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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/15/09

Binge Breeding

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It’s Sunday afternoon and my house is full of kids today.  Three are my own, the rest are from the neighborhood.  Teenagers all, I’m fairly certain they gather in our home because fruit juice, snacks, and video games are in ample supply.  Hiding behind my computer, I play the discreet chaperone, secretly relishing the chaos and the energy they bring to my middle-aged world.  I embrace them warmly, remembering the loneliness I felt at their age, an only child whose weekend socializing consisted of following my parents from mansion to mansion, hiding in the dens and libraries to avoid the punctilious owners of these enshrined abodes. 


Trying to pass the time, I managed to miss reading Revolutionary Road, though I did peruse Appointment in Samarra, How to Make Friends and Influence People, and the Ordeal of Change, in between dusty volumes that betrayed the secrets of Jung and Freud.  Barely out of my teens, as my own gesture of suburban bohemianism perhaps, I ran off and married the oldest of six siblings; whose tiny ramshackle bungalow, 4 bunk beds per bedroom, ever open front door, and down-to-earth Mom personified the realization of my long-suppressed dreams of a welcoming extended family. 


Like many starter marriages, mine soon collapsed under the weight of graduate school and my ex’s well-intentioned serial monogamy.  On my own for 12 years, I built the professional and personal life I desired, a moderate balance of enjoyable company and solitude and reflection.  My second marriage and my rewarding family life have made balance a goal that my husband and I hope to achieve as empty nesters in a few years--but without regrets. 


Pulling my thoughts away from the space battles on the family room big-screen, though, I do start to muse about the theme of my next book.  A friend had suggested that I focus on the story of an infertile woman and her unresolved hunger and pain.  I passed on that excellent idea—the story was hers, and, I thought she should write it.  It has been almost twenty years since she learned biological children were beyond her reach, and, thinking of her, I look at mine, enjoying their leisure hours, with a mixture of gratitude and guilt. 


I am, all of a sudden, reminded of the Octomom, however, who, after struggling with her own loneliness and the pain of miscarriages, moved to assisted reproduction and will now be raising a brood of 14 children, age 7 and under.  I’ve written on these pages about the narcissism that can drive people to make unwise choices in fervent attempts to meet psychological needs, to fill the emptiness inside.  But there is more than narcissism that can lead to desperation—deprivation can be as forceful a trigger.


I’ve had the misfortune to be on many diets in my life, most of them only temporarily successful.  Needing to be slim for my television work, I dabbled in liquids, protein powders, juices, Atkins, lo-carb, no-carb, South Beach, grapefruit, etc,…--everything but nicotine and drugs.  Unable to indulge my lust for chocolate and fresh bread, I could think of nothing else.  After the show or assignment, I’d head out to the local bakery and binge on what I had denied myself for weeks, ruing the pounds that would creep back on in a fraction of the time I had labored to lose them.  Learning to avoid the cycle of deprivation and gluttony took years—moderation required giving up the comforting obsession of fasting and the serotonin and dopamine high of the binge.


Individuals with bulimia often struggle with this roller coaster of psychological and physical symptoms.  Burdened with low self-esteem, and often suffering from depression, they may binge eat to fill their internal emptiness, until they are overwhelmed with guilt and pain from overeating and turn to purging behaviors such as vomiting, laxatives, and overexercising.  Eating disorders are increasingly prevalent in our society, which bombards even children with Madison Avenue pressure for unnatural thinness and beauty, and sparks cycles of disordered eating in kids as young as 6 or 7 years old. 


Looking at Octomom’s choices and behavior, it seemed almost as if she was demonstrating a similar pattern of “bulimic breeding”.  Deprived of her dream to have children in her now dissolved marriage, was she binging on the opportunity to reproduce through IVF? 


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Jill Jackson is a practitioner of kindness and common sense. Unlike her cat, she prefers to think out of the box.

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