Notes on My Life Sentence of Self-Negation


Last week I participated in a panel discussion with three women who had, like me, exchanged some ova for cash. It was in a bar basement; everyone was drinking; and my co-panelists—Valerie Bronte, Diana Fleischman, and Marie Huber—happened to be insanely funny, smart people who changed my mind about a few aspects of the process.

I spent my allotted time explaining that my emotional response does not seem to conform to the acceptable cultural script. Reporters call and ask "How painful was it?" and "Do you regret it now?" It wasn't painful, I reply, I'm quite happy to have had the experience. Awkward silence. They ask whether I know someone else they can talk to. I'm never quoted. In conversation I generally feel pushed to say that I feel somehow traumatized, and I have at times felt ashamed for not feeling more seriously affected by the transaction. I've since come to recognize this as a kind of emotional bullying, a push to elicit expected emotional responses.

Melissa Lafsky of the Huffington Post was sitting directly in front of me, listening but perhaps not quite understanding. On cue, she has written a long post criticizing three of us for not engaging the experience with the appropriate frequency of conflicted emotional fraught-ness. All those egg jokes we were cracking? Woe are we three sad, ova-selling clowns:

But when it came to the messy internal aspects—whether or not it felt exploitative to sell a piece of their genetic material, whether or not it was humiliating, frightening, or painful to manipulate their bodies with constant drugs and surgeries, whether or not it bothered them to produce genetic offspring that they'd never know or raise—there was nary a word. Instead, glib comments ruled the day…One woman, when asked how she felt about a child (or two, or three) made from her eggs existing unknown to her, joked that she liked the idea of climbing a mountain in 18 years and "summoning my dark army."

We've reached a funny point in the whole feminism game. The new card to play is honesty, where taboos and dirty little secrets about sex, fertility, selling eggs, rape, abortion, etc. are no longer whispered behind closed doors…

I like the idea of "playing the honesty card." You didn't lie about being gang-raped? Stop playing the honesty card!

But somehow, all the cultural openness has taken an ironic twist. In this age of "oversharing,"… it's still somehow unacceptable to acknowledge the feelings and emotions that inevitably accompany these things. As with the "Thinking and Drinking" debacle, women are displaying an unrealistic and dangerous rush to stamp out all those pesky emotions, toss a few gallons of denial on top, and cover the whole thing up with a joke. We bring "issues" like rape and abortion to the forefront in a show of power, but then shield ourselves in deadpan nihilism to avoid looking weak, even when we're writing or speaking about how we were date raped, or sexually abused, or had our eggs sucked out through a needle.

It's true that there's no one way to react to these traumas — yes, having your eggs harvested counts as trauma, all rapier wit aside — and you can't slap a label on them classifying the damage. Having your body invaded, your sense of control and power eliminated, is traumatic regardless of gender…. there's a huge distinction between laughing at your abortion and laughing off your abortion, and the discrepancy can be the difference between regaining power versus a life sentence of buried self-negation.

There is nothing I can say here that won't contribute to my life sentence of buried self-negation, but it's worth noting that Lafsky is bounding the range of acceptable emotional responses available to half the population. (Of course you were traumatized! Don't you know how emotional women are?) I've no doubt that some women, perhaps many women, are distraught after their ova retrievals. But why on earth would we all have the same reaction? Why not allow women—most human beings—to individuate emotionally? And why does Lafsky want it to have been so troubling for each and every one of us?

…It sure would have been comforting if at least one of these brilliant, self-possessed women had admitted, "Yeah, I've been conflicted. I've had strong feelings, and sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. But I chose it, and that was my choice, so if I burst into tears at the memory of the pain, or the thought that my child could be walking around the world never knowing me, well, I deal with it. And I find a way to laugh."

This isn't an accurate description of the panel, perhaps because the author stomped out in disgust partway through. Each of us did in fact give reasons why we felt conflicted about the experience; Bronte said that at times it felt cheapening, Huber that it was very physically painful. (See how it was painful for some of us and not for others? Almost like we're different people?) Fleischman and I said we would much prefer women to choose adoption, a point I mentioned in my reason piece, which Lafsky links to and draws a few facts from in order to establish her expertise in the whole ugly business.

It's worth pointing out that anyone who repeatedly lumps together rape, abortion, and IVF either thinks very little of the line between coercion and autonomy, or thinks very little, full stop. I would never dream of writing a Lafskian blog post telling women who have been raped how they all ought to feel about it. But I do understand that it will always be more subversive, more difficult, to admit a lack of emotion in these circumstances rather than an excess. To say: I had an abortion, and felt nothing; I sold my eggs, and enjoyed it; I was a sex worker, and loved it. Break taboos, and the world wants contrition. Didn't you receive your emotional marching orders?

But there I go playing the honesty card again! I'll try to stick to script from now on, and I look forward to future posts on how I feel about my childhood, ex-boyfriends, career prospects, etc.