Sunday, June 28, 2009

Navigating the Land of IF

When I saw that the Barren Bitches Book Brigade was reading Mel's book, Navigating the Land of IF, I decided to join in again, since I had already read half of the book! I pre-ordered it from Amazon this winter and was excited when it finally came in the mail in the spring.

Actually, when I first ordered it and received it I didn't think I would read it at all, since in my mind I am residing in Mamaland and I'm not marooned in IF anymore. I intended to tuck it away and eventually give it to a friend who was beginning her IF journey. But I love books and couldn't resist thumbing through the pages, getting a feel for the book's layout and style. Immediately the chapter on adoption caught my eye and I read from that chapter to the end of the book the first night the book came in the mail, then went back the next day and started reading from the beginning.

(I did end up using the book for its intended purpose, as well. As I'm typing this I don't have my copy of the book to refer to; I've lent it to a friend who, unfortunately, was dumped into the land of IF recently and is still in the diagnosis acquisition phase.)

Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and got a lot more out of it than I thought I would. I admire Mel a lot, so I don't mean that I didn't expect her book to be great. It's just that I didn't think I could learn anything about infertility from a book that I hadn't already read online. I was wrong! It was an entertaining and informative read.

On to the book club questions.

1. Throughout Chapter Five, Mel gives us some laugh-out-loud 'free for all' responses to the insensitive, and sometimes downright INSANE comment we get from non-Iffers. What are your favorite 'words of wisdom' from others and what kind of free for all response do you wish you would have shot back at them (extra points for creativity)?
  • One thing that annoyed J and I to no end during our adoption wait was the perpetual question from our friends and family: "Have you heard anything?!" I know people meant well, but really. We're standing here talking to you after the church service. We just finished talking about your trip to California and our sick dog. Don't you think that if we'd heard anything about a BABY that we would have worked that into the conversation? What I should have said: "Actually, yeah. We're supposed to pick him up at the hospital today. What time is it? (Look at bare wrist) Crap, I hope we're not late! Bye! (rush out of church, get into car and leave)." OK, that wouldn't have worked, and would have offended people. But it would have amused me.

4. 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?

  • This is a great question! We used different techniques with different groups of people or individuals and also different techniques for different parts of the journey. For example, we pretty much took the proactive approach once we were adopting, but used more evasion and reaction prior to our adoption decision. I don't think we outright lied to anyone, but came closest to it with my grandmother. She is just a difficult person and if she had known about our infertility she would have needed to discuss it ad nauseum with my mom on the phone twice or three times per week. A little dissembling was necessary to preserve my mom's sanity.

    Proactive: I was most proactive with my close girlfriends and wasn't shy about asking for support and prayers. We also stayed very open with our parents about the process; our moms were interested in the details, while our dads seemed less comfortable with infertility as a topic of conversation. I wonder why.....

    Reactive: On occasion I would be caught off guard by a stranger or acquaintance's question and instinctively respond with the blunt truth. Most of the time it was fine and didn't end in any awkwardness, but there was one occasion right before Lucy was born, at a wine club get-together...a woman (not a club member, a guest) heard other members asking me about Lucy and her impending birth and asked "what made you decide to adopt?" I was floored. I had never been asked that before; it seemed so obvious to me! I just looked flat at her and said dispassionately, "well, we haven't been able to have biological children..." I was about to elaborate a little bit beyond that, but her bright red face made me stop talking. I realized that she hadn't meant the question that way and she was mortified that she had caused me to say what I did. I dropped the topic and I still am not quite sure what she thought she was asking me.

    Evasive: this was the approach we commonly took early on in our infertility and even late into the adoption process with strangers. Them: "Do you have any children?" Us: "(brightly) No...some day! " Them: "How long have you been married?" or "How old are you?" (I look young enough that people aren't embarrassed to ask me this.) When my answers were "6 years" and "26" people would often say "oh, you have plenty of time to get around to it!" Gee, thanks. I needed your reassurance on that point. Once my answers were "10 years" and "30" I would get raised eyebrows and could see their brains figuring out either "she's infertile" or "what the heck is she waiting for?" Once we announced our adoption I discovered that our evasive approach hadn't fooled anyone, but it had successfully kept them from bringing up the topic. Once we announced we were adopting, nobody was surprised, and the "So, have you heard anything?!" questions began.

6. 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?

  • There are a few questions on the list for this tour that all ask versions of this question: did you read the whole book? What did you skip? I think it's interesting that more than one of us thought to ask this question. I suspect it means that we were all reading the book from points of view that are emotionally and financially invested in one path or another and were frightened that reading about a different path might upset the delicate balance of determination/hope/peace/patience that we all try to maintain through our time in the land of IF.

