Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Mythical Crack Wh0res

Recently, I have come across a few variations on this complaint: "Why can't I get pregnant when the crack wh0re down the street has four babies?"

I have no idea where this myth comes from. Not from personal experience, surely? Because ladies: if there is someone in your street selling their body for drugs, it's probably time to move. But the myth of the pregnant crack wh0re is a persistent one in infertility and adoption circles; I've been hearing it for years and just to check I wasn't imagining it, I googled it. (Ummmm... some advice: don't do that. I may have to wipe my computer's search history. And that's why I've changed the o's to 0's - it turns out there are a whole lot of people out there on the internet that I do not want on my blog).

I've definitely had pregnancy envy, so I understand where this complaint comes from. But if I'm honest, this mythical pregnant crack wh0re doesn't bother me at all. In fact, she makes me feel much better about myself, and here's why.

When we were childless, I hated it - hated it - when people acted smug about their ability to produce children. Granted, I was extremely sensitive about it, and some of the comments that upset me were probably thoughtless rather than anything more sinister. But I do remember walking along beside a river with one particular woman. She was stroking her pregnant belly and talking about people who can't have children, and saying didn't I agree that they shouldn't have fertility treatments, because maybe if they couldn't have babies, it was because they weren't meant to be parents, that they weren't the right sort of people.

I was too taken aback to say anything coherent at the time. This woman is generally very nice, and now does know about our adoption, including why we chose to adopt. I doubt she felt bad about that conversation when she found out, because I doubt she remembered. I hope she would be kinder now. But while most people don't put things quite that bluntly, comments like this come from a pretty common attitude:

I totally deserve these children due to the power of my personal awesomeness. People with no children must therefore automatically be less awesome than me.

And we all hate that attitude, right? What I hate most about it is that even though I know how stupid it is, there's a teeny tiny voice inside saying: "but what if it's truuuuuuuuuuue? What if this really is happening because my body knows something about me that I don't? "

So that voice is coming from one side, but on the other side there's a voice shouting about how unfair it all is. If you've been through the adoption process, I'm sure there was at least a little part of you that resented being assessed for your fitness to parent. No matter how much we know about the importance of preparation, and how much we totally agree that none of us are entitled to parent someone else's children, it still STINKS that someone else has the power to decide whether or not you get to be a parent. Because we are good people, right? And surely this means that we deserve kids? At least, more than that pregnant crack wh0re down the street?

(And yes, it's never a good idea to make assumptions about someone else's worth. But let's assume, for argument's sake, that she really is both a bad person and a bad mother. Fortunately she's a myth (or at most a stereotype) so I don't think we're going to hurt her feelings).

But - when we say this, when we complain about the mythical crack wh0res, we're buying into the lie that getting pregnant has something to do with virtue. We're buying into the idea that women who are mothers must be better people than those who are not. We're buying into the myth that people who have kids can take some kind of credit for it. We might as well be standing at the delivery suite giving out halos as new mothers and fathers come out, because we are totally buying into the idea that parenthood is something that people deserve.

Whereas actually, what she shows us is that parenthood has got nothing to do with how much you deserve it. There are so many people out there who do a terrible job of raising their kids. Not necessarily abusive, just lazy, uninterested, not involved, treating their kids as accessories, whatever. We don't have to even agree on what bad parenting means to agree that there are a lot of bad parents in the world. Which is sad for their kids, but it does make me feel perversely happy. Bad biological parents in general make me feel really comforted - they prove, beyond all doubt, that failure to procreate isn't a punishment for being deficient. It's not an assessment of our value as people. And if being more fertile doesn't make you better, being less fertile doesn't make you worse. That first voice really is wrong after all.

I am really rather grateful to carry this knowledge with me through my middle class life. Women in my social group do tend to treat pregnancy as an achievement rather than a gift. This is very hard to deal with when it's something you will never achieve yourself. But now, while some of my friends are attributing their pregnancy successes to yoga, their organic diet or just generally being an all-around better person than me, I'll be thinking:

Stop being so smug about your pregnancy. Pregnancy is no indication of moral worth. Don't you know the crack wh0re down the street has four kids?

So thank you, mythical crack wh0re. I'm glad you don't live on my street. But I'll always be grateful.


  1. I get this kind of stuff all the time from people. Random people asking me if I was annoyed that the crack wh0re down the street was pregnant. Thanks but no thanks. I love your take on it though.

    My analytical/statistical take on it has always been that everyone has the same odds. I'm a scientist so that's just the way I think. The crack wh0re has the same odds that I do.

