Sunday, June 28, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "Navigating the Land of If" by Melissa Ford

It's time for a Very Special Session of the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates the question list. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa maintains the master list of participants on her blog.

The selection this time around was "Navigating the Land of IF: Understanding Infertility and Exploring Your Options" by the Stirrup Queen herself, Melissa Ford.

I probably brought a slightly different perspective to reading this book than most if not all of the other tour participants. My infertility journey ended eight years ago this month, when my third and final IUI with injectable drugs failed, and I found myself staring at childless/free living in the face. It's been a long time since I cracked open a guide to infertility, and in fact, I have given away most of the ones I had in my collection.

However -- infertility & loss continue to hover over my life, Banquo's ghost-like, which is why, even after all these years, I continue to blog about it & read infertility blogs. Mel encouraged me to start my blog, and is a fabulous "den mother" for the ALI community. I love reading her blog and so naturally wanted to read her book, not to mention support her in return for all that she has given to me, and to all of us. Also, she "interviewed" me via e-mail about childfree living as part of her research for this book, so naturally I was curious to see how the book (and that chapter in particular) turned out.

Even though I found some sections more interesting than others (as I'm sure most readers did, or will), I loved this book, and I wish it had been around when I was going through treatment. Most infertility guides tend to be a tad impersonal and on the clinical side. Not this one. If Vicki Iovine didn't have the market cornered on the "Girlfriend's Guide" moniker, I would say a good alternate title for this book would be "The Girlfriend's Guide to Infertility," because that's how I view this book -- as though it's written by a slightly older/wiser girlfriend who'd already been there/done that and is filling you in on what to expect when you're NOT expecting and trying to do something about it.

It's a book I would definitely recommend to anyone going through infertility. It would also be a fabulous book to read if you're a fertile person hoping to gain some insight into what a friend or family member is going through and how you can best support them.

On to some of the questions. Some of the questions were similar and I've answered them together. (I wish I had had more time to spend with this post, as I was away for part of the weekend, but here goes...!)

As part of a couple with male factor infertility, I was hoping for a clearer view into some of the procedures associated with it. What is something you wish was covered in the book or what knocked your socks off on how it was explained?

Navigating the Land of If covered many different aspects of infertility. What topic do you wish had been added or expanded on?

I'm not sure whether I found anything in particular lacking... I loved the whole chapter on the 8 factors to consider and the decision tree & choice web processes. Some really brilliant, practical advice in there.

Also, Mel's description of living childfree as "the only path that is entirely within your control" gave me some pause. It's hard to think of it that way, because infertility is all about loss of control, and so many of us who are now living childfree don't always feel that we really "chose" this path -- particularly as compared to someone who never wanted children in the first place -- but it is essentially true.

Chapters four and five cover the issues of telling others about your IF struggles and handling the comments if you do. What approach (proactive, reactive, evasive, or lying) have you used with your close friends and family? If you have told, have you gotten any surprising reactions, and how have you handled those? If you haven't told, has this omission created any friction as people make assumptions or comments about your lack of pregnancy?

I actually wrote a long post last year -- in response to a discussion on Melissa's blog, while she was writing this book -- on the whole subject of "telling," here.

Did you read the book from front to back, or did you turn immediately to a certain chapter? If so, which chapter? Are there any chapters that you purposely avoided?

Did you read the whole book, or skip the parts that you feel don’t apply to your situation? For example, if you are not entertaining adoption or living child-free as options right now, did you skip those parts? If you read them, did you discover anything about those options that you hadn’t understood prior to reading the book?

It was enlightening to tour the neighborhoods that WEREN'T mine. How was it for you to walk through neighborhoods, guided by Melissa, where you suspected you would never take up residence?

I'll confess -- I went straight for the chapter on childfree living. So very few books on infertility say much about the childless/free option beyond a few paragraphs -- so I'm always interested to see how the subject is covered in any new IF book that I come across. (Read further if you want to know what I thought of that particular chapter!)

