I hate essays that start with a word’s dictionary definition, so I won’t start that way. But just know that the word is “fair,” and I did look it up.
A few nights ago I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night, and in my half-waking state I had some deep thoughts about fairness. Unfortunately I didn’t write them down, and the only part I remember now is my profound observation that “fair” sounds like “fairy” and “ferry.” So I’ll try to recreate my bursts of sleepy wisdom for this blog now.
You’ll be glad to know that my friend Ashley’s one fertilized egg developed into a healthy embryo so it was transferred back into her the other day and she is resting comfortably with her doggies on the couch for a few days. (See her blog, whose link is at left). We’re all feeling a lot better now that the little one is brewing in her. This could really work, you know?
But a few days ago, when she first found out that there was only one possible embryo, we were not feeling as good. In fact, it made me angry. Because Ashley and her husband are so wonderful, and they have tried soooo hard, and it’s just not FAIR that it’s proving so difficult to get pregnant. No fair.
So what makes me think it should be fair? First of all, what’s fair? If it’s systems dispassionately following their established order, then that would seem fair. Certainly not every member of every species reproduces. It’s natural selection, and just because we think particular people should have kids, that doesn’t mean science does - or cares. A lot of evolutionary changes happen by accident, not because of some glaring need. Frogs that look like tree bark were just lucky, not better. Natural systems following natural processes with seemingly random effects, well, that is fair. There’s no particular prejudice against Ashley and Lee.
But when we pout, “no fair!” we are talking about equality and agency. First of all, we need to believe that everyone is treated the same and has the same opportunities. It’s like the U.S. Constitutional principals of equal justice and equal rights. Everyone is supposedly equal under the law, even if they are very different individuals. They can expect the same rights and privileges just by virtue of being citizens. (There’s another essay here, but I’ll leave that to Barack). When we think about fairness in fertility, we get very angry when people like Ashley have an awful time trying to conceive. Everyone should have this equal opportunity!
Yeah. Unfortunately, equal rights are only part of equality. Then there’s equal nature: what actually happens. Legally and socially, Ashley has had the opportunity to reproduce. She’s had lots of chances. It’s something about biology that has kept it from happening. THAT is where unfairness comes in!
Where’s the causality? Where’s the pattern? Why doesn’t Cause A produce Result B for her like it does for everybody else? Having the predictable, causal link broken is absolutely enfuriating. And terrifying. We as humans just can’t stand it.
My long relationship with psychology has taught me that people like to make sense of things, to assign reasons for random occurrences. That’s why children of divorce think that something they did caused their parents to not get along. It’s why we come up with superstitions like crossing our fingers -- as if we could really control anything at all with that movement. But who doesn’t cross their fingers, just in case? It makes us more comfortable to have reasons, causes, agency.
One popular solution for making sense of a random world is to trust that God has made things happen according to His own inscrutable plan. That gives us everything: a plan, a fair (if “mysterious”) arbiter, and results that somehow fit both the plan and our own deserving. It gives us a role in shaping our lives: by being good Christians. But while I’ve always wanted to believe in a God controlling the minute twists and turns of individual lives, I’ve never been convinced. So that still leaves me looking for answers. And fairness. And control.
And so I land where all infertile women land. Asking what we did wrong. We start thinking about what we thought were our strengths, and doubting ourselves. I thought I would be a good mother. I thought I would love a baby enough. I thought I was smart enough. I thought I could have taught my children many languages, and made them good citizens of the world. I thought I had created a stable, loving family that they could be born into. I thought that once I met and married this wonderful, wonderful husband of mine, that things would fall into place. I thought I deserved to be a mother.
Because you know I’m not talking about Ashley. I’m talking about myself.
James and I have been diagnosed with “unexplained fertility,” and the only thing my human brain can do is start to making up reasons. Why us? I guess because we’re just not good enough. Because we don't deserve it.
And if that's not it,
then it’s just not fair.