"Waiting for Daisy" by Peggy Orenstein

This was not an uplifting book. I would not recommend it. It was the kind of book that I read in two sittings: half in one day, half the next. And it was interesting. But the more I read the book, the less I liked the author/protagonist, and the more I felt like this book damages the kind of women who want nothing more than to have children, but can't yet. Peggy does not fall into that category.

The main problem was that I didn't like the author. Danny has this issue with books, too: if he doesn't somehow sympathize or understand the protagonist, it's hard for him to read the book. Actually, those are not his most important qualifiers: he has to like the protagonist. Maybe he would not do the same things, maybe he doesn't agree with his reasoning etc. But he has to like him or her. If he doesn't, it's hard to enjoy the book.

I hadn't really thought of it that way before, but I think he's totally right. I enjoy books where I like the protagonist. Books where I don't are difficult to enjoy. Usually books that High School English teachers force upon you have crummy unlikable protagonists, which is one reason it's so hard to get "into" High School English books.

Lots and lots of people will disagree with us as to the validity of this criterion. That's fine. I am totally okay with you reading books with protagonists you don't like. If I read one, I reserve the right to turn the last page with the final feeling of, "Well, that was kind of a waste of time." Which is how I feel about this book, and why I ultimately would not recommend it.

I think the reason I finished it was because Peggy does an excellent job of storytelling; I wanted to find out what happened to her, even though I didn't like her. But by the end, I really didn't like her. The ending was a let down because she doesn't really end up changing very much.

First, here's what I liked about her: she came across as extremely honest and self-introspective. It must have taken some serious chutzpa to write this book. Some of the things she went through on her infertility journey were really terrible and sad. I liked that she had the guts to express her true feelings, unmasked.

Here's what I dislike about her: She is a feminist hypocrite, who claims that women should be able to choose to be or do whatever they want, unless it's motherhood because who would choose to give up their individuality and freedom and careers and life, willingly? She is annoyed that it is something that we would never consider asking our husbands to do, using that as rationale for demeaning and making fun of homemakers (which she does early on in the book - even by her own reckoning!). It's pretty annoying that a seemingly intelligent woman could be so blind to the hypocrisy of this worldview. "You can be anything you want to be, except if it interferes with my social agenda." Right.

Also, I'm a bit torn between my appreciation for her candor and my general view that writing about explicit marital problems is Too Much Information. I think I generally lean towards the TMI side. The other books in this genre of infertility-journey-memoirs that I have read (only two others, granted) gave their spouses barely any page-time, which I realize is also absurd, and I also criticized. But it's not really a good thing to pen down arguments with your husband for millions of readers to examine, at least in my opinion. I mean, there is no way I would do that to Danny. I don't even write down our disagreements in my journal. It's not worth preserving. Yet she does this.

What else do I not like? As a character, Peggy is extremely wishy-washy and indecisive, all the while trying to convince herself that she is not. I'm not even sure at the end of the book if she realizes how wishy-washy she had been through her whole journey. When I say "wishy-washy", I mean, she claims she wants a baby, but then she doesn't, then she does, then she doesn't, then she does - then she claims she wants to be a mother, but the same thing: a long circle of doubt. Sure, it's honest to dissect these feelings, but it doesn't make me like her. In fact, it mostly led me to view her as a sad, lost, Godless person who tries to be honest with herself, but ultimately fails because clinging to her "feminist ideals" is somehow more important.

One poignant part of the book was when she goes to visit an old friend who has become an extreme ultra-orthodox Jew. His family now has 15 kids.

[SIDE NOTE: Danny and I discussed how incredibly weird this whole scene was. This was an ex-boyfriend from High School who, now married with 15 kids, invited her to spend a few days visiting. We both totally balked at the idea of doing that ourselves. For one, I would never, ever, EVER keep up my relationship with an ex-boyfriend decades into my marriage, such that a visit would even be an option! I think that both me and my ex High School boyfriend feel supremely awkward whenever there is any type of contact, even as distant as posting something on each others' facebook walls will get me nervous. I always save those posts or chats or whatever, even though I can count the number we've had on one hand, so that Danny can read them when he gets home. I feel supremely uncomfortable being in the same room with him. I consciously try to talk only to his wife, and avoid eye contact with him. When my brother graduated and had a party and he couldn't be there, I was super relieved. When we went to his wedding reception, even though I was pregnant and he was newly married, I felt really weird and awkward, and said maybe 2 words to him. Danny says even if Peggy and this guy kept up a totally platonic relationship through the years, and even though she was always chaperoned by his wife, were he Peggy's husband, there's no WAY he would ever let her go without him! And I agree! We are both intensely jealous of any interaction the other has with the opposite sex, and I like it that way. This is the secret to Mormon libido, i.e. total abstinence before marriage, total fidelity after, perhaps to the point of possessiveness. Maybe we're the weirdos and other Mormons would have been okay with letting their spouse go on vacation to visit an ex High School boyfriend and their family for a few days, alone. I can't imagine it. But I digress.]

She describes becoming overwhelmed being around so many people, so much that she has to leave and just sit by herself in the bathroom for a while. She later explains these feelings away, never really coming to terms with her inner desire to be a mother, because she has grown up thinking that that feeling is repressive and wrong. Obviously this is just my own personal interpretation of the scene, but I think that reaction had a lot more to do with her being extremely sad and jealous of what she has missed out on, having put her career in front of a natural God-given drive to be a mother until she was in her mid/late-thirties. I think she was just kidding herself when she wrote off this family's' choices as being crazy and way too absurd for her to handle. I think it was a coping mechanism, so she wouldn't have to blame herself and deal with the fact that in many ways, her choice to shun motherhood and view it as a burden and somehow "anti-women" had actually left her feeling empty and alone.

