Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Extremes, Outliers, and Slippery Slopes

I don't blog so much these days because: 1) I'm busy, and my thoughts have a lot more places to go than they used to, and much of what I think about (work!) can't be blogged; 2) I've been blogging for long enough that I've said most of it before; and 3) in the torrent of voices, I rarely see reason to add my own.

But I think I finally have something to say about the octuplet mom, and, ironically, it's stimulated by disagreement with people who should, presumably, be my own. The feminist defense of Nadya Suleman has begun, and I'm afraid I just can't go there.

Let's start with the necessary disclaimers: the media is out of control, in both its attention and its attacks; the doctor who implanted all those embryos was in the wrong; she clearly has some kind of major issues (there's a space between scarred by your bad childhood and ready for an institution, and she's somewhere in that space, though I wouldn't venture to say where). I'll also give you that she has become a lightning rod for our conflicts and confusions about poverty, sexuality, single motherhood, plastic surgery, and all those lightning rod issues.

But what do you expect? This is America. We are conflicted and confused (OK, hypocritical and messed up) about poverty, sexuality, single motherhood, and plastic surgery. Our media is out of control. Our infertility industry preys on women.

And yet, that doesn't mean it is OK to have octuplets when you already have six children under seven.

I know a lot of people are talking about this in terms of taxpayer dollars, and, honestly, I don't really have a position there. I'm thinking about 14 kids under seven, and how they are possibly going to get the attention they need. Yes, money would make a difference: if she were wealthy, she could hire four nannies, and you would have a 5:14 ratio , 6:14 if there were another parent, 7:14 if the grandmother stuck around, all of which would be imaginable. 1:14 is not imaginable, and those kids are going to suffer.

Kate and Jon? That's 2:8. The Duggars? They had theirs every year or so, so there were never more than six under seven, plus the older ones can help. It's different, folks, 14 kids under the age of seven is different. And it's not OK.

I'm talking practice, not principle.

I feel a bit they way I felt when I read Amy Richards' piece in the NY Times magazine a few years ago, about selectively reducing her (unplanned) triplets to one. Was it her right to reduce? Sure. After reading about how she didn't want to be on bed rest or live in Staten Island or shop at Costco, did I approve? Not really. Was I glad she'd written about it in the NY Times? Definitely not: she may have been trying to make the point that women should be allowed to abort for whatever reason they please, but along the way she bolstered all sorts of stereotypes about selfish feminists.

I feel the same way, sometimes, when I confront the rhetoric of adoption activists, like my dear friend Dawn, with whom I've already discussed this issue. What happens when supporting a woman's choice to parent ends up inflicting a child on someone else who has no choice in the matter? What happens when a woman chooses to parent, but then a grandmother/aunt/sister ends up picking up the pieces? They do it, of course, because they have to, and because once a baby is born, it deserves all the love and care that all babies deserve. Still, it wasn't their choice, which definitely problematizes the idea of choice.

The octuplets are here, and now they deserve all that love and care. But that doesn't mean it was right.

I think it comes down to the distinction between rights and what's right. Rights are absolute. There's a reason the ACLU defends the Klan. Someone needs to stand up for those extremes and outliers, to protect everyone else from the slippery slopes they could hurl us down. Yes, it's true, restricting a woman's right to choose (whether it's to have babies or not to have babies) hurts every woman. And, yet, we do ourselves a disfavor when we stop simply at rights and principles. Because in practice, things are hard and complicated, and we need to acknowledge that too, or we lose the moral and practical high ground.

Sometimes we may have the right, but that doesn't mean it's right.


Lauren said...

Well said.

Libby said...

I think that balance--rights vs right--is incredibly hard to manage. I feel no particular anger at octo-mom myself, just a kind of blank despair on behalf of the kids.

Genevieve said...

Well said, Becca.

Libby said...

btw, do you realize you've posted almost every day since saying you don't blog that much anymore? It happened again...

(Oh, and I'm very glad you are posting so much!)