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12 Varieties of Tylenol = Stress!

Posted Oct 04 2009 11:10pm
"The desire to have it all, and the illusion that we can, is one of the principal sources of torture of modern affluent free and autonomous thinkers." (Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2003))

Greetings, Free and Autonomous Thinkers, KuKd and Otherwise!

Okay. I'm not normally so into deep quotes, I swear. There was a point when I felt I might throw up if I heard one more profound thought from Toni Morrison. But the one above caught my eye as I was frantically attempting to dig up some "food for thought" for my writing class to chew on, three minutes before start time.

Why do I love this quote? Because it's just plain true. Seriously, read it several times. Isn't it true? Barry Schwartz is a genius for putting out there what I think I've known deep down, but haven't been able to articulate. I know it from the mild, anxiety-induced tummy ache and dry mouth I get when I'm racing around the grocery story, trying to shop for munchies for a party that starts in an hour. Schwartz says:

"Scanning the shelves of my local supermarket recently, I found 85 different varieties and brands of crackers. As I read the packages, I discovered that some brands had sodium, others didn't. Some were fat-free, others weren't. They came in big boxes and small ones. They came in normal size and bite size. There were mundane saltines and exotic and expensive imports...A typical supermarket carries more than 30,000 items. That's a lot to choose from. And more than 20,000 new products hit the shelves every year, almost all of them doomed to failure.

Comparison shopping to get the best price adds still another dimension to the array of choices, so that if you were a truly careful shopper, you could spend the better part of a day just to select a box of crackers, as you worried about price, flavor, freshness, fat, sodium, and calories. But who has the time to do this? Who but a professor doing research would even stop to consider that there are almost 300 different cookie options to choose among?

Supermarkets are unusual as repositories for what are called "nondurable goods," goods that are quickly used and replenished. So buying the wrong brand of cookies doesn't have significant emotional or financial consequences. But in most other settings, people are out to buy things that cost more money, and that are meant to last. And here, as the number of options increases, the psychological stakes rise accordingly."


Yes. It's that last part that I love: "the psychological stakes rise accordingly."

The more I read and hear and see, the more apparent it becomes to me how embedded into TTC/KuKd culture this "desire to have it all, and illusion that we can" philosophy has become. Think about the dizzying array of potential options available to women who want children. To the tired TTCer out there, one can easily apply Schwartz's grocery shopping metaphor: those who have the cash, time, and energy to devote find themselves faced with shelves of products, from IVF varieties, to different versions of injections, to surrogacy, to adoption, and more. One goes back and forth, deliberating, stressing, pondering, pissed at having to be forced into this these dark and crowded shopping aisles in the first place ("it would be so much easier if I had a NORMAL repro system - like ordering online!"), uncertain if any of the products available will produce results.

Same with KuKd, and I'm talking - more specifically - about those of us who have experienced MULTIPLE losses. Because one loss doesn't equal a pattern - just bad luck. Once you get into the KuKdX2 and X2 and X4 arena (yes, there ARE X3 and X4 and XMORE-ers out there, which never ceases to amaze me), it starts to look less like luck and more like a pattern, which means - of course - there MUST BE A WAY TO BREAK IT! Break the pattern, I mean.

Which lead back to Schwartz's concept of "psychological stakes." Needless to say, choosing behaviors, services, and products that might prevent miscarriage or stillbirth is a high-stakes game, higher than - say - deciding which version of Cream of Wheat to pull off the shelf. In my case, there is gender selection - yes, the more money I cough up, the more I can increase my odds for girl-baby with a genetically favored heart muscle. Got $20,000 floating around for a 99% guarantee? SURE! That's why I became a teacher, afterall: to roll in the big bucks!

Of course, there are smaller-scale ways in which I could alter my behavior to enhance my odds of "getting what I want." I could stop drinking coffee, and up my steak consumption. I could stand on my head after intercourse, and pray at the same time. And if I ever DO get pregnant, I can avoid any surface that might have a germ on it. That could, maybe, possibly, prevent me from entering the dreaded KuKdx3 category.

Or, I could stop torturing myself, let go of this illusion that just a click on the computer screen, a pen to the checkbook, a tablet of fish oil, will enable me to have it all. Options, options, options. To add to Schwartz' excerpt above, and probably duplicate what he says later in his book, the very fact that so many millions of options are availabe to us makes for a rather stressful situation, limiting our ability - I think - to accept what is actually true: we cannot have it all.

Some day, maybe I'll figure this out for real, take this surface observation and actually intertwine it into my everyday mode of thinking and operating. If I ever get knocked up again, I pray to the trees and sky that I am able to keep Schwartz's concept in mind, and that I remember what I'm telling myself today: Monica, relax, free and autonomous thinker. Be pleased with the life that you have, for you have a wonderful life.
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