Sunday, January 10, 2010

Julia Child Couldn't Cook Babies

I've always wanted to compile a list of successful and happy infertile women from history, but I've never gotten around to it.

Lately I've been reading "My Life in France" by Julia Child. I'm too lazy to provide a link to Amazon, so just Goggle it if you are interested...or go to Target and buy it (Oh, Target...you got me again with your wily merchandising). Apparently the book was used for the movie Julie and Julia, which I haven't seen. There is a picture of Meryl Streep on the cover.

The book's not that great. I've put it down and picked it up several times. But the other day, on page 101 I came across this passage:

"I, too, had had tummy troubles. Ever since our trip to Italy with Pilapop, my stomach was no longer a brass-bound, iron-lined, eat-and-drink-any-amount-of-anything-anywhere-anytime machine that it had been. I had suffered bouts of feeling quite queer the entire time we'd been in France. 'It must be something in the water,' I'd say to myself. But when I continued to feel suddenly sick and gaseous, I declared: 'Aha, pregnant at last!'"

"We had tried. But for some reason our efforts didn't take. It was sad, but we didn't spend too much time thinking about it and never considered adoption. It was just one of those things. We were living very full lives."


I was stunned by the matter of fact description of her infertility. Of course at this point in my life, my memoir could never contain a mere paragraph about my infertility. Infertility would take up a whole page.

Or a whole chapter.

Or maybe the whole book.

I read the passage again.

What the?!?!?! Didn't spend too much time thinking about it?!?!?!? Just one of those things?!?!?!

The concept is so foreign to me. I think about my infertility every day. It isn't "just one of those things" but the ONLY thing in my life some days.

It makes me wonder, should I be taking the Julia Child approach to infertility? Would I be able to accomplish more in my life if I did?

Or was Julia fibbing? Not letting on about her disappointment. We all do this in our everyday lives, in casual conversation when asked about our childless predicaments. "We're still waiting." "We haven't really decided yet if we are having kids." And so on and so forth.

When I live to be eighty plus years old will infertility be merely a paragraph in my life? A footnote?

In a way I am offended by the offhand remarks minimizing the role infertility played in her life, but in a way I find it hopeful.

38 comments:

'Murgdan' said...

I wonder (and don't know many people that I could ask) if during that time there simply wasn't much else you could do about it and it was simply looked at as 'fate'...but then again that just seems stupid. Whether IVF existed or not there would have been nothing else I could have thought about...

Or maybe by the time she wrote the book, 20 years later, that was how she looked back on it....because it was so long ago and she had reached some sort of closure (if that exists??).


Haven't seen the movie. Or the book. But are there really people out there going through infertility who think of it as 'just one of those things'?

Sorry. Rambling comment.

twoofakindworkingonafullhouse said...

WOW! I'm with you ... didn't spend much time thinking about it? really? Although I really wish IF didn't consume me as much as it does, I could never be so nonchalant. I hope she didn’t bottle up her IF sorrow like many women do.
BTW I LOVE the pics of your dog. I have a 2 year Golden Retriever Izzie. She makes me smile.

Kim said...

They spent a whole 30 seconds in the the movie touching on Julia's Infertility. The scene was when her sister wrote to announce her pregnancy and Julia broke down in tears and cried and then on to the next scene. You felt her pain, but they never even discussed it. It was the unspoken infertile scene.

I think Julia poured her obsession into cooking, although they depicted a very wonderful life between her and her husband. They traveled and she pursued her dreams, they dined out often and genuinely loved each other. I don't think I could look back and sum it up to a paragraph either, but I have to agree we can probably learn from her. Sadly, life goes on, with or without babies.

Michelle said...

Delurking to say that I was struck by the paragraph and the scene in the movie as I was in throws of it when I read/saw them. However, I truly hope that when I'm 80 my in infertility struggles are just a paragraph in the book of my life. I hope that I will have enough distance from them that I won't allow them to define who I am or was.

Angie said...

Haven't seen the movie or read the book either....but I'm with you....right now, mine would be a book. Cannot fathom how it could be different.

JB said...

I think there's a generational difference in attitude, too. Certain medical maladies were just facts of life a generation or two ago, so there was an understanding that it could affect you and if it did, that was that. I still bet that there was more than a paragraph of mourning over her infertility than she cared to cover in the biography, though. That could just be her protection of privacy, or could be another generational thing (one just didn't talk about such things; they couldn't say the word "pregnant" on Mary Tyler Moore, remember?). I can't imagine summing up my feelings about infertility in any less than a Britannica encyclopedic volume, at least not right now.

Just Us... said...

I've seen the movie and read the book. The movie gives her infertility a much more real tone-I won't give it away in case you decide to see it.

At any rate...I believe that in her day and age that infertility wasn't thought of as a "problem" you either got pregnant or you didn't--actually one of our secretaries at the hospital I worked for once said that to me--"back in the 70's when you were born women either got pregnant or they didn't"

So those were the options--you got pregnant, or you adopted. There were no RE's, not Clomid, not ultrasound. It just was what it was...

