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.


Men Hurt Over Childlessness, Too

Dear friends,

We get a lot of comments from women whose male partners don’t want children or can’t have them. Either they were open about it from the start or they changed their mind somewhere along the way. It’s easy to get mad at these men and blame them for everything. But sometimes the situation is reversed.

About a year ago, Anonymous wrote:

I’m a 34-year-old childless man. My wife has two boys from her previous marriage, and due to health issues is infertile. Though I’ve always wanted a child, I delayed it as some do, waiting for the ‘right’ time, financial stability, etc., etc. However, the older I have gotten, the stronger the desire has grown. Now, the powerful sadness of not having a child, of not feeling a real part of our family, and the resentment and feeling second class to my stepsons’ father and my wife as the biological parents has begun to consume me and bring about a depression that I didn’t know was possible.

I have always had a great desire for us to be as close to a conventional family as possible. I’ve poured my heart, soul, years, resources, and time into it, yet the results I hoped for always eluded me. The father pays no child support, and it falls to me provide, clothe, and care for the boys, which I happily do. But doing homework with them, but never allowed to attend a teacher conference, maintaining all the responsibilities of a parent while I’m not and never will be called ‘Dad’, is a torture that I’m not familiar with. Simply, I feel resentful, hurt, and lonely from what I perceive my role to be: second class, outsider, not good enough.

No matter what I do, I’ll never have the bond my wife does with her ex. I’ll never have those experiences with her, and it’s hitting me for the first time that this is my reality. I love my wife dearly, which is perhaps an aggravating circumstance to my emotion. It’s my own fault for making the choices in life I have. I just hoped for more, and I’m understanding that that hope was foolish.

Thank you for providing a venue to vent…..this has been eating me alive. I’ve browsed your blog and it helps to know that it isn’t just me, that maybe I’m not completely weird in my feelings.

More recently, Tony had this to say:

I got married very late in life, 42, and my wife, or soon to be ex, was 45. She had two boys from her first marriage. We agreed at the time that we wouldn’t have kids because it’s hard for women over 40 to have healthy kids. I was quite heavy (360 lbs) and wasn’t as attractive as I was in my younger years. Then, I was okay with not having my own kids. Some years later, I had weight loss surgery and lost 150 lbs. We lost a grandbaby five years ago, and my wife went into a tailspin. My youngest stepson and his wife had two boys, and while I care for them, I don’t love them like my own. I’ve tried and I can’t. I resent being around them and knowing that none of my DNA is in them. This may sound ugly; so be it. They are my feelings and I don’t apologize for them. I’m 63 and my wife is 66. She’s let herself go and I’m in the gym EVERY DAY ! I’ve met someone many years younger whom I’ve fallen in love with and who can and will give me children. My own DNA, my sperm-produced children. I know many people may hate me for this. Again, so be it. But what am I supposed to do? Stay married to my soon-to-be ex and resent that I never had my own kids? Or do what my heart and soul are telling me to do?

I responded that it looks like he already knows what he’s going to do. It does sound ugly, but people feel what they feel.

Here’s another situation for which you might feel more sympathetic. Author Elliot Jager has written a book about being a childless Orthodox Jew. The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness describes how not having children turns him into an outcast in his religion. In his case, he is infertile. He and his wife have tried all the options, and they haven’t worked. “In Judaism,” he writes, “having children is seen as a blessing. But someone who doesn’t have children isn’t seen as being unblessed, but as being actually punished.”

Jager notes that just because men might not talk about it, they do feel the sting of childlessness.

I think that’s true, and it’s not just in the Jewish faith. I’m Catholic, and I can tell you that both men and women who don’t have children often feel like they don’t fit in. But it’s not just at church. The subject can arise at work and in social settings, too. “Hey, Jack, bring the wife and kids.” But Jack doesn’t have any kids. Men might share in the jokes about male body parts that follow, but they may be hurting on the inside.

We women want to claim all the childless grief because we’re the ones who carry the babies in our wombs, but men are part of the story, too.

What do think about all this? I’d love to read your comments.