Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Baby Trail

December 2, 2008

Barren Bitches Book BrigadeDuring my first Barren Bitches Book Brigade outing for Eat Pray Love, I compared the Barren Bitches experience to my history of IRL book clubs:

“I also really like that the Barren Bitches actually read the book and then actually talk about it instead of sitting around gossiping and getting drunk like most IRL book clubs that I’ve attended. I’m often the only nerd who sits there sober, having read the whole book and wanting to discuss it.”

Alas, once again, I am the only nerd. Welcome to the one and only stop on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade “tour” for Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty. Everyone else read part or none of the book and opted out. Eat Pray Love went great, and I’m sure that Harriet the Spy will go wonderfully tomorrow. But today, I will be a one-woman (or one-Bitch) book club. Sort of like when I was a child and I’d play Monopoly by myself, setting up my stuffed animals around the board. I was always the banker, of course — but I didn’t always win.

Enough pathos — it’s Bitch time. First, let me start by saying that I heard Malky and Aaron interview Sinead Moriarty on the Infertility Podcast and she seems like a perfectly nice person, regardless of what I may say about her book.

Now, here are my answers to my own questions.

Jess describes losing herself when she becomes a mother. But through the course of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, Emma loses herself even more. To what extent did you lose the real you when trying to conceive? If you are a parent, to what extent did you lose yourself after becoming a parent?

I’d like to think that the Real Me has stuck around through the past 6+ years of infertility pretty well — certainly better than the protagonist of this book, who becomes another person entirely. Certain aspects of me suffered when I started TTC. The most obvious was sleep. I used to sleep like a log — in my first 26 years (well, not counting infancy I suppose) I probably woke up in the middle of the night less than a dozen times. When we decided that we’d start TTC, even before we actually began “trying,” I started charting. Even though I was guaranteed to wake up at the same time every morning because of our daily schedule, I’d wake up repeatedly every morning, wondering if it was time to temp. 4am: Now? No. 5:30am: How about now? No. And so on. Between that early morning waking and the subsequent years of late-night insomnia due to IF-related worry or despair, my sleep has never really recovered.

As for the rest of me, another big change has been my willingness to interact with babies and children. This is pretty recent, actually. I’ve always been exceptionally skilled with kids. I used to carry a couple of crayons or a superball in my bag, in the event that I encountered a child (whether friend or stranger) who needed amusement. But now, except for a few select children of close friends, I steer clear and essentially ignore all children with whom I come into contact. I don’t hold the new babies that are being introduced to me; I don’t get down on the floor and play with the kids. Partly because it’s painful, but the biggest issue is that if other adults in the vicinity (either the child’s parents or others who may be around) don’t know about our IF, as most people don’t, I want to avoid the inevitable comment: “You are so good with them! When are you going to have your own?” Several friends who know about our IF have offered a variation: “You are incredible with my kids. You will be such a great parent when you finally have your own.” Better than the former comment, but still not what I want to hear. And so, I have cultivated the image of a career woman who travels the globe and doesn’t have time for kids — a funhouse mirror version of the real me.

As for motherhood, although it hasn’t happened yet, DH and I have big plans not to be like all of our friends who never go anywhere or do anything once they have kids. Given that we have immediate family members spread throughout the continent, and that I have a few trips per year for work that I really need to continue doing (but which allow enough free time that DH and the theoretical baby could tag along), I am confident that we will have a world record contender when it comes to frequent flier miles accrued during infancy.

When Emma starts trying to conceive, she knows very little about the process. How much did you know about the basics of TTC when you started? How informed did you make yourself as the process progressed?

This was probably the aspect of the book that I found most frustrating, as someone who values knowledge and education. Emma knows absolutely nothing! As she gains pieces of information over the course of her journey, she remains totally clueless about everything else. I know there are lots of women like that out there (the majority, probably), and they drive me nuts too. For most of them, their ignorance doesn’t end up mattering because they conceive quickly, but it is doubly frustrating when the ignorance directly results in delays. I know one woman, a hotshot corporate lawyer who is neither unintelligent nor uneducated, who at age 39 started TTC; after a few months of BFN, she half-asked, “My sister said something about having sex 14 days after your period?” Well, sort of, but actually, no. The luteal phase is supposed to be 14 days (though it isn’t always, as is the case for me) but the follicular phase can vary… Arrgh!

Clearly, I was the exact opposite. Even before starting TTC, I had read a book on fertility awareness, memorized the stages of fetal development thanks to the beautiful photos in A Child Is Born, and read several books on pregnancy cover to cover, with half a dozen more waiting in the queue on my nightstand. Looking back, I was probably a little too eager, but no one can ever say that a single day of the past 7 years of waiting has resulted from being uninformed. It’s no coincidence that all sorts of women have come to me for advice on TTC, their pregnancies, their babies. It never occurs to them why I might know so much.

What did you like about the book? Dislike?
First of all, The Baby Trail contains the single most spot-on description of the life cycle that I’ve ever seen.

You’re tormented when you’re single, then if you get married, you’re constantly quizzed about having a baby, and then if you’re lucky enough to have one child, you’re asked if you’re going to have another and if, God forbit, you have two children of the same sex you’ll be asked if you’re going to try for another child in the hope that it will be a different sex, and if it isn’t, everyone will look at you with pity and say, ‘Ah, well, maybe you’ll go again.’

