Tribalism at its best provides a haven and kinship. Who doesn’t like to feel accepted and validated?
Tribalism at its worst, however, fuels misunderstandings, culture wars, and, at the extreme, ugliness.
Most of us have witnessed or encountered all of the above.
My latest tribal experience stemmed from my participation in Slate‘s podcast, What I Wish I Knew Before I Started IVF. In its entirety, the podcast relays rather intimate discussions among women in the unenviable position of trying to decode reproductive mysteries. Apart from the physical challenges, there are multiple messy emotions that arise. Let’s call us ‘Tribe Infertility.’
The Unvarnished Truth
IVF is rarely, if ever, anyone’s first choice. When was the last time you heard a woman or man enthusiastically declare:
“IVF is fabulous! You get to spend tens of thousands of dollars on humiliating, invasive procedures that involve your private bits!! And the ‘fertility’ clinic owner/operators now trot out ‘add-ons’ that haven’t been scientifically proven for hundreds or thousands more. How could we refuse? Everyone keeps saying: you want to achieve your dream, right?!”
It’s gutting when it fails. The pain is palpable. It feels like your heart is cut into pieces. That’s why, as I wrote post-podcast, I felt a bond with the producer in hearing her story. Through common experiences (particularly the life-changing kind), our tribes help us feel seen and heard and understood. That’s tribalism at its best. I’d hoped the podcast might shed new light and foster greater empathy for those who’d endured ‘childling’ losses. The ‘Tribe IVF Survivors.’ In the words made famous by Ted Lasso: I’d hoped people would be curious, not judgmental.
Confirmation Bias Rears its Head
A few days later, however, there was a Slate follow-on story, an edited podcast transcript titled: How Do You Know When to Stop Trying For a Kid? That story had a comment section. Not surprisingly there were some strong opinions levied. Some kind, others far from it.
The tribalism, clearly colored by confirmation bias, was easy to spot. There was Tribe ‘Don’t Give Up, IVF Worked for ME!’ Then the detractors: Tribe Infertility Needs to Freakin’ Get Over Itself and ‘IVFers? You People Are Awful,’ And, as always, the Marie Antoinette-esque chorus: Tribe ‘Just Adopt’ got very busy. These are examples of smug, sometime ignorants, tribalism of the so-not-helpful-variety.
I’d kind of expected society in the 15 years since I first starting blogging about Tribe Infertility to have evolved further.
On a more promising note, the podcast separately prompted an email from an IVF clinic nurse who wanted to learn more about the patient experience. She requested a copy of my IVF Survivor journal article to share with her clinic colleagues. Then there was fierce Sarah of Afterward Honesty who suited up to set the record straight with her comment. She redirected the focus back to the point of the story and the podcast. Tribalism at its best.
Childless or Childfree or Something More?
It’s been a busy couple of weeks stirring the cultural soup. Part Deux of my thoughts on tribalism and how it shapes and defines and confounds is in the draft stage. You’ll see the tribal tee up below. Jody Day, in her ongoing efforts to educate, probe and open new lines of communication organized the latest Conscious Childless Elderwomen equinox fireside chat. The topic: Childless vs. Childfree: A false binary that ageing without children subverts? Seems there’s no end to the different forms of tribalism among women.
Take a listen …