Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Promise Gap

It's the silly season in Edinburgh. It's Fringe time.

For those of you not familiar with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it's the biggest arts festival in the world. A panoply of theatre, music, dance, comedy, and fire-eating juggling street performers. There are shows where people perform naked, doing unbelievable things with certain body parts. There are plays that last 11 hours. There are parades and concerts and fireworks every night.

The population of the city doubles as people arrive from all over the world to partake in the extravaganza of entertainment. This is all great fun, of course, and the atmosphere in town is lively. Plus, it's a real boon to the tourist industry. For locals though, I think it becomes slightly tedious at times. It's impossible to go about daily business without being bombarded with Fringe stuff, including people performing (read: obstructing) your way as you try get on with earning your daily crust. But it's only for a few weeeks.

Tickets are expensive, and if you want to see popular shows, you have to be decisive about it, and book early. The difficulty with this is that often times, you have no idea of whether the show in question is actually any good. It's really the ultimate potluck. Over the years I have seen some wonderful shows. I've also seen some that are utter crap. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

A few days ago, E. and I braved the crowds in town to see a show that we had picked at random from the lengthy brochure of events on offer. The description of the performer made it sound as if this was going to be the most moving, earth-shattering, stunning, evocative, soul-shaking experience of our life. OK, we're not totally stupid, we know that a little hype is in order. But this made it sound as if this particular singer was a sensation that we simply Could! not! Miss!.

Maybe it was because we were both tired and cranky after a hard week at work and other assorted disappointments, but we were less than impressed. Whilst the crowd was undeniably enthusiastic, we thought it...sucked, basically. Hackneyed lyrics, and a phoned-in performance.

Afterwards, I complained to E. that the show hadn't lived up to the expectation I had developed from the description in the brochure. Far from it.

"Ah," he said, taking my hand in his, warm palm to palm. "It's the promise gap."

"Which is?" I asked

The promise gap, he explained is a concept commonly used in business to illustrate the extent to which the reputation of a product or brand lives up to the level of customer expectation.

Take Mercedes, for example. On the whole, Mercedes Benz is noted for quality, class, reliability- great cars. But recently, according to E., customers have been disappointed with what they get for their money. The end product is not living up to the expectation. The promise of something great, on which the consumer relies, is not met. On the other hand, another lesser known, less reputable brands may outpeform expectations by a mile, delivering a fantastic result.

That's the promise gap. The gap between expectation and reality.

Like all things in my life at the moment, I relate this to infertility. I don't think I am alone in that part of this experience has been feeling utterly betrayed by my body. The idea, held for so many years, that all I had to do in order to have children was one simple, natural act. The idea that pregnancy would so easily be achieved that I must go to great lengths to avoid it until I was ready.

Cautionary tales abounded in my youth- that girl in college, who was on the Pill, and still got pregnant! The couple that hadn't even had proper sex- the sperm swam from her underwear, from her thigh, from thin air! Getting knocked up was so easy apparently a guy would have to LOOK at me with come-hither eyes and I would be buying maternity clothes.

Even knowing the reality- that it can be harder for a woman in her thirties to get pregnant, that fertilty declines as we get older- it's still hard to shake off the expectation that it can, or should, happen so easily. A colleague, just back from maternity leave is pregnant again. Oops, she said. Another friend, pregnant the first month they started trying.

I read an article in the paper today of a well-known athlete, who after competing in this Olympics is thinking of taking time off to start a family. I wonder if she thinks, like I once did, that it would simply be a matter saying, OK, we're ready now? Are they prepared for the reality that it may take months and months? That they may need help? That it may never happen at all?

I'm having to close the promise gap for myself. My expectations of conceiving naturally are now officially lowered- I no longer believe it will be that simple. And I'm now pretty much OK with that, much more so than I would have been even six months ago. But I worry a whole new promise gap may be opening- the expectation that the medical profession can help us. That it won't take another year to just to start treatment. That what is wrong can be explained.

Maybe the trick is to have no expectations at all. That way, I won't be disappointed. But it's so hard to approach the future, as if it is a blank page, no map to follow, no beliefs about what is to come and how to feel about that. Not knowing if the show will be as wonderful as the poster says- or something else altogether.


