Content Note: Infertility, Miscarriage, Stillbirths, Racism
Twilight Recap: It's the first day at a new school for Bella, and she's still trying to learn the names and faces of all her new classmates. In the school cafeteria, she catches her first glimpse of the Cullens children: five beautiful adopted/fostered children cared for by Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife Esme.
Regular readers will have noticed by now that I usually start these posts with some quick framing quotes from the text before diving into my commentary for the week, but I'd like to depart from that structure for a quick moment and walk you through my morning so far.
I booted up my copy of Twilight this morning to find where we'd left off last time. As soon as I saw the next passage, I remembered exactly what had caught my eye in my first read-through, and I knew precisely what I wanted to talk about: the pitfalls of judging others in general and a little bit of personal insight into why you shouldn't make snap judgments about people based on their reproductive decisions.
Because today's Twilight passage starts out talking about infertility and adoption, I wanted to illustrate the blog entry with a photo that played off of that. I went to Google Image Search and keyed in "adoption" and my eye was immediately caught by this beautiful photo of a new father gazing lovingly at his adopted daughter. Now, I've been taught that it is both courteous and appropriate to host images with my own bandwidth instead of using other people's bandwidth, and when I saved off the image file to my local computer I was a little surprised to see the name of the photo was "grosspicture.jpg". My exact thought process went thus:
"Gross Picture"? Huh?? Oh, I'll bet the father in the picture has the last name of "Gross". Or, I suppose it could be the photographer's name. Well, whoever it is, I'll bet they got teased a lot as a child. Still, I'd better rename the photo with their full name so that when I upload it, people won't get the wrong idea.
Sadly, however, this was not the case: when I clicked over to the site host to get the full name of the photographer and/or model, I found that the site host was actually a completely terrifying site that is covered in racist screeds and which I hope is meant to be heavy-handed satire, but I fear it isn't. The site did at least give credit to the actual source of the picture - this is a photo from the NY Times article about Cowboys' linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and the adoption of lovely little Marley after Ware and his wife suffered three failed pregnancies. And if you can read the NY Times article without sobbing profusely, then you're a less emotional person than me.
Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are people on the internet who are horrible, hateful, and just plain wrong, and any attempt of my own to point that out would be at least a decade late to the party and would really just boil down to a repeat of this classic XKCD comic. However, this particular incidence of just plain wrongness stood out at me because, in looking for a picture of "adoption" to illustrate a post about how you shouldn't judge people based on their adoption choices, I inadvertently found a site that thought it was quite appropriate to do exactly that. Irony!
I just wish the irony hadn't been served with a heavy slice of racism, and I feel sort of depressed to share the same planet with the people who author that site.
Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
“They look a little old for foster children.”
“They are now, Jasper and Rosalie are both eighteen, but they’ve been with Mrs. Cullen since they were eight. She’s their aunt or something like that.”
“That’s really kind of nice — for them to take care of all those kids like that, when they’re so young and everything.”
“I guess so,” Jessica admitted reluctantly, and I got the impression that she didn’t like the doctor and his wife for some reason. With the glances she was throwing at their adopted children, I would presume the reason was jealousy. “I think that Mrs. Cullen can’t have any kids, though,” she added, as if that lessened their kindness.
Now it's time for a little bit of personal sharing, which may or may not be "TMI" for everyone - if it does turn out to be too much information, I apologize and I'll try not to make this a habit.
My husband and I are struggling with infertility at the moment. We've been trying to conceive for awhile now, and we're currently on our second IVF attempt. If there's one thing I can tell you about infertility, it's that when you want to have kids and you can't, it sucks pretty bad. The treatments are astonishingly expensive, and very few American health insurance companies cover much, if any, of the process. The medications have incredibly painful side effects - manic-depressive cycles, extreme nausea, and intense abdominal cramps - which will shatter your nerves at a time when all you can think about is all those studies that say that one of the biggest determining factors in IVF success is your stress level. No pressure, haha!
I myself haven't slept more than a couple of hours in the last 3 days because a medication I have to take at night has the same effect on me as a 6-pack of Red Bull. During the day I crash and burn and everyone at work asks me why I look so tired, while I work up excuses to avoid the subject. Husband and I haven't told anyone in Real Life about this IVF process except a few close friends and family because possibly the hardest part of the IVF process is the very-likely prospect of failure. We've already lived through one failed IVF process where every single one of our embryos suffered arrested development (i.e., they stopped growing) before we even had the chance to put them inside for implantation, and it's very possible that this second attempt may end the same way, since the doctors believe the problem is genetic in nature.
Now, I tell you all this not so that you'll feel sorry for me (please don't) and not so that this blog can become an infertility blog (it won't), but rather so that I can honestly say here that I don't see Jessica as being out-of-line with her 'qualifier' that the Cullens' adoption policies may be less out a gracious desire to heal the world and make it a better place and more because they simply want children and adoption is the only way they can get them. There's absolutely, 100% nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't (in my opinion) automatically make you "really kind of nice" - at least not any more than any other parent with a wanted child.
