Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

July 29, 2011

Silent Sorority Book Review Postponed

Hey folks, don't forget - I'm moving to WordPress on Monday! All the technical behind the scenes magic will happen starting Saturday morning, so there's a good chance you might see the new site before Monday. And if you don't see it until Monday (or even Tuesday) that's okay too. But it's happening... wish me luck and make sure you point your browsers and readers to from now on!

I feel like I'm about to tell the teacher that the dog ate my homework.

I had really wanted to write a full review of Silent Sorority by Pamela Tsidginos today, but I'm unable to finish the book right now. 

I'm about halfway through; it's wonderfully written and brutally candid in describing the emotions of her journey. Emotionally, however, I'm just not in the right head space to continue reading it. This isn't a preemptive bad review or anything - far from it in fact. I'm very drawn to Tsidignos' writing style and narrative.

Emotionally, it's just too hard to read right now knowing what the "end" of her journey is. Spoiler alert: her memoir recounts not only her long and difficult journey with infertility, but their decision to live childfree.

I'm totally aware that this is an even smaller, quieter voice in the ALI community and that it's important to raise awareness about those folks who do choose to move on. That's why I think it was amazing that RESOLVE recognized this population within the ALI community by selecting Silent Sorority for the Hope Award for Best Book last year. It was an honor to meet Pamela in person, too.

Her book is far from hopeless - it's just her descriptions of failed treatments are so vivid and intense that I'm finding myself emotionally overwhelmed.  I know that the rest of her book focuses on their decision to move beyond treatments and her journey to regain her confidence and sense of purpose. I know full well how the book ends.

It's just plowing through the book to get there that I'm struggling with so much right now. Folks, I have to be totally candid here: I've never experienced anything like this before. I have forced myself to read books I can't stand (I'm looking at you, The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter and just about every other required reading book from high school) and produce reviews and term papers before. But this time, I just can't do it right now.

As I tried to finish the book this morning, I had to put it down. It triggered a full-blown emotional panic attack. As much as I want to separate myself emotionally from the book to deliver you a full review - I just can't. I think it's because of the fact that we haven't yet begun treatment that it's too hard for me to read through a book that describes failure after failure, at least in this much intensity.

I think it's the reason that I do know the ending that makes my reception to this different than say, Good Eggs. Even though Potts' story was ultimately unresolved as Tsidignos' is, there's still that hope that Potts will parent. I know that Tsigdinos will not. And where we are right now, it's a thought I just can't entertain in my mind.

I have immense respect for the author's journey, her blog, and what I've read of her book so far.

I just can't finish her book right now. It's just too painful for me to read.

That said, I both encourage and challenge others to pick up this book and finish it. If you have read Silent Sorority, please do share your thoughts of the book in the comments.

You can also check out my other infertility book reviews from the summer:

And with that, I need to go calm myself down and get out of this emotionally overwhelmed headspace right now. Maybe go make myself a cup of tea and watch mindless funny cat videos on YouTube or something. I promise to come back at some point with a full review of Silent Sorority. Right now I just need a little non-IF related self-care right now.

See y'all Monday at my brand-spankin' new WordPress digs.

July 15, 2011

Harry Potter, September 11th and My Millennial Generation

Briefly: I was selected as one of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year honorees! While I’m not attending BlogHer ’11, I’m deeply humbled and honored to have been selected as on of 100 honorees from a field of nearly 1,000 submissions. My Infertility is NOT a Social Condition post was selected as one of 20 honorees in the Perspectives category.

Check out the rest of the Voices of the Year over at BlogHer! I know I’ll be making my way through them over the next few weeks and hope to highlight some of them here as well.

And with that, it’s time to talk about Harry Potter.

Severus Snape turns to Dumbledore and says, his voice laced with such profound love: “Always.”

That was the moment that just set me over the edge and there was no coming back. The tears flowed freely pretty much from that moment on during the film.

