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I Think I Was Right About Breed

Adoption seems to keep showing up this week in non-relevant places, as is so often the case when people are told that they should “just adopt.”

A while back, when the deal was first announced, I wrote that I didn’t think I wanted to read Breed, a horror novel about… infertility.  Since, you know, fertility treatments need cannibalism and blood shed in order to spice them up since IVF isn’t exciting enough.  I’m usually a fan of infertility making an appearance in a book — anything to place reality into the minds of the general population — but horror reprolit felt like the wrong way to do that.

And then I heard a piece on NPR that changed my mind for a moment. Chase Novak (pen name for Scott Spencer) was on All Things Considered, and said that he wrote the book after watching friends struggle with infertility.  From All Things Considered,

Spencer says Breed is based on the struggles of friends he’s seen go through round after round of fertility treatments. “The pathos and the difficulty of that, and the toll that it took on their personal lives … stuck with me forever,” he says.

Horror doesn’t have to be silly, Spencer says; in fact, serious issues like infertility make great fodder for horror. “It pushes it to the edge, and you explore the darkest possibilities of the story … in any good story, something important should be at stake.”

Oh.  Hearing it described like that, I started to see the possibility in horror reprolit.  It isn’t meant to mock or extend judgment: it is taking the hypothetical monster and making it infertility.  In my personal story, there has never been a darker time in my life than when I went through treatments the first time, and I could see it being fodder for horror.  I experienced the darkest, ugliest sides of myself during that time.  Sometimes I felt like the monster even more than infertility, especially in my singular focus.  I thought that maybe I was wrong and should give this book a chance.  I’m not a huge horror fan, but I’ve read the mainstays of the genre and could probably get through this one.

So I went online to hear the interview again, and then I found this paragraph, written by NPR in their description of their interview.  It isn’t clear whether these are the thoughts of the author, expressed off-microphone or edited out for brevity, or the thoughts of the NPR employee who provided their own colour to the write-up of the interview.  It is clear from the quotes within the post that more was said than what appears in the 6 minute interview.  Though not knowing which one it is, I once again became very uncomfortable with the idea of this book.

Spencer says he also wanted to write a comic take on the narcissism of parenting. Alex and Leslie Twisden have enough money to go to the ends of the earth to get pregnant — and they do just that, when adopting closer to home could have solved their problem. “The idea that they wanted some extension of themselves is the roots of their undoing,” Spencer says. “I wanted to keep this whole highly privileged world of Manhattan parenting very realistic.”

I should start by saying that I don’t really buy the whole “parenting as narcissism” argument, mostly because while there are certainly parents with narcissistic reasons for reproducing, the vast majority of humans operate in the same way as all animals in the natural world: we choose the cheapest and easiest forms of perpetuating the species.  No one calls hamsters narcissistic when they fuck like hamsters and have their millions of hamster babies.  Their litter is not a statement of their vanity, but instead is recognized as a biological drive.  In the same vein, it would be insane for the hamster (or any reproductively healthy human) to opt for the risk and price of IVF over sex if IVF isn’t necessary, but once assistance becomes necessary, then all choices become equal possibilities, with one rising to the top for each individual because it best fits their physical, emotional, and financial limitations or needs.  It is rarely as simple as considering genetic connection or no genetic connection.

But the thought that bothered me came later in the paragraph: “adopting closer to home could have solved their problem.”

It dismisses the idea possibility that people choose IVF for reasons beyond the genetic connection, such as — let’s say — financial reasons.  Instead, unless the line is the subjective opinion of the NPR employee, the book trots out the “just adopt” argument, a cautionary tale to infertile men and women that if you’re going to be so vain as to utilize treatments, you’re going to invite the monsters into your home.  The fact that they wanted a genetic connection becomes their undoing.

I don’t know Scott Spencer’s personal life.  Perhaps he is an adoption advocate who knows first-hand the reality experienced by those in the triad.  Perhaps he is speaking from personal knowledge; maybe his life experience has shaped a view that he wishes more people would consider adoption.  Though as he says in the interview, the topic of infertility “comes not from my experience as a father.”  Which leads me to believe that he knows little more than the average commenter on a New York Times article about infertility who suggests people adopt without knowing the first thing about the emotional or financial realities of adoption, especially exploring the viewpoint of each member of the triad.

