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When Infertility Pops Up

I was sitting in the carpool line, reading Simon Parkin’s Death By Video Game, a book that Josh got me as a tongue-in-cheek joke since — based on the percentage of my day that  I spend playing, making, or thinking about games — it is likely that when I kick it, my hands will be on a controller.  It’s a very good read, and I’m enjoying the way the chapters are arranged.  They each focus on a single benefit or detriment of playing video games.

But I wasn’t expecting infertility to crop up in a chapter titled “Hiding Places.”

Sometimes I unexpectedly encounter infertility in a book or a movie or a song — part of a plotline or a fact about a character — and it feels like coming across a cricket, always and wholly unwelcome.  Other times I unexpectedly encounter infertility and it’s more like a ghost, bittersweet to catch a glimpse of that world but also maybe a little… comforting?  I guess I only have warm feelings towards ghosts and the idea that we could have a chance to see someone again.

This encounter was more of the ghost variety.  I startled when the story started: “Ferguson and his wife, Sarah, had been married for seven years, and, during that time, had ‘never not been trying for a baby’.”  They experienced an ectopic pregnancy, and his wife lost one fallopian tube.  She remained in the hospital that night.

The part that gutted me while I sat in the car came next.  Parkin writes,

After the operation Ferguson wasn’t allowed into the ward to see Sarah, who needed rest.  In the chaos of the emergency, no one had taken a moment to explain to him why, as he puts it, he wasn’t going to be a dad any longer.  Instead, they sent him home.

Their chapter revolves around using games as a healthy escape; not as a way of not dealing with problems, but as a way to buy yourself time to think as you play, or to keep teens off unsafe streets, or to give people a place to escape to when the real world is unbearable.  The chapter also contains a discussion with a husband-wife team who describe video games as digital cathedrals, serving the same purpose — for some people — as awe-inspiring churches.

“Humans need cathedrals.  Or, at very least, they need somewhere to go for refuge, reflection, sanctuary and rest,” Auriea Harvey says in the book.

It’s a really gorgeous story, marrying processing infertility and video games.  Maybe it just hit close to home.

Sometimes I think the books we need to read work their way into our hands in random ways.  And sitting there, in a carpool line, reading about the Fergusons and thinking about figurative cathedrals, it was the ghost I needed to have come visit.

How do you feel when you encounter infertility in a book, movie, or song?

7 comments

1 a { 05.29.16 at 8:14 am }

I think it really depends on the usage. Where it’s a plot point divorced from any real feeling, I find it to be a contrived attempt to elicit feelings when the author can’t do it more organically. Then, it’s sort of offensive. But lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Balogh (trashy romance is my favorite genre! Or at least the one I read the most), and she uses infertility/loss as explanations for the character’s emotional state, and it can be well done. But she also uses stillbirth as sort of just desserts for evil characters sometimes, and I’m not sure that strikes me as appropriate. I guess it is easier than creating a child character who had to suffer the sins of the parent.

So, like you, I have mixed reactions.

2 knottedfingers { 05.29.16 at 10:17 am }

Well my infertility is secondary and it’s really hard for me. I still haven’t really gotten over the fact that I can’t have more kids. I ended on pain and it’s hard. I don’t react well when faced with infertility suddenly. It digs open very painful wounds.

My husband plays games to work through his emotions

3 Jess { 05.29.16 at 5:27 pm }

That sounds like a beautiful way to incorporate infertility into the book. For me, it depends on how it’s handled. I seem to come across infertility subplots everywhere, and they still suckerpunch me if I don’t have fair warning, but then I can deal with it now especially when it’s done well. I was given fair warning for “Girl on the Train,” because a friend of mine said, “The character reminded me of you, and how you talk about infertility.” I hope that was the only similarity she saw, ha ha. “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarity also had a significant infertility subplot, one I DIDN’T know about ahead of time. I swear either she or someone she knows went through it. It was very well done in my opinion, but I wasn’t sure I was supposed to cry my way through that book. Other times it turns me away. I stopped watching “Grey’s Anatomy” once the fertility subplot reared its head. I watch TV for escape, and that was too close to home. No thank you. Also, when there is a “convenient” miscarriage in a book it fills me with fury. So it depends on how it’s handled and it depends on my frame of mind.

4 Cristy { 05.29.16 at 9:40 pm }

I’m with Jess and a. It depends on the context, whether there’s been given warning and also how it is presented. It has been good to see people taking more and more about infertility and sharing how they cope. Still, it has been done on ways that punches me in the gut.

5 Justine { 05.29.16 at 11:16 pm }

Sometimes I’ve been blindsided, and I find myself feeling sick to my stomach, usually saying something like “nooooooo.” Other times, I go in knowingly, and I still feel like I’m punched in the gut. I don’t usually support trigger warnings (at least not in college classrooms where they tend to be most discussed), but at the same time, I can understand why they exist when I stumble upon my own triggers outside of academe. The empathy I feel is maybe too strong.

But I’m glad that the right book found you … sometimes that kind of identification is welcome, like feeling you’re in the right place after all.

6 Mali { 05.29.16 at 11:37 pm }

There have been a few books I’ve read where I’ve felt that infertility was thrown in as very much a secondary plot device, and was quickly and easily resolved at the end with either the miracle pregnancy or a fortuitous adoption that was just too tidy and simple. That really annoys me. I’ve encountered it once or twice when it was well done, and then I appreciate it, even if it triggers my own feelings, if it’s done with empathy and sensitivity, rather than with judgement or pity.

7 Beth { 05.30.16 at 8:34 am }

Like everyone else said, it really depends on the context and how well it is handled. Nothing riles me more than when the infertility is explained with misinformation or illogical solutions. I also hate when it gets wrapped up so neatly. I was recently reading the newest Shopaholic book (don’t judge!) and a very small subplot of secondary infertility was introduced. Even though everything about those books usually make me cringe, I actually really liked the way it was handled. Most times, however, I would prefer infertility did not make it into my fiction at all.

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