Monday, August 5, 2013

What Does Common Core Have to Do With Infertility? (in which I explain how a close read exercise made me want to cry or throttle, not sure which)

If you are a teacher, you totally know what Common Core is. There is no way for you to NOT know what it is. These are the new educational standards for K-12 that 46 states to date have adopted and that expect our students to be working at levels of rigor and complexity that have far-reaching implications into everyday instruction, curriculum development, and professional development. Not to mention new tests and a ton of corporate-for-profit sponsored materials that are being adopted to support this new endeavor. I spent today, from 8-3, in a very intense (and extremely awesome) training on Pathways to the Common Core. A professional development that I am grateful is being offered, but I wish was planned for more in advance as the attendance was really low (not just because it's summer, but because people plan vacations and stuff with their kids pretty far in advance, and this invitation came out, oh, maybe mid-July). Common Core is scary, but with the right supports it can be great. It is causing changes and shifts in instruction and expectations that are not a bad thing.

But, I digress, as this is not a teaching blog. What the heck does Common Core have to do with infertility? Today, everything.

One of our exercises was to do a Close Reading on the Gettysburg Address, and really focus in on the first sentence. The first sentence is the very very famous one:

" Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth
to this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty,
and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Anything jumping out at you?
Part of the job of a close reading is to really look at specifics within the text. Things like word choice. And then, after reading it and listening to it and annotating it, you talk about it. What word do you think sparked a conversation about word choice and images and metaphors that caused a problem for little old infertile me?
I swear I am not hypersensitive. I am actually the one who initially brought up the word choice for conceived as a particularly powerful one, because later in the address Lincoln continues on this theme with the "new birth of freedom" and it's really quite clever. Which is one reason why it's considered a complex text worthy of a close read. I brought up this word not realizing that this one little word was going to cause me issues for the rest of the day.
Another woman said, "This word is particularly powerful. As a mother."
WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS? Is the world a more meaningful place once you are a mother? I mean, I would like to think that it is the wonderful mythical thing that I have sought for so long, but when you phrase things like, "And when you're a mother," or "As a mother," or "As a parent," it has implications for those of you, those very few of you in the room who AREN'T mothers, and NOT by choice. It makes it seem like my thoughts and connections to the word conceive just don't carry the same meaning. It's like a meme I saw on another blog-- "No baby on board. Feel free to plow right into me." There's this assumption made that motherhood gives life all new meaning. And while I don't doubt that it does in its own way--I can dream but can't quite imagine properly what it's like to hold close a little person you are wholly responsible for and feel that kind of love, it makes me feel SO LEFT OUT when people make the comment that they understand something deeper BECAUSE THEY ARE A MOTHER. I hear all those things, the "I never knew I could love like this" that really makes me think of the Grinch (her heart grew five sizes that day), and I know that this is just part of the experience of parenthood, but it is so hard to hear those things when YOU WANT IT SO BAD and it just isn't happening for you. I mean, I've been a mother to all the embryos that went inside of me never to be birthed like Lincoln's freedom. I have a slice of it. I've been a mother to the baby in my head that I long for and imagine and wish I could mold into being like some strange fairy tale. But I don't have that same frame of reference. And it makes me feel very alone. It makes it even more apparent that there is a Mommy Club and this girl isn't in it.
The discussion didn't stop there, though. We talked about the use of the word conceived in lieu of other possible choices that were rejected--produced, generated, created. Just wondering if you can suss out where this is going, because I didn't expect it at all and it felt a little like a sucker punch.
Someone else in the circle, another nonmother I might add, said that conceived was so much more powerful than created. Because this isn't some thing CREATED IN A LAB, and CONCEPTION is more powerful than that, a human experience. OH MY GOD I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. There is a time and a place for things and I was pretty sure that this small group professional development on the Common Core was not the time to go apeshit on everyone and yell, "YOU CAN CONCEIVE IN A LAB AND IT IS A BEAUTIFUL HUMAN EXPERIENCE, TOO, ASSHOLE!" Because, for one, I'm pretty sure that this wasn't someone bashing IVF. I'm sure it didn't even occur to this person that what she was saying had implications for someone in the room who was going through some of the most assisted reproductive technology ever. I cannot conceive without a lab. Although then there is the question of when conception occurs, which is a whole other ball of wax. Are my embryos conceived? Or is conception when the embryo burrows into your lining and implantation occurs? One is the start of a little life form (how often do we say that our embryos died?) and one is the start of a viable pregnancy. I think they are both forms of conception. I mean, when your parents disgustingly refer to the day you were conceived, they are talking about when the deed was done, not when they found out they were pregnant. It's very sticky. And so not on topic for the textual discussion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. So, I had to keep my claptrap shut. I wanted so badly to just be a tiny voice saying, "HEY! Conception can happen in a lab, too." But I think that would have been on the crazypants side of behavior. I mean, if we're sticking with the text, IVF didn't exist in Lincoln's times. I think labs did, but in a much more rudimentary fashion. So the comment was fairly innocuous. It was just, my connection to this statement, as an INFERTILE MOTHER WANNABE, was so strong. And it kind of put me in a bit of a funk.
It just goes to show that your personal experiences are a lens through which you see everything. Nothing escapes the infertility lens. I would have thought an incredibly in-depth unpacking of the Common Core's impact on literacy instruction would have been a safe place for me, but it wasn't. I do feel a little crazy, and debated even sharing this little slip of my day today. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in these happenings. I'm pretty sure there are other people who are so ingrained into this process that just expecting the question, "So are you traveling this summer?" puts you into a tizzy. I know it does for me, because do I bother explaining, NO, because we failed our first DE IVF and I have to have a hysteroscopy next week and then it's mid August and because we're paying for another FET sooner than later we really don't have the money to go away right now, much less the time? It's a mouthful. And I feel like a sad sap bringing it up at all.
I did have a surprising fertility moment today, when a woman I'll be sharing a room with next year gave me a blessed crucifix as a good luck token, something she's done for several infertile friends and they just happened to get pregnant. I am not particularly religious, and I have never really enjoyed "body crosses," but this was incredibly touching to me. She thought of me enough to get something very meaningful to her blessed and give it to me. She didn't ask any questions, and she said "it doesn't matter if you're not Catholic, not really," and I was just so appreciative. Because she was thoughtful and to the point and any juju is good juju. Because it was meaningful to her, it made it that much more meaningful to me.
So there you have it. The Common Core became a minefield for my sensitivity to the many meanings of the word conceived  and someone surprised me with a very thoughtful gesture. There was some good, some sad, and some somewhat ugly inner dialogue that thankfully I didn't share and question my sanity. Man I hope I'm pregnant before I have to administer the fall writing prompt about Overcoming Adversity. If this training is any indication of my state of mind, we are in big trouble if I am still in this place when giving examples of going through a challenging experience...


