shame on shame

This is National Infertility Awareness Week. As I type this I’m still not sure whether I will publish this post. There is so much shame surrounding infertility, which is why it is a topic that is barely discussed -furthering the cycle of shame. But infertility affects 1 in 8 people. Every. Single. Day. While people suffering from infertility are not considered disabled, infertility is considered a disability -one that is rarely talked about.

I wrote this post awhile ago but I’ve been sitting on it. Not writing another as motivation to finally publish this one. To get the cobwebs out. But I keep stopping myself. Standing at the edge of the diving board, thinking that the water will be too cold or the fall too great. Thinking that I haven’t practiced my dives recently enough. That they won’t be graceful or splashless, but sloppy and splashing. So this might be a belly flop, but at least I’m jumping in.

These photos have nothing to do with this post except that they happened on tour and so did the inspiration for writing. Just some nice images to distract me, accompanying what is a difficult post for me to publish. Bear with me and my long-winded meander of a pretty deep story…

One of the most frustrating things that happened on our tour was feeling like The Parlor wasn’t female enough to play a particular venue -an art space that focuses on feminism, activism, education, and whose mission statement is: “We promote the artistic pursuits of marginalized voices.”

We are a duo that is 50% male, 100% white, 100% straight. Clearly not a marginalized minority. But if we didn’t fit their mission I think it would have been better if they’d have said so upfront instead of offering us reluctant support.

We were asked by the owner to organize the line-up, which seemed fair enough to us, it’s a standard practice for setting up shows, though it’s not particularly easy to find bands to play with out of town -when you don’t know the scene, the region, and you have no connections. But thanks to the miracle of the internet we reached out to a bunch of bands in the area whose music we liked.

When we finally had a bite -someone whose music we enjoyed and who was available on the night of the show we were stoked. We relayed our progress to the owner of the space who responded: “Maybe you could try to get a female fronted act to round out the bill. Would fit nicely with the space.”

It felt like a backhanded dig, not to mention an uninformed one. I kindly informed the owner that, in fact, we were female fronted, as was the second band we had booked.

I was already feeling frustrated having little-to-no success finding bands to play. On top of that I felt worse because I was being asked to find only female fronted bands. I don’t know how many times at a show I am the only lady performer. Do I like this? No. Do I think more women should be in bands? Absolutely. Is there anything I can do about it? I encourage my female musician friends to keep playing music and tell young girls that they can be in bands too. But as for now the dudes kind of have rock and roll cornered. That doesn’t mean I like it, it just means, most bands are made up of all dudes. It’s not that easy to find local bands to play with. Therefore it’s really not easy to find a local female fronted act.

No matter, I secured a third female fronted act and the bill was set.

I emailed the venue, sending them posters and flyers, I set up a facebook event and I asked if they could share them with their built-in audience. A lot of venues are too busy to promote every show so I didn’t think much of it when I didn’t hear back from them. But the day of the show they finally posted a picture of the lineup on one of their social media pages along with the explanation that they will no longer be booking shows, instead they will be focusing on art, feminism, activism, and education. I was crushed, because I thought that’s what I was doing too. The owner also informed us she’d be out of town for the event, further making us feel unwelcome. Maybe the venue just didn’t have the resources and time to offer a more thoughtful post, but it all read like a backhanded way of saying we were not a cool enough band, not legit enough artists. We were pop musicians, straight and white.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been made to feel like I’m not enough of a woman, and so often it comes from other women. Sometimes I feel like I ought to hand over my uterus in resignation.

The fact that I haven’t been capable of bearing children is a secret I have kept for years. But I guess it’s not a secret. I have no children -clear as day. But a majority of people assume this is a choice I’ve made. A lot of mothers look at me with a combination of jealousy, mistrust, and dismissal.

It makes my womb ache. But it doesn’t make me any less of a woman. Eric held my hand through two painful miscarriages that I’ve only recently come to terms with emotionally. He has held my hand for the many years we have tried to have children. He held my hand through all of the doctors appointments and tests and procedures and consultations. He has held my hand after returning home from the birthday parties of friends’ children, where inevitably I find myself at a table full of mothers sharing stories of their own, where I sit in silence, searching for a way out, until eventually I’m asked if I’ve ever considered having children, or I am wearily congratulated on my (assumed) decision not to have them.

I could do one of two things: be sad, defeated, and misunderstood (I’ve tried this, it’s horrible, and I don’t recommend it) or live my life and be grateful for what I have been given, even if it wasn’t what I had in mind. I have decided to choose the second. (Though lets be honest, the sadness creeps in from time to time because I am human after all).

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I am writing this for people out there who suffer in silence and think they suffer alone. You are not alone, even though you might feel like you are. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 1 in 8 people suffer from infertility. That is A LOT of people -chances are if you aren’t experiencing this, you know someone who is (whether you’re aware of it or not).

I am also writing it for people out there who may unintentionally be further marginalizing someone based on their assumptions. I’m writing it for people who think they are helping those that are marginalized by putting other people down or dismissing them. But your assumptions may have unintentionally caused you to marginalize the already marginalized, and isn’t that exactly what you’re advocating against?

The owner wasn’t there to witness it, but we threw a show where three female-fronted bands played to an audience of mostly women. One of them wore a long flowing light purple wig and sang joyful songs about appreciating the little things in life, like the Garbage Man. The other woman had a female percussionist who played marbles in a basket and whooshed silk scarves around. She sang about the imagined difficulties of having to be a prostitute, a song whose empathetic lyrics included: “Do what you can. You gotta get paid so you have to get laid all the time. At least 10 times a day. A good day’s a little bit longer. But if you’re stronger you can make it through.”

During our set we explained to the gentle and receptive audience that a song we were about to play was about miscarriage and infertility (feminism, activism, education) and this was our attempt at trying to talk about a difficult thing that happens to a lot of people but is rarely spoken about. Towards the end of the song a red, heart-shaped balloon that had been huddled in a group of a dozen pink and red heart-shaped balloons on the ceiling floated down and hovered between Eric and I. I could see the eyes of everyone in the audience get wider in amazement and bewilderment while we all witnessed what appeared to be something quite supernatural. The two of us locked eyes and smiled, playing the remainder of the song to the red heart-shaped balloon in perfect triangulation with the two of us. It remained between us for the length of the song until the end when an ambulance raced by, its flashing red lights reflecting in the mylar, which drifted away from us and back up from whence it came.

Now, you tell me that isn’t some kind of something special – gentle, poetic synchronicity. This is an intentional part of our art, to gently drive home points that direct activist intervention can sometime bulldoze over. We offer the seeds to be planted in that ground. We’ll continue to share our struggles with infertility over the course of this year. It is the inspiration for our next record, Kiku, which is currently set for release in October.

If you’re interested in learning more about what to say and what not to say to someone struggling with infertility THIS is a good reference, as is THIS and @ihadamiscarriage on Instagram.

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