Sunday, September 6, 2009

Waiting for Daisy - Peggy Orenstein

Roughly 10 years ago, at the end of law school, my friend Emily gave me Peggy Orenstein's book Flux. Flux is about the difficulties of being a profesisonal women in today's society - with all the expectations of success in the public realm equal to those of men, but still the expectations of success in the private realm, without the corresponding shift in the expectations of our male counterparts. I found the book both inspirational in all that women nowadays are able to accomplish, but also daunting in the effort it would take to accomplish it all. Years later, approaching 40, Orenstein is married and suddenly decides that she wants to have a child. Overwhelmingly successful in everything else she has set her mind to, she has no doubt in her mind that she will achieve motherhood and obtain all that entails. Instead, Orenstein runs smack up against infertility. She suffers through miscarriages and assisted reproductive technologies. She considers adoption and surrogacy, and questions her own decision to wait so long to try and have a family. She experiences wide-ranging emotions from sadness to guilt to frustration to anger. As her desire for a child becomes an all consuming obsession, she finds that it has distanced herself from her partner. Repeatedly Orenstein questions the assumptions she made in her earlier works - that women can, and should, have it all. I found it frustrating myself to read her questioning her decision to wait - to assume that she is somehow to blame for her inability to have a child, or that she would give up all the work she had done in the world and the good her books have brought thousands of people, to go back and have a child instead. Within this book about Orenstein's journey to parenthood, she goes to Japan to write a story about survivors of the Hiroshima bombings during WWII. While there is a parenting connection to her story - many women were disfigured as a result of the bombings and rendered infertile or because of their appearances unable to find partners. There were also many people left without parents and families, and their treatment was often inhumane and incomprehensible. Orenstein's reporting on this underground population in Japan was quite interesting, separate and apart from the personal issues Orenstein was dealing with while conducting her investigation. Given the title of the book, I assumed Orenstein ended up with her daughter, Daisy, in the end. But, I had no idea how she would get there - and after heartbreak after heartbreak, and what seemed to be a lack of support and understanding by her husband, I am amazed that Orenstein found the strength to keep trying. While her success is inspiring on one level, it also saddens me that a person of such intelligence and accomplishments would feel that her life were unfulfilled or lacking meaning simply because of her inability to carry a biological child to term. I question what this understandable reaction says about our society, but appreciate the struggle Orenstein endured and her willingness to share her story.

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