Children of Men book club

by DaniGirl on March 5, 2007 · 12 comments

in Books, Infertility

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my 10-pages-in book review of PD James’ Children of Men. At the time, I mentioned I’d read the book to be a part of today’s Barren Bitches Book Club tour. The idea is that each person who participates in the book club submits a question to the group, and then everyone answers five of the questions on his or her own blog.

With the birthday festivities of the weekend, I didn’t get the chance to devote much time to this, so I’m going to cop out and answer only three questions. It was hard to choose only three!

1. Some of the most memorable passages were those that described how dolls and even kittens came to take the place of babies for people after Omega. In all of these scenes, it is women who are pushing dolls in their strollers or taking kittens to be christened. Why do you think P.D. James chose to only portray women in these scenes? How does this fit with your own experiences of how men and women cope with infertility in similar or different ways?

One of the things I found striking about this book is the detachment of the protagonist, Theo, through the first half of the book. (Especially in contrast to the second half.) He seems detached not only from the global tragedy of the crisis of infertility, but from his own life. It’s especially obvious when he talks of the accidental death of his daughter Natalie, beginning with the horribly abrupt way he introduces the subject: “Today is my daughter’s birthday, would have been my daughter’s birthday if I hadn’t run her over and killed her.”

Back to the point, I do think this detachment is reasonably representative of men coping with infertility. While there’s no doubt infertility is equally painful and difficult for men and for women, I think men are much more stoic. I think that women internalize the infertility and make it a part of their identity, of who they are, to a much greater extent than do men. Maybe this has to do with the fact that women tend (sorry, painting with very broad strokes here) to identify themselves as a mother first, when men tend to identify themselves based on their accomplishments or employment. Finally, I think it has to do with the fact that infertility is such an emotional issue, and women are simply more open (again, generally speaking) to expressing their emotions than are men.

2. In describing the world’s “universal bereavement” over it’s lack of children, the narrator tells us, “Only on tape and records do we now hear the voices of children, only on film or on television programmes do we see the bright, moving images of the young. Some find them unbearable to watch but most feed on them as they might a drug.” How is this like your life dealing with infertility? How do you cope when you are confronted with images or reminders that are painful to you?

I pulled that quote out in my book review, too, because it resonated with me. I’d say I’ve passed through both points on that spectrum, both needy for the companionship of the children of my friends and acquaintances, and unable to tolerate them. In the darkest times, I remember being unable to visit our friends in their child-filled house in a child-friendly neighbourhood simply because I was too full of fear that it would never happen for me. There were times when strangers holding babies and pushing strollers in the mall made me cry just by virtue of being there.

For me, though, the hardest part was not the children but the pregnant bellies. Actually having a child was a mythical thing that I may or may not have been able to achieve and that I yearned for in a vaguely abstract way, but I ached to be that woman with the beautiful round belly. It was especially hard because a very good friend was pregnant at the same time we lost our first baby and went through the unsuccessful IUIs and made the decision to finally pursue IVF.

Even now, two beautiful boys later, I still find myself on a bad day with an unsettled sense of resentment when I see strangers with new babies. I think of the baby we lost in November, the baby I expected to arrive in May, and I feel a tug of regret.

3. The Omegas are portrayed as cruel, self-obsesssed and cold. Do you suppose that’s a function of the way they were raised (as the last generation of children) or something inherent in them? Do you think that infertility has an effect on parenting?

To answer the second question first, I used to think about the effect infertility had on me as a parent a lot more than I do now. I don’t think it has affected things like discipline or how I treat the kids, but I do think it had, especially back in the earliest days, a huge impact on the guilt factor. On the very worst days, deep in the dark of night when my nipples were bleeding from a poor latch and Tristan wasn’t gaining weight and I was exhausted and terrified and my life was suddenly inside out, I keenly remember being wracked with guilt about not being beautific with joy after finally having the baby I wanted so badly.

And to the first question, I do think the author intended to insinuate that the Omegas were a product of an indulgent upbringing. Theo observes,

Perhaps we have made our Omegas what they are by our own folly; a regime which combines perpetual surveillance with total indulgence is hardly conduicive to healthy development. If from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.

I think this is an interesting reflection on how central to our lives our children have become, and how parenting in the 21st century seems to be largely about overscheduling children with activities to make sure they are challenged and engaged for the maximum number of hours possible each week. While I’m quite guilty of making the boys the centre of our family, rather than equal partners, I hope that as they get older we’ll be able to restore a bit of equillibrium so that everything is not entirely about them. (Some day I’ll get around to writing a whole post about this, instead of flying past it in one quick paragraph, as I’ve been thinking a lot about it.)