I'm sure if we were living in those times that we too would "not think much of it..."

areyoukiddingme said...

I think in the context of her life, spending not too much time thinking about it would probably be the only way to cope and not go crazy. There were no treatments available. She married a little later in life. It was a statement made 30-50 years later, so I imagine the pain was distant. Plus, this was a memoir about how she learned to cook and wrote a definitive cookbook - a lot of the personal information is more cultural than emotional.

When you're 80, you may also be able to block out much of the pain you're feeling now. I think that's one of the beauties of the human psyche - you can erase the parts that are too painful.

Jendeis said...

Loved the movie and that touching part where Julia learns of her sister's pregnancy. B/c I loved the movie, I went out and bought My Life in France. It's on my TBR (to be read) list.

waiting and wishing said...

Great post!
I think there is something to be learned from how she sums up that part of her life so many years later. Although right now I can't imagine a time when I would speak about this season of life in that manner, I hope that in the future IF doesn't define me as I let it now. Someday I hope to have things to talk about other than blood draws, stirrups and heartache.

mummydr said...

Delurking to discuss. She and Paul married late she was 38 I think? And I would expect she had given up the idea of babies as it was something you did younger in those days. I know they tried, I'm sure it hurt, but there wasn't a lot else you could do back then. I work with the elderly and I have talked a little about infertility to some of them (not the easiest topic to drop into conversation) it took me a while to work out that a couple now aged 80+ who married at 20 and are childless did not take this path by choice, it took my struggles to work that out. Dumb or what. But at 80 the phrase they use when I ask about children is it didn't happen and they do seem to have moved on. I sucks.

the misfit said...

I can definitely see the "it happens or it doesn't" attitude back then. FWIW, her words are similar to what I say to coworkers or acquaintances I think it appropriate to tell - "we've tried, doesn't seem to be happening." Of course, infertility is the topic of the only book-length writing I've ever done. But I aspire some day to have so much else to write about that I couldn't spare even a whole page for IF.

Kate said...

I also found it heartening to think that when I'm 80 this will feel like another trial in my life, but not THE trial in my life. I hope so.

Life Happens said...

I started to watch the movie last night. Like many people, the part in the movie where she finds out about her sister's pregnancy, it made me sad.

It would take many chapters to sum up our infertility. I don't think I could do it in a few sentences. Maybe after complete acceptance I could try to summarize like she did.

pen* said...

i thought your post (and the subsequent comments here) are really interesting to read.
for me, reading what julia wrote actually makes me feel a little better, as i think my journey with (in)fertility would genuinely take one paragraph (and i have often wondered if that makes me wrong...)

don't misunderstand me, if i think about it, i get angry, upset, hopeful, disappointed... the gamut of emotions ~ but ultimately it is what it is. i know we are lucky now and live in a time where there are medical options available to us e.g. IVF, ICSI etc. and we have also been down that route ourselves. however, we chose to stop after one attempt.

having said that, i admire those who have the strength and faith to keep going, and i sincerely hope their courage results in what they most long for. but for me, i don't want my life to be defined by my (in)fertility, and so i hope it will always be just a passing paragraph in an otherwise rich and fulfilling life.

the real reality of being childless is something i am trying to unravel on a daily basis though, and your post has really given me some food for thought today, thank you :)

unfortunately i missed the film in the UK cinemas and it doesn't come out on DVD here until march (!) but i am really looking forward to seeing it.

LaurenKauf said...

I've too see Julie and Julie, and besides the scene when she receives the news of her sisters pregnancy, there is another scene where her and her husband are walking through a park and a woman with a baby buggy passes by and julia turns back and watches the women and kind of sighs. It closer to the beginning of the film. I would definitely recommend the movie, I could relate to this a lot, (love to cook, infertility, blogging, etc. etc.) Thanks for posting this!

womb for improvement said...

I thought about this too as recently I've read a book and watched a film that just mentions infertility in passing (One Day and Kite Runner respectively). And it amazed me how it could simply be a footnote.

But I guess time and perspective and all that ...

Kara's Mom said...

I had this same thought after the stillbirth of my daughter last June of 2008. I was completely devastated and I read many books on infertility and pregnancy loss. In one book, the author had a stillbirth at 39 and was never able to conceive again. She 'made peace with it' and lived a very full life. I was like, WTF? I was/am obsessed with my infertility and my loss. I think it definitely has something to do with the passage of time and the author's perspective many, many years later. But I resent when women minimize their trauma because people like us need to know that we're 'normal' in our feelings and need to be validated. I felt like something was wrong with me after reading that stupid book.

WannabeMommy said...

I think it's inspiring. She was an amazing woman who went on to live an incredible life DESPITE her infertility! Imagine that! Wish I could feel my IF was a mere paragraph.

Jo said...