In response, the protagonist’s husband offers a helpful solution that I’ve wanted to use many times.

Well, next time anyone asks you if you’re planning to have kids, tell them to fuck off.

Other good aspects? The book is funny, at times. The side plot with the best friend was pretty entertaining, and I found it much easier to relate to the friend than to the protagonist. This actually was the case with Eat Pray Love as well — I identified with the sister much more than with the author. I pointed out to my husband how secondary characters are always much more like me than protagonists. He observed that people like me don’t make for a sympathetic heroine — something about being insufficiently flawed. I think that’s a compliment.

There were, however, a lot of things I didn’t like about this book. It was frankly maddening at times. Emma’s poor command of her own emotions, her incompetent interactions with everyone in her life, her obsessive pursuit of a baby for not-all-the-right-reasons, her aforementioned ignorance of every facet of trying to conceive. And then, at the end (spoiler alert! not that anyone else apparently has any interest in reading this book, if the BBBB tour outcome is any indication) when you think that she’s finally gained some wisdom after this whole struggle, she and her husband spout the most ignorant drivel about adoption that you’ve ever heard. I actually yelled at the book. Apparently the sequel to the book debunks these falsehoods that adoption is so foolproof, but the third book in the series reinforces the old wives’ tale that as soon as you adopt you will get pregnant. I don’t plan to find out for myself.

Stepping back from my visceral reactions, it’s possible that the author was using the character’s ignorance as a device. That’s fine, except that many readers won’t be fully informed about infertility and/or adoption (even those who have some firsthand experience) and therefore won’t be able to differentiate what is untrue and what is true. I imagined the reaction of non-infertiles reading the book, people who just happened to pick it up at the bookstore or library.

“Wow, infertile women are crazy.”
“Wow, infertile women are selfish.”
“Women will do anything to have a baby.”
“If you have a friend who is infertile, she might become such a psycho that you should stop being friends with her.”
“Some people aren’t meant to have children.”
“Some people should not have children.”
“Adoption is so much easier; they should have done that from the beginning.”

See? Maddening!

It’s not that we haven’t all gone a little crazy, or a lot crazy, due to infertility. But I’d like to think that most of us were able to maintain some level of civility to the people around us, and hopefully a modicum of perspective. My own opinion, which I can throw around for a fictional character but wouldn’t actually say (out loud) about a real person, is that this woman has no business bringing a child into the world when she has such a poor grasp on reality. It’s not like resolving infertility means that everything will be smooth forever after — the bumps in the road will continue to come. Just as I see weddings as a test for your ability to endure marriage, TTC can be a test of your ability to handle the difficulties that may come with child-rearing (even if, hopefully, nothing about child-rearing is as troublesome as getting the baby can be for many of us). Emma fails the TTC test miserably.

You might argue that it’s only a book, that it’s a fictional character. But I think that when a realistic character (as opposed to an obvious fantasy character like Bilbo Baggins or Bigwig from Watership Down) does inappropriate things, it legitimizes them for readers. Especially readers who may be feeling confused and vulnerable, and who may not know anyone else who’s ever been in their same situation.

I don’t read all that many books, and so I tend to make each one count. This book was the first one in years where I felt like I’d wasted my time. Save yourself the aggravation and read Harriet the Spy instead. I bet I can name 100 other books off the top of my head that you should read before The Baby Trail. And very few of them will cause you to yell out loud at the book.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour… oh wait, this is the only stop. Instead, you should come back tomorrow for the Harriet the Spy book tour. I promise that I’m not the only Barren Bitch on that tour.

5 Responses to “Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Baby Trail”

  1. Heather Says:

    I did read this book about two years ago and I must admit I found it maddening too. I couldn’t stand how little she new about conceiving and infertility treatments and I couldn’t stand the end solution of adoption that seemed too easy. There was no reality to that decision: the angst, the loss of having a pregnancy, coming to grips with a child that’s not biologically their own. Not that I’m saying these are the problems with pregnancy, just that this is what goes through your mind.

  2. loribeth Says:

    I’m one of the dropouts from this tour (as you know!). ; ) Actually, I was still trying to finish it when the tour was cancelled, & the book is still sitting, half-finished, by my bed. Not sure whether I will ever finish it. There was some funny stuff in there, but I found I really didn’t care whether I finished it or not. The main character really was a bit of a ditz (& I agree re: how appalling her total ignorance was) & I just knew that she’d get a baby in the end (this being “chicklit” — also, I saw “From Here to Maternity” in the bookstore), so it was hard to “cheer” for her.

    Loved all your comments, & I’m so glad you posted them! If I ever do finish the book, I’ll do my own review & let you know! ; )

  3. Kristin Says:

    I read the book too. I actually had to force myself to finish it. The heroine was maddening in so many ways and the drivel she spouted frustrated me to no end. I guess I didn’t review it because I honestly couldn’t say anything nice at all about it.

  4. Malky B. Says:

    I actually liked the trilogy. So Emma was a little ditsy – it made me feel better that I’m not that bad. We interviewed the author on our podcast as well.

    The second book goes into a lot of detail about the adoption – it wasn’t all that simple and the author did do extensive research into what’s involved with international adoption.

  5. Malky B. Says:

    Also, Lucy – the character you relate yourself to ? – she was more of a main character in one of the later books.

Please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: