to do and we will need to fill out a short novel in paperwork if we decide on infant adoption and basically get a license through a homestudy and the more you WANT a baby and can't have one, the more HOOPS you have to go through and STILL there are no guarantees. Think about something else. Think about something else. DO NOT CRY IN FIFTH PERIOD ENGLISH. YOU ARE NOT TO CRY!
Awesome, no? That discussion went on for TEN WHOLE MINUTES and I consider myself ACCOMPLISHED because I did not walk out or cry and I tried my best to not look visibly upset. I'm pretty sure I looked visibly upset, but not enough for anyone to really notice unless they were looking hard. And they weren't, which is a good thing. Except this teacher KNOWS I am infertile. And either he didn't think about it or he forgot or this is a good spiel he's used before and he didn't want to change it for my benefit, because it was full of absolutes and I don't think it even occurred to him that it might be HIGHLY UPSETTING to me. I don't really feel like I can say anything, because I don't expect conversations to change because I'm in the room and it's upsetting to me given my situation. However, it would really be swell if the words MOST PEOPLE were in there, because there are a lot of infertile people who do not just have sex and get a baby, POOF. I am not alone. I'm sure there are students whose parents struggled or who have siblings many years apart or are adopted or have adopted siblings. I can't be the only one who would feel upset about the assumption that SEX=BABY, easy. And it's not like I want to tell a bunch of adolescents that some of them could have sex and it wouldn't result in a baby, I feel very much cheated by my own middle-and-high-school health classes that told me that sex and even heavy petting could result in a pregnancy and there was NO MENTION that I could carefully avoid sex and then protect the sex for years and years and it wouldn't have mattered, because there would not have been a pregnancy without massive medical intervention. I'm not sure it's worth it to mention that it upset me, except that other conversations like this are sure to happen again and maybe I need to be able to have the out to leave the room. I'M NOT EVEN ON MEDS YET. Thank goodness we'll be onto something else by the time my hormones are a mess and it's not just the PTSD of my experiences so far that send me into tears in English.
Being a teacher is hard, but rewarding. Being a teacher with infertility is a mine field. You just never know when one is going to blow, destroying your carefully constructed facade of normalcy from 7:15-4:30.