I didn't skip or purposely avoid any chapters -- but obviously the chapters about the routes we did not take or consider were of lesser interest to me. I think that's a natural response for any reader to a book of this sort. That said, yes, I did learn a lot about options that we had either dismissed as not being right for us, or not really considered. Even just 8 years ago, options like donor eggs and surrogacy were not as well known or understood, and I learned a lot on these topics in particular.

What part of the Land of IF are you currently residing in, & do you think Melissa paints an accurate picture of the situation there?

This was my question. I am currently (and 99.9% likely permanently) living childfree after loss & infertility. On p. 252, early in this chapter, Melissa writes "No other path out of the Land of If is less understood, more feared or harder to step onto than child-free living after infertility." She had me there at hello, lol -- absolutely nailed it there, and throughout the rest of this section.

The book "Sweet Grapes" -- one of the first and probably still the best-known book on living childfree after infertility -- irked me in its insistence that one must simply "choose" to be "childFREE" (as opposed to childLESS) and all will be well. Melissa actually makes the same point but in a much less irritating way (or maybe I've just mellowed in the years since I read "Sweet Grapes"...) -- that in order to make it a real choice, as opposed to a "default," you have to take an active role in carving out your future.

Melissa covered so many aspects of living childfree. She makes a point of distinguishing between living childfree by choice and childfree after infertility, and also between taking a break and actually choosing to live childfree. She suggests a trial period (something the infertility counsellor we saw suggested to us). She talks about how the childfree are frequently made to justify their choice, and what happens when one partner wants to live childfree and the other doesn't (a situation I have witnessed in several online forums over the past 8 years).

The only point Melissa made in the childfree chapter that I disagreed with was the very last tip on p. 261, about the necessity of getting rid of (preferably giving away to charity) all hopeful pregnancy & baby-related paraphernalia. I bristled at the very idea -- perhaps you can tell that I still have all my maternity clothes hanging in my closet?? (Not to mention that I am a pack rat who has a very hard time parting with anything, lol.)

But reading this passage again, I realized my situation -- as someone who was pregnant and had begun preparations, albeit very preliminary ones, for an actual, specific baby -- is again somewhat different from someone who went through infertility treatment & never got pregnant. What I have in my closet are keepsakes, mementos of my baby's brief existence, not things purchased in the hopes of a "someday" pregnancy or baby. I'm not sure whether Melissa would think my situation would fall into a different category (oh, Mel...??). Even so, I'm still not convinced that an infertile turning to childfree living needs to give away absolutely every reminder of what she had once hoped for. The infertility will remain with you always, even if you rid yourself of these physical evidence of this period in your life.

I did actually (after several years of living childfree) shred all of my BBT charts (although I still have my notebooks from the three IUIs I went through with notes on my follicle counts, dosages, etc., as well as my thoughts & feelings on the whole process) and donated most (although not all) of my pregnancy, child care and infertility-related books to charity. I can't say I regret it. But I think I'll be keeping this one for quite awhile, lol.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens ( You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Moose by Stephanie Klein.


  1. I too was thinking that it should have been subtitled "Girlfriends Guide to Infertility". Easy, breezy, informative...just like talking to your girlfriends!

  2. I took a month-long break from reading nonfiction, so I haven't read all of Mel's book yet, but I did like her chapter on resolving IF without children. And her comment about this being the hardest, most-feared path was so true.

  3. Yes, too bad the moniker 'Girlfriend's guide..'is taken. I loved this book. I am currently in the multiple testing, waiting phase- and it is interesting to see your perspective as childfree. I could understand your resistance on getting rid of everything related. I don't know if I could either- although I see where she is coming from.

    I have to say, I do wish there was more written on MFI. I know EVERYTHING can't be in there, but some more info on what goes on during genetic testing for males would have been nice for us. I do think she hit all the high spots though. Enough to learn the main high points.

