Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Right Stuff

A colleague has just become the proud grandmother of an "Oops" baby, and I am already utterly tired of hearing about it. I did my best to make all the right noises at the appropriate times when the news was announced. Of course, it's lovely for her, and she's thrilled and all that, but I really feel as if I have now used up my alloted amount of good will to others who effortlessly achieve what I cannot. I don't want to discuss the baby's name, or coo over pictures, or interrupt my insane work schedule to chat about the details of the birth.

I was grumbling quietly to E. about this on the phone the other night. And as usual, he doesn't get it. You know, why can't I be happy for her, isn't that a nice thing that has happened, blah fucking blah blah blah.

What is it with some men, I thought as I slammed the receiver down and went to investigate if there was any Christmas chocolate still stashed away at the back of the cupboards. Do they have some gene which overrides the jealousy emotion? Or do they lack the appropriate framework to enable them to emphasise fully with the situation?

As I rummaged through the boxes of old pasta noodles and rice cakes in the hunt for a leftover After Eight mint, it occured to me that it might help if I could give E. a working analogy of how I felt. An analogy framed in an appropriately manly sphere. Mmm, what do men get het up about? Careers, right? Competitiveness at work? At which point I had a thought.

Supposing you, Man, had a lifelong ambition to become an astronaut (a suitably macho pursuit, no?) Your whole life, you dreamed of rocket ships, outer space, and walking on the moon. The walls of your childhood bedroom are lined with posters of the solar system, of photographs of NASA launches. You beg your parents to send you to Space Camp. You read everything ever written about the space programme. You watch films like "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" until you could quote the dialogue in your sleep. In the summertime, you lie on your back in the backyard of your house, watching the shooting stars.

You choose your college courses based on the ones most likely to help you get accepted as a NASA astronaut. You keep your hair cut short, nose clean and your collars buttoned high. You get top marks, and great recommendations. But even after working your ass off to get a pilot's license and a Ph.D in astrophysics, NASA still aren't quite sure about you. They offer you a job, but as a member of the astronaut support team. They tell you if you work really hard, and re-apply every month, they will one day let you become a fully fledged astronaut. You figure that it's better than nothing, a foot in the door. So you go for it. What have you got to lose?

You like the job well enough, since you get to be around real live astronauts. OK, so you mostly find yourself cleaning up after them, and doing all the grunt work to prepare for the missions. But at first, you don't mind. It's kind of interesting hearing their all their war stories of missions and spaceflights. All of that will come in handy when you yourself take to the stars! You have been applying faithfully every month, just as requested, and one day, the Board is bound to agree that it's your turn.

But the months go by, and you are continually rejected. You are beginning to be a bit puzzled, since on paper you are the ideal candidate. You make some discreet inquiries with Human Resources, and find out that there is no reason why you shouldn't be accepted as an astronaut. Hell, they think you have a great chance- just keep trying. Don't worry about it too much, it's bound to happen.

A couple years go by, and you're still a lowly support team member. Pretty soon you start to notice other people, newer people, being accepted onto the astronaut program. Some of them are less qualified than you. Some, in your opinion, are disasters waiting to happen. That new guy, he keeps on pushing the red button. Everybody knows you never push the red button!!! You become quietly baffled and confused.

Then one day, you are sitting in the locker room having just finished your shift picking up a pile of someone else's smelly flight socks. You reach in your pocket and open this month's envelope from the NASA Board. This time, they haven't even bothered being polite about it. All it says, in big black letters in the middle of the page is NO. The answer is NO.

You're about to crumple it up and throw it away when the door opens. One of the new astronauts comes in, back from the test flight you had hoped to be part of. He's a little drunk, and you wonder if he's been sipping that whiskey on the job again.

He flops down on the bench beside you, loudly complaining about another mission tomorrow. He had been hoping to get out of it, since he has a hot date with an airline stewardness tonight. He nudges you in the ribs as he says it, notices your rejection letter. Hey, what's that? Another big fat no? Ah, don't worry about it. Just relax, it'll happen one day. Hell, he got in on the first try. Although he wasn't sure if he even wanted to be an astronaut, cause the money is so much better in corporate finance. He'd love to quit, actually- hey, do you think you could cover for him if he doesn't show up tomorrow? Thanks, pal.

You sit there after he leaves, having thrown his helmet and suit in a crumpled heap on the floor. You suddenly realise the truth, that you may never get to where he is. Sure, there may be other great jobs for you, important, fulfilling jobs. But all you ever wanted in your whole life was to fly to the stars, orbit the earth, floating weightless.

All you ever wanted was to be an astronaut.


At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I love you ...

I am sending this to my husband in the hopes that maybe, somehow, some way ... he'll get it. I'm not holding my breath.


At 3:28 PM, Blogger Soper said...

Great analogy!

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Suz said...

Sniff...sniff...this really rang true for me.

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly brilliant.

- getupgrrl

At 4:00 PM, Blogger lobster girl said...

Fantastic analogy, Mare. You have such a way with narrative. I'm sorry E. isn't seeing things the way you do. The men just don't get it do they? So did this analogy make things clearer to E.?

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smart. Clever. Beautiful.
Love it.

