Lolly Winston imbues her novel Happiness Sold Separately with poignant and meaningful passages and scenes that characterize the lasting and sometimes surprising impact that infertility visits on a couple’s relationship. Winston does a fine job weaving in the sense of isolation and alienation that comes to both partners when failing to conceive or losing an early pregnancy. The title says it all.
Among the passages that resonated most for me was when Winston’s protagonist Elinor participates in a book club meeting following her miscarriage and finds that “no one gets her”…and thinks “why should they? She’s a barren, bitter, self-pitying grouch. She hates this book club. She smiles and loosens the grip on the stem of her wineglass, afraid she might snap it in half.” Feeling that people don’t “get me” is one of the toughest side effects of infertility. This scene provides a nice segue to the questions I answer on this book brigade:
1) Elinor seemed to turn all of her books on the subject of infertility backwards on the bookshelves, where Roger found them while cleaning. Why do you think she did so? In what ways do you think people who are struggling with infertility help in keeping infertility such a “taboo” topic? Do you see infertility ever becoming a more accepted or understood topic?
If there is one thing I’d like to see before I buy the farm it would be that infertility comes out of the closet. I’d like to think that in the future a new generation of couples will benefit from the societal support and understanding necessary to cope with the complex aspects of infertility.
I fully believe that my own infertility struggles were compounded mightily by the wholesale dismissal and marginalization of my condition. There are days, still, when I want to shake some sense into the Fertile Myrtles (male and female alike) who have never taken the time to step back and wonder how it might feel to never feel their baby kick from the inside, to see their baby’s eyes open for the first time, to know that their branch of the family tree will be nothing more than a twig. I’ve fantasized launching a swift kick in the keister to those who assume that all an infertile couple needs to do to feel better when the news comes that babies are an impossibility or close to it is get a pet (assuming no allergies, of course) or to buy a nicer car, and all will be just peachy. “You are soooooo lucky” is hardly the appropriate response to offer up to someone who’s just lost a family member, but we get that commentary and worse time and time again.
With all formerly taboo subjects there needs to be an environment of support, sensitivity and understanding in order for people who live with “taboos” to comfortably accept themselves and their place in society. If you look historically at formerly taboo topics – whether it was interfaith or interracial marriage, gay or lesbian relationships, or breast or prostate cancer diagnoses for that matter – there’s been a sea change in societal perception. I’m guessing that sea change has helped bring about a level of comfort for those involved and removed a sense of stigma or shame.
Now there will always be the ugly ignoramus’ who choose not to put any energy or thought into what it might be like to feel alienated for being “different,” but for the most part a little knowledge and understanding goes a long, long way. All that said it is not easy to openly acknowledge that your body has failed you or that you feel sadness and loss in not sharing such a natural expression of love with your partner. Not dissolving into tears has been a challenge whenever I approach the topic, but I’m getting stronger with practice. We infertiles have to be willing to talk about our experiences in order for perception changes to occur and compassion to grow.
2) One of my favorite parts of the book was when she threw all of her IF books into the mulcher. Most people would have thought she was crazy! Her thoughts about all of the books were so similar to mine. I guess my question is who else sees themselves in Elinor? On the surface it seems like the symbolism is pretty obvious but I think it went much deeper. Anyone else? Any other thoughts on this section?
I definitely related to Elinor and her frustrations. Her destruction of IF books seemed such a perfect way to get the upper hand, a Karmic attempt to match destruction for destruction. Where infertility destroyed her innocence and the once joyful nature of her marriage she was getting even. I didn’t destroy any of my IF books though I may follow suit! The desire to fight back in some physical way, to unbottle the anger and injustice is huge. On a few occasions after our IVF losses when I was alone in the house, I systematically made sure the doors and windows were closed and let loose with a full body primal scream. It was satisfying — temporarily.
3) The book explores different kinds of love. It seems that their battle with fertility (and really Elinor’s battle with herself) has changed the type of love Ted feels for his wife. Has your journey with infertility and/or loss changed the love between you and your spouse?
Fortunately for us, the experience brought us closer. That’s because we know that we’re all we have. We’re a fiercely devoted tribe of two. Unlike people who rely on their children to look out for them as they grow older we know that we are each other’s top priority. I tell Mr. Pamela Jeanne time and again that in the immortal words of Barry White, he’s my first, my last, my everything.
