"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #13: Reader's Choice
This book held my interest all the way through, but I'm having trouble coming up with something coherent to say about it.
Like the best memoirs, Orenstein is not afraid to sacrifice her pride for the sake of emotional honesty, and she writes candidly about many situations and conversations that do not present her in the best light. Still, the pain, disappointment and powerlessness that accompany infertility are very real, and it is in these deeply painful places that Orenstein sometimes recedes into the shadows. She brushes off her first miscarriage, and subsequent miscarriages are covered in varying levels of detail. She captures the danger of obsession that can emerge when high-achieving women confront infertility, one thing for which they seemingly have little control over -- but that doesn't mean they don't try! Orenstein details her attempts to "control" the uncontrollable by doing everything from acupuncture to building shrines in her bedroom. There's always that tantalizing "one more thing" that just might work.
But this book is strongest in the moments when Orenstein steps away from her infertility-fueled neuroses (no judgment) and reflects on what it means to her identity, particularly as a feminist. She struggles with her dedication to a woman's right to choose when she feels desperate for the pregnancy many women would give up, as well as the way women's sense of "worth" or "femininity" is tied to their ability to be mothers. She depicts how such an ongoing crisis colors the whole world in different ways, from how you interact to your friend who has 15 kids (yes, really), to how you think of sex, to the things you do when you travel (one of the most touching segments is when Orenstein visits a shrine for miscarried or aborted babies in Japan, the mourning of which happens mostly invisibly in the U.S.) Perhaps most impressive is her astuteness in pinpointing how the desire to become a parent can be subverted by the desire to get pregnant -- pregnancy becomes the "achievement" rather than the means to an end, a goal that can be focused on to the extent that it obscures serious consideration of parenthood (this has its parallel in brides who are so obsessed with the wedding that they don't contemplate the idea of marriage, I think).
Orenstein's journey is truly harrowing, rife with three miscarriages, two failed in vitro attempts, a handful of failed IUI procedures, a disastrous attempt using an egg donor, medical issues that interfered with Orenstein's ability to get pregnant or made doing so dangerous, and an adoption that fell through, and yet, I couldn't help but notice that this memoir is still coming from a place of incredible privilege. Although Orenstein briefly notes that advanced reproductive technologies are only available to those who can afford them, she spends very little time examining her privilege beyond that point. She even mentions feeling envious of a couple who cannot afford IVF and so can forgo the emotional, financial and physical strain of it -- although I expect that couple would prefer to have Orenstein's "problem."
It's not a perfect book, but as memoir goes it's eminently readable; the pages turn and the suspense of when and how she will finally get her daughter pulls you forward. (This is not a spoiler -- her author bio on the book mentions a daughter.) More importantly, it breaks the silence and offers companionship to the many women and families who are facing down what is still very much a silent struggle.