If you’re waiting to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, I would stop reading now. Spoilers abound. Although, to be fair, the whole Harry Potter shebang has been out for 14 years now folks - I feel like spoilers should be moot at this point.

I had been like a kid on Christmas Eve all day yesterday, despite how tired I already was, counting down the minutes until the midnight screening of Harry Potter. I was really and truly genuinely excited. It was that same excitement I felt as I sat in the darkness of the theatre for the first film, waiting for the opening sequence to begin. I had been at that midnight screening, too, and for all the films since.

Even though Harry Potter has been around since I was in high school, I didn’t start reading the books until my freshmen year of college as buzz around the first movie came out. And then, like millions of others around the world – I was hooked. I was invested in these intricately creative stories and characters. I grew into adulthood reading and watching Harry Potter, and that for all the mightiness of its themes, I still found them inspiring and relevant as a young adult in my early 20s.

Harry Potter shares a unique set of bookends with my particular generation. The first film was released the holiday season of the September 11th attacks, of which we are now approaching the tenth anniversary.

When life felt so dark and chaotic in those months after September 11th, Harry Potter was this whimsical, hopeful, escapist world. In those early films, Voldemort was this amorphous evil that was “out there somewhere” – much like America’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden. The parallels are chilling.

Cut to 10 years later. The generation who had just entered college is now approaching their 30s. The looming evil figure of our generation is suddenly found and killed in Pakistan and for just a few brief moments, there’s this strange sense of relief, of vindication: “We got’im.”

And here now arrives the final Harry Potter movie, where our Hero defeats the Most Evil Wizard of All Time. Osama bin Laden is killed. Voldemort is destroyed, once and for all. J.K. Rowling paints us a neat happy ending and we still live in a world forever transformed into a “post-9/11” landscape.

How can you not cheer as you watch the film? When Mrs. Weasley roars at Bellatrix LeStrange: “Not my daughter, you BITCH!” and ends her in a series of aggressive spell attacks.

How can you not feel that same strange sense of relief as Voldemort’s ashes float into the sky, the Hogwarts courtyard fallen silent: that hushed moment of “it’s over.”

How can you not nearly collapse into a heap of sobs as we learn Snape has only ever lived for Harry’s mother, the woman whose love he could never have? As Snape reveals his Patronus form, the silvery doe seen to Dumbledore once before, as the dying wizard remarks in genuine astonishment: “Lily?”

And Snape, with such conviction, pain, and longing says only:


Harry Potter is a defining set of films for my generation, whose themes echo and resonate so strongly within us when the world has become a very different place than from where we stood 10 years ago:








These are values that my generation has clung to as we watched the world rip apart on September 11th. We were the Class of 2000, the generation of the new millennium - and what a frightening, terrifying millennium dawn we had awoken to.

And despite all these things, woven throughout, within, and above all else in the Harry Potter stories, we are inspired by and reminded of, taught the most important value:



July 1, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads: Good Eggs

Welcome back to my Infertility Summer Reading review series! Tune in every other Friday this summer for a new review. 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 - (Read the review from June 17)
  3. Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (Today's Review: July 1)
  4. Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (July 29)
  5. Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (August 12)

Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts

Recommended to me by: Mayyim Hayyim

The Review: It seems like such an unlikely medium for an infertility story, but Good Eggs weaves the story of Phoebe Potts' life in such a unique fashion it's hard not to resist the urge to pick up a copy. I had heard excellent things about this book and when I was at a class on infertility and ritual in the Jewish tradition at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh center in Newton, single page prints of her book were on display in a featured art exhibition. They had out copies to peruse and as I waited for the class to begin, I read the first third of the book. I finally bought my own copy and finished it this week in anticipation of today's review.

It's hard to describe this book: yes, it's an infertility story, but it's much more than that. Potts describes her life growing up, her tumultuous and at times strained relationship wit her mother, and her lifelong struggles with debilitating clinical depression. We see very tender and poignant snippets of her courtship and marriage to her husband Jeff as well as a wandering narrative about her brief year in Mexico. Throughout all of this is their quest to conceive.