And now, a message from the Barren Bitches Book Club organizers: Intrigued by this book tour and want to read more about Children of Men? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list at Stirrup Queens . Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #3 ( The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger) and all are welcome to join along. All you need is a book and blog.

Coincidentally, The Time Traveler’s Wife was the book that was the genesis of my 10-pages-in book reviews, and one of my favourite books of 2005 – perhaps even of all time. Highly recommended reading, and if you’re reading it, why not join the book club tour?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Loukia March 5, 2007 at 4:10 pm

I’m going to read The Time Traveler’s Wife.. I’ll pick it up today, thanks for the suggestion.

2 Mel March 5, 2007 at 7:44 pm

After you recover from birthday party festivities, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts if you want to answer more questions 🙂
I think that’s one of the things we can do for each other as women–be honest about the post-birth experience. I don’t know anyone who didn’t spend some time after the birth crying as their child cried. Your life is turned inside out, and I think it’s normal to have some aches and growing pains from the experience. It’s also hard because I think new mothers compare themselves to people who have been mothering for a while. My cousin once cried that I had my shit together and she was falling apart. I needed to point out to her that I had currently slept through the night because my kids slept through the night and I had 2 1/2 years of experience whereas she had a few days. It’s hard not to beat yourself up afterwards when you’re crying and you think you should be floating through those days peacefully…

3 Melissa March 5, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Your answers really resonated with me. I hadn’t really thought about how much detachment as a theme, ran through the book, but you’re absolutely right. I hadn’t picked out the gods/devils quote while I was reading, but that really packs a punch, too.

4 sleepycat March 5, 2007 at 10:11 pm

If you liked Time Traveler’s Wife I really recommend the whole Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. It so. deeply. rocks.

5 josh March 6, 2007 at 1:41 am

Detach from our feelings? Men? Hey, what’s on ESPN?

6 Ann March 6, 2007 at 4:52 am

Interesting comment about the detachment. I noticed that as well, but didn’t think about a connection to men coping with infertility.
Your answer to number two really, really resonated with me, particularly the part about the ache of seeing a pregnant woman. Yes, it was a baby that I wanted, but for some reason, seeing a pregnancy was far more difficult.

7 Tina March 6, 2007 at 2:28 pm

I really enjoyed reading your comments – especially about detachment, like others have commented. It wasn’t something I picked up in reading.
I agree with you on having more issues seeing pregnant women vs. seeing babies as the hard part of IF. I think when I was going through IF the first time, I had a hard time seeing new parents with their infants – but, now that I am going through IF again and more so recurrent pregnancy loss, seeing other pregnant women is much harder. It is a reminder of what my body has not allowed me to feel again.

8 mamaloo, the doula March 6, 2007 at 2:33 pm

I just finished C.O.M. the other night (OK, morning, after spending half the night reading through pregnancy induced insomnia). Obviously I haven’t got fertility problems (unless you call getting pregnant at the mere mention of having sex on ovulation day, but I’m guessing not), but was drawn to the book more out of scifi reasons.
The entire time I was reading I kept thinking, “why’s nobody thought about manipulating the ovum to self-fertilize?!” but they hadn’t so that’s a moot point!
I was struck by the fact that the infertility was strictly on men’s shoulders; women were still fertile, it was viable sperm that was at issue. And perhaps there is the genesis of male detachment. Also, I think that it was women actively fetishizing dolls and kittens as that’s a rather gender stereotypical role for them, isn’t it? And, isn’t male detachment from fathering another gender stereotype?
Theo admits to being detached from his daughter’s life (and death) without having the prospect of worldwide infertility as motivator.
I suppose I could talk about the book all day, but the last thing I was struck by was the abrupt ending. The baby is born and wham, end of story. I felt rather cheated. Perhaps there is a second book? Or is this just the scifi reader in me, always looking for a trilogy?

9 Nicole March 6, 2007 at 7:19 pm

I totally get the pregnant belly issue. I don’t even particularly want to BE pregnant, moreso I want to be a parent. Even still seeing every 19yo pregnant at the mall kills me.
I do see double strollers as sort of a sisterhood though. What are the chances that all those twins are natural? Not great, and so I wish there were some way to communicate our solidarity, our support of all they went through to get there.

10 Karen M March 7, 2007 at 5:11 am

I’m not sure if men aren’t as affected by infertility as women are, but they’re not really expected to be. Men don’t seem to be encouraged to talk about their emotions about not having biological children, or the feelings of going through IF treatments.
My husband didn’t tell his family when we were going through treatments. His mother wound up coming to visit for Thanksgiving one year – on the weekend we were going for another ultrasound. My, that was a fun afternoon.

11 Jessica March 8, 2007 at 1:35 am

Excellent answers! I do think the difference in the way men and women treat infertility is a valid point!

12 Jen March 8, 2007 at 3:04 am

Wonderful review!

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