Recently, I had occasion to read Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?
If you’ve arrived at this post by googling for help with your research paper, you’re welcome to keep reading, but I don’t think it will have what you’re looking for. I know how to do academic research, but I haven’t really done that here. This is just a personal reaction through the lens of my infertility struggles. I’m not even quoting the original text!
My personal reaction is that I could barely finish reading it. It was too painful.
In the play, a middle-aged couple George and Martha have a routine of bitter fights in the way that only a couple who has been married for years can master. They dig at each other viciously, and it’s become so routine that they not only don’t stop when second couple Nick and Honey are present. Their fighting takes on a sharper edge as they wrap the younger pair into their manipulations and spite.
Throughout, they refer to their son. Only, they don’t have an actual son. Their son is a phantom of dreams from years ago. They could not conceive. They are infertile.
Finally, George “kills” their son. He ends the fantasy that Martha has clung to for years. He ends her ability to deny.
Albee does a masterful job of portraying a married couple existing in the years following a slow tragedy.
If this were a story written to empower infertile couples, particularly women, to find resolution to their infertility, I would complain that George is the one to rip off the Band-Aid that’s encrusted by years of denial and hurt.
But it isn’t. The infertility is a tool, a force of plot working on the characters. And it is not happy.
Albee himself was adopted and had a poor relationship with his mother. I have not prepared for this post by reading biographies of Albee or interviews exploring why he wrote Who’s Afraid the way he did, with George and Martha’s infertility as the hidden force driving the story. But I wonder if Albee – who is openly gay, was born in 1928, and I assume has not tried to reproduce genetically – understood infertility via his mother and chose to explore it, or if it was simply an awareness in his life, something to be used in his work.
I contrast Albee’s work with the stories of infertile women who have resolved their infertility and choose to live without children. These are women who blog or find other ways to tell their stories. If they are telling their stories, they are telling them from a place of resolution – something Martha never achieved. These women insist that their lives are full and whole. They experience sadness at times but they have found acceptance and peace.
Not every woman comes to tell her story as a story of empowering resolution. Some people hurt forever. If that weren’t true, it would lessen the triumph of those who frame their stories as a narrative of victory over grief.
I find both paths terrifying, frankly.
As far as Albee’s play goes, it’s a play about characters, not a social issue. And yet, I can see signs of George and Martha in my relationship with my husband. We joke with each other like George and Martha, but often the jokes have an edge. Sometimes it seems like a competition, to see who can tell the joke with the sharpest, deepest barbs, or to see who can withstand the worst dig. It’s not fun when someone finally loses.
It is frightening to think that this might be our future. And it is terrifying to think that we might resolve, some day, by ceasing to fight: each other, and this infertility.
Who is to say.