    One of my other favorite myths is the "you'll get pregnant right after you adopt". Nope, sorry, same odds there too.

  2. I am so easily annoyed by fertility that even a comment like "I can't really understand your pain because it was so easy for me to get pregnant, but I sympathize with you" ANNOYS ME to no end! Just the whole "oh, it was so easy for me, first try" types of comments send me into internal fury. You are right, it really does feel like fertiles are saying that they achieved something and I am less (or less deserving of parenthood) because I couldn't. Hmm. This comment isn't turning out to be very thought provoking. But I just wanted to say that I appreciated this post right now.

  3. Wow, this post sent me in all different kinds of directions in my head. Parenting skills seem to lie on a continuum, a bell curve, most likely. Sometimes I think people tend to think about this topic because of insecurity about their own parenting. I mean, I think I do because I constantly wonder if I am being too lazy, or too laid back, or too strict, and with so much at stake, being in control of the quality of life of another person, it's easy for me think of where I lie on that continuum and whether or not I am good enough. You know, having had infertility myself, I do understand what people are thinking. I never actually thought about the crack wh0re thing, but I used to be easily prone to envy of women my age who got pregnant without a problem, especially if I didn't see them to be as virtuous as me. My husband was incensed about a woman at his job who had two children and who chose to work because as she told him, 'I could not take being at home with them every day, my brain turned to mush.' And then she got pregnant with #3 at 41 y.o. and told him her secret, knowing it would work for us. He pinned a lot of his anger on this woman, especially after what he had seen me go through, how much I tried to take good care of myself, how much she hadn't, how much she didn't want to be home with her children, how much I did. (whatever, I never met this woman, but I found his anger endearing, comforting, he felt I was deserving, right?) It seems everybody wants a place to direct their anger. A crack whOre for a parent, now that's an easy target! Where did my anger go? I would say upward and inward, at God and at me. Gah, hijacking your blog. Must. Stop.

  4. Oh Christine, I absolutely hear you! The people I got angriest at (in case you couldn't tell from the post) were the people like me - my friends. Apart from anything else, i honestly don't feel jealous of trying to raise several kids as a single mother on welfare. But I *did* feel very, very jealous of the people whose lives were just like mine.... except they had an easy time having kids. (And the smugness of some of them was pretty unbearable).

    I think you're right that the anger has to be directed somewhere. This is such a hard one to deal with - as a Christian I struggled a lot with my attitude towards God. Sometimes it wasn't pretty. I think one of the reasons all of this has resurfaced in my head is that we've been going through the book of Job at church (mostly about suffering) and I've been revisiting this time of suffering in my head. It's a hugely challenging book - after Job (a totally good man) suffers and suffers, God says that it wasn't because of anything that Job did wrong, but also that he had no right to accuse God of injustice because of his suffering. I've thought about that a lot - if God is good (which I believe he is) then it must be true - he never acts unjustly or unfairly. And yet we still suffer, and often we don't know why. This feels too big for me.

    The best summary I've heard of these ideas is from Don Miller - he says 'this is a story about a forest, and I am only a tree'.

    Doesn't feel like much of a comfort when there's an axe hacking away at your base. But I think he's got it right.

    And now this incoherence tells you why I didn't go into any of this in the post!! I think zsmama is absolutely right that we're all subject to the same statistics - but *why* those statistics hit some of us and not others - yeah, that's a much bigger question :)

  5. We don't have to even agree on "what bad parenting means to agree that there are a lot of bad parents in the world. Which is sad for their kids, but it does make me feel perversely happy."
    Demonstrating your genuine compassion for kids? Infertility does some funny things to people's thinking, I know I've been there, but this has to be one of the saddest.

  6. You're right, von, i probably didn't express that very well. I don't mean it's a good thing overall - of course it's not - but it shows me (in case i doubted it) that fertility doesn't say anything about a person's moral value or what they deserve in life. (And neither does infertility, of course, which is a point i've made before).

    Having said that - I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't go out of your way to assume the worst possible interpretation of things that i (and others) say. You're very welcome on this blog (as is everybody) but I'd prefer if you didn't only comment when you have something negative to say.