  1. Ugh. I would probably not have been able to keep my mouth shut. And then it would have gotten all awkward.

    I actually vetoed a potential teaching candidate because the first thing out of her mouth, when asked if she brought her credentials with, was, "Oh this mommy brain! I can't remember anything these days." Um. Okay, NEXT. I hate that just because you are a mom you are suddenly justified in forgetting things.

    1. Ha! I'm on an interview committee on Thursday... I hope there's nothing like that coming my way. Yeah, awkward is right--I don't think anything good would have come from me going Norma Jean for infertility in the middle of my training. Thanks for the support, lady!

  2. GAG. This is cringe-worthy, I would have cringed too---and then gotten that beaten-down feeling i sometimes get. There are about 7 million women pregnant at my workplace right now and I cannot go anywhere without overhearing conversations about motherhood that are impossible not to filter through the IF lens. But I am getting a little better at letting go. When I see constant posts on FB from friends about the glory of motherhood, that "you just couldn't understand unless you are a mother" smugness, I am trying (and often failing) to take that opportunity to remind myself of all the stuff I've learned---I will never ever put myself in an exalted category "as a mother, as a parent." I will never assume I have secret knowledge and powers and insight into the very core of life's mysterious meaning because of my powers of conception, birthing, and mothering. That smugness is as intolerable as it is unintentional. Sigh. And we can't speak up without feeling crazypants or inappropriate or creating super-awkward situations. My hope is that once I'm on the "other side," I will finally have cooled down enough to be able to confront people in the moment in a way that is level-headed and useful. Anyway, I feel you, girl!

    1. Thanks! Oh man, the pregnant people at work... I can't wait until the first faculty meeting of the year when I can see who popped out over the summer. Oh yeah, I can wait. ;-) I hope that it's possible to remember what all those mommy comments felt like once we make it to that glory land. And NEVER EVER make someone feel like less of a person (however unintentionally) because they're...not. And "smug" is the PERFECT word! :)

  3. Well just think, they can never understand this whole dimension of life because they have never been infertile! Many people have never struggled for years with something as challenging and heart-breaking as this. I mean, I'm kind of joking, but I'm not really. I do believe that my years-long battle has changed my view of myself- I'm a fighter, and I didn't let hopelessness or sad days/months/years stop me. I never saw myself as determined and focused as this journey has made me, and THIS has changed my perspective on the world as much as being a mommy will someday. So screw 'em. Just smile and nod when they go on about "as a mother." You'll be a mother too, and with a rich history of overcoming adversity behind you.

    1. Oh my god, that brought me to tears. What a beautiful (and beautifully written) perspective. Thank you.