Potts illustrates the painful reality of unexplained infertility. By all accounts, she and her husband are perfectly normal. Yet after timed intercourse, several failed IUIs and IVF cycles, they still don't have any luck. The uniqueness of the graphic novel format allows us to literally see her thought bubbles in the very moment of each scene. As readers, we become witness to a continous running inner monologue in a way that traditional autobiographic narrative fails to provide.

Good Eggs is a much a resource for those coping with mental illness as it is for those dealing with infertility. Potts' frank portrayal of The Voice - her monstrous, self-deprecating inner monologue - is perhaps one of the most vivid and honestly accurate depictions of what it's like to live with depression.

Potts also shares the way in which her Jewish faith has been impacted by her infertility, as both a conflict of faith as she sits during High Holiday services and listens to the story of Hannah, and as inspiration as she considers becoming a rabbi. I was left feeling like the word "exploration" was the theme of her story as she seeks to discover herself and what fulfills and sustains her.

While I try not to post spoilers, I will say this: the book does not end with a nice, neat ribbon on it, all tied together in a "another infertile couple success story" bow. Potts's journey remains unresolved. However, she leaves the door open for what the possibilities for parenthood could be. This ending really resonated with me because it's a narrative ending you don't often see - that lingering, unresolved ending that leaves you deeply investing and thinking about Phoebe and Jeff well after you finish the book.

Potts' illustrations are quirky and even whimsical at some points, with much detail crammed into each panel. I found it interesting that I most quickly identified characters by their hair, as Potts draws their hairstyles with such distinct detail. Good Eggs is rife with a rich story and characters but at times the narrative feels wandering and clumsy. While flashbacks in the storyline were generally introduced, we are suddenly snapped back to the present storyline in an abrupt and sometimes very confusing fashion.

I would have also appreciated just a smidgen larger book size. While 9x6 is a pretty standard book size, Potts' illustrations are so detailed that sometimes it's hard to spot the little hidden gems in each panel, such as witty puns (a box of tissues labeled Tish B'av, a Jewish holiday of mourning) or running gags (her cat's appearance in many panels included a running commentary of its thoughts). And with little visual footnotes and descriptions tightly packed into each frame, the size of the book made them difficult to read at times.

Quotable Moment: After multiple failed IUIs, Phoebe begins to confront the possibility that things may not work out. In a full page panel, Phoebe sobs in her husband's arms as he holds her and says, "Oh, sweetie. It's going to be OK. We're going to have a baby." Woven throughout the panel is the following:
"It's in Jeff's job description to say the things I need to hear even if they are not true when the alternative is just too hard to take."

Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates)
Good Eggs presents the infertility experience in a truly unique medium, giving very literal insight and emotion to very intimate moments along their journey. Despite an awkward narrative and panels almost over-drawn in their detail, Good Eggs makes the brave choice to tell an unfinished story and in the process, still leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

Food for Further Thought: Last year, Potts and I were featured together in an article for Tablet Mag, an online Jewish magazine. (Read Breeding Ground here.) We both spoke about how we channeled our infertility struggles into artistic creations: Potts with her graphic novel, me with my What IF video.

Graphic novels have been fighting their way onto the literary scene as early as the 1980s with Alan Moore's Watchmen. In fact, much controversy surrounded Watchmen when it was awarded the Hugo Award in 1988; sci-fi authors critics were up in arms that a "comic book" won perhaps one of the highest honors in the sci-fi genre. Other graphic novels like Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale, depicting his father's life as a Holocaust survivor, have gone on to win the Pulitizer Prize. Then there is Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical work, Persepolis, which went on to be made into an Oscar-nominated animated film.

