Books offer discouraging view of IVF

Fertility treatments aren’t necessarily relevant when you’re fertile enough but one partner just doesn’t want to have children. However, in some couples, the problem is physical. You both want to make babies, but due to problems with sperm or eggs, it’s not happening. Should you try in-vitro fertilization and other high-tech procedures? Would it work? The books I’ve been reading lately suggest the costs are high and the chances are poor.

Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh, WW Norton & Co., 2016

This book was sent to me to review. If you’re considering fertility treatment, you might want to read it. Or you might not because it could scare you out of it.

When they can’t get pregnant the usual way, novelist Julia Leigh and her husband resort to science. When their marriage fails, she continues alone with sperm donated by a friend. She is already in her 40s, and the odds are not great. Hormone injections, freezing eggs, embryo transfers—none of it seems to work. How long can she support her dream of having a child? Reading this book confirms my personal belief that success is rare and it’s not worth the misery. Leigh, an accomplished novelist and screenwriter, is very clear about the odds—not great—and the treatments—not fun. But it is a gripping story, easy to read in a day or so.

You can read a longer review of this book at Jody Day’s Gateway Women site.

Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies by Miriam Zoll, Interlink Publishing Group, 2013

Like many modern women, Miriam Zoll wanted to get her career well-established before she had children. She thought she had plenty of time. Finally married and pushing 40, she was ready. When the natural way didn’t work, she went to a fertility specialist. She soon learned that fertility assistance treatments such as in-vitro fertilization and using donor eggs were not the guaranteed route to parenthood most people believed. This memoir takes us on her harrowing journey to become a mother, trying every possible way. As it tells her story, this book also serves as a warning to anyone who thinks technology will lead to pregnancy. Not only is the success rate depressingly low, but no one knows yet what the long-term effects will be. This book, a little long but well-written, successfully blends memoir and research and should be required reading for anyone considering procreation after age 35.

The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness by Eliot Jager, The Toby Press, 2015

This memoir emphasizes Jager’s complicated relationship with his father and his struggle with being a childless Jewish man. Jager and his wife could not conceive. Fertility treatments failed. They did not want to adopt. Meanwhile, his religion told him a man was not complete without children. In addition to his own experiences, he shares conversations with other childless Jewish men and offers the scriptural view of childlessness. I would have liked him to talk more about his personal struggles with not having children, but the narrative kept veering back to his father. It is also mired in footnotes and Hebrew words. Still, it’s an interesting read.

So that’s my book report. Read ’em if you dare. Meanwhile, the comments have been pouring in on previous posts, especially, “Go or Stay” from Aug. 31. Take a scroll back through the posts and see if you want to add to the conversation. Thank you all for being here.


9 thoughts on “Books offer discouraging view of IVF

  1. Thank you Sue. Those all sound good. Funny about the Jewish tie-in because the same issue occurs in my faith-based circles of Christianity. Did any of the authors mention that babies born from IVF and other infertility treatments seem to have a higher rate of birth defects? That used to come up all the time. I’m not saying it should influence a person’s decision. I’m just curious. In the 90’s when I read such books that was a big, big deal to people.


    • They were all interesting to read. None of them were specific about birth defects, but they were worried because nobody seemed to know what the effects would be on the babies or on the moms with all those huge doses of hormones. It was like nobody wants to talk about it, but they sure should, right?


      • Yes, that is rather a no brainer, but you know health insurance didn’t even cover infertility until recent years. It’s not surprising to me that people are dosing themselves with large untested amounts of hormones.


  2. So glad to have your take on these important books, Sue. I’ll link to this post from the blog book tour taking place this week (serendipity on timing!) as I believe there’s added weight in our collective voices and combined acknowledgement of this very real, under-represented IVF outcome. The imbalance has left people unprepared and ill-informed. Let’s hope we’re bringing awareness that will reshape the dialogue. xo