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
October 29, 2007 10:09 am
Love your closing question (or rather, your answer to it).
And yes, I really do wonder sometimes where people get such a callous view of infertility.
October 29, 2007 2:50 pm
you hit it perfectly on that first answer. (and the others also!) there’s just no way for fertiles and infertiles to see where the other is coming from.
and this statement: “The desire to fight back in some physical way, to unbottle the anger and injustice is huge.” completely true for me.
i really enjoyed reading your responses!
October 29, 2007 3:17 pm
Maybe people will never proudly display their “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” as they do their Annie Liebovitz coffee table book. But you are certainly doing your part to de-taboo-ify infertility.
I wonder what would happen if all IFs did a primal scream at the same time. Would we change the tilt of the earth?
I’m glad you and Mr PJ were fused together by the fire rather than charred apart. As this book shows, it is so possible to go the other way…kudos to you both for having your priorities where they are.
And here’s your Mojito!
October 29, 2007 5:55 pm
I love your final thoughts, too. That is how DH and I are. I thought we were close before our miscarriage, but it was nothing compared to what we have now!
October 29, 2007 7:06 pm
Oh Lori – the scream ..I wonder what would happen!!
Once again PJ, I loved reading your take on this book
October 29, 2007 11:14 pm
“If there is one thing I’d like to see before I buy the farm it would be that infertility comes out of the closet. ” I LOVE THIS STATEMENT! I could not have said it better myself. I thought your responses were spot on! 🙂
October 29, 2007 11:36 pm
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
October 30, 2007 1:21 am
I love what you said about your husband. I think that is so important, with or without children, your relationship needs to be a top priority.
I agree that fertiles and infertiles can’t really understand each other. It’s part of why I still want to be involved in this community even if my IF journey is over. It’s a place where people will always understand what I’ve gone through. Thanks for your comments. It’s so interesting to read what everyone else has to say.
October 30, 2007 1:33 am
This line was perfect: “‘You are soooooo lucky’ is hardly the appropriate response to offer up to someone who’s just lost a family member, but we get that commentary and worse time and time again.” People just don’t think.
I hope the stigma dissolves too.
October 30, 2007 1:53 am
Great insight on trying to get infertility out from being a taboo subject. You are braver than I am in sharing it with people. I am still having difficulties with that.
October 30, 2007 11:19 am
I, too, LOVED the book-mulching scene. She was feeling so helpless, so dominated by all things IF, that killing off those books was akin to staking a flag in her life. She was claiming herself again, taking back he control that infertiliy had gained. It’s one thing to decide to have a new attitude toward infertility, but I still remember how liberated I felt when I packed up my charts and thermometer and OPKs and HPTs and shoved all of it deep into a box in the back of my closet. I all but sang a requiem.
October 30, 2007 7:09 pm
I haven’t read the book as reading about infertility makes me sad to the bone so when I read the question about placing infertility books backwards on the bookshelves, I almost laughed. All my infertility books are in the second row, hidden behind the detective stories and nutritional advice books. You are right, though, we do need to talk about infertility. This silence and lack of understanding makes it so much harder to live through.
I love the idea of the mulcher!
October 30, 2007 9:09 pm
Some people are naturally empathetic.. sadly some are just clueless!
October 31, 2007 3:40 am
I too hope that one day infertility will stop being the taboo subject it is. I hate that when I talk about it with anyone they get this chagrined and pitying expression on their face instead of congratulating me for my strength and dignity in dealing with it.
October 31, 2007 6:18 am
I too agree that infertility needs more awareness. If there were more people talking about it and aware how hard and how painful it is …. alot of us wouldn’t have to suffer in silence and feel so alone.
October 31, 2007 4:45 pm
Ack! All the blogs are talking about the book, and I didn’t read it (yet). I have to read it!!!
November 1, 2007 1:32 am
I really enjoyed this book, and was also delighted when the protagonist of her other book, Good Grief, also had dealt with fertility. It wasn’t as key to the story, but I just liked that the author put it in there as something that had shaped this person’s life.
Weird how even a condition like HPV seems to have come out of the closet and doesn’t seem as scary/secretive as it was years ago. But infertility — I don’t know. There’s a way to go!
November 2, 2007 11:19 am
“We infertiles have to be willing to talk about our experiences in order for perception changes to occur and compassion to grow.” – very well said. For me this becomes easier to do the longer I walk this path.