Posted by: laughing4heir | May 29, 2011

Sexual Identity and Miscarriage

It’s strange how I forget and then remember.  Or rather, maybe it’s strange to me how I put up an emotional barrier to the memories of trauma.  I’ll explain.

The other night, my husband and I rented Away We Go.  It’s a drama starring Maya Rudolph (formerly of SNL) and John Krasinski (Jim, from The Office) as a couple three months from the birth of their first child, trying to decide where to move.  They visit friends in various parts of the country (and Canada) in hopes that those existing connections might inspire them to choose a place to create family.  It’s charming and moving, if heavy-handed in places.

One of their treks takes them to Montreal, where they visit a pair of college friends who’ve married and adopted (by my count) four children.  The two couples go out for a night on the town, wining and dining and partying.  Later in their night, at a club, Maya Rudolph’s character and her female Montrealite counterpart sit across from eachother in a club, chatting.  Her friend asks her if they were trying to get pregnant, and she says no, they weren’t.  Then she casually asks if everything had been going okay in the pregnancy.  Yes, it had.  No problems.  Betraying no emotion, her friend nods her approval and takes a sip of her drink.  The scene cuts away.  My husband spoke up at that point, “She had a miscarriage.”  “Maybe, ” I reply.  “But I doubt it.”  Miscarriage is rarely addressed in movies.  Realistically, anyway.  I figured they had trouble conceiving, and that explained her stone-faced curiosity.  Two scenes later, we see John Krasinski and his friend presumably at the same club, watching a group of four or five men dance on a stage.  They dance poorly.  Some have their shirts tied around their waists.  It’s “amateur night” at this club.  The women dancers, his friend assures him, will turn up later in the night.  Speaking of women:  where did your wife and my girlfriend (Rudolph) disappear to?  One is in the ladies room, the other … and with a wider shot, we see the other, the Montreal wife, is on the stage.  She’s fully clothed, but she saunters with a morose and drunk gait to the pole down-center front.  She proceeds to spin around the pole slowly, dreamily, sadly.  The husband is suddenly sobered.  His visiting friend feels a little awkward.  Without taking his eyes off his wife, the husband tells his friend, “She had another miscarriage.”  “Whoa! You were right,” I tell Hubby.  “When?” asks Krasinki’s character.  “Thursday.  Her fifth.”  The husband goes on to describe the despair of being caught in recurrent miscarriage.  And the emotional confusion, “… you watch these babies grow, and then just fade.  … you don’t know if you’re supposed to name them or bury them … ” His wife finishes her performance and wordlessly leaves the stage and crawls into his lap.

What struck me about this scene wasn’t so much the truth of what the husband said – though it felt accurate for some of my miscarriages – as the wife’s dance.  It reminded me of an aspect of recurrent miscarriage that I’d either moved past or simply repressed.  Feeling disconnected from one’s own sexuality.

Though I didn’t feel it viscerally watching the film, I suddenly recalled how in the middle of all our losses, I began feeling less and less like a woman.  There were times, I’d look in the mirror and not see a woman looking back at me, but a sexless human figure.  Or rather, a human who, though she engaged in sex, was completely lacking in all sex appeal whatsoever.  I wondered how long it would be before my husband would divorce me to find a woman who was capable of carrying a baby to term.  Because isn’t that, in the end, what makes a woman a woman?  I could intellectually separate my woman-ness from my reproductive abilities.  God knows I certainly don’t think women who choose not to bear children, or who cannot bear children are any less feminine, and less sexually women.  But until your own reproductive ability is under assault or is revealed to be incapable, you don’t realize how intrinsically tied your sexual identity is to your ability to conceive and bear a child.  It’s what we’re built to do, right?  So why can’t I do it?  And if I can’t do it, then I must not only be less of a woman, but utterly sexually unattractive to my partner, and quite possibly, the world in general.

Sexual identity and reproductivity is such a minefield these days.  On an episode of “The Tudors” I watched recently, King Henry VIII told his young bride that nothing would please him more that night than to visit her chambers and have her conceive his son.  And that was a megahot pick-up line.  That was their version of, “Are your legs tired?  Because you’ve been running through my mind all day.”  It was simple then.  You’re sexually appealing.  I want to have sex with you and the by-product of that will hopefully be a baby.  How much of that has really changed?  Okay, so it’s not politically correct to ever assume a woman wants to ever get pregnant.  Fine.  I actually don’t assume that.  But isn’t that at the base of sexual attraction, the desire to reproduce?  Even if we cognizantly don’t want to reproduce, our bodies do.  That’s the impulse behind arousal, right?  So failure to produce a healthy living baby is essentially a failure of one’s sexual abilities, which affects our own sexual identities.  And it’s not just women.  A man may not want to father a child, but if he discovered that his sperm were weak or otherwise incompetent, he would likely feel less like a man.

Because we have more control over our reproductive destinies than our ancestors did, we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we actually have a say over our reproductive abilities.  When we remove contraception, we assume we’re turning the switch to “on” and that conception will follow, shortly.  Doubtless, for many, if not most, people, this is the case.  Their base sexual identity will never be challenged or attacked from within, because they’ll be able to be sexy enough to attract their partner and have sexy sex and make a baby, which is the height of sexiness.  Or most people’s sexual identities will never be challenged because they’ll always keep the switch to “off” and live with the pleasant illusion that their fertility or ability to carry to term is nothing short of stellar.  Either way, many, if not most will never have to negotiate that minefield.  I am woman. I am lips and hips.  I am sexy and nothing in my life tells me I’m not.

But those of us who have had to negotiate that minefield, or who still do – whether because of recurrent miscarriage, infertility, disease or prior sexual trauma – see that woman on the stage, with a vacant stare and a sleepy spin around recognize her pain and confusion.  I’m not here, but I’m here.  I am.  If I assert my sexuality enough, maybe it will return.  Right?

 

 

 

 

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