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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why They Hate Us
Posted by Jill | 12:19 PM
I'm not talking about America-hating Muslim terrorists. I'm talking about red state Americans who look at the New York metropolitan area and see a bunch of self-indulgent Yuppies.

But if all they know of those of us who live in this area is people like Alex Kuczynski, can you really blame them for thinking this way?

Alex Kuczynski, for the uninitiated, is a style editor at the New York Times and author of Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery. She wrote this book after a Restylane injection gone terribly wrong, which kept her from attending the post-funeral tribute luncheon in memory of her friend and fellow journalist Jerry Nachman:
As she grieved, Kuczynski faced a dilemma: the service was the same day as her regular skin-rejuvenating session with her plastic surgeon. Appointments were hard to get and she didn't dare skip one. So she decided to squeeze in a little microdermabrasion between the funeral and a tribute afterward at a Manhattan restaurant.

What happened next was not pretty. After the funeral, Kuczynski sped across town to her doctor, who blasted her skin with crystals that swept away dead cells. Then she asked for a quick injection of Restylane, a mucouslike substance that she hoped would plump up her upper lip. The needle had barely been withdrawn when Kuczynski felt a strange mass on her face. Her lip was so grotesquely swollen (eventually reaching the size of a yam) that she missed the tribute and barely left home for the next five days.

Need I say more?

Well, Kuczynski clearly needed to, because in the Magazine section of tomorrow's Sunday New York Times, she treats us to page after page of justification as to why hiring a surrogate to gestate a baby conceived of her egg and her husband's sperm doesn't make her a "fake mother." No, Alex, hiring a surrogate doesn't make you a fake mother, but when I look at the photograph of your immobile, tight face and your Social X-Ray body next to the very real beauty of the very real woman who you hired because you had fertility problems, I find myself wishing with all my heart that little Maxime Dudley was going to be raised by the woman who gestated him instead of the narcissistic navel gazer who provided the DNA and this ridiculous article.

In this section, Kuczynski explains why it was so important that the child be of her and her husband's gene pool:
We had the money to pay. My husband is a very successful investor; I have made a healthy income for a writer. We were lucky in that we could afford to do what most infertile couples cannot. The questions for us were philosophical. I suppose I could have decided that it was my destiny to remain childless, that it was somehow meant to be. But I hate the phrase “meant to be,” loaded with its small, smug assumptions, its apathy and fake stoicism. I believe that where things can be fixed, they should be fixed. In our case, reproductive technology could make it relatively easy for us to have our biological child.

And, at that moment, having a biologically related child felt necessary. What began as wistful longing in my 20s had blistered into a mad desire that seemed to defy logic. The compulsion to create our own bloodline seemed medieval, and I knew we could enjoy our marriage — our lives — without a child. Yet I couldn’t argue myself out of my desire. A child with our genes would be a part of us. My husband’s face would be mirrored in our child’s face, proof that our love not only existed, but could be recreated beyond us. Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.

Now perhaps I'm not in a position to judge, because I never wanted children. Some people should not be parents, and I am one of them. Because of my own childhood issues, I detest conflict of any kind and I have trouble coping when people are angry with me. This of course is the kiss of death for effective parenting, so it's fortunate that I never suffered the insanity of baby hunger -- a hunger that has led so many people I know to heartbreak of various kinds. But it's always seemed to me that wanting to have a baby ought to be about wanting to raise a family, and that if all you see is a little baby wrapped in a blanket who's a perfect reflection of yourself, that ought to raise some serious narcissism flags in yourself and you ought to examine just why it is you want to do this. Because at some point that baby is going to start becoming his own person and he's not going to want to be just a little mirror image of mom 'n' dad.

I know a woman who tried for years to become pregnant, and when she finally found out that her eggs were the problem, she conceived IVF twins with donor eggs, and now is the doting mother of two three-year-old girls who have no biological connection to her. Those girls are not a little mirror of herself and she doesn't care. I know a guy whose adopted children are from Bulgaria and have no resemblance whatsoever to him. And he's crazy about them. I also know a woman who became pregnant easily at the exact moment she wanted to, timed her children exactly the way she wanted to, and they are the spitting image of her and her husband. All of these people are great parents. I wish all parents were like them.

But when a woman who was so addicted to cosmetic surgery that she had to skip a repast luncheon because she couldn't skip her scheduled visit with her plastic surgeon decides that her baby has to be a blood representatative to carry on after she is gone, I think she's exaggerating her own importance. Because when it comes right down to it, does anyone really care that we existed after a generation or two? Aside from those who meticulously document every moment of family life, painstakingly maintaining family records so future generations have these records to provide a sense of continuity, just how long are any of us remembered after we're gone? Two generations? Three?