The point is, she never admits that she made the wrong choice, or that she would do things differently. To have gone through such an insane journey and not wish she would have chosen differently makes no sense to me.

I learned some interesting things from reading this book: some things about Japanese culture and history, lots of things about IVF, and some deplorable things about the difficulty of the international adoption process. Really, though, I feel bummed that this lady didn't change more in the end.

Danny and I were talking about it, and he said, "Really, I don't understand how anybody, but especially men, could not want to have a family. Like, there wouldn't be any point without you and Jane. Why would I have tried hard to get good grades and graduate from college? Why would I get up early and go to work all day? None of it would matter if it weren't for my family." It's just incomprehensible to both of us how somebody would not want to be married, and a parent. Obviously there are HUGE obstacles, and by making that statement I am not begrudging people who aren't those things yet. But how can you not want to be married? How can you not want to be a mom or a dad? How can a person actively choose not to have a family? That's so weird, and so beyond my LDS paradigm that it hurts my head to imagine. I've always wanted to be married, and I've always wanted to be a mom. Sure, I wanted other things too, but the drive to matrimony and parenthood has always been there, more important than any of my other fleeting career dreams. The point is, I can't relate to women who don't want kids. It's even a bit hard to relate to women who don't want kids "now", although this I can and obviously must accept; people have their own personal reasons for the family planning they choose, and I certainly know this is a personal decision between you, your spouse, and God. I'm glad it's that way. Yet it's hard to understand married people who have been married for years, sometimes decades, who don't yet want children. Why would you not want children?

This is why I didn't like Peggy as a protagonist: I am a 23 year old who just barely graduated from BYU, and she is a 40-something year old with a degree and a successful writing/journalism career; shouldn't she be wiser and smarter than me? Yet I felt like she was just so completely unwise and ignorant, reading how she actively didn't want children, how she still clung to her hypocritical feminist ideals even at the end of a long, terrible, six-year journey through infertility hell. I mean, just the fact that I know that I want children, while she struggled, no WRESTLED with even admitting this about herself, made it very hard for me to respect her, let alone like her. Maybe I'm the shallow, unwise, ignorant woman who believes that somewhere inside all women is a God-given desire to be a mother. Mostly, it was frustrating that she couldn't even really admit this desire to herself, when clearly it's what she wanted. She wouldn't have gone through the misery she endured (including 3 miscarriages!) without that desire. But she couldn't admit it.

I do like at the end that she says that she likes being a mom. One sentence, quickly followed with a bitter resentment towards how women seem to have to add, "it's the best job ever," in order to justify its worth. Stupid lady. It is the best job. People don't just say that. Like my friend Cindy said, "You're telling me that a job as a manager at blockbuster (her job for several years) is supposed to be more worthwhile than being a stay home mom?!?" But probably Peggy puts her kid in daycare, since she still actively pursues her career ambitions. It would be an annoying ending, if she went through all that just to choose to let somebody else spend most of the day raising the kid.

Sigh. I'm back to judging other peoples' choices. Maybe this is not such a great genre to read, if I want to become a compassionate, caring person.

I know why I'm drawn to books in this genre of infertility-memoirs, and it's totally selfish and probably offensive to some of you, but here's the truth: these books are a clear reminder to me of how desirable it is to be pregnant, and how happy I should be that I am. I used to think it was just because I'm interested in birth in general, but I don't think I would read these kinds of books as much if I weren't expecting. The women who write these books look to pregnancy as their goal, which is something I have achieved. Personally, I think it's better than wallowing in misery about how sick and tired and moody pregnancy makes me, but it's also a sick kind of voyeurism; sneaking a peak at others' lonely and sad experiences somehow makes mine much more bearable, by contrast. I bet this is offensive, and I'm quite sure it's immature.

I think that if I'm going to continue reading books in this genre, I will try to find something that is written by a younger, non-Jew (not that that really had much to do with the reason I disliked Peggy, although she admits her heritage has a lot to do with her kvetching-filled attitudes) who actually wants to be a mother. I mean, who really knows that is what she wants from day one. Someone who fully values motherhood and the desire to be a mother, without caveats and exceptions, or worries that doing so will somehow taint the "holy" feminist doctrines. If there even is such a book. Sheesh.

Another main grumble I have about this book is the effect it could have on women who actually yearn to be a mom. Whether or not her age and wishy-washyness actually played a major factor in her infertility, this book perpetuates the total myth that it only effects older women. She also never admits that she was wrong to wait. And it doesn't seem she would advise others to do differently than she did, either. It probably already sucks enough to deal with infertility without having all of this horrible stigma (you brought it on yourself by waiting, etc.) even more permanently attached, which is something that this book could do. Mostly, it does more to alienate and isolate those few women who yearn for an at-present unattainable motherhood. If they don't agree with Peggy (and other authors in this genre), their feelings are somehow invalid or less valued or whatever...and that is hogwash.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with Danny-- I find it very difficult to continue reading unless I like the main character-- or at bare minimum, can identify with their struggles AND some of their positive reactions. Wishy-washy characters drive me crazy, and ones that hurt people and don't care are also irritating. Example: Emma, by Jane Austen. While Emma is sort of likable, I don't really identify with her and actually get bothered by her actions. The story worked for me as a movie because Emma seemed to be upset by the consequences of her actions, was an amusing character, and had good intentions. However-- within the movie, Knightley was always my favorite. I couldn't get past the first chapter or two in the book...


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