And if that’s the case, I think I’ll hold off on horror reprolit for the time being.


1 Anjali { 09.13.12 at 7:40 am }

I also don’t care for what seems like the attitude that people who have enough money to go to the ends of the earth to get pregnant– might not be suffering as much emotionally from infertility as someone who has limited means. It’s socially divisive and also implies another mommy war between the have and have-nots of infertility treatment. I think I’ll stay away from the book.

2 Lacie { 09.13.12 at 8:09 am }

With this, you perfectly sum up how the whole treatment vs. adoption thought process usually goes, “once assistance becomes necessary, then all choices become equal possibilities, with one rising to the top for each individual because it best fits their physical, emotional, and financial limitations or needs. It is rarely as simple as considering genetic connection or no genetic connection.”

This is why the “just adopt!” rationale is so irritating. Right now, I have a dear friend who is in the abyss of multiple back-to-back failed IVF cycles. With desperation in her eyes, as she held my son (who was adopted), she said, “I would love to adopt! But how LONG will that take?!? It’s been so long already! We’ve spent so much money already! I don’t know, after what we’ve been through, if we could handle a failed adoption after waiting all of the paperwork and waiting! More waiting?!? I don’t know if my heart could handle sharing my baby with a birth family. I don’t know if we could endure the wait, money and stress of international adoption. At the end of the day, another round of IVF would be cheaper, faster and it might just work this time around!’

All I could do was just nod my head and hug her and let her know that I was there. I could listen and she could bounce her thoughts off of me and I could always give honest advice gathered from first-hand experience in all of the scenarios that were running through her head. What I could not offer was an easy answer or a guarantee in any of it.

“Adopting closer to home could have solved their problem. “The idea that they wanted some extension of themselves is the roots of their undoing,” Spencer says.

Really? So the mandatory thirty day waiting period that all birth families have the right to would have been smooth sailing for this couple? You know, the one where the birth family can (and have every right to) change their minds? Caring for a baby that this couple so badly wanted to fall in love with while knowing that there is a possibility that it was never really their baby at all would have smooth sailing for their marriage? Easy enough, huh? Or how about watching a birth mother cry uncontrollably as her heart is breaking and wanting to comfort her somehow and let your heart connect with both her and the baby at the same time but feeling overwhelming helplessness? Easy peasy, right? That sounds like the path of lease resistance, wouldn’t you agree?

I could go on. Clearly I need to start blogging again.

But, as is the case with all most train wrecks, I feel my curiosity getting the best of me.

3 loribeth { 09.13.12 at 8:58 am }

Infertility IS a horror story already. Those of us who have been through it need no convincing. It really bothers me that someone whose knowledge of what we’ve been through is secondhand at best is using our pain as entertainment (??!) and (dare I say) a source of profit. Not to mention perpetrating the negative stereotypes and misinformation that’s already out there about infertility & infertile people and adoption.

We are damned & shunned because we aren’t like everyone else in that we don’t/can’t have children easily… but then we are also damned & shunned when we try to be like everyone else and have children however we can best manage to do so. What’s the real horror, and who are the real monsters here? 🙁

4 It Is What It Is { 09.13.12 at 10:09 am }

The name of the book alone (knowing the basic plot) is SUCH a turnoff that there is no good, for me, to come from burning its words into my psyche.

5 Lacie { 09.13.12 at 10:12 am }

@It is What It Is: I agree. I suppose what was attractive for me was the idea of infertility being the villain. However, I know nothing about the book other than what Mel has posted. I am rethinking the possibility of reading it.

6 KeAnne { 09.13.12 at 10:37 am }

I didn’t realize Breed was the IF horror book you had written about earlier. I was appalled when I read the description of it on EW. I think I even tweeted about it. Ugh. I think there could be a lot of potential for writing an IF horror story – JHC, isn’t IF itself a horror story? He doesn’t have to be so preachy. Clearly *he* never went through it; watching your friends go through it isn’t enough to understand. Thanks but no thanks.