Good Eggs has been nominated as Best Book for RESOLVE's Hope Awards this year. Given it's non-traditional medium, do you think it deserves recognition as best "book?" Do you think graphic novels should rank up there with the classics, modern and old? And do you think a graphic novel is an effective way to tell the infertility story?

Have you read Good Eggs? Krissi over at Stress Free Infertility has and just reviewed it this week too. What did you think?

Have you voted for Good Eggs as RESOLVE's Best Book? And have you voted for Best Blog yet?  

Sound off in the comments and have a fantastic holiday weekend for those of you celebrating the 4th in the States. Be safe folks!

June 18, 2011

Blog Tour of Inspired Reading: The Red Tent

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour: a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before mine is Karen's But I Digress. The blog featured after me is the captivating Catherine at Idea City. Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy!

For this Blog Tour, we were asked to write about the book that inspires us the most. I'm glad I've gotten the  prompt to write about a book that has meant so much to me over the years and has in many ways, shaped the way I view myself as Jewish Woman (yes, with capital J and capital W).

Every woman should read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. I have often called it Required Reading for Every Woman because it is a remarkable, gorgeous, sensuous work of historical fiction that celebrates both the darkest and most glorious parts of what it means to be Woman.

Seriously? Go read it this weekend.
Very briefly, because I don't want this to feel like a book report - The Red Tent unearths the story of Dinah from the dusts of the Torah, a Biblical figure who receives little more than passing mention in Genesis 34. Jacob is known as one of the great Patriarchs of Judaism with two Matriarchs at his side, Rachel and Leah, and a whole host of a dozen sons who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But among his boyish brood exists a lone daughter: Dinah.  Her story is often known as "The Rape of Dinah" as a prince of Shechem "defiles" her, and Dinah's brothers Levi and Simeon avenge her rape by massacring the city of Shechem, leaving no survivors.

And with that, Dinah fades back into the dust of the Torah, never to be mentioned again. This is where Diamant picks up, fleshing out the story of Dinah's youth and relationship to her four mothers: Rachel, Leah, and Jacob's concubines Zilpah and Bilhah, as well has her grandmother, Rebecca. She weaves the tale of Dinah falling in love with the Prince of Shechem and that her brothers' crusade was bent on murderous rage. After the massacre, she flees to Egypt where she gives birth to a son and becomes an devoted and talented midwife.

The Red Tent refers to something we talk about a lot in the infertility community: our menstrual cycles. As happens in many confined living arrangements, the women would often cycle together, in a phenomenon known as menstrual synchrony or the McClintock effect. Ancient tribes of women would gather in a menstrual tent or hut during their blood cycle, often cycling with the moon. Dinah learns of her rich heritage, not just as a third generation of monotheistic Jews, but as a Woman in her place in a Long Line of Women Before Her.

As I've said before, we shouldn't be ashamed or grossed out by our periods, because our menstrual cycles are a vital indicator of women's health. The Red Tent reminds us of this and inspires us to be mindful of the miracle and wonder of our own human forms.

You may have also read posts where I speak of the Red Tent Temple, the women's group I go to every month. The Red Tent Temple movement was born out of Diamant's novel by ALisa Starkweather, a Wise Woman and Women's Empowerment Practitioner. I'm also so pleased to know filmmaker Isadora Leidenfrost who is making a documentary of the Red Tent Temple Movement: Things We Don't Talk About. This one-hour film is slated to be released next year. I have eagerly been awaiting the trailer; hopefully I've made the cut from hundreds of hours of footage that Isadora shot herself at Red Tent Temples all over the country. She's also looking for some more financial support to stay on track with her production and release schedule, so if you know of women-empowered businesses or organizations who'd be willing to help out an empowered woman filmmaker, please head over to her site and drop her a line.

The Red Tent in its modern iteration has become a place of community wisdom and social healing, a sisterhood of empowerment. In reading The Red Tent and participating in the Red Tent Temple in my own community, I've realized that their is indeed power to be had in gathered groups of women. We need more dialogue circles like this, more Red Tents, to share our collective womanhood experiences; there is so much we can learn from one another as women when given the opportunity.