At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beaver Girls said...
Fucking brillant! I love you forever, baby. Now I'm going to be singing "Rocket Man" and "Major Tom" all damn day! You rule!

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was absolutely brilliant.

Every man in our lives should read it, every man.


At 6:36 PM, Blogger Anotherjen said...


every man and every fertile.

it's like everyone can understand dissapointment in the work area- but conception seems to be in a whole other dimension.

At 9:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot-on, as usual!


At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. I hear ya. My husband is happy for EVERYONE. Always. He says rational stuff like "That's just the way it is." I hate him for this... yet I love him for this at the same time.

Middle Way

At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was splendid. Very very very very well done. I hope you found a Fazer cream somewhere.

Julia S.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Lala said...

Perfect. I think I should send you some chocolates just for writing that.

At 2:22 AM, Blogger E. said...

I love this! The part that drives me the craziest is the cleaning up of their smelly astronaut socks. I hate that there seems to be no reciprocity -- we're just expected to celerate! celebrate! celebrate! their fertility, but they are never expected to sympathize and support us with our infertility. This does put us in a lowly support position. At that point, I don't even think it's jealousy -- it's just resentment that people constantly force us into a supporting cast member position.

Grrrr. I hope Grandma shuts her baby goo-goo hole soon.

At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the risk of being the odd man out (though I am not a man), I think a point has to be made before you try out your analogy on a Man. Your analogy assumes that you can prepare yourself for your reward (being an astronaut) and that denial is the result of an authority (NASA) being irrational. But, babies don't come as a reward for effort -- they just happen. It isn't fair when infertiles get the no, but it's not the same as NASA denying the prepared astronaut in favor of the drunk. Might I suggest a sports analogy? You spend your life training to run the 100 yard dash (or whatever the metric replacement is). Then, all of a sudden, your brother who has never trained (and in fact, he's an attorney) decides to run, and wins a gold medal. Now, it's still different from babies, 'cause babies aren't a competition, or limited in number. No one is less likely to have a baby because someone else had one.

I'm not sure about publishing this comment, but, I'm doing it, 'cause what you're trying to do here is to communicate to someone who doesn't get it, and maybe hearing from the other side will help. BTW, I do think I get it. I think the making of children just isn't as personal for Men; after all, their involvement is minor.


At 11:44 AM, Blogger Barren Mare said...

BJ- I am always glad when people make intelligent, thoughtful comments, as you have done. That said, I don't wholly agree with you about a couple of points. Firstly, for someone who is infertile, babies don't "just happen", as they do for fertiles. I would be loathe to use the word "reward" to describe a baby in any context, but whatever you want to call it, there has to be some motivator for all the effort (and it is a huge effort, on many levels) that infertility treatment requires. You've gone through invasive, expensive, painful, nervewracking treatment. It fails. And then it does seem as if the universe has delivered a gigantic irrational rejection. Especially when on the face of it there is no reason whatsoever as to why it should fail.

What I was trying to convey is why it then seems a further twist of the knife to encounter people, who don't seem to want it as much, (or in fact want it all), but who get pregnant effortlessly. For them, it DOES "just happen". Of course babies aren't limited in number. Of course I am no less likely to get pregnant because someone else has. But I am talking about the way it makes me feel when on paper, I have everything going for me, and I've put a real effort in to get it- but then it doesn't happen for me, but for somebody else. And why that might make feel just a tad bitter. I'm not sure in what sense how your sports analogy (which is also apt) is all that different to what I am saying.

Lastly, I hear what you are saying about some men's involvement in the baby-making process. But my feeling is that when you reach the point of having to actively having to work at it, be that timing cycles or undergoing treatment, it's time for them to put down the beer & sports section and to start being empathetic. I'm going through something difficult, painful and complicated here. And all I want is for my partner to try to understand those feelings, albeit through the lens of a less than perfect analogy.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Andrea said...

Fabulous. I think I'll give this to my husband as well.
A few months back I came home crying and complaining how a woman brought her adorable toddler to the clinic. I was there to have a beta to prove it was dropping and I was indeed having a miscarriage.
He truly did not understand why I was upset someone brought their child to the clinic.

Thanks for the great analogy.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Kristin said...


At 7:17 PM, Blogger HomeFireBlue said...

I understand BJs points, but I still feel that this is a fine analogy as it attempts to provoke (in a man) the visceral response. The I-don't-fucking-understand-why deep emotional reaction.

Bloody well done.

-Blue/The Thrifty Mom Blog

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done.
It took D a long, long time to get it.
But one day it was HE who came to me in the middle of a friend's baby's 3d birthday party (toddlers galore) and asked me, very quietly, and very sadly, if we could just leave early.

At 12:24 AM, Blogger DeadBug said...

If I were the spiritual sort, I think I'd give you a great big "Amen, sister!" Great analogy. Muffa men and their lack of instinctive empathy.


At 2:25 AM, Blogger Sara said...

Loved it!

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Bad Penguin said...

An excellent analogy.

I think you've really explained it in a way that a guy can get. I know my husband, while he tries, doesn't understand why the thought of potentially never getting to be pregnant bothers me. If you never get pregnant, he says, we'll adopt. We talked about adopting before you ever even started trying to get pregnant.

Which is true, but it's like all he sees is the end result, which is that either way we get a kid. And there is a difference.


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