I just saw the movie this past week, and was touched by the infertility references. It was something I hadn't known about her, and wasn't expecting. It made me feel a sort of camraderie with her, if that makes any sense. I think I like her MORE because of her infertility -- is that wrong?

Anyway, I agree with the others. Very interesting post, and the comments that followed are insightful. Lots to think about.

Hugs,
Jo

Morningsun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PurpleDogMommy said...

Ahhh, I've read that book (and struggled with it, too...the beginning was SO dry, for me) and blinked over that very same passage.

And in the movie, when they've touched on it, it seemed like Meryl Streep conveyed that pain more deeply than Julia did in her book, for sure.

Funny you should mention that part of the book, I remember thinking "wow" when I read it too. I wondered if it was just her generation and you "didn't speak of these things" that much or her pain was hers alone and she didn't want to dwell.

IDK...but thanks for bringing it up, it's good to know that others were thinking the same thing...:)

smittenkitten05 said...

To be honest, I think there are a lot of people who are pretty ambivilent about having children. They're the kind of people who are always telling others that kids aren't "all they're cracked up to be." I bet when these people start to have trouble ttc, they take that ce la vie attidue you're describing.

B MoM said...

i think she's lying. Anyone who wants a child but can't due to infertility is likely deeply affected by it

Guera! said...

Infertility was a taboo subject in her day and there weren't many treatment options available, if any. (Wasn't IVF first used in the early 70's?). Infertiles have learned the hard way how to mask pain and we all have different ways of coping. I also suspect that at 80 years old it's just something she didn't want to go back and relive. I wouldn't be offended by her comments. We don't know what's really going on in her heart and nobody can assume how someone else should handle their own journey with infertility. She may have simply not wanted to talk about it any more than that. Period. And it's her right.

Journeywoman said...

Most of the other commenters have said what I wanted to say. Well except this.

What do the following people have in common:

Oprah Winfrey
Katherine Hepburn
Rosa Parks
Betty White
Helen Mirren
Florence Nightingale
Mother Teresa
Annie Oakley
Marion Anderson
Dorothy Parker

All of them were childless. And that's just a beginning.

Lavender Luz said...

Different times.

Yes, adoption was possible, but probably no other reproductive options.

People in my grandparents and great-grandparents era seem to face things more stoically. Kind of "it is what it is." We are used to choices, we demand choices. We rail and rage. Perhaps they were just too busy for all that railing and raging, either fighting/recovering from wars or growing food (I come from farm stock).

Interesting quote, sparking interesting thoughts.

Krissi said...

I also have wondered about how much of the past years of my infertility will linger when I'm 80. But now that I have my children, I am moving on, writing a memoir and blogging to help others. I added you to my blogroll and would love for you to check it out!
http://stressfreeinfertilityblog.com
Good luck with your upcoming IVF!!

JC said...

Great post! I saw the movie and I was touched during the scene that revealed she was infertile, but I was also shocked that it was merely a short scene. They did not go into it at all. I was like, "what, that's it"? I expecte there to be more, maybe discussion and them choosing to live child-free...but nothin. Maybe it is just a footnote in the end...

MLO said...

I read and loved the book. I did not find her attitude surprising as I have an aunt who is only about 15 or so years younger than Julia Child. My aunt was childless - suffered miscarriages and stillbirths. Though there is a quiet sadness, she just says, "it wasn't meant to be."

When my aunt says that I cannot take offense. She is a wonderful and vibrant woman who my entire family loves.

Julia Child was very much a product of her times. In that time there was no tolerance of indulging in public introspection. It just was not done. These types of issues would never, ever be discussed outside of the family's circle of women.

I would suspect that she would have considered going into that a deep invasion of her privacy. Men and women of that era have very different attitudes towards these things than we do today.

I sometimes wonder if all our choices have actually made it harder to "accept" that sometimes nothing works out in building a family.

Nicole said...

Megan, this is a great post! I haven't seen the movie or read her book, but I had heard that Julia's infertility is very much grazed over. I suppose it's because like most people, no one knows how to address it. The fact that she herself was so blase about it is simply strange to me too.

Thanks for your kind words over our way--it means so much!

Eggs said...

I think it speaks to the time she lived in. My guess is she felt the pain, very much so, as we all do, but came from a "can't fix it so chin up and let's not show any weakness" generation.

I can't imagine being an infertile woman greater than 30 years ago. The "not able to produce an heir" and the blame and pain she would suffer... Think about how many infertile men blamed their women - outed her, punished her. I just can't imagine. For Julia Child, I think it was something that was best swept under the rug.

Bluebird said...

Fascinating. And great food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

maxandzuzu said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I once read that our "fertility story" is only one chapter in our lives and things will eventually get easier. I feel that it's going to be a long wait. I do find comfort in believing that when I'm 60, most of the people I know will no longer have babies and the stress and pain will subside.

I recently bought Patrick Swayze's book. They couldn't conceive either. I thought it might be comforting to see how they worked through everything.

T

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