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.