The unfortunate reality is that we are here for the blink of an eye and then we're gone, and our descendants are similarly here for the blink of an eye. And the cosmos doesn't care that we're here. So unless you want to change the dirty diapers and read "Goodnight Moon" and help with homework and pack lunches and then deal with the sullen teenager because of the moments of joy your kids give you, you're kidding yourself if you think having children gives you immortality.

But it gets worse, as Kuczynski's surrogate's pregnancy progresses:
Later in the fall, Cathy went to Las Vegas with her husband, who was attending a conference. I took the news badly. My tiny child — now that there was a sex, an identity, I could think of him as a child — was out there in Vegas at a craps table. I worried about the flight and whether the pressure would harm him. The thought crossed my mind to ask Cathy if it was really necessary to go, but I knew I couldn’t. I had given her my baby, and I would have to give her my trust as well. I hated giving up control, but experience had proved that I had even less control over my own uterus, and trying to exercise any measure of authority over Cathy would cause both of us only grief. At the very least, Cathy’s body was more reliable than mine. This was the pitiable truth I had to embrace.

And that wasn’t always easy. When Cathy and I went for doctor’s visits, she gave me the clearest sonogram picture to take home. I would drive back to New York, scan the image and send it out to family members and close friends — except that I would crop Cathy’s and the clinic’s names out of the frame. Even though they knew I wasn’t the pregnant one, I didn’t want them to be confused — who is this Cathy person? Where is Abington, Pa.? And for the forgetful ones: Why is Alexandra having her baby there? But more important, I wanted them to see my profile in the picture, not her name. It was immature, puerile, like a seventh-grade girl blacking out her nemesis’ picture in the yearbook. I wanted her identity to disappear and mine to take its place.


AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.

I had several friends around my age — 37 and up — who were pregnant with their first children at this time, and I was amazed at how their feet swelled like loaves of bread. They were haggard. They seemed sallow and tired, and they let their hair go gray. I decided to call all of us Gummies — grown-up mommies — with the implication that some of us were so old we could have dentures.

I would soon be a Gummy. I just didn’t have to do the hard part. I had the natal equivalent of a hall pass, a free ride, an automatic upgrade to first class. According to the expectations that govern modern womanhood, I should have been moaning to a shrink or to my girlfriends over cosmos about my inadequacies. But I tried hard not to see myself as a failure. I allowed myself the anguish of the moment when Cathy was playing my piano, and after that I vowed, not entirely successfully, to refuse more self-punishment. I had been through so much — so much death and sorrow — that the gift of Cathy carrying my baby, shouldering the burden of the pregnancy, transferring all the fear of failure to her shoulders, was liberating.

And this is where my reaction to this article went from snickering amusement to outright disgust. Because here is this woman, a trophy wife of a significantly older man, clearly terrified of getting older and losing her looks, expressing relief that she isn't the one carrying this child because she has enough trouble shlepping her little yappy dog around in her elevator building, and besides, those pregnant women just let themselves GO so....

Of course it's good enough to have swollen ankles and lank hair if it means you get to be a womb for a wealthy woman whose face doesn't move. Meanwhile, this is the kind of woman "Cathy", the surrogate, is:
She treated me with warmth and respect. She called me Mama with cheer and affection in her voice. After a doctor’s appointment in Pennsylvania, we went shopping at a local mall and stopped for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Sipping cold water made the baby wiggle. Whenever Cathy took a sip, she would press my hand to her belly.

“His butt is right there,” she would tell me. She wasn’t condescending. She wasn’t pushy. I owed her so much, and yet it was she who sent me a birthday present — a ceramic candle holder that glowed with the words “Happy Birthday” when a candle was lighted inside — when she was four months pregnant. And when the baby was born, she was the one who had thought to bring a gift for me to the hospital: a statuette of a mother, father and child holding one another.

Alex Kuczynski, a control freak of the first order, doesn't deserve the kindness and generousity of this woman:
I embodied several facets of femininity. She could be seen as the fertile, glowing mother-to-be as well as the hemorrhoidal, flatulent, lumpen pregnant woman. I could be the erotic, perennially sensual nullipara, the childbirth virgin, and yet I was also the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs. She got rosy cheeks and huge, shiny stretch marks. I went to Bikram yoga and was embarrassed to tell the receptionist — in front of the pregnant 20-something yogini in short shorts — to pull me out of class in case my baby was about to be born out of another woman’s body.

