Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Is reproduction a virtue? Attribution theory and infertility
I was on Facebook the other day, and one of my friends, who is really a lovely and kind person, posted a status update saying how wonderful Beyonce was for giving birth vaginally. I was taken aback, because not only is it none of my business how a celebrity gives birth, but to be honest I'm not sure how much choice we all have in these matters. If Beyonce had been forced, due to medical reasons, to have a C section, would she be any less wonderful? Of course, this was just a status update, but the sentiment it expressed epitomizes something that has been bothering me for some time. When it comes to fertility and childbirth, there seems to be, in some circles, a cultural assumption that if things go well, it is more than just good luck. It is evidence of the inherent goodness and moral correctness of the person involved. Beyonce is wonderful because she could conceive and deliver her baby the "right" way. Those of us who can't are presumably not. This kind of thinking is usually painful to those struggling with infertility, and it is, at its base, unfair. As I know too well, infertility almost stems from one or more medical issues, which cannot be easily controlled. A lack of infertility is of course a desirable and fortunate thing. It usually occurs, however, without a great deal of effort. It is the same principle as my not being congratulated for possessing working fingers and toes. I'm grateful for them, but they are more an indication of my good fortune in terms of appendages rather than of any inherent effort, goodness, or ability on my part. Why would such an illogical belief system about fertility be so common? I wonder if this is an example of an attribution error. According to Heider,a psychologist working in the 1950's, we tend to explain others' behavior based on internal characteristics, such as their personality traits. In contrast, we tend to attribute the cause of life events in our own life to external circumstances, such as luck or chance. Thus, my Facebook friend attributes Beyonce's birth experience, about which she feels positively, to positive characteristics she believes Beyonce possesses. On the other hand, I might attribute my own infertility to factors beyond my control. I could go on forever about the different types of pain and self doubt that erroneously attributing ease of conception and delivery to internal personality traits causes those struggling with infertility....but I won't because if you have found this blog, you most likely know what I mean. Instead, I will reiterate that it isn't true. When I mentioned this blog post idea to my mother, she told me, "Make sure you write that although some people may think like this, it really is a reflection of their own failings, such as a lack of empathy, or their own thoughtlessness. So often people say stupid things, or just don't think things all the way through!". I suspect that Mom is right. If you find yourself struggling with this issue, it may help to remind yourself that people make these sorts of attribution errors all of the time, and that it really isn't a valid understanding of the situation. By seeing these errors for what they really are, we may be more free to create our own, more positive meanings of our experiences.