7 a { 09.13.12 at 10:44 am }

I read a selection from the book, and I was not impressed. Infertility was not the monster. The parents were the monster. It would seem that the extended interview was more apt than the part that you heard previously.

8 Megan { 09.13.12 at 2:21 pm }

Out of curiosity, I went over to Good Reads and read some reviews of this book. Ugh, yeah, not exactly on my “to read” list. I will say, as someone who actually *did* “just adopt” (went from IF diagnosis to submitting paperwork within a few months) I am still utterly disgusted with this mindset that those who suffer from IF are somehow meant to adopt. It’s as if those who can conceive and carry naturally and easily feel that anyone who can’t must be selfish for wanting what they themselves can typically attain without too much trouble. Like, if I can conceive easily then I’m meant to do that, and if I can’t then I’m meant to adopt. Even worse, the plight of children who do need adoption drives those who will never adopt to see those who suffer from IF as selfish creatures who are not just ignoring an option that seems more logical, but all out harming parentless children but not providing them a home. Every time I read “why don’t they just adopt when there are so many kids who need homes?” I always want to reply with “why didn’t YOU just adopt then? What makes you think that somehow YOU aren’t ignoring the plight of children who need parents all the same simply because your reproductive organs work?” Sorry, my own little tangent there. The fact is that the general public is woefully uneducated when it comes to adoption, something I know all too well as I frequently end up in adoption related conversations when out with my children (who clearly did not biologically come from me). There’s a wide range of views out there, people who think adoption is as simple as running to the store for a baby, people who think adoption is far too difficult for the common man, people who do not understand any of the common behavioral issues in older child adoption, people who don’t understand positive adoption language, and loooots of people who do not see my children as equal to a biological child. For us, adoption was absolutely in our plan anyway so the choice was simple, and we were exceedingly lucky to have two relatively short processes (13 months each start to finish) that we were able to find a way to afford and we ended up with two wonderful little boys because of it (and now the cliched surprise natural pregnancy after adoption, for which we are also grateful). Even so, even with things working out so well, there was so much more to the process than we had anticipated. It was heart wrenching and tedious and just plain hard. It tested our marriage, our sanity, and our support system. We had to give up a lot to finance the adoptions, we had to submit ourselves over and over again to scrutiny, we had to open our home to strangers who would judge us, both before and after placement, and pay them to do so. We’re talking a lot of setting up our lives a certain way, setting up our house under certain parameters, a ton of money, a seemingly endless wait, and so much risk to losing a child for various reasons (a changed mind, a paperwork error, a new rule, etc). Then after the adoption there’s post placement visits and with our older son there was a long and traumatic adjustment period, and now for the rest of their lives adoption will always come up, there will always be talk of parents other than us. Again, we had planned for all of this to be a part of our life’s journey anyway, and truly it’s worth it, every part, even the hard parts. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, and I certainly would not judge a person for not wanting to adopt. The fact that people not only judge but shame, guilt, and belittle those in situations they don’t understand to take on a process they also don’t understand… that just makes me sick to my stomach.

9 jjiraffe { 09.13.12 at 4:45 pm }

I read an excerpt of “Breed” for the Bitter Infertiles podcast (Mo suggested it) and it was junk. Watered-down James Patterson prose, tin ear dialogue, no character development, plot-driven nonsense junk. And oh, my was the plot DUMB!! Did I mention it sucked? Because, it sucked.

Beyond the terrible writing, it was OBVIOUS the only thing the author knew about infertility patients was what he had read in those shitty 1% articles in the NY Times. Newsflash: 1 in 8 people in America are infertile and almost none of them are Upper East Side over priveledged yuppies. Most of them can’t afford either infertility treatments or adoption. Guess what, Scott? Adoption costs more than infertility treatments and is something you know absolutely nothing about. Guess what, Scott? Infertility is a soul-sucking, awful disease that you, as a parent who didn’t have to go through it, are not qualified to judge.

Things that make me furious for $2,000, Alex.

10 Stupid Stork { 09.13.12 at 5:15 pm }

Hmmm… Yeah, like you – started reading this and thought “huh, that could be really really bad or really really interesting”.

