The Tragic Optimist

Barren Bitches Book Group – “Children of Men” by P. D. James

A group of 16 bloggers who are or have struggled with infertility (including me) have read P. D. James’ “Children of Men” and are discussing the book on our blogs starting today. The book tells the story of a world where no children have been born since 1995 (the year becomes known as “Omega”). The worldwide infertility is due to all male sperm being completely dead. The book takes place 25 years after Omega as the world is has mostly given up on finding a cure and people are dealing with the fact that humanity will likely become extinct in about 50 years. Furthermore, as there is no younger generation, the last few years will become more and more chaotic, with no one around to provide basic services. The protagonist is Theo, an historian and the ruling Warden’s cousin. He is approached by a group that is trying to protect a woman, Julian, who has become pregnant so that she can give birth in peace.

The way the book group works is that after reading the book, all of us submitted questions (the list is here), and then chose five of the questions to answer on our blog today.

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 of participants 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.

By the way, if you’re facing infertility, Stirrup Queens is a fantastic blog to visit to find others who are facing similar issues. Mel always has interesting posts, and she maintains a great list of blogs by subject.

So on with the book club thing…

5. In Chapter 7, Jasper Palmer-Smith says to Theo within a tyrade about society, “Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism. My God, we might even succeed in getting rid of Christmas, the annual celebration of parental guilt and juvenile greed.”How do you feel about this statement? Do you agree in certain respects with it (and the rest of his statements, not quoted here)? Do you think this has become a true generalization of the youth in America today? If you have children now, how do you plan to raise your children so that this statement does not pertain to them? If you do not yet have children, how would you parent your children so that this description does not fit them?

I work at a college, and recently, we’ve been hearing all about these young kids coming in, what with their iPods and their instant messaging and their online gaming… “Kids these days, they’re so different than us, whatever will we do?” I’m pretty sure this is a universal statement that’s been going on forever, and I’m not a fan of that type of thinking. There’s certainly some truth to the intrusive barbarism of the young, if only because by definition they’re younger and have less experience with the world and still expect everything to revolve around them. I’m not even sure that there’s much parenting to be done to keep children from going through some of the less lovely aspects of youth. I expect that having your own child makes some of those traits much easier to deal with. I know a lot of people who say they can not stand children, except for their own. I do hope that we can raise Zoe to see Christmas as something other than a time of greed, and to not be violent, but I doubt I’ll be able to change her taste in music (which currently runs to the reggae side of things).

8. What do you think is the significance of the fact that the two people who are finally able to conceive are both considered “flawed?” (Luke had epilepsy and Julian had a deformed hand)

This was one of my favorite things about the book – the British government tests all the “healthy, unflawed” men and women of childbearing ages to see if any of the men are fertile, and to know which women are fertile just in case a fertile man is found. But by only testing “healthy, perfect” people, the British government missed the fertile man (possibly men) and the pregnant woman. It is so easy to think that we know what is best, who is flawed and even who should be allowed to reproduce. But maybe we aren’t always the best judges of what “best” means. I think it also points to the importance of diversity and against the idea eradicating everything that we consider to be flawed.

11. In describing the world’s “universal bereavement” over it’s lack of children, the narrator tells us, “Only on tape and records to 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?

Images and recordings were never quite as difficult for me as seeing actual babies. The hardest thing for me to deal with was when co-workers brought their children to work. I used to work for a company where there was someone (usually more than one) in our department who was pregnant for about 3 straight years. I feared that my pain and desire would be so obvious and transparent that everyone in the office would be able to see just how much I wanted a child. And yet, as soon as I heard the coos or cries of a baby, I’d be right there to see little cutie and his or her proud mother. I’d just stand back with my hands behind my back, trying desperately not to lunge forward and hold the child. Comparing it to a drug that I could not resist, no matter how much I wanted to, is extreme, but closer than I maybe want to admit.

12. In speaking of Theo’s preparation to attend the Quietus, the author says, “It had been his habit all his life to devise small pleasures as palliatives to unpleasant duties.” Do you have any habits or coping mechanisms that have a soothing effect on days that you expect to be unpleasant?

I love small pleasures – a good cup of hot cocoa can go a long way towards making a Monday morning tolerable, for instance (as I sip my cocoa). On unpleasant days or times when I need to do something that I’m not looking forward to, I give myself permission to do whatever it is I want. That has included everything from walking 3 miles to an art fair on a whim to eating two bowls of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to spending the evening watching wonderfully bad TV – I’m looking at you, America’s Next Top Model. I had never really thought about it before, but I make something of a ritual of it, stepping aside from my daily activities and asking myself, “all right, Ann, what would make you feel better.” (I do talk to myself that way). It’s not so much one single thing that makes me feel better, but rather giving myself permission do something just for me. I learned and perfected that strategy as a way to cope with the disappointment of negative tests month after month.

16. One of the reason’s I suggested this book to Mel was because of a very thoughtful article in the NY Times by A.O. Scott comparing the film and the novel versions of Children of Men. Scott closes the article with a quotation by James speaking to the differences between what she normally writes — detective novels — and the world she created for Children…. She says, “The detective novel affirms our belief in a rational universe because, at the end, the mystery is solved. In Children of Men there is no such comforting resolution.” The conclusion she leads us to, of course, is that the universe is not nearly so rational, which I thought very aptly describes the world of IF. At the end of the novel, we really don’t know what will happen next — will they find a cure for the world-wide infertility crisis? Will totalitarian rule come to an end in England? Will Theo wield power more wisely than Xan did or will he fall victim to the same peril he saw in Rolf? The haze of uncertainty resonates as it does with parenting-after-infertility because it’s not all happily-ever-after when the wished-for child is born. Does anyone else identify with that? What does it take to deliver ourselves out from our own dystopias?

While at first I was a little annoyed that the book ended abruptly without much denouement, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked that ending. Since P. D. James named the second half of the book “Alpha,” or beginning, I took that to mean that there would be more children, and even if the crisis wasn’t completely averted, it wasn’t the end of humanity, but it isn’t going to be an rosy world, either. As someone who is just starting out on the parenting-after-infertility path, I think your comparison of the two is pretty apt. The fact that I have had a child has not cured my infertility, it has not answered all my questions, and while I’m very, very happy, I think happily-ever-after is somethin that never really happens, and there is still that shadow of infertility that shows up once in a while. I’ve struggled with feeling like I should just get over it, but it really is not that easy. Similarly, I cannot imagine that the birth of one child, or even many children, after 25 years of infertility will solve the crisis that P. D. James envisioned, I think that the many reactions, the chaos, and the desperation will have ramifications for generations. Infertility isn’t something that a person, or a world, can just “get over.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: