A Virtual Hug — From A Book


My response was visceral and immediate and caught me by surprise. As I read the following passage aloud to my husband I felt a sob building deep inside. Then it erupted into familiar tears. These tears, though, were tears of relief. For being accepted not judged. For being acknowledged not marginalized. For being seen as human and not as some sort of freak.

“Recently married, Reverend Beth, who was in her early thirties, was looking forward to starting a family of her own. She felt acute empathy for anybody who wanted children and could not have them easily….she had already counseled a surprising number: not just women but men, and not just people who were actively trying but older couples who had confided to her their permanent sense of loss at never having had the child they longed for. [She] knew that suffering is part of human existence.
…Infertility had always seemed to her an especially hard form of suffering to inflict.”

What stunned me upon reflection is how starved we infertiles are for
such heartfelt empathy from society at large. Here I am five years
post-treatment, grateful for the kind words of a stranger.

The passage is from the prologue of Liza Mundy’s book, Everything Conceivable. I will admit that it took me this long to crack the spine because I was afraid I’d find the accusing and unforgiving language associated with mainstream reporting on infertility. My shoulders, tense as I started reading, relaxed some as I made my way through her prologue.

See also  Reader Mail: Infertility Affects More Than Infertiles

Liza, a Washington Post reporter, explains that among her reasons for writing her book was trying to make sense of the complexities surrounding infertility. Reader response to an initial story she wrote on infertile couples who couldn’t afford expensive treatment revealed a deep-seated antipathy. “This was my introduction to the fact that the spectacle of someone trying to have a child can be even more inflammatory than the spectacle of someone trying not to have one.”

How well we know that, huh?

This book-related post also leads me to follow up on Lori and Niobe’s request for a look at one of my book shelves. As you’ll see there’s a mix of history, fiction, non-fiction, biography and, of course, books on infertility.

It’s hard to read the spines, but among my favorites here: The Girls in the Balcony; Undaunted Courage; Life: The Movie; The Red Tent; Somebody Told Me; Fast Food Nation; Imperial Life Inside the Emerald City; The Hypocrite in the Pouffy White Dress; and Eleanor of Aquitaine.


20 Responses

  1. Kami

    April 1, 2008 4:09 pm

    That sounds like a good book. Please give us an update as you get more into it.

    I haven’t read many books on infertility (except the ones that were suppose to help) because I didn’t want to get depressed when they had similar stories or envious when they successful stories. This sounds like something I could get in to.

    Although I am still quite bitter over what we have been through, I need to remember how fortunate we are to have had enough money to pursue treatment. Even though it hasn’t been easy, at least it has been possible.

    Thanks again, PJ, for sharing your story and observations.

  2. loribeth

    April 1, 2008 4:21 pm

    This book is also in my “to read” pile — I think I will have to dig it out now! I’ve amassed a huge collection of infertility & loss books over the past 10 years, including a portion of the “to read” pile. Sometimes I’ll go through one right after another — as you said, it is so affirming to realize you are not alone in your thoughts, feelings & experiences, that someone understands — but sometimes I need a break & crave something light & silly, like a Shopaholic novel.

    I love looking at other people’s bookshelves. Thanks for the reminder that I should post a photo of mine!

  3. Ellen K

    April 1, 2008 6:14 pm

    I read that book and was not annoyed by it, except for the occasional outdated or misused term. It certainly boosted my confidence in having chosen a research-based university clinic, rather than a commercial clinic.

    The first time I felt sheer gratitude toward a writer on the subject of infertility was while reading Dan Savage’s “The Kid.”

  4. Tara

    April 1, 2008 7:54 pm

    Hi there – found your blog through the Lost and Found.

    I am starting to consider giving up fertility treatments and living childless (childfree?). (I am currently in the 2ww of my 2nd IVF cycle – the first failed, as this one also might)

    I was wondering if you have read any other books on this topic? Any that you found particularly helpful? I recently ordered “Sweet Grapes”, in hopes that it might give me some perspective on what I can expect. Any suggestions you could give me would be greatly appreciated…

    • Pamela Jeanne

      April 2, 2008 4:52 am

      Ah, Tara. I wish I had some great suggestions. Besides Sweet Grapes, I’ve looked high and low and have not yet found any other book that gets at that very question. I’ve finished a book myself on this topic, but it’s still on my laptop at the moment. Will keep you posted on its publishing progress. In the meantime, I wish you the best with this IVF cycle…

  5. Bea

    April 2, 2008 2:27 am

    Yeah, it would be nice if everyone just understood it as a real problem. Sounds like a great book to reassure us that, somewhere out there, some people do.


  6. Babystep

    April 2, 2008 4:40 am

    It is funny, because I have recommended “Waiting for Daisy” many times after reading a review and article about it. But I haven’t read it myself yet!

  7. May

    April 2, 2008 7:27 am

    I remember being reduced to similar tears by a book I go tout of the library on PCOS and fertility, because the author kept talking about the need to look after yourself emotionally and acknowledged how hard all this was to live through. Everything else I’d read seemed so, so NAGGING and bossy – do this, eat this, don’t eat that, take Clomid! It’ll solve everything! This one book stood out like a star. And damn me if I can remember the author. Argh.

    You’ve beautifully put into words why I found that book so special. An acknowldegment that this is HARD, from anyone at all, is wonderful, and bittersweet, as it shows how little acknowledgement the Rest of the World bothers to give us. Can’t get pregnant? Not meant to be. Trying very hard to get pregnant? Unnatural. Childless? Selfish. Suffering from actually deeply unpleasant condition that prevents you from getting pregnant? Well, getting it treated makes you unnatural AND selfish. The fact that this is all extremely contradictory and hypocritical doesn’t seem to stop the general public, does it?


    Right. Off to see if the library has Liza Mundy’s book.

  8. loribeth

    April 2, 2008 2:18 pm

    Tara/PJ: re: books on childless living after infertility, I agree, there is not a lot out there. Besides “Sweet Grapes,” I thought “Never to be a Mother” by Susan Anton was pretty good, but it is out of print. There is a slim little volume called “Childfree After Infertility” by Heather Wardell that’s OK. I’ve also read a few memoirs (Joan Brady’s “I Don’t Need a Baby to Be Who I Am” comes to mind). I also liked Madelyn Cain’s “The Childless Revolution,” although it includes childfree by choice & is more of a study/overview than a how-to/support book.

  9. Kelly

    April 2, 2008 2:36 pm

    ‘Everything Conceivable’ was one of the first books I read when starting the IVF process earlier this year. I found it sitting out at the library at a perfect time. I found it so helpful and very smartly written. The author really seems to want to address all the different ethical sides of IVF, which as a nurse myself, I appreciate. It’s an imposing book, as you say, and I hope you like it as much as I did.

  10. luna

    April 2, 2008 4:32 pm

    I think you so eloquently put into words the need for real empathy — understanding, acknowledgment, genuine care — that is so lacking. thanks for the book recommendation. I have to admit I keep starting i/f books and not finishing them…

    and the red tent is one of my favorites. ~luna

  11. peesticksandstones

    April 2, 2008 5:29 pm

    I feel like I’ve read pretty much everything IF-related I can find, and Everything Conceivable and Waiting For Daisy are both far and beyond among some of the best.

    I was especially intrigued, too, by the idea in “Sweet Grapes” that once you decide to give up on treatment and decide to be childfree you should also go on the Pill or other BC so you can free yourself of the hope/wondering every month. Has anyone done this? Sounds so hard.

    There are a few books, though, that I’ve thrown across the room in anger. “Inconceivable” was one for some reason (“just relaxed and drank wheatgrass and chinese herbs and did yoga and what do you know? bam, baby”). Also Christine Northrup makes me totally scream (“endo is your fault because you’re not expressing your femininity”/”IF is because of your unacknowledged ambivalence about motherhood,” etc, etc). Grr!

  12. foreverhopeful

    April 2, 2008 5:45 pm

    I don’t read a lot of books either but I so relate to what you said about “how starved we infertiles are for such heartfelt empathy from society at large”. For me reading blogs has helped. To realize how hard IF all is and finding people who feel the same way has helped me not feel so alone and such a freak either. That is one thing I feel strongly about is I wish more people would have more real empathy and maybe our journey’s wouldn’t be so hard? Its everyone else and the hurtful comments and insensitivity that has made it harder and so much more painful.

  13. Freyja

    April 3, 2008 1:28 pm

    I love books. In the last year and a half or so I’ve been really drawn to IF books. I thought “Waiting for Daisy” was pretty good. I also liked Jenna’s book. And the book I’m reading now, “The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception” is absolutely FABULOUS! It is not an emotional or personal book – it’s literally about the business of making babies.

  14. annacyclopedia

    April 3, 2008 1:38 pm

    So true about that hunger for validation and empathy from the world. This would all be so much easier for me if I didn’t have my defenses up all the time and could feel like what I’m going through is part of a normal continuum of human experience. I know it is, but most other people don’t seem to think so.

    Your book collection looks wonderful, and it inspires me to read a novel again. I’ve just been all about non-fiction and blogland, lately.

    And thanks for your words of support on my last post. They really mean a lot to me.

  15. Eve

    June 10, 2008 2:18 pm

    How wonderful that the writer of this book “gets it”! Pamela, you’re so right that most people in the fertile world are clueless about what it’s like. Thanks for sharing this lovely “virtual hug.”

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