February 29, 2016

Finished: The Pursuit of Motherhood by Jessica Hepburn

This is a really powerful infertility memoir. The author is a highly accomplished, no nonsense business woman (she runs one of London’s leading theaters) who brings her “Let’s get this done” attitude to having baby via IVF after a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. But seven years of chronic treatment failure and grief is a storm that will batter the strongest of sails, and I found myself both cheering and aching for her, and certainly relating.

The author writes about her journey with unflinching directness and honesty. She has a paralyzing fear that the wrong sperm will be used to fertilize her eggs. She and her partner submit to financial devastation to afford treatment after treatment (I was delighted when she observed that money becomes like Monopoly money, an analogy I use nearly every day). She goes from workaholic to taking a sabbatical in an attempt to cope and improve the chances of having a successful cycle. Her relationship nearly doesn’t survive; she and her partner, both strained to the core, fight so viciously one night she hurls things at him and kicks him, and they briefly separate afterward. She yields to treatment she considers insane—both medical and alternative—in the name of trying anything.

This is what infertility does. It turns you inside out, and demands. It infiltrates everything and promises nothing.

Perhaps most poignantly, the author closes the book without having gotten her happy ending, acknowledging that her pursuit of motherhood has become a life all its own, but firm that it will be followed with a new life of goodness, whether with child or without. I hope she can feel her readers still pulling for her long after we put the book down.

Unexplained infertility is a special form of torment that I hear about every day in support groups. Give me a reason, these smart, resourceful women rightfully cry. Give me a problem so that I may have hope of a solution. I think that knife twists especially sharply in someone with the organizational style and pragmatic temperament of the author, which I share. I also appreciated reading the rare secular infertility memoir. While I am all for people getting through however they can, I find the ubiquitous lament that God will grant a baby in His time chafing.

All in all, I recommend this book finding its way to the top of anyone’s infertility memoir list.