I imagined that Cathy rested peacefully, conscious that something was being manufactured inside her. Meanwhile, I began a silent, steady freakout, fearing that I might miss the birth of the person who would most likely be my only child. What if Cathy went into labor in the middle of the night? One of the doormen in my New York City apartment building stoked my anxiety by telling me that his wife went into labor and gave birth 15 minutes later. My baby was two hours away! What if it was the middle of the night and the garage where I kept my car was locked?

What if this baby was born in such a way as to not fit into everything Alex Kuczynski wanted? What if she has to skip a yoga class? OMG, what happens when the kid is two and wants to be carried upstairs and weighs more than a little yappy dog?

I weep for this child. I weep for the life he could have had with kind and warm and generous people, and the life he's going to have with the people who provided his DNA -- a life of wealth and privilege on Park Avenue and all the consumer goods a kid could want -- but who already is being raised by a "baby nurse" who, you guessed it, is a woman of color -- someone to change the diapers and hold him when he cries and do all the stinky, smelly, unpleasant things that are part of being a parent of a baby because Mom is busy counting her crowsfeet and writing without any sense of irony in a review of Alec Baldwin's latest book about how children get lost in a divorce.

We can only hope little Maxime Dudley doesn't similarly get lost in a world of nannies and housekeepers and doormen, even with his perfect, rich, narcissistic, immobile-faced mother holding him up as another trophy of a privileged life. Or perhaps lost himself in a divorce case.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Jesus fucking christ! That's mind-boggling! It'll be a fucking miracle if that kid doesn't turn out some kind of sick-fuck asshole like his mother. And, incidentally, the fact that this is the kind of unbelievably irrelevant shit that the NY Times puts on the motherfucking cover of its marquee pub--the Sunday Magazine--makes me cry for the journalistic profession. Do these people have no ability whatsoever to intuit how they are perceived by normal decent Americans?

Oh, dear gods and little fishies! And this is a person we are supposed to take seriously?

After five miscarriages, my then-husband and I came to the conclusion that I was never going to carry a baby to term. We considered a surrogate. We even had a volunteer. We made all kinds of plans, all of them involving the surrogate all the way through the child's college years. I knew I'd never get to be pregnant. She knew she wanted to be, but she'd had her fill of raising kids. It was a perfect symbiotic relationship. (We gave up when we realized a. that my ex has a larcenous soul and I didn't want him involved in raising children and b. there are more than enough children out there who are already born who need parents and we didn't need to add to the population just to have a child to raise.) But I compare my mindset to this woman's and I'm shocked. I WANTED a baby. I wanted everything that went with having a baby. She apparently wants a trophy of some kind.

I need to stop; I'm getting worked up and that's not going to do anyone any good. But DAMN I want that woman to be deemed an unfit mother by someone with some brains. Sadly, she has money and a high glamor job so it'll never happen.

Blogger D. said...
Physioprof: Do these people have no ability whatsoever to intuit how they are perceived by normal decent Americans?

No. None whatsoever.

Ms. K wrote: According to the expectations that govern modern womanhood, I should have been moaning to a shrink or to my girlfriends over cosmos about my inadequacies.

Instead of which she exposes all her inadequacies to the literate world with every word she types.

I intend to forget about her immediately.

Blogger Jennifer said...
Whoo boy - is that story going to generate some letters!
Jill, you really nailed this one. When my husband and I couldn't get pregnant, we considered infertility treatments but decided that it was more important to be PARENTS than to grow a baby and give birth. So we started the adoption process. Long story, we withdrew from the lengthening process, deciding that it really wasn't meant to be. And I do not say that with "fake stoicism".
That child is in for a sad life with a mother who will never love anyone as much as she loves herself.

Blogger guinness416 said...
The story is bad enough, but my husband literally spit coffee all over his laptop when he came to the photo of mother, child and nurse. Somebody at the magazine wanted this silly woman to look even dafter than she actually is. Good luck, wee Max.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
That woman doesn't belong within sniffing distance of a dirty diaper. Anyone ever heard Marvin Gaye's 'Piece of Clay'? It really lays out the true ideal of parenthood.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thank heavens there are wonderful caring women in this world. Too bad the NY T couldn't find one t address infertility issues.

Love the blog, this post and all the comments.

Blogger Bob said...
With her Filipino or Polish or Venezuelan nanny, Kuczynski will only have to sniff & say, "Wittle baby do big poo poo" & pass it off to the paid diaper changer. But if Posh Tots sells designer onesies, she's so there.

Blogger driftglass said...
That's some fine writing there, Jill.