February 11, 2010

Giving Birth to Myself

Posted in Academia, birthing, feminism, feminist journey, Patriarchy, school and academics, Self Image tagged , , , , , at 6:36 pm by Gina Messina

As a woman in graduate school I have had very little confidence in my abilities.  Every time I entered a classroom I immediately began to judge myself as the least intelligent person in the room.  I was certainly a victim of the “imposter” syndrome, believing that I just did not belong and that eventually someone would realize they made a mistake in admitting me to the program.  As time went on I noticed that in smaller classes that were largely female I was more open to feeling part of the class and willing to participate in discussions.  However in classes that had large male populations my feelings of inferiority would quickly take me over and it was painful for me to offer any comment whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I was half way through my first year of my doctoral program before I realized that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by men and feel inferior to them as a result of being raised in a patriarchal culture. 

Within my own family, as a girl, I was encouraged to just “pass” my classes and move on because my role in life was to be a wife and a mother.  My grades were not important and finishing high school seemed to be just a formality.  My mom often told me “I hope you find a nice man to marry to take care of you, smarts just isn’t your thing.”  I know, it sounds horrible, and it is, but she meant it in the nicest way possible, especially since she was given the same message her entire life.

That being said, my brother was always encouraged in his academic pursuits, he was a straight “A” student and the family was overjoyed when he was accepted to UCLA.  As a male his role was to achieve great things and his goals were valued.  He was the one that would have an important role in our society.  While there were great expectations for my brother, there was very little expected of me.

It astonishes me that I was in a doctoral program and in my 30’s by the time I made this connection.  It was so embedded in me that I was second rate that even as I was achieving great things in graduate school I could never recognize myself as being on par with my male as well as some of my female classmates.  Once I made this realization, I was able to pay attention to it and work on my overall confidence.

Early on in my graduate career I often thought I would never make a good scholar.  I felt overwhelmed and incapable of achieving anything that would be noteworthy in a world of brilliance.  However, now that I have realized where my confidence issues have come from and that it is not my work that is inferior I have been able to encourage myself if many ways and grow as a person, woman, and academic.  Instead of hiding in the background I have started stepping forward.  I am motivated to demonstrate my true abilities and so I am putting myself out there.  I will be presenting at my first conference in March, submitted an article for publication (which I am still waiting for an answer on), and I have created files of ideas I intend to pursue that I believe will impact the academic and greater community.  It is exciting to finally have confidence and know that I am capable of those things I thought were impossible for so long.

I have stopped allowing myself to feel inadequate and have started encouraging my creative and scholarly abilities.  Making the realization that my confidence issues were imposed and not warranted changed so much for me; I have grown into an entirely different person.  Through my own hard work and dedication to moving past the limits that have been forced upon me all my life, I have given birth to myself, and I love her.

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October 23, 2009

Infertility: Have you tried standing on your head?

Posted in Family, Genesis, Infertility, Matriarch, Mother, mothering, Parent, Relationships, Sarah in Genesis tagged , , , , , , at 7:22 am by Gina Messina

infertility

In Gen 16: 1 it reads “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bore him no children.” The simplicity of this statement fails to communicate the complicated and devastating situation Sarah faced. The woman who became the matriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition was barren, unable to fulfill the one duty that gave her worth within her community. With no understanding of biology, infertility was viewed as a curse by Jewish culture and as the fault of the woman. While women were already devalued by society, the social status of a woman struggling with infertility was even further diminished.

Sarah is a woman I have come to identify with. I share her plight of infertility and feel a hopelessness that can only be understood by women in a similar situation. Like Sarah I have been desperate to become a mother and although it is the 21st century, as a woman I have felt pressure to do so. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of worth have been overwhelming at times as family members and friend have felt it necessary to not only acknowledge my struggle but also offer commentary on what exactly they think my problem is.

It is difficult to describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have experienced in the last eight years that I have hoped to become a mother. I have felt sad, angry, hurt, disgusted, fearful, relieved, cheated, optimistic, disappointed, remorseful, irritated, exasperated, hopeful, punished, envious, despair, confused, indifferent, tormented, guilty, nervous, surprised, stressed, appreciative, resentful, bitter and the list continues. While societal pressure has certainly added salt to my wound, the most difficult part of dealing with infertility has been my unwavering knowledge that I a meant to be a mother; there is a child that is meant to grow in my womb, a child that I am meant to nurture and love. I intuitively sense it, it must happen, it is fate, I feel it in the depths of my soul, I am a mother, it is who I am. So why have I been unable to conceive? Why are so many other women privileged with the ability to choose whether or not to become a parent and why have I not been blessed with that same choice?

I have continually struggled with these questions as well as with the highs and lows of the infertility roller coaster. Recently my husband and I have come to the decision to adopt (which warrants numerous blog posts in itself). While we have felt a multitude of emotions (which of course excitement is one) over our decision; the people in our lives have felt it necessary to share their own thoughts on what we have been experiencing. I have been amazed, shocked, horrified, by some of the things people feel it is appropriate to say to me given my struggle to get pregnant. Thus, I feel it necessary to share here some things that you should avoid verbalizing if you know someone dealing with infertility. So for what it is worth, here is my personal top ten list of things you should NOT say to women dealing with infertility (all things that have been stated to me):

10. “Wow, you are so lucky your husband has not divorced you. Most men would not tolerate a woman who could not give him a child.”

9. “Why would you waste so much money on adoption when you could just spend a little more on invitro and have a baby of your own?”

8. “Why not just let me carry a baby for you?”

7. “If you are going to adopt you better make sure you don’t get a kid that is a lemon.” (Yes, a lemon as in if you bought a car with a lot of problems you would describe it as a lemon.)

6. “Oh, your adopting…well I hope you stay within your own race.”

5. “Are you sure you are having sex on the right days? Are you using the right positions?  Maybe you should do some research on the internet.”

4. “It is hard enough to love your own kids, are you sure you will love one if you adopt it?”

3. If a woman struggling with infertility mentions she may try artificial insemination don’t say “Are you really sure you want your child to be conceived that way? I mean, don’t you want it to be conceived out of love?”

2. “You just need to relax.” (What exactly does this mean? I am not sure myself but it is the one quote I have heard more times than I can count. Apparently, if I  just relax and stop worrying about it, a pregnancy will magically occur.)

1. “Have you tried standing on your head?”

I hope the list gives rise to thought offering humor in some areas and anger in others. I am not sure where my continued struggle with infertility will take me, but for now I am a mother. Although I may not yet have a child, I mother other areas of my life, with my partner, my family, my friends, my research, this blog.

For more information on infertility see:

http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/infertility.cfm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infertility/DS00310

http://myinfertilityblog.wordpress.com/