When Barren is Fruitful

Today’s fertile women have yesterday’s infertile women to thank for the development of the mighty Pill.*

That’s right. Our barren peeps have apparently had quite the societal impact. I learned about the Pill’s paradoxical beginning in a recent Time cover story. In researching the Pill’s consequences, writer Nancy Gibbs notes that in 1952 the country’s pre-eminent infertility specialist was a Harvard-trained physician named John Rock. About him she writes:

“…A devout Catholic with five children and 19 grandchildren, Rock had made it his mission to help barren women have babies. When Pincus and Rock began to collaborate, Rock was experimenting with using hormones to help women conceive. The idea was to use progesterone to suppress ovulation for four months, then withdraw the drug and hope for a rebound effect; several of the women in his trials did get pregnant. Using hormones to prevent pregnancy followed the same logic: the progesterone prevented the release of a fertilizable egg, thus making it impossible for a woman to conceive.”

The irony, you have to admit, is pretty stunning. Among other things, this story made me wonder about other contributions large and small that infertile/ barren/ fecund-challenged (take your pick of adjectives) women and men have had on society.

Barren Babes

Infertiles (present company excluded) are, as a rule, pretty low-key when it comes to calling attention to their reproductive state. In fact, there’s usually a guessing game surrounding historically significant people who are (or were) not parents– particularly ahead of the Pill’s arrival. Did they consciously choose not to have kids? Discover they couldn’t have kids? Marry someone who was unable or preferred not to …

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In today’s society where the vast majority of people can control their fertility (and assume that others can, too) it would be interesting — wouldn’t it? — to know what other unintended consequences or contributions, both personal and societal, resulted from Mother Nature’s fickle finger of fate. How about we start to chronicle them?

*On behalf of my community, you’re welcome…

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4 thoughts on “When Barren is Fruitful

  1. Kim

    This was a very interesting post. It inspired me to research a topic that I have been meaning to do for a while now, the origin of Mother’s Day…it is just a quick Google search away. While there are many interesting tidbits about the earliest forms of the holiday around the world, the most interesting to me was the start of our Mother’s Day here in the US.

    Here is what I found: Anna Jarvis founded the holiday around 1908 to honor her mother Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis who was the wife of a minister and worked tirelessly to help heal the nation after the Civil War.

    She organized women on both sides of the political fence to work for better sanitary conditions. Through the Mother’s Friendship Clubs women were taught the basics of sanitation and nursing, which helped to save countless lives.

    Anna Jarvis, by all accounts helped take care of her mother until she died in 1905. I could not find a reference where she ever married nor had any children of her own. One article referred to her as a “spinster” by choice. By 1920 the articles I found show that Anna had become disillusioned by the commercialism of the holiday, and that she regretted ever getting it started.

    What was originally meant to be a reminder for children to respect and honor their good nurturing mothers has turned into something completely overblown.

    So, Anna Jarvis, an apparently single and childless woman gave our Great United States Mother’s Day!

    Blessings!
    Kim

  2. Pamela

    I’m pretty certain Anna Jarvis would be appalled at today’s Mother’s Day marketing-palooza. Thanks for doing the research, Kim!

  3. Hi I just wrote a long comment about moving through infertility pain from the grand old age of 60. The spell check froze my computer and I had to close down. If you are interested in me writing it again let me know and I will do it on word and copy and paste!

    Love Rosie

  4. Thanks, Kim!

    I know I’m appalled at the current Mother’s Day propaganda. In the same week as National Infertility Awareness Week (I posted a few article links on Facebook), several of my fertile friends posted reminders that Mother’s Day was coming up. Really? They don’t think we get enough reminders of that holiday that they can’t lay off during “our” week? :)

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