Sunday, February 18, 2007

The only thing to fear...

The American tradition of instilling fear in people is thriving in the study of pregnancy. Eating fish may cause developmental delays -- but if you don't, your kid may have poor verbal and social skills. If you conceive in the spring, your baby may be premature. If you're black, you're three times as likely to have a preemie. If you do IVF, your risk of birth defects is higher. Heightened sensitivity to hormones may cause miscarriage, and remember that whole vaginal birth thing that's been working for millions of years? It may cause brain hemorrhages.

It's a wonder anyone gives birth to healthy babies at all -- except, wait, that's what happens the majority of the time.

All of this fearmongering (and I'm not exaggerating -- pretty much all of the stories linked above were published in the last 30 days) brings us to our latest subject of our book club, Angela Wu's Fertility Wisdom. I bought Wu's book when I started seeing Acupuncturist #2, and
at first found Wu's explanations comforting. She prescribes a strict diet, a lot of rest, Qi Gong exercises, and even wearing red underwear (if your constitution is cool, warm it up, etc.).

All interesting stuff, and Wu is highly regarded in the Bay Area for her ability to help women get pregnant. But it's easy to be scared reading her book -- she argues that you can't follow her plan just 75 percent of the way, as you can't be 75 percent pregnant. She tells the story of Marcia and Bill, who tried for 13 years to get pregnant. Wu told Marcia to cut out sweets, wheat, and dairy:
"Everything went well until the third month. It was Marcia's birthday and, frustrated after months of the 'deprivation diet,' she wanted cake. Bill gently reminded her of their priorities: Wasn't all the progress they'd made -- and the hope of the baby they'd wanted for 13 years -- worth more than cake? With Bill's help, Marcia overcame her craving, and by the end of the 3rd month, she was pregnant."
If you try everything Wu advises and don't succeed, she suggests that you look deep within yourself
"to your true feelings about having a baby. Are your Three Treasures -- head, heart, and gut -- powering your efforts, or might old feeling be blocking your access to the one resource every infertile couple needs: hope?"
That's right, I forgot -- it's always our fault. I feel so much better now.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reading list, part 1

I’m really enjoying Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother. I first came upon Orenstein’s writing in this New York Times piece (Times Select required) about how she mourned her miscarriage in Japan. The story had nothing to do with me when it was published in 2002, but it stayed with me – so much that when I learned I was going to miscarry last year, I sought out the article and found new meaning in it. (The Buddhist divinity she writes about is the same one I mentioned here.)

It’s hard to feel sorry for myself when I read Orenstein’s story – diagnosed with breast cancer at 35, three miscarriages (one of which, a partial molar pregnancy, meant she couldn’t try again for a year), and several failed IVF attempts, including one with donor eggs. On the other hand, I don’t have what amounts to a own private sperm bank, as Orenstein did. I started trying when I was 35; she didn't have a child until her 40s. There's lots that's familiar in the book, too -- she begins seeing an acupuncturist who prescribes herbs that smell "like feet;" the book mostly takes place in the Bay Area; one of my doctors even makes an appearance.

I haven’t finished Waiting for Daisy – it arrived yesterday, and though I’ve already read 200 pages, I like to pace myself. Reading it is like eating chocolate: it's a tonic, and I can't get enough. At the same time, I already know the ending (the title tells it all) and I have to ask: would you buy an infertility memoir whose book jacket didn’t describe the author as living with her husband and child? If Orenstein had chucked it all and decided to try to live happily with her saintly husband in placid Berkeley, perhaps with a SPCA-special mutt for company, would she have gotten a book deal?

Frankly, I don't care. Because I identified with this section:
"I needed a baby to restore my faith in my defective body, heal my wounded sexuality, assuage my grief, relieve my feelings of failure--to make me whole again. At one time I would have told a woman like me that childlessness was not her problem; it was her inability to recognize the value in all that she had, in all that she'd built for herself."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pace myself some more.