How a Novel Can Make Us Look at Ourselves and our Choices

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This is my first participation in the Barren Bitches Book Brigade. Thanks, Mel, for organizing it.

Now in the interest of full disclosure I first tried to read this book some 18 months ago when I found The Time Traveler’s Wife on the bestseller’s list. After multiple attempts to get into it without success I fired it. The whole fantasy, science fiction genre has never been my cup of tea. Were it not for the BBBB I would not have cracked the spine again. Since it was selected I reasoned that there must be something to it. I vowed to give it another go. Here are the BBBB questions in my group that I chose to address:

1) In the “TTW” the
main character can at times, know what happens in the future, even though
he can’t change it. In terms of infertility, I often wonder if I had been able
to know what the end result of all this would be if I could be at peace
with it, even if I couldn’t change it. How do you feel about that? If you
could know what was going to happen sometime in the future in regards to
your IF would you choose to know and not be able to change it, or continue
the way you are and get to that place unaware of the final destination?

I can say with all honesty that if my husband and I had known definitively that our infertility and the subsequent doctor visits and treatments would ultimately lead to empty arms, we would have considered other choices over the past dozen years. The certain knowledge would have led us down a different path. We would have made different choices and the emotional highs and lows would have been significantly mitigated. The years we devoted to “trying” — whether it was the natural way, western medical treatments or more new agey techniques — would not have been filled with false hope. You see we were lost in the idea that given enough time, money and treatment we were bound to create a child.

I’m convinced that the emotional longing would have been curtailed and the grieving process would have started sooner rather than later. We’d have invested our energies into something that might have led us to a different place.  A significant amount of money spent on unsuccessful treatments would have been accumulating interest for who knows what purpose (an endowment for the non-profit that provides care to a relative in need? a college fund for our nieces and nephews?…we’ll never know — it’s gone. That’s because the obscenely expensive treatments don’t come with guarantees or tax breaks). Not knowing that we would never have a child of our own enabled me to live the last dozen years in an anxious and fretful state of denial.

#2) Book excerpt: “My body wanted a
baby. I felt empty and I wanted to be full. I wanted someone to love who
would stay: stay and be there, always. And I wanted Henry to be in
this child, so that when he was gone, he wouldn’t be entirely gone, there
would be a bit of him with me.”  For me, this
quote encapsulates the incredibly complex and sad contradictions at
the heart of the book. Henry is not truly there. It’s his time traveling
which leaves Clare alone and at the same time causes her to miscarry. Her
longing for a piece of him can’t be filled, as she can’t hang on to his
child.  Putting aside the perception of a child as someone who gives
eternal love, I am taken by this image of the child as a reflection of the
father. How do you feel about this? If you have used or considered donor
gametes, has this been an issue for you or your partner? The loss of a
genetic line, the acceptance that the child may not be “a part
of” the parent? Is the grieving worse for the partner who does not
use their own eggs/sperm, or for the other parent, who doesn’t get to
hold onto a tiny piece of their partner? Or is the essence of a parent
passed on regardless of the genetic link?

For my husband and me the primary motivation to pursue IF treatment was to celebrate our love for each other and to create a life that combined the traits, looks and talents of each of us. Narcissistic? I wondered about that myself. If that’s the case then it stands to reason that every couple who conceives and delivers the natural way rather than adopt first would be guilty of the same assessment.

When the RE suggested that we might have a better outcome with donor gametes, my husband and I discussed the implications. We looked at it from every angle — what if it were his donor gamete? mine? A donor embryo? Among the first things we considered was not how the decision would affect our attachment to each other or the child, rather we thought more about how the knowledge would affect the child’s relationship with us and his/her comfort with his/her identity.

We both decided that the fast-changing advances around DNA-based medicine would require us to be honest with a child about his/her biological roots. We considered how that might change the child’s sense of self and his/her relationship with us particularly in the rebellious period of child’s life when identity issues lend themselves to fantasies. How often did any of us wonder if we were adopted — whose true child did we want to be? Would the child feel an obligation, an insatiable curiosity to track down his/her biological donor? How easy would it be? Would we have an implied relationship with the donor? Would we face a different sort of heartache in knowing that we were not considered the true parents? I’ve since read the book The Genius Factory, which illuminated a number of these questions.  Ultimately, the rationale of a friend who was also contemplating the emotional/intellectual nature of the question rang in our heads. “If I’d wanted to conceive a child with someone else, I would have married someone else.”

All the considerations above aside, there was no assurance that donor gamete would have even worked for us.

3) There were several ways in
which Clare and Henry’s experience of infertility (and pregnancy after
infertility) rang true – in their individual reactions, in their joint
reaction as a couple, and in their interactions with the outside
world.  Choose one or two specific examples and relate them to your
personal experience.

There was a scene after Clare and Henry had miscarried a few times when they went to visit Gomez and Clarisse. Henry sees Clarisse holding her baby in her arms. Here’s Henry’s reaction: “…the reality of our miscarriages grabs me and for a moment I feel nauseous…I am left with the actuality of what we’ve been doing: we have been losing children. Where are they, these lost children, wandering, hovering around confused?”

I could not have written the emotional devastation any better. The author captures what I’ve felt and considered.

Now enough heavy stuff from me. Now visit another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein.

5 comments

  • As I said on Serenity’s blog, I read this book last fall for my library book club, and although it was brilliant and one of the best books I read last year, it shook me to the core. I filled an entire page with quotes that I couldn’t bring myself to discuss at book club. The “lost children” especially.

  • Mel

    This is such a gorgeous line: Not knowing that we would never have a child of our own enabled me to live the last dozen years in an anxious and fretful state of denial. So true.
    I have a question about your second answer–and this in no way is meant to sway you or question your choice because each person has their own paths out of infertility that fit their family needs. It’s simply an interesting thought I read recently. The person said that they look at donated gametes in the same way as donated blood or donated organs–it’s the ultimate gift a person can give another person. But once given, it’s part of the receiver and while they may need to acknowledge the gift for medical reasons (I had a heart transplant or I had a blood transfusion), it is still theirs. What do you think of this idea? How does it fit in with that quote about not wanting to create a child with another person? I just thought it was an interesting way of looking at donor gametes.
    Great answers. Gave me a lot to think about tonight 🙂

  • Your answers to the book questions leave me with much food for thought. I read this book a few years ago, and it shook me as well.

  • Wow, I have to say, you have given me something to think about. I admire you for expressing feelings that sometimes people don’t. IF brings us so many different things to consider. I’d honestly never given thought to them. You are right, how many of us wondered if we were adopted? I’d never thought how knowing that would affect relationships.

  • Bea

    I’ve been wanting to comment on the book tours, I’m just a little slow.

    I found your summing up of donor conception interesting. Not because I question the individual decisions of particular couples, but because whenever I see someone say or suggest that their infertility situation could be “solved” by breaking up, I think, if they wanted to *parent* with someone else, they would have married someone else.

    I think this especially when I see the infertile partner say, “You should leave me and find someone who can give you the family you want.”

    It’s a little oblique to your point, but I was startled to see almost the same phrase applied to reject donor conception as I’ve used to think about accepting it.

    (I don’t think I’ve explained my self well, hopefully you get me.)

    Bea