  7. I love this post. I think it is very powerful and holds so much truth. I just don't like smug people PERIOD. I remember people blaming me for my lengthly "morning" sickness (read: 9 mo. long. all day. every day. nausea) b/c I wasn't doing yoga- surely YOGA would help! Or....there were a million things I WASN'T doing that "of course would help." Sometimes I just want to give people a slap, slap, slap. I mean. When you're struggling with something, do you think we (with whatever the struggle is) haven't thought about each and every variable? It's just not nice. Same thing happened when I couldn't breastfeed. The LOOKS I got when I was in public with a bottle. GEEZ. You would have thought I was feeding my daughter arsenic. Granted the area I live in is a wee bit extreme. I don't mean my examples based on pregnancy and breastfeeding to be parallel to your examples. Obviously they are different. And that is why I appreciate so much reading about how others struggle- not that I WANT others to struggle- but it helps to understand that thread that holds people together who ARE sensitive and kind. The forest, of sorts...

    Smug people suck.

    And I love your honesty and truth. Speak on, speak on!

  8. I love this post. I, too, am thankful to the mythical crack whore and all her failings. I bet she has a much sweeter tone with her kids at dinner time. And, you are right, even on the other side I still have that voice that pipes up once in a while saying, "yeah, there was probably a reason you couldn't bear children.You weren't meant to be a mother". Claudia, you need to write that book.

  9. I'm seeing a correlation here- it's like when you've been sick with a nasty cold for 3 weeks or so and everyone around you keeps talking about how if you just take vitamin c and echinacea you'll never get sick just like them. ha ha! :)
    love this post BTW- as usual you crack me up in such a good way.

  10. That Von character doesn't know crap about you.


    My least favorite thing people in my church sometimes say without intending to be hurtful to those who are less fertile: I am so grateful God trusted me enough to give me this baby. They just mean they are grateful to be a parents, which we all are, but the phrase implies God doesn't trust infertile people to be parents, which is load of bs. We are all learning to be more sensitive, yes?

    I like your words: Acheivement vs a gift. Acheivement based on merit? Definitely not.
    Is experiencing a pregnancy an aceivement in and of itself, for me, hell yes. surviving it is a miracle in every sense of the word.

    I've never been grateful for a crack wh0re but now I am. Thank you.

  11. Great post!
    I was also judged harshly for not breast feeding. I believe someone told me my baby would be less bonded and less brought then their breastfed baby. I was crushed since I was already feeling like a complete failure.
    I am with Bridget smug people suck!

  12. I think the other problem people have with the crack wh0re is rooted in the idea that there are a finite number of babies in the world and if she gets one (two, three, four...) that means there are less available for me.

    Have just started reading your blog and have just started down the adoption path....looking forward to reading more (and catching up on what I've missed)!

    Thanks for the laugh and the insightful post!

  13. I don't think that being biologically related or not indicates that someone will or won't be a good parent.

    I think it's unkind for people who are fertile to be smug to others about it. But I've never liked the "the [insert description here] women down the street can have kids but I can't!" either. Because it's not, and should not be, about one woman vs. the other. The dependency of impoverished women upon men for support, which often leads to unintended, unprepared for pregnancies, yeilds devestating hardships. Her intention is to get by and make do; being smug about reproducing is probably the last thing on her mind.

  14. Can I add, the "crack wh0re" stereotype often means to adoptees. It is often assumed that because we were surrendered to adoption that our Original Mothers *must* have been crack wh0res.

    When I was 12, I remember other peers making assumptions about my First Mother and her assumed promiscuity and lack of virtue, because they knew I was adopted, and teased me about it. That was 13 years ago, I hope kids are much kinder to their adopted peers now than they were when I was growing up! :-)

  15. Jeez yes, it is difficult to manage commentors who only come out to say the negative.

    Amanda, I'm just so sorry that anyone ever teased you about the virtue of your birthmother. That is deplorable.

    Claudia, I knew that you would have a take on what it meant to you as a Christian. It's something I don't talk about on blogs, usually, but my struggle with infertility was quite a horrible time and most often the dialogue I had about it was with myself. It is the worst part about infertility, walking around among the smug, the unaware, the well-meaning, getting smacked over and over with the things people say and think and most often suffering in silence. And oh yeah, I didn't breast feed either. Holy crap, that was a fun thing to deal with. I love this post because it made me really think. My mind was off to the races! Thanks, friend.

  16. girl, you make me laugh. I love your outlook on life and snarky way of expressing your thoughts.

    But seriously- people you know (friends??) actually said maybe you couldn't get pregnant because you weren't SUPOSED to have bio-kids? really? what has this world coming to? I don't doubt what you say but I'm just shocked by how clueless some people can be.

