Life Advice for Book Lovers: Struggling with Infertility
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
I read your columns and could relate to the folx who were feeling bored and stuck, but what has been troubling me the most is I am 38 and have been struggling with infertility for about three years now. My insurance doesn’t cover anything and my husband and I are also saving for a home and can’t afford to have both a house of our own and fertility treatments. While many people would choose the latter, for our own mental, physical, and financial wellbeing, we really need to have a home to call our own. I have magical thinking that somehow getting our home will make everything better, though intellectually I know a new home will not magically help me get and stay pregnant.
I used to get some comfort talking to friends and family about these two stressors, but lately I haven’t felt like talking about it with people. I believe I had a chemical pregnancy, and now that it’s over, I am experiencing grief and most likely psychosomatic pregnancy symptoms. I feel the most comfort, safety, and inspiration from nature, my cat, and the arts (especially music, ballet/dance, and visual arts).
I would love some suggestions on things I can read to help me feel less alone. So far, Ada Limon’s poetry has been the most helpful. I can relate to so much of what she has written about infertility but also love her poems written before she this was in her awareness. I am not looking for books of people who experienced infertility and miraculously became pregnant, and would prefer books about how people found meaning and solace after recognizing infertility may be a forever thing and (possibly) accepting it.
With deep appreciation,
Dear Fallow Field,
I’m so sorry for what you are going through and have been going through. This stuff is not easy. Insurance companies are horrible! And the dream of owning a home sometimes feels like an impossible mountain you’re just going to get kicked down after you reach a summit, doesn’t it? And bodies—god, who knows how bodies work! I’m sure it’s been said to you again and again, but it bears repeating: this is not a failing. And you’re certainly not alone.
For you, I’d recommend Jackie Polzin’s Brood, which follows a narrator as she becomes obsessed with her small brood of chickens. Yes, chickens. Over the course of our year with them, they battle countless Minnesota winter nights, cunning animals higher up on the food chain, and one tornado. Underneath it all flows a river of grief; our narrator is mourning a miscarriage and quietly coming to terms with the fact of her infertility. The book is less obviously a story about outright overcoming these things; it focuses instead on the ways this sorrow bleeds into daily life, how it colors her interactions with the world, and how it affects her relationships with her husband, her mother, and her best friend who has started a family of her own.
It’s sort of a book about how to survive when your life surprises you. There’s so much tenderness and wisdom folded into the way she cares for these creatures. It’s a great reflection on loss and life—one that doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff but that stands firmly in the small successes and joys, too.
You might also find solace in Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self, a bold collection of essays that sheds light on somewhat taboo topics, like addition and assault. The essay I’m thinking of, though, is called “From the Baby Years.” It’s the author grappling with her own infertility and putting every honest thought on the page. (For a taste, here’s a piece she wrote for Vogue on the same topic.)
I hope they prove to be empathetic and curative company.
You know, there are days when I sit at home with my dog, and we polish off a whole family-size bag of Lays potato chips. (I say “we” because I’ll give him one, and then it feels like we’ve shared, and that I’ve not eaten the whole thing entirely by myself!) And when that happens, I think: I guess we’re a family, and at first I meant it in a joking way, but we are. A family is anyone who gets to the bottom of the bag with you.
For what it’s worth, I have no doubt that your new house will brim with music and art (and cat toys). You’ll fill it with good books and dear friends and laughter and turn it into the home you need.