But then nope – in typical freaking fertile fashion, that last little excerpt about narcissism points out that he tried to understand infertility for a few minutes, became very proud of himself and then was distracted by a butterfly and this was the best he could come up with in the end.

I do wonder if the issue was single vs. married if people would be that insensitive. You know, it is DEFINITELY possible to have a fantastic, fascinating and full life without getting married – but if you spent your whole life wanting to get married, I doubt people would be so keen to say “just give up”.

I’ll stick to Stephen King.

11 SM { 09.13.12 at 10:33 pm }

I read an excerpt of Breed a while ago and was absolutely disgusted. It was horrible and not just because of the poor writing style. Now, hearing the comments from the authos has further cemented in my mind that I am better off having not read that drivel.

As someone who has suffered from infertility for a long time and is now looking towards adoption, I am well aware that it is not easy at all. It’s going to cost a lot of money and it will take years to have a baby. I hate when I hear the phrase “just adopt”. It makes me want to shake them and make them understand how hard it truly is for us.

12 NotTheMama { 09.13.12 at 10:53 pm }

So I should start referring to my newly adopted children as Mommy’s Little Problem Solvers??? Because, um, all of my problems were magically solved the day we picked them up from the county office. 4 and a half years being bounced between 3 homes means we have absolutely no issues because we “just” adopted them? Those daily rages, survival instincts, missing dollars because my employer sucks, attachment issues for big brother, and total shutdown mode for little brother…. You mean none of that was supposed to happen?!?!?! Maybe we should “just” go through another couple years of home inspections, monthly social worker visits, total baring of every minute detail of our lives, etc, so we can try to get it right this time!
And that’s just my thoughts on one sentence fragment, so I think I should definitely skip it! 😉

13 Bea { 09.14.12 at 4:02 am }

Oh wow. You just said it was insane for people to do treatments if they don’t need to. On the internet. You are feeling brave the last few weeks.

Um… yeah. I’ll skip it, too, for all the same reasons. I’ll also add “legal” and “practical” to your list of reasons why people don’t adopt – it’s not legally or practically available to everyone.


14 geochick { 09.14.12 at 3:26 pm }

*jumping up and waving* As someone who “just adopted” to use that hideous phrase, I’m here to say that adopting in no way “fixed the problem”. If it fixed my infertility problem I wouldn’t be in therapy right now. What a fucking moron. And it figures that he’s a bad writer as stated by jjiraffe, yet getting air time on NPR. What up NPR? Can’t find a halfway decent writer to interview? I’m quite sure they are out there. Argh.

15 AP2B { 09.15.12 at 10:47 am }

When I was young I gave up a baby for adoption. It was beyond painful and resulted in a multitude of very bad choices. A few years later, I was engaged and became pregnant. My marriage lasted only a very brief period, but I raised my [second] beautiful son to be a wonderful and caring young man.
Now I am 40 and two years ago married the man of my dreams. We knew from the beginning of our relationship that my husband wanted children, and we also knew it would require surrogacy due to a previous surgery of mine. What we didn’t know was the age factor for women and how it affects my eggs. I’m currently in the middle of my second IVF cycle.
Adoption is not an option for us for so many reasons, but what I’ve never spoken out loud about (and should probably blog about), was that knowing the pain and torture I went through by giving up my first child for adoption – it would emotionally tear me apart to be on the opposite side. Women who adopt and women who give up their babies for adoption are special, but it’s just not something I think I could go through again. Even on the [possible] receiving end.
There are many other reasons we won’t/can’t adopt, but this article made me realize a reason I have been afraid to admit to myself .

16 Jacquie | @After_Words { 09.15.12 at 7:16 pm }

I’m reading BREED now, and I have to say that I’m absolutely riveted. I’ve been a fan of Scott Spencer’s for some time, and I think his writing is excellent in general, and so far, this book has not disappointed. I think the author raises interesting questions about the changes that people go through in their journey to become parents–whether IF is a factor or not. I don’t think he suggests people should “just adopt” but rather explores the reasons–sometimes very primal reasons (speaking from my own experience anyway) that adoption is only an answer for some.

I could not have read this book when I was going through my own IVF experience, but in hindsight, I think the questions he’s asking are interesting ones.

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