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Infertility in Into the Woods

One of the assignments for my musical theater performance class in college was a duet. I got a really cute boy as my duet partner. I told him that we had to practice. A lot. We had to sing with his arms wrapped around me.  We were assigned “It Takes Two” from Into the Woods. We were supposed to research our song as well as the play. He was the Baker. I was the Baker’s Wife.

I should probably add that we didn’t research the song.  I had no clue what we were singing about.

Beyond woods,
Beyond witches and slippers and hoods,
Just the two of us-
Beyond lies,
Safe at home with our beautiful prize,
Just the few of us.
It takes trust.
It takes just
A bit more
And we’re done.
We want four,
We had none.
We’ve got three.
We need one.
It takes two.

I had a lot of trouble with the numbers in the song.

I had no clue what four, none, three, OR one referred to, though I could guess that my singing partner and I were the two.

It wasn’t until I read a blog post about Into the Woods this week that I got what the song was about. The Baker and his Wife were infertile. They needed four ingredients to lift the curse. They had none. By the time they sang this song, they had three of the ingredients in hand. They only needed one more. It would take two of them working together to lift the curse of infertility.

It could also be generously understood as wanting four kids (big family), having none, having three ingredients, only needing one kid to become a parent, and, again, it taking two. That Sondheim; so tricksie.


Like the author of that article, I was the infertile Baker’s Wife.

Would I have sang the song better if I had known what the hell I was singing about? I don’t know. I don’t think I really got what infertility was until I experienced infertility. I mean, yes, I could have understood it on an intellectual level, but I couldn’t have sung that song with meaning imbued into the words. I couldn’t have conveyed how it feels to be in that situation. Until I experienced being in that situation.

When I was 21 years old, I assumed I was fertile. I assumed that if I had unprotected sex, I would get pregnant. And I assumed that when the time came that I wanted to have a child, I would easily have a child.

That word infertility, I read it differently back then. In, as in inside, deep in, fecund. I was in it. I was fertile. That’s what in-fertility meant to me. It was the state of being in a fertile space, not “in” in the sense of without.

And then suddenly I couldn’t have a child and that Latin prefix “in” shifted into place. I wasn’t “in” anything. I wasn’t in motherhood, in pregnancy, or in a fertile body. I was infertile. I was without fertility.

I didn’t know it at the time when the boy wrapped his arms around me and we swayed together singing, but I couldn’t have carried a pregnancy to term any more at age 21 than I could at 27. I really was an infertile woman singing about being an infertile woman. While being totally clueless, too.


I’m not a huge movie musical person, but I’d like to see the movie of Into the Woods that’s coming out in December. Are you planning to see it?


1 nicoleandmaggie { 11.11.14 at 8:08 am }

At 21 I expected to be infertile… I had aunts on either side, one with POF and no children, the other with PCOS and one child. I had irregular periods and didn’t believe the GP when they said they’d even out when I got older.

I didn’t like Into the Woods when I saw it. Not at all. Too depressing.

As we grow older, we appreciate Sondheim more ( http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/growing-up-and-discovering-i-suddenly-like-sondheim/ ), but still, I don’t think I’ll like Into the Woods ever.

2 Megan { 11.11.14 at 9:02 am }

I was in Into the Woods my freshman year of college (Cinderella’s Mother) and it was an amazing show. I hear the movie won’t be quite as sad as the play, which I don’t love but that’s what happens when filmmakers adapt plays. I think it has a great message, can be hilarious, and the visuals look fantastic. I can’t wait to see it.

3 tigger62077 { 11.11.14 at 9:48 am }

The only information I have available to me on Into the Woods is the trailer. I would see it for the cast alone, and it looks like a good story, so I will very likely be watching it. When, I don’t know, but there are plans.

4 JB { 11.11.14 at 10:24 am }

I’ve never read or watched Into the Woods, but something you said in this post struck me: “I couldn’t have carried a pregnancy to term any more at age 21 than I could at 27.”

I will admit, I’m not the typical infertile; now I’m blessed with a child and another on the way, BUT what you said resonates with me. No matter how many times I would’ve been able to get pregnant, I would NEVER have been able to carry a pregnancy to term. Without an RE stepping in and a quick diagnosis, I would have kept losing pregnancies.

So, yes, we had 2 of the ingredients, but that’s all we ever would have had.

5 Alexicographer { 11.11.14 at 11:06 am }

Interesting. I jumped into infertility with both feet by marrying a man who’d had a vasectomy (though I never realized how deeeeep those waters would be, or how dark), and maybe a month before I was told out of the blue that I’d never have a child with my own eggs (high FSH), I had waxed poetic for maybe an hour to a friend about how I wanted to pursue treatment but, really, we weren’t going to try too hard. I mean there were always donor gametes (I knew then about sperm, not eggs as an option) and of course adoption. Um, yeah. When suddenly those were presented as the only paths available? Though I could never have defended this in any logical way, I wanted DESPERATELY to have a child genetically related to both me and my husband (I cared more about the former, as I already had stepkids. But it turned out he cared about the latter. So.) (Many struggles to be allowed to use IVF despite being a bad candidate, I had one. But just one.).