I said last week that while adoption can be a good thing, it's not an automatic good. People can and do adopt children for many reasons, just as people have children in general for many reasons. Some people adopt because they feel a higher calling to share their good fortune and loving home environment with a child that might not otherwise have that blessing; some people adopt simply because they very much want to have children in their family and can't accomplish that dream any other way. And then there are some truly oddball reasons for adopting, like when Bianca Cappello adopted a child because it was the only way she could convince Archduke Francesco de Medici of Tuscany to marry her and make her an archduchess - that particular adoption may be fascinating for many reasons, but probably we shouldn't automatically deem the act "really kind of nice" of Miss Bianca, because it really probably wasn't (even if it did work out well for the child in the end).
I say this not because I think Bianca Cappello is some kind of typical adoptive parent (I don't), but rather to illustrate that, to my way of thinking, actions are rarely in themselves good or bad, at least not in the "moral" sense of those words - most often, it is the intention behind the action that makes it good, bad, or neutral. Like any action, adoption can be undertaken for good reasons, for bad reasons, and for completely neutral reasons. I'm reminded of George MacDonald's book, "The Princess and Curdie", where the wise godmother points out to the titular Curdie, "It is a good thing to eat your breakfast, but you don't fancy it's very good of you to do it. The thing is good, not you."
The problem with Bella is that she can't seem to reserve judgment on people - everyone she has met so far today has been instantly classified as good or bad, usually within a few minutes of meeting them. Eric and Jessica are obviously bad in her mind - the two have been described in the most unflattering of terms and their descriptions have been carefully worded to convey unpleasantness. Eric is gangly, suffers from skin problems, has shiny oily hair, and is "over-helpful". Jessica "prattles" and will be mentally condemned by Bella three times in a single conversation for failing to recognize the Cullens' greatness: once, for being so small-minded as to find the sexual coupling of the adopted siblings shocking; twice, for failing to immediately agree that the Cullens are obviously really kind of nice (here Jessica is condemned for jealousy); and a third time for pointing out that Bella shouldn't waste her time chasing Edward (here Jessica is condemned for sour grapes). The Cullens, on the other hand, have already been classified as good in Bella's mind, and seemingly nothing will be able to change her judgment on that front. Her snap judgment is even odder in light of the fact that we really only know a few bare facts about the family:
- The father is a doctor of some kind.
- The children are all adopted or fostered.
- The children are all astonishingly beautiful.
- The children don't socialize much at school.
That's pretty much all we know about them so far, and none of those points really screams "sainted family of saints" at me. Indeed, except for #2, the above points seem like the perfect setup for a family of Libbies.
“Which one is the boy with the reddish brown hair?” I asked. I peeked at him from the corner of my eye, and he was still staring at me, but not gawking like the other students had today — he had a slightly frustrated expression. I looked down again.
“That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous, of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him.” She sniffed, a clear case of sour grapes. I wondered when he’d turned her down.
Of course, we've mentioned before that one of the hardest things about analyzing Twilight is the degree to which the narration is thickly filtered through the character of Bella Swan. Maybe it's not that Bella makes snap judgments about the people around her (Jessica & Eric = Bad; Cullens = Good), maybe it's that the goodness and badness of those characters has already been established in the mind of the author, and Bella is just able to pick up on those characteristics with the astonishing quickness of an author-insert character.
The problem with this, however, is that we can't really confirm whether Bella is judgmental or psychic because most of her snap judgments are never confirmed or denied properly in the actual text. Jessica's "clear case of sour grapes" is a perfect example: I'm fairly certain we never hear one way or another whether Edward "turned her down" in the way that Bella is assuming. If it had turned out that Bella's hunch is right, then we could take from that fact that Bella is either incredibly good at reading people or has a direct line to the author; if Bella's hunch turned out to be wrong, she would be a human and flawed character that occasionally jumps to the wrong conclusions. Instead, however, we never hear one way or another whether or not Bella's assumption is correct, and it feels like this is less a matter of the author forgetting to resolve a dangling characterization and more a matter of the author feeling like the characterization has already been resolved by virtue of Bella's fiat - I think we're just supposed to take as fact that Jessica asked Edward out in the past and he blew her off because Bella has said so.
What's even more interesting is that if this is the case - if Edward has a history of turning down all the pretty girls at the school for dates and Jessica is one of his spurned suitors - then Jessica is being far more gracious than I would expect of a jilted suitor in a modern American high school. Given a family of relative outcasts who seem more interested in dating one another and honing their graceful beauty to perfection than going out with the local high school hotties, I can think of a few juicier insults than, essentially, He's so hot, and we're so not. Burn!