Friday, September 11, 2009

mastering the art of infertility

I am the very worst sort of bandwagon-hopper, because I am the kind of person who will completely hop on a bandwagon but will then do everything in my power to hide the fact that I succumbed to popular influence.

This is how it works. I go to a movie, which is based on a book I might have wanted to read, or have read but don't own, or maybe have never heard of...whatever the case, it turns out that I really like the movie. Which makes me want to read the book. Except that I refuse to buy the no doubt newly-released version of said book prominently featuring the stars of the movie on the cover, because somehow this would make it look like I am the sort of person who only reads books as recommended by movies, which is a bad thing. In my tiny, crazed, snobby mind.

So, I went to see Julie and Julia. Which I loved. And I decided, snobbery be damned, that I would order her cookbook - because, for one thing, I am now bound and determined to make Boeuf Bourguignon. I fancy myself a decent cook, but I learned some things in this movie: I learned that I should pat my meat dry before browning it, for one thing, which will certainly pay off when I finally get around to the recipe-trying.

But I learned something else, too. I've never known much about Julia Child, to be honest, except that I think she once appeared on Sesame Street. I vaguely remember this from my childhood. (Or was it the Muppet Show? My childhood is basically a blurring of those two.) There were a hundred great moments in the movie: Julie trying to cook the lobsters, Julia and her fierce determination to CHOP ONIONS LIKE A MAN, Julia's sister falling in love with a short, rather dumpy guy who turns out to be her heart's desire.

But two moments meant more to me than all the cooking tips in the world. Early on, when Julia and Paul have first moved to Paris, they come across a family with children. And Julia and Paul exchange a glance which my husband and I have shared with one another a million times over. I'm betting most movie-goers didn't entirely know what that moment meant, but I did. Maybe you did too. That one glance tells you more than a file of medical procedures, more than a thousand nights of tears shed, more than ten boxes of pregnancy tests thrown away - that quick glance contains the heartbreak of an infertile couple, who look at other people's children as if they were the oasis in a desert. You don't need words.

So after Julia's sister gets married - Julia's long-single, equally-tall-and-gangly-yet-totally-charming sister - when she gets married quite sudddenly, I knew what was coming. A scene where Julia, sitting in her kitchen, gets a letter from a friend. And the friend tells her that Julia's dear sister, whom she loves deeply, who has been married for all of ten freaking minutes, is - you guessed it - pregnant.

My husband reached over and took my hand in that scene, and squeezed it, and because there's no way to describe the moment in words, we'll just stop there. For the countless amazing roles Meryl Streep has played in her career, I'm grateful - but for none more so than that 10-second scene which, among other things, bound me to Julia Child for life. I have no idea if Julia herself tells more of that piece of her life in My Life in France (which, because I can't take too much change at one time, I ordered in the old version rather than the one with Meryl and Amy Adams on the cover). Maybe so - maybe not. It doesn't matter, really. That scene was enough. It was enough to say to thousands of men and women who have replayed that very moment in their own lives, you are not alone. You can still go forth and make fantastic Boeuf Bourguignon and you can blame your tears on all the onion-chopping, at least for awhile.

Up got a lot of attention from the infertile community about its delicate and heartfelt handling of infertility. I haven't seen it yet, though I will. Which means we have two movies in one summer which both, in kind and real-life ways, acknowledge that infertility is real. And that it hurts. And that there is not always a standard happy ending.

But which also remind me that there can be joy nonetheless. I'll drink to that, Julia. Thanks for the reminder.


  1. those moments in that movie got me too.

  2. Oh I am so hoping to see that movie, but of course will have to wait for DVD. It sounds wonderful and I love that it acknowledged the pain of couples struggling to conceive as so many films do not.

    Cannot wait to hear how you find the recipes! I want updates. :)

  3. You made me want to go see the movie asap. And buy the book; the one without scenes from the movie on the cover of course. And I'll drink to that too :)

  4. I had the same response to the movie; it was handled so beautifully. I'm so glad that you wrote about it.

  5. I hope to see this movie soon. Thanks for the review. I heard that the part when she cries over her sister's pregnancy while simultaneously saying "I'm so happy for her" got laughs in the theater. Just another reminder of how it's hard to "get" the pain of infertility if you aren't walking through it.

  6. I'll definitely have to see that movie. It seems like infertility and loss are finding their way, subtly, into a lot of movies lately. I watched the Time Traveller's Wife last week; even though I had read book years ago, I completely forgot about some of the scenes where they try to have a baby (I won't spoil it for anyone here). I guess when I first read it, I never imagined that I would encounter the same problems, so it just never registered or stuck... funny how time can change your perspective and how you see the world.

  7. It needs to be more talked about and people need to be made more aware of infertility. All that you ever saw growing up was fairy tales with happy endings.

  8. I just found your blog (and this post) through a comment on Mo & Will's blog. Thank you for this post. It made me cry, but more than that, it made me want to see the movie (which until now, I hadno desire to do). I know that look. I hate that look, and my biggest fear is that my sister will be a mommy before me. Thank you.