So... have you picked up your copy yet? The Red Tent is an amazingly beautiful, captivating read, and like I said: practically required reader for women everywhere. Now head on over to Catherine's Idea City - she'll tell you about her most inspiring book. Come meet me over there and we can read along together! Want to see what other books are inspiring other bloggers? Follow along on the rest of the Blog Tour this week by stopping by at each of these fabulous blogs for the Blog-a-licious Blog Tour!
  1. Roy: Roy’s Garage Sell and Auction Well
  2. Sulekha: Memoirs
  3. Sora: Peace from Pieces
  4. Shaeeza: My B Words
  5. Mari: Mari Sterling Wilbur Photography
  6. Paula: Hardline Self Help
  7. Karen: ...But I Digress
  8. (You are here) Keiko: Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed
  9. Catherine: Idea City
  10. Kate and Ashley: Back of the Book Reviews
  11. Desiree: Desiree Holt Tells All
  12. Sonia: Sonia
  13. DK Levick: Writing in the Woods
  14. Sarcasm Goddess: For the Love of Writing
  15. Tosh:
  16. Lucy: Life Through Lucylastica's Lense
  17. Leo: Find Peace, Love and God
  18. Dora: Blog-a-licious Blogs

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.

June 3, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads

Welcome to the first of a 5-part* series of infertility book reviews to be published every other Friday this summer! While there are many books about infertility out there, I wanted to highlight a handful of some newer titles and some old classics. These books aren’t exactly beach reads - I imagine folks might look at you funny if you’re reading say, Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility while sunning in your finest bikini - but they’re quick enough reads packed with great information that you can pick up casually over the summer.

If you’re interested in the full list of infertility books sitting on my shelves at home, head over to my Resources page. *There might be a lil bonus book thrown in there, if you notice the big gap in July below :)

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 - (Read the review from 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)

Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. All I ask is that comments stay on topic to the book reviewed that week. So, let's dive right into the first book of the Infertility Summer Reading Series!

Conquering Infertility: Dr. Alice Domar's Mind/Body Guide to Enhancing Fertility and Coping with Infertility by Dr. Alice Domar

Recommended to me by: Melissa Ford, Stirrup Queens

The Review: Read the introduction. I know that sounds totally boring, but trust me: the introduction is totally the book's hook. As I read each line, I starting ticking off notes in the margins, nodding along with all of Dr. Domar's statements about the emotions I have felt in my infertility journey. I started looking around the room for the hidden camera because honestly, it was like I was reading my own journey in someone else's book. And what a book it is.

Conquering Infertility explores the vast spectrum of infertility's impact in our lives, from our marriage to our relationships with our friends and family and even G-d, to our careers and our own dark thoughts. Throughout her exploration, Dr. Domar offers practical tips for surviving the largest and smallest crises along our journey. The focus of these coping skills is centered on the mind/body technique. It's not that we can think and positively wish our problems away (a la The Secret), rather, we can physically induce our bodies into a state of physiological relaxation where our breathing and heart rate have slowed. The belief is then that by reducing our mental stress, we also reduce the physiological stress we place on our bodies. Thus, we live healthier lives.

Dr. Domar leaps fully into this in Chapter 2: A Toolbox Full of Coping Skills. This is by far one of the most valuable chapters of the book. Offering a variety of relaxation methods: from guided imagery to mindfulness techniques - this chapter gives the reader a set of very practical skills they can carry with them for just about any stage of the infertility journey. I especially was fond of the "minis" - little 1-2 minute simple relaxation exercises that have practical application from hearing bad news from the doctor to when someone cuts you off in traffic (which, if you live in MA like I do, is all but normal here). The minis are a must for everyone!