  3. […] My review (below) was first published on Huffington Post: Have Fertility Treatments Become a Faustian Bargain? Jody (UK) on Gateway Women:  The Private Hell of Failed IVF: A Review of Julia Leigh’s Avalanche Katherine on Inconceivable: Julia Leigh’s Avalanche and  The Perception of Infertility Stories Different Shores (Ireland): Rachel Cusk over-generalises over women, whilst judging them Mali (New Zealand) on No Kidding in NZ: Avalanche – A Book Review Cristy (Massachusetts) on Searching for Our Silver Lining: A Journey of Love – Review of Julia Leigh’s Avalanche: A Love Story Lesley (UK) on Supporting Childless Women: An Interview with Julia Leigh Jessica (UK) on The Pursuit of Motherhood: Australia Day Loribeth (Ontario, Canada) on The Road Less Traveled: Avalanche – A Love Story by Julia Leigh Lisa (California) on Life Without Baby: What “Just” Doing IVF Really Entails Kinsey (Pennsylvania) on Bent Not Broken: Avalanche – A Love Story Sarah (New York) on Infertility Honesty: Book Review – Avalanche: A Love Story Sue (Oregon) Childless by Marriage: Books Offer Discouraging View of IVF […]


  4. I think that from the perspective of a failed IVF patient, anyone who was to read this post and comments, at first impression, would think that the views here are anti fertility treatment. However I do know that this is an open forum and we all come from different walks of life and different journeys to have arrived at our childless destiny.

    I do agree that there is a lot of misunderstanding about fertility treatment and there can be the belief that it is a sure solution. However, with a good and honest doctor and reputable medical facility that provides all the realistic stats and information, then it is fair to say that the information is there. Unfortunately though, many of us who have gone through the system do enter with great hopes because we hold on to this being the solution. Not because of a lack of understanding but more of a desperate belief that if it’s worked for others then why not me. The statistics are there, in black and white. They are real and with the right medical team around you, there is no sugar coating the probability, the side effects and the still unknowns.

    It’s the inner talk that can unfortunately misguide us – “I’m a good person so I deserve to fall pregnant,” “if my sister/friend/in-law/colleague/boss fell pregnant through fertility treatment, then so will I,” “what have I done to deserve a negative result?” “I’ve prayed for it, so God will deliver. And to be fair, with all the medication, your own thoughts, your partner’s thoughts and feelings and the anxiety, hope and excitement that you and everyone in your support team share over the situation – you can fall into a sense of false security.

    Having said that, though I do believe high profile people and the media have a very big part to play in being open and honest about fertility treatment – the good, the bad and the indifferent. It’s these people in our society that I believe hide the fact that the majority of babies born to a 50+ year old mother, with infinite funds did not have a miraculous spontaneous pregnancy but that went through fertility treatment, and quite possibly multiple times or with donor eggs/sperm or the like. It’s these people who I believe misrepresent the harsh reality of the whole process that do an injustice to the people who are even contemplating the idea of fertility treatment.

    I was and have been fortunate enough to meet people who have shared their story, and there are an increasing number of people in the spotlight who are sharing their story publicly in Australia, so perhaps I have been more fortunate.

    I don’t think I went into the process blindly. But every failed cycle and miscarriage was the biggest shock to the system and I did think it would get easier and would hurt less and maybe, just maybe, I would be lucky and it would work next time round. But the reality is it doesn’t and it didn’t, for me. I did ask a lot of questions and I did have a colleague who had come out the other end of the treatment worse off – seriously obese, multiple miscarriages, depression and a marriage breakdown. And yet on the flipside, my sister, who survived ovarian cancer and with only one ovary and in her 40s, did fall pregnant with assisted fertility treatment and I now have a beautiful nephew and niece, with no disabilities or medical issues, as a result.

    We do need more open and honest discussion about this topic, from everyone, of all walks of life. But we also need to accept that for some, it is a real struggle and it does not work. And others have been lucky and have happy, healthy children. It just is what it is and we need to take the good with the bad. But as long as the conversation is real, honest and we have an open mind about it all.


    • Laura,
      Thank you so much for this comment. You are right. People considering it need to know the good and the bad. I should mention that my cousin used fertility treatments and gave birth to the most adorable twin boys last year. Everyone is spectacularly healthy. So it can work. But it’s a very expensive gamble. If the people you’re working with aren’t willing to talk openly and honestly, find someone else. I’m sorry your treatments didn’t work and happy for your sister.


      • Thanks Sue. It’s just one of those awful curve balls that life throws at us and which apparently makes us stronger!


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