  17. We suffered so much anger and resentment toward people with bio kids and to toward God during our wait. Now I wonder how much more anger towards God my adopted sons and daughter would feel now if God hadn't stepped into my world and gave me infertility. My infertility, such a painful weight to carry, knowing the pain it caused my wife to go through, it was such a painful trial. Having others choose if we could be trusted with children when so many "unworthy" people (so easy to judge others!) got pregnant when they didn't even want to. What a pain-filled road that was. But now, I am so happy that God gave me this gift of infertility, and I am so happy for all that pain, because walking that road meant that my sons and daughter have a loving mommy. Walking that road meant that they don't have to be angry at God about not having a home. Sure, they may be angry at God for the hardships they had to have, but they can do that knowing that their mommy and daddy are right here, ready to hug them, hold them, pray for them, and love them. We all say we would die for our children, I now know that I walked a road of pain for mine, before I knew them, and I would do it again.

  18. I just love you. I want to sit down for coffee or tea (except I don't drink coffee or tea so wine for me please) with you and have lengthy discussions on everything under the sun...and then pick your brain to my hearts content.

    I love your outlook and love that you aren't afraid to touch topics that so many others avoid.

    Keep on doing what you're doing!

  19. I have to second Lost in Space above me. You're fantastic, and so is this entry. And it's true: that smugness, that 'I deserve this' attitude that some fertile parents carry is alive and strong.

    Although I do have to say that I have had at least one encounter with the mythical creature that is better known as the crack wh0re with 4 kids. Except this chick had 5 (who were all taken by the state at birth due to testing positive) and she was pregnant with her 6th. While working in state mental health, I encountered her shortly after our initial IF diagnosis and she stated that she would keep having kids until they let her keep one.

    OK, so maybe she's just one example, but she keeps the myth alive and well in my mind and gives me a reference point for those who might hint at the idea of pregnancy=deserving. And let's just face it, she makes me feel better about being infertile.

  20. I've come back to this post three times. loved it for a different reason each time.

    I must be living in the wrong neighborhood, or at least going to the wrong church because.. well, our church has a meth addict who keeps leaving her six kids for drugs, and a mom who keeps leaving her kids for men and alcohol.

    But they just remind me of how beautiful God's redemption is. Although they're far from perfect, God can use their lives. (Think Gomer, Rahab, Tamar, etc. in the Bible).

    Really hope you're feeling better!

  21. You really must write that book.

  22. I actually feel quite badly for those who do get pregnant! Their bodies get all stretchy and they can't drink alcohol for 9 months, among other sucky things. The infertiles are those who are truly blessed.

    P.S. I'm only half kidding.....Great post!

  23. i agree with so much of what you said. i had a good friend tell me once that she had two healthy (bio) boys because God blessed her for living right. Um, thanks. A colleague once said to someone else, within my earshot, that "everyone wants to get pregnant when they are young if they would just admit that to themselves." nice.

    so, i hear you. i have been guilty of the 'crack wh0re' comment, too. so i have a part in this. i guess my perspective was why them (if there is this category of parent)? but then i realized why not them? what made me so deserving? who i am to judge or to belittle?

    so yeah, the smugness is all around, and even coming from you in this post i am sorry to say.

    you referred to the crack wh0re as a single parent thereby elevating your married status to something better. i am a single parent through adoption and i would love to be married. this, for whatever reason though, just hasn't happened for me yet. however along with load of prayer and tears i try to rest assured that it will in God's timing... or it won't. and that i should be ok with that. why not me?

    so in your reflections, please try to be sensitive to the singles out there. to view her singleness as abhorrent as her crack addiction and whoring around was very hurtful.

  24. Hi there Single PAP,

    I'm really and truly sorry if this post sounded smug - I promise that wasn't my intention. But I don't think that I actually *did* refer to the lady in question as being single, did I? I've just re-read the post (three times!) to check, and I can't see it - please correct me if I'm wrong.

  25. I've just realised that you must have meant the comment I left above. Okay, I see how that could sound smug - sorry, it wasn't meant to! I'm absolutely not anti-single-parenthood: please accept my apologies if the comment seemed that way. I just meant that the life I described doesn't sound easy. All I was trying to say was what Amanda expressed much better - that an unplanned pregnancy in difficult circumstances yields great hardships. Should probably say that I'm also not judging anybody who is on welfare! I've been unemployed and it stunk - no judgement about that, at all.

  26. no worries. i think i'm extra sensitive about that subject.. thanks for apologizing :)

  27. you are so incredibly crazy funny. i love it. but your post is serious. i am sorry people have made you feel that way in the past. honestly, i pass a lot of judgment, too, but it is on those who have never thought of adopting.


Over to you!