(Spoiler alert!) While Miriam's story does end with the arrival of a baby (via adoption), this book is not one of those "my story had a happy ending and yours can too, so don't ever give up hope, because it was all worth it" sorts of infertility memoirs. Yes, it's an infertility memoir, detailing her personal story -- but it's also a cautionary tale of sorts, a critique and a call to action.
Many of us will relate to Miriam's story, or at least some aspects of it. She and I are of the same generation -- born in the late 1950s/early 1960s at the tail end of the post-war baby boom, grew up in the 1970s (right around the time the first "test tube baby," Louise Brown was born in 1978, bringing new hope to infertile couples everywhere) and entered the workforce in the 1980s at a time when everyone was assuring us that we could "have it all."
Like many of us, Miriam spent her 20s getting an education and establishing her career. She had an on-again-off-again relationship with Michael, the man who eventually became her husband when she was 35, and was largely ambivalent on the subject of motherhood. By the time she finally felt ready to tackle parenthood -- realizing that it was now or never -- she was 40. By the time she and her husband decided it was time to consult a fertility clinic, she was almost 41. Over the next several years, as they progressed from IVF to donor eggs to contemplating surrogacy, Miriam & Michael endured one setback and indignity after another -- including a miscarriage, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder -- before finally becoming parents through adoption when Miriam was 46.
Most infertility memoirs would end right there. In the Afterword, however, Miriam admits:
"Alongside my overwhelming feelings of gratitude and wonder toward his birthmother and the miracle of this new life, I reluctantly admitted that I was still grieving over what hadn't happened through fertility treatments... and as I wrestled with my lingering demons, I sensed I was not alone... just because the doctor appointments, the injections, the egg transfers and the dashed hopes are over, it does not mean that the trauma is over." (pp. 185-87)
It's Miriam's hope that sharing her story, and encouraging others to share theirs, will help to spark consumer-driven improvements to the way that fertility clinics interact with and support patients, donors and surrogates, and a broader and more balanced understanding of reproductive technologies and the challenges facing those who seek treatment.
I could relate so well to the rollercoaster of emotions and the downward spiral of depression that Miriam describes with raw honesty in this book. The drive to become a parent -- the willingness to submit our bodies, spirits and pocketbooks to all sorts of beatings, even in the face of overwhelming odds -- and the endurance of the human spirit through all kinds of trauma -- is an amazing thing.
The only part of the story that I found myself skipping over had little to do with fertility -- it was a chapter titled "Living on the Wild Side," about the critters she & Michael encountered in the old farmhouse they bought. When she got to the rodent infestation, I though "Next!!" & moved on to the next chapter, lol. If you're squeamish like me about these things, you may want to skip it too.
This past week, an article co-authored by Miriam & Pamela of Silent Sorority appeared in the New York Times that called for a more inclusive, supportive and realistic approach to infertility treatment. Miriam will be one of the featured speakers at the forum Pamela has been helping to organize in New York City on Sept. 27th, "The Cycle: Living a Taboo," which will further explore some of the themes presented in the article.
It's an exciting and hopeful time for those of us whose infertility stories didn't have the "happily ever after" ending -- at least, not the one that we've all been conditioned to expect. Slowly but surely, questions are being asked, assumptions are being challenged and a broader and more realistic picture of infertility, both the possibilities AND the limitations, is beginning to emerge. Miriam's book is an important contribution to that conversation. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next!
(This was Book #20 that I've read so far this year.)