  4. Hi Lori,

    Great post, as usual. I also went through you past posts and read the posts about Katie. I was a bawling mess by the end. I'm so sorry Katie isn't here with you and you had to endure the pain of stillbirth. You and I have simliar "anniversaries" - August 6 is a day I am dreading as that's the day I found out he was dead. On August 7 - I was doped up on fentanyl trying to make sense of the fact that I had to deliver my dead baby. And then of course he came on August 8. I'll be thinking of you & Katie during that time as well.

  5. Thanks for your comment on my post, I'm glad I didn't offend you! It's interesting to read your perspective, so I'm glad you joined in. There are some adoption books that irked me at first, too, that now I highly approve of, so I can see where "Sweet Grapes" would have annoyed you at first!

  6. "No other path out of the Land of If is less understood, more feared or harder to step onto than child-free living after infertility."

    That got me when I read it, too.

    And the point I DID appreciate about Sweet Grapes was that I DID have a choice (albeit not the choice I thought I wanted). I had been coming it from a powerless, victim point of view. Both Melissa's statement about being a path with control and Sweet Grapes' making it a choice -- I found these helpful and empowering.

    But definitely not easy, as you said.

  7. I also liked the way Melissa presented Living child-free after infertility as opposed to living child free because you simply never wanted children. There is a big difference and most books don't adress it.

    I think you are right in that choosing to live child free to get off the island may not feel like a choice. That sometimes it may just be that you decide to stop playing the odds because that is the lesser of two emotional evils.

  8. I appreciated having your take on this, as you have been off the island for so many years now, having taken a path that not many (any?) of the blogs I read have taken. It was a great book, I don't know what we'd do without Mel. The childfree section was one of my favorite, because like you said, it is not covered much in other IF books. It's great that you contributed to the research process, well done! :)

  9. Fabulous review.

    Since you don't plan on using your maternity clothes again, have you thought about having something done with them (maybe make them into a quilt) so you could actually use them and have them as a functioning part of your life?

  10. It seems that all those who are childfree, by choice or not by choice, are terribly misunderstood. People often assume that the By Choice folks were unable, and they in turn assume that the Not By Choice folks never wanted children.

    What a weird society we have to be so child-oriented yet so unfriendly to children and families in terms of public policies (moreso in the U.S. than in Canada).

  11. I love your book reviews. I am collecting a long list of titles to read when I have the brain cells to devote to it.
    I like the idea of making a quilt out of the maternity clothes. I have thought about doing that with mine too, especially the ones I bought whe I was pg with Caleb. I can't bear to part with them.
    I am struck by the labels, child'free', child'less', especially for parents of stillborn babies who certainly are neither. But maybe it's just me. I'd say living without their child is better suited to it but I guess we all look for a 'label' and sometimes there just isn't a quick easy, one word moniker that fits.

  12. I loved this explanation for why you read IF blogs (beyond the fact that you belong in this category): "infertility & loss continue to hover over my life, Banquo's ghost-like, which is why, even after all these years, I continue to blog about it & read infertility blogs."

    I do see your items as separate from living child-free and more of the creation of a memory box from a loss. You want to remember an actual person and are using tangible items to do so. I think of that as much more aligned with the ideas in the loss chapter. Because you really stand in two neighbourhoods--loss and child-free.

    I'm glad I did that chapter justice. It was so important to me. And I can never thank you enough for sharing your story for that chapter.

  13. Kim totally nailed it: "choosing to live child free to get off the island may not feel like a choice. That sometimes it may just be that you decide to stop playing the odds because that is the lesser of two emotional evils."

    I've never celebrated the decision to stop treatment and I never will. There's a point at which unsuccessful treatment becomes futile. I stopped treatment but I didn't stop hoping we'd conceive to save my sanity (and stay out of the poor house) not because I wanted to my live without my children.

  14. Great review!

    I agree that Mel did a great job at pin pointing the hardships of each neighborhood. It was interesting to read through and get a "feel" for what the other sides are like.