At 2:11 PM, Blogger Soper said...

Once again, you said it better than I could ever say it myself.

And one day I'm coming to stay with you during Fringe. So watch out, one day there may be a strange American on your doorstep, demanding to see your tomatoes....

At 4:14 PM, Blogger E. said...

"Promise gap" -- yes! I know what you mean -- each new stage of this has its own new disappointing promise gap. I wish you gap-circle-slash on your next step, Mare.

Then there's the 90% of the population who don't ever face that fertility promise gap -- and they think we're just making it up. Grr.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger lobster girl said...

Great post, as always. The promise gap. I've been thinking about how my husband and I have each been handling that gap. For him, it's still pretty big because, as you mention, the promise of new medical treatments is so enticing. I have grown to be more skeptical that any new procedure will make a difference, something which makes my husband a little nuts. So I have closed the gap ... but not completely. I don't think it's possible to have no expectations. But I have to admit, I'm trying to have a few as possible just to protect myself. I'm sorry you're feeling this way too. I wish you didn't have to deal with this.

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes it feels like a promise chasm doesn't it? As I am learning, there really are no promises at all. What we expect or think we deserve is all up to chance.

Very nice post.


At 11:41 PM, Blogger Orodemniades said...

Hey, I saw that penis thing on The something Show (the one with Craig GirlyMan, hosted by Dara O'Brien, 'member?) a year or so ago.

That shit is just so wrong.

At 1:45 AM, Blogger Julianna said...

I don't think the trick is to have no expectations at all. It is the dreams and desires that move us over to the other side.

I also don't think it hurts any less if one is more negative or expects less. I don't think it cushions the fall.

I just completed my first failed IVF and never, FOR ONE MINUTE, let a negative thought in my head. I needed to exert every ounce of energy to good and positive thoughts and expectations. I got knocked on my ass but I fell from the same IVF tree. The painful ground is the same and that tree would have been the same no matter what my attitude had been.

It is our optimism that keeps us moving forward. You have to keep it in order to acheive your goal. Brush off your skinned knees, take deep breaths and keep fighting.

At 2:46 AM, Blogger Jen P said...

Mare, you take mere words and you craft them so brilliantly and so beautifully. You weave these incredible tapestries of words and they hang so beautifully on your page. Gah. You astound me.

We have our own 'fringe' festival in the city where I studied. All the best acts used it as their practice for when they'd head over to Edinburgh. If ours is pretty good, yours must be amazing! But I too agree that for the locals, things, like random performance art in Medieval clothing while you're trying to buy groceries but can't because you can't get your trolley around someone's dragon, gets old. Very quickly.

Because I've seen so many doctors trying to find the reason for the pelvic pain I have, there was always so much expectation for someone to just be so great and fix it. And when they didn't, it felt like a major break-up between lovers. Here I had built so much hope and loyalty to someone and the reality was very different to how I ever imagined it.

I don't think anyone can retain optimism at every moment. It's too hard. And it's too hard to not have expectations. Looking at the clinic, looking at their treatments and success rates. Looking at the cost. It creeps in and it starts telling it's own story. I'm giving up on expectations for now. As best I can. It's many months until my new RE and in that space, living life as blankly as possible is my goal.

I wish you the best Mare. Lots of love.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Promise gap *sigh*

I think we are kidding ourselves not to have expectations. They are there, regardless. I don't see how I could go through IVF without the expectation of getting, beleiving, that I will become pregnant. Even when I say to my husband the odds are against us, it probably won't work, I still believe. I think I would go insane if I didn't, because IF is a twisted reality.


At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, a perfect post to describe the cruel discrepancy between expectations and reality. You know, I STILL believe that I can get pregnant even though I rarely ovulate, I don't think my eggs are that great, and my husband's sperm (both of them) are lazy. I just can't seem to shake my "expectations" even though I am satisfied and happy to be adopting. It's crazy. At least now it's more of a passing whim than a maniacal obsession. (Have I said that I love your writing yet?)

Heidi (lost and finding)


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