Conquering Infertility also examines the notion of cognitive restructuring: recognizing and acknowledging the bevy of negative thoughts and emotions that cross through our minds, and then taking them apart and examining them for what they are. We might tell ourselves the myth that we are failures or broken, but when you really take that thought apart, you can see that it's nothing more than a myth, that our value as a woman is not determined by our (in)ability to bear children. Dr. Domar weaves the idea of cognitive restructuring throughout the book as we address the thoughts we have as we relate to our spouses, our friends and family, coworkers- even G-d.

I was particularly engaged in the section about Infertility and Your Career. Whether it was the simple advice of making sure to know where the most private bathroom at work is located (so should Aunt Flo arrive, you can cry in comfort) to deciding whether or not to tell your boss, I was rather invested in this section as I prepare to navigate treatment within the next six months. I did feel the section ended with a broader message of "if you can quit your job, do it" - and that didn't sit well with me. It feeds into the larger stereotype that infertility is a rich white woman's problem and well, some of us just don't have the financial luxury to become full-time infertility patients.

The Appendices offer some quick hits on everything from caffeine and herbs to exercise and body weight. They provide readers with a good foundation to encourage further research on those topics that pique their interest. The second appendix lists various resources; while the resources themselves are valuable, their contact information is outdated as the book was last printed in 2004 (e.g., RESOLVE is no longer based in Somerville, MA). I would search for the resources by name on Google first before trying to call any of the phone numbers or sending emails to those listed in the appendices.

Quotable Moment: Wonderfully wise words from Dr. Domar on the value of relaxation (emphasis mine):
“Try to do it every day, but if you miss one day, don’t judge yourself; simply try to do it the next day. Before you begin to develop a relaxation ritual, you must accept on a deep level that you deserve to take twenty minutes out of your day for mental and psychological relaxation. You need it, you have a right to it, and it will benefit your health. Don’t feel guilty about telling your husband or others that you need this time for yourself - after all, it will indirectly benefit those around you.”
Rating:  (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates) Conquering Infertility is a really powerful read and still very relevant nearly 10 years after its first publication. To have received 5 tasty pomegranates, I would like to see an updated edition with including updated research and resources since its second printing in 2004. Conquering Infertility is a quick but thorough read with the the acute quality to pick it up and be inspired when you need it at all the stages of your infertility journey.

Food for Further Thought: While Dr. Domar wrote her book in 2002, there's been much research addressing the possible link between stress and infertility. As she notes, infertility breeds a vicious cycle: we're stressed that we can't get pregnant, stress impedes our fertility, we seek treatment, we get stressed about treatment before and afterward, and so on. However, a recent major meta-study just a few months ago claims there is in fact no link between stress and fertility. It's a pendulum game like so may other medical studies: we hear that red wine is good for us one day and bad the next. Cell phones are fine and then the next week, WHO announces they could actually give us cancer. So goes the pendulum for the link between infertility and stress. At the end of the day though, we know that stress does a number of crazy things to the human body, so whether mind/body techniques can help get you pregnant or not, is it all worth it to give you a better quality of (stress-relieved or stress-free) life?

Have you read Conquering Infertility? And what about conflicting recent research on stress and its possible link to infertility - what do you think? Don't forget to come back in two weeks when I review the new memoir, Inconceivable. And if you pick up Conquering Infertility and give it a read, circle back here and share your thoughts on the book!

February 16, 2011

Weird Science

Her name was Henrietta Lacks.

She is known to most scientists simply as HeLa. In fact, she's known on an even simpler scale: she is not a person to most modern researchers, rather, she is an "immortal" line of cultured cells. The immortality was that these cells, named HeLa cells, were extremely resilient when grown in culture, becoming the first human cells to be successfully grown in a lab.