    As I mentioned above, the first chapter I read is the one about adoption. I suspect that many of us who didn't read the book from beginning to end decided to start with the chapter that most directly addresses our current residence in the land of IF. Honestly, there is at once a hunger to read words on a page that speak directly to our lives, and an interest in whether or not the chapter accurately "gets" where we are. I didn't find any glitches in the adoption chapter, at least not that I can remember now. It was well-written, but really didn't teach me anything since I've lived in that neighborhood for so long.

    I learned the most from the chapter about living child-free. That neighborhood was always scary and dangerous to me before we adopted Evie, but now that I am safely a mother and no longer worried that God's plan for me involves long-term residency on Child-free Lane, I could read about it with an open mind and discover that it isn't a dark and miserable place. It is a place of freedom, choice, love and family.

    I hesitate to write this, because I risk offending anyone reading who has chosen to live child-free, but I honestly pitied that choice in the past. Reading Mel's thoughtful take on the subject made me realize that just as I detested pity from others for my infertility, people living child-free probably feel the same way, so I'm resolved to shelve the pity and instead be happy for them that they've found peace in their lives. Thank you, Mel, for helping me become a better and more empathetic person in that way!

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'll have to read this. However, please warn me if it's just another one of those "I already have my happy ending" IF books. I can't stand those. I've read countless articles and books about IF where I feel like the person relates to me and then the last chapter is 'And I finally got my baby and now all is right with the world!' and I end up completely frustrated that I just read the thing. Argh.

    Oh, and the biggest issue I have with what ppl say regarding our adopting is this: "Oh, GOOD for you" as if we've just solved world peace or something and we should get a medal. No, we're adopting. We're trying to start a family. We're trying to find our child. It's not like we started some charity so I don't know why people have that intonation, it drives me nuts.

  2. I know that some people pity my dh & me for living childless/free, so no surprises there & no offense taken. ; ) Thank you for your kind words & your open-mindedness to Mel's message. I know that I personally have learned a lot about open adoption from reading your blog!

  3. +Yaya: no, it's not a narrative with a happy ending, it's more of a non-fiction book that's informed by a variety of women's real experiences. It's safe for you to read. :) We get that crap about "you are such a good person" for adopting. Whatever. Maybe if we had adopted a special needs baby or an older child from a Romanian orphanage then I'd accept those compliments, but as it is I always respond "we are so lucky and grateful to be her parents!" I can see where you'd get it even more because you're going through foster care. I bet some other foster-adopt parents could give you an arsenal of snappy come-backs!

  4. "I didn't find any glitches in the adoption chapter, at least not that I can remember now."

    I'm glad to hear this, since I had the opportunity to review this chapter before it went to print.

    And Yaya, I would not characterize this book that way. Mel's compassion for all points of the journey is evident throughout, IMHO.

  5. I found the living child-free section most interesting as well. Now that we have a son, that is no longer an option for us. But I do wonder if we will be able to have a second child, as we so desire... and we may be facing some of the emotions of trying to get closure on a child in our hearts that will never be in our lives. Interesting stuff!!

  6. I have loved reading about what everyone else has gotten from the book. Despite all of us sharing time in the Land of IF, we all come to this book from different directions.

  7. I think Mel has made me a better person in many ways!

    One thing about child-free living that's influenced my own view is watching a friend go through the process, from TTC through treatments, to getting pregnant many times then each time dealing with losses, to considering more treatments and trying again, to eventually deciding not to pursue more treatments, to inching toward a permanent decision to live child-free. I hope that the peace you (and Mel) talk about will be there for her someday, but it certainly can take a lot of heartache to get to that place of peace.

  8. That is awesome that you gave this book to your friend. I hope she really gets milage out of it!!! I found myself really enlightened by your review, and your blog entirely to be honest. I love your wishful response to the "have you heard any thing yet?" at church. LOL!!! I could totally see myself wanting to do that. :) You have a beautiful daughter.

  9. I definitely could have used that book a few years back. Sounds like a good one.

  10. I have also already lent my copy to a friend. I love the point of view that you brought in this review.

  11. I almost peed in my pants from your hypothetical response at church. Is that how people would even want to hear happy news?

    I will say that I don't know if I could have written this book while doing treatments and I think a lot of books come out after treatment or adoption or living c-f is settled because being in the trenches takes every bit of your emotional energy. I didn't write for two years. I wonder--in addition to the publishing world wanting the end to the story--if that also comes into play with IF memoir books.

    Thank you so much for doing this!


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