Even “embracing” it — I had NO idea.

Of course some find, or think they would find, “infertility” a blessing. Many years ago before THAT, I was working at a boys’ camp whose director was an adoptive father, ostensibly (camp rumor went) due to MF. One day one of the counselors shared in a meeting that one of the ~9-year old boys had asked him what it meant if you had “a low sperm count,” and that he had replied it meant you were “very, very lucky.”

Back when I was starting this journey there was a blogger who blogged as “the Baker’s Wife,” but she took her blog down years ago (after becoming a mom) and I haven’t seen her around ALI parts in ages.

6 MissingNoah { 11.11.14 at 12:28 pm }

This show hits me so much more now than when I fell in love with it in high school. I spent my late teens and early 20s terrified of getting pregnant. And my mid to late 20s trying desperately to get pregnant. You assume you are fertile until you are not.

7 Justine { 11.11.14 at 3:13 pm }

I loved this musical, but I remember this song, and I remember actually understanding what they were talking about when they sang, even though back then I couldn’t have predicted what would happen to me. I remember feeling sad, feeling some sense of their desperation, but also their hope. The ingredients were all they needed. And yet, they weren’t entirely sure that was true. They needed to believe it was true.

I wonder what made Sondheim write it that way.

8 A. { 11.11.14 at 3:16 pm }

Oddly, I always had a sinking feeling it would be hard; I just didn’t ever think it might be never, not at all. But the vision of you singing the part of an infertile woman as an unwittingly infertile woman, well, the only thing that softens that irony is your children.

9 Sushigirl { 11.11.14 at 5:28 pm }

Ooh, I love musicals.

I had an idea I might need IVF when I was 20, but I refused to believe it until much later on and much money spent on fertility monitors. I’m at peace with it now, I think.

10 gradualchanges { 11.11.14 at 5:32 pm }

I love this musical and am certainly going to see the movie. I hope it measures up… I was Cinderella in a college production and the music of this show has always stayed with me. I managed to get a ticket to the Public Theaters’s production in Central Park in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it. That was the year I lost my twin pregnancy at 5 months so the infertility bit struck a little too close to home but the fun of the music carried me through. Glad the numbers make sense to you now!

11 Chickenpig { 11.11.14 at 6:43 pm }

I remember seeing the filmed version of Into the Woods on TV a long time ago. It made me very sad then, even though I had a long time to go before I experienced IF. It has been so long since I’ve seen it that I’m not sure what about it touched me. I will probably go and see the movie to find out.

12 Middle Girl { 11.11.14 at 11:57 pm }

Even if going to the cinema were in the budget, this film would not be on the list for reasons too numerous to go into here and now.

13 fifi { 11.12.14 at 4:52 am }

IF is such a common theme in fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty, for example, starts with the birth of a “much longed-for child”. Thumbelina was an adoptee.
Has anyone read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey? It’s supposed to be a fairytale retelling about a childless couple in Alaska and a magical child. It has good reviews, but I wonder how well they tackle the IF and baby loss issues?

14 Lexy { 11.12.14 at 6:58 am }

I have never heard of Into the Woods before. (either before or after fertility issues). How did I miss this?

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.12.14 at 9:54 pm }

“I really was an infertile woman singing about being an infertile woman.”

This makes me want to hug the you of today and the you swaying with that cute boy.

I hadn’t heard of the movie, but now I want to see it. I love some other Sondheim musicals (Godspell is one of my faves).

16 Denver Laura { 11.13.14 at 4:48 am }

When I was 15, I was in the orchestra for into the woods. (I.e. fertility ignorant). The bakers wife was played by a woman who had fertility issues. She didn’t go into it with much detail, I just remember some sarcastic remarks she said during cast parties.

I do plan to see the movie because I didn’t get to ever see it on stage (I was in the pit). I have every song memorized. The thing that got me was the play was in three acts. The first was ok, setting things up. The baker and his wife thought it would be easy to have kids. Until it wasn’t. The second act was depressing. A lot of people left thinking it was over and was just a horrible play not realizing that things got resolved in the third act. My life is in that third act.

17 loribeth { 11.13.14 at 5:58 pm }

I generally like movie musicals, but I’ve never seen “Into the Woods” &, given the subject matter, not sure I will want to see it.

18 Lindsey { 11.15.14 at 9:18 am }

Wow! Hi, new reader here. My husband and I saw the trailer for the movie and thought it looked interesting. I had no idea that it was originally a musical or that it was about infertility. Now I am more interested!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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