June 17, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads: Inconceivable

Welcome back to my Infertility Summer Reading review series! Tune in every other Friday this summer for a new review. Two weeks ago I reviewed Dr. Domar's Conquering Infertility. This week I review the truly remarkable story of Carolyn and Sean Savage in their memoir, Inconceivable. Want to join along in the reading fun this summer? Check out the schedule of reviews below. You can even grab your own copy of the books reviewed by clicking the book covers under the Infertility Summer Reading List to the right. Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. Either way, do join along and share your thoughts in the comment section!

Infertility Summer Reading Series Featured Books
  1. Conquering Infertility by Dr. Ali Domar - (Read the review from June 3)
  2. Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage - (Today: June 17)
  3. Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (Read the review from July 1)
  4. Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (July 29)
  5. Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (August 12)

Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift by Carolyn and Sean Savage

Recommended to me by: Terri Davidson, Davidson Communications

The Review: The story begins like so many other stories in the infertility community: a couple thaws their frozen embryo, it's implanted, and whether by luck or blessing, it sticks. But for Carolyn and Sean Savage, their story and world were turned completely upside-down within this otherwise simple narrative. On February 16, 2009, the Savages learned that Carolyn was pregnant with another couple's frozen embryo. The child she was carrying was genetically - and legally - not theirs. In that moment, they made the ultimate decision to carry the pregnancy to term, and at the risk of Carolyn's health no less. Upon delivery, the Savages would relinquish the child to his genetic parents, Shannon and Paul Morell.

The story moves at an incredibly fast pace although it's obvious from the Savages where their nine months seemed endless for them. Carolyn and Sean's journey is fraught with intense emotion; Carolyn struggles with the sense of connection and longing she feels to her biological son, knowing legal relinquishment can never sever the unique bond she shares with him. Sean meanwhile operates in full-protector-mode, trying to stay focused on what is ultimately best for his wife. When a previous pregnancy nearly killed her, he carries a heightened sense of protection for her knowing that she's potentially risking her life for another couple's child.

The Savages and the Morells initially make contact through letters via their lawyers. The chapter where the Savages read that first letter of contact is just so jarring in its anger and disappointment. There's so much that was left unsaid that the Savages so desperately wanted to hear from the Morells. I get the impression in reading the book that a lot of those sentiments they so longed to hear never were said during the course of their journey. It's not that the Morells were ungrateful, but they certainly could have been more sensitive.

As devout Catholics, they faced criticism from their Diocese instead of support, as the Church condemns the use of IVF. The Savages argue that on the day they found out Carolyn was pregnant with someone else's child, they made the ultimate decision to choose life, a greater principle in their eyes than whether or not they used IVF in the first place. Inconceivable is as much a story about a spiritual crisis and journey of faith as it is anything else. (Sean Savage wrote an amazing piece in May further expanding on how the Church reacted to their story for CNN and is worth a read - My Take: Catholic Church should reverse opposition to in vitro fertilization.)

While you always know the inevitable end to the story is coming - as the Savages did too - you're just not prepared for the emotion. From Chapter 18 on, you better have a box of tissues handy. As the story built with such an unresolved sense of closure for the Savages concludes, they share their considerable emotional toil beyond just Logan's birth. I won't spoil it here, but there was a chapter to the Savage's story that was largely unpublicized by the media that adds a considerable layer of depth, emotion, and heartbreak in the face of everything else.

Inconceivable concludes with some of the legal matters as the Savages pursued the clinic that initially made the mistake, detailing exactly how such a life-altering error could happen in the first place. It is both shocking and infuriating as you read how events unfolded and the carelessness that went unchecked at multiple stages in the days leading up to Carolyn's transfer. Inconceivable is a gripping story right to the very last page.

Quotable Moment: Sean describes the moments after Logan was born and before he was given to the Morells with painful clarity and sums up the enormity of their story:
"As Carolyn held Logan to her chest, I could barely contain my emotion. Fifteen hours before, she had held him inside her, now she was holding him on her chest, and a few hours from now he would be gone with the Morells in Michigan. How would we pack a lifetime of love for this child into a few minutes?"

Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates)
The book arrived at my house at 2:25pm. I had finished reading it by 5:51pm that same day: I literally could not put it down. The book is well worth every single pomegranate it has earned. A compelling story of extraordinary circumstances, the Savages tell their story with candid, raw emotion. Inconceivable teaches us about the life-changing impact of a single mistake, the enormous hearts of two devoted parents, and how to cope when confronting the inconceivable choices we may face in our own lives.

Food for Further Thought: There are two sides to every story. Shannon and Paul Morell wrote their own version of events in their book, Misconception: One Couple's Journey from Embryo Mix-Up to Miracle BabyI won't say the Savages were unkind to Morells in their version of the story, but Carolyn's recurrent disappointment and even outright anger were more than palpable in their book. The Morells have this to say in the introduction of their book, released nearly a year before the Savages' book:
"So why would two very private people expose their personal health information to the public and write a book about how their baby ended up inside another woman's womb? Because through our ordeal we have discovered so many misconceptions...

So though we are not at all comfortable in the spotlight, since we find ourselves here, we do not want our pain or experience to be wasted or our joys and gratitude to go uncelebrated. It is our hope and prayer then telling our story many misconceptions can be cleared away, leaving nothing but the truth."
In some ways, I feel like even in their very introduction, the Savages' portrayal of the Morells doesn't seem that far off. To be fair, I haven't read Misconception, but I won't lie - I don't feel terribly inspired to read their story have read the Savages' first and from skimming what pages are available through Simon and Schuster's website.

Have you read Inconceivable or Misconception? Did you follow the Savages' story last year? What part of their story shocked you the most? And don't forget to tune in again in two weeks when I review the wildly popular graphic novel, Good Eggs by Phoebe Potts.


Kathy said...

Thank for sharing your thoughts on Inconceivable Keiko. I really enjoyed it too and thought it was very well written.

Having lost a child, who we knew would likely not live long after her birth, I could really relate to much of what Carolyn and Sean wrote about carrying a pregnancy with a baby that you are painfully aware will not being coming home with you.

I tried to host a "book tour" on my blog for Inconceivable earlier this year, but it never got off the ground (bad timing I believe was one of many factors). I am still working on my review, in lieu of the tour discussion and intend to share it sometime soon. I am glad to see and read yours today.

Here is a link to a post that I wrote around the time Inconceivable was released in effort to try to help the Savages promote it:


Carolyn is actually a friend of mine. We met on IVFC years ago in and IVF "cycle buddy" group and have kept in touch off and on since.

Thanks again for sharing. I want to go back and read your Alice Domar book review, as I read that years ago, when I was in therapy and struggling with SIF. My therapist was big on Dr. Domar's teachings and I found them very helpful and insightful.

jjiraffe said...

What an incredible story, both the "told" and "untold" portions. The Savages sound like incredibly ethical and admirable people. Thanks for the link to the CNN article. I knew the Catholic church disapproved of IVF, and Sean's brave response is very inspiring.

BTW, did you get my latest email about The Pomegranate Society? I'm having some problems getting through to people with gmail accounts...I may have to join the 21st Century and get my own gmail account.

Kristin said...

I read Misconception and wasn't thrilled with the read. I felt sorry for everyone involved but was decidedly unimpressed with the Morrells. I will have to give Inconceivable a try.