Henrietta had an aggressive form of cervical cancer that ultimately killed her in 1951. Prior to her death, cancerous cells from her tumor were taken without her permission and used for scientific research at Johns Hopkins. Informed consent didn't exist at the time. The horrible irony of all this is that Henrietta left behind five young children who would grow up without their mother... and without health insurance. The Lacks' children would never be able to collect a dime from her mother's contribution (one made without her consent, no less). HeLa cells have helped millions of people globablly, from testing cancer therapies to the creation of the polio vaccine, as well as thousands of other studies.

You might see where I'm going with this whole "cells in a petri dish" tangent: HeLa cells helped pave the way for IVF.

The examining gynecologist, Dr. Howard Jones, first witnessed and diagnosed Henrietta's unusually large and aggressive cervical cancer tumor. He would leave Johns Hopkins in the 1970s with his wife Georgeanna, an endocrinologist, to form a reproductive research center in Virginia. The pair would go on to successfully pioneer IVF in the United States. And all because of the knowledge they gained from seeing HeLa cells in action.

Dr. Howard W. Jones, IVF pioneer.
This post was set up to be just another run of the mill book review as I read Rebecca Skloot's compelling account of Henrietta's life and the far-reaching impact of HeLa cells in the last 60 years. It was when I had finished the book and read the "Where are they now" section on the cast of characters in the story that I saw that Dr. Howard Jones was the doctor responsible for the first successful IVF pregnancy in the United States. That's when I realized the weird connection I had with Dr. Jones.

We both received Hope Awards at RESOLVE's Night of Hope this past September.

Dr. Jones received the Barbara Eck Founders Award for his work with his wife in the field of reproductive science. While Dr. Jones could not personally attend (he just turned 100 in December), the award was accepted on his behalf by his grandson. For a video of Dr. Jones at his 100th birthday, check this out from the ASRM: Dr. Howard Jones speaks about IVF in the 21st century.

There's a very powerful line in the book, from one of Henrietta's children, to the effect of, "I don't care if millions of people have benefited from my mother's cells... I just want my mother back." It was not an easy life for Henrietta's children in the wake of her death, as described in the book.

What hit me was realizing that I will be one of those people benefited. IVF wouldn't even be a possibility if it weren't for some borderline shady medical practices in the 1950s surrounding the collection and distribution of HeLa cells. I don't feel guilty for having benefited from this research. However, I do now have an appreciation of and watchful wariness for the bioethical considerations of scientific research. We are lucky to live in an age of informed consent, but that still doesn't mean you have control over your tissues once they leave your body, whether it's for research or even profit from that research. Just ask John Moore. You do however, have rights to your tissue before it leaves your body, like Ted Slavin.

All this talk of tissue and cells before and after they leave your body... kind of reminds me of the complexities inherent to using donor gametes. After reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is the first time I've ever really thought about donor egg/IVF from a very removed standpoint, without the context of all the very personal considerations: "Will my child look like me or us? Will I still feel connected to my child?" I'm more than aware of the need for laywers in the donor egg process but I think this is the first time it's really sunk in. I'm not saying legal consultation is a bad thing, rather, I really understand now that all involved parties, recipient and donor alike, each have legal rights. I hate to say that it's about ownership, but at the end of the day, we're talking about human cells and the property rights to those cells once they leave a woman's body.

I'm reminded too of a session on embryo donation I went to at RESOLVE of New England's Annual Conference last year. On one hand, it could be very easy to check off "donate my unused embryos to science." You're simply relenquishing your property rights to those cells. On the other hand (and this is painting the picture with a very broad brush stroke) it's like sending your potential children off to the lab. It's a lot to consider. Again, it's just the ways in which this book has broadened my thinking about modern reproductive science.

If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you haven't read it, go pick up a copy. It's a pretty quick read because honestly, it's so compelling you can't put it down. And I'll throw this question out there too:

Is anyone else just as marveled as I am at the miracles of modern science?

I mean, creating human embryos outside of the human body, implanting them into a waiting womb and if all goes well... it could be your child?! Mindblowing stuff when you really think about it.