Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review of A Few Good Eggs: Two Chicks Dish on Overcoming the Insanity of Infertility

I wish I’d had this book about six months ago, right when I began to A) really freak out from the stress of infertility, and B) embark upon my own ART journey after 18 months of trying to get pregnant naturally. I wish I’d had this book because it is an encouraging, informative and—though it’s hard to believe—funny and lighthearted take on infertility. A Few Good Eggs: Two Chicks Dish on Overcoming the Insanity of Infertility is intended as an “insider’s guide” to infertility and, as such, it centers on the two authors’ personal experiences with infertility, miscarriage, secondary infertility, and ART treatments; both authors now have children. The authors want to “break the silence surrounding infertility by providing information for everything from the logistics of actually getting pregnant…to facing infertility…[to] what goes on in the mind as well as in the body” (xvi). One of the things I love about this book is that it really does devote as much time and space to what’s happening to infertility patients emotionally as it does to all the physical, medical, financial and practical nonsense that this, and most books in the genre, address.

As a hybrid informational guide and memoir, A Few Good Eggs is written in an informal style and organized into seven Parts that span the arc of the infertility journey—from initial disbelief/denial, through treatment, to some kind of resolution whether it’s a family or child-free living. Within each Part are chapters with wacky titles, such as “Who to Kill…Your Doctor or your Husband?” Each chapter starts with personal stories from the two authors that usually humorously relate their lived experiences to the topic at hand. Throughout each chapter, the authors continue to weigh in on the main narrative with more “asides” presented in blue boxes; while I enjoyed the stories, I found that these inserts tended to distract me from the main text, especially when both authors commented multiple times in a given chapter. Also, there are also numerous “real life” stories from other women and couples woven throughout each section of the book and the authors comment on the anecdotes; there is even a long interview with an egg donor, which is unique and helpful. One criticism I have of these stories, however, is that they are almost exclusively from the perspective of older women suffering from infertility; as someone who started having infertility problems in my late twenties, I found it frustrating that the book focused so much on older women’s struggles.

In A Few Good Eggs, the authors’ point of view in is that women should educate themselves thoroughly so that they can feel more empowered as they work to build their families. The opening and closing paragraphs of the book coach readers to believe that they can become parents; the authors state, “We went through hell to build our family units, but most importantly, we did it. So can you,” (1) and, “In the darkest moments of your infertility, you must always remember that you will emerge a winner in this game. Take charge…Keep thinking of this ordeal as a game—one you will win, just maybe not the way you had always planned” (376). However, Vargo and Regan do get rather negative at certain points, especially when they repeatedly chastise women who wait to try to get pregnant until later in life. There’s a whole section called “The Real Glass Ceiling” in which they argue that “we women [are] responsible for some of our own problems” (36) because we waited for Mr. Right, focused on our careers exclusively, slept around and got STDs that impacted our fertility, etc. While I appreciate the point they’re trying to make about taking responsibility for one’s choices, I have to assume that most women reading this book are already suffering from infertility and don’t really need someone telling them all the ways it might be their fault—most of us feel guilty about it on some level already! This whole section seems self-righteous and out of step with the rest of the book, which is so encouraging and upbeat.

Another section with mixed results is the one in which the authors invite their male partners to share the other side of the story in the chapter called, “The Man Show.” The men’s tales are funny and poignant and the “Ten Things Not to Expect from Your Partner” and “Ten Things You Can Expect from Your Partner” lists are quite clever. However, the authors’ subsequent commentary over-simplifies men’s capacities when they say things like, “In the baby-making process you can count on him to be there with one thing—the sperm…Of course, you’ll probably have to tell him where to be at what time and call repeatedly to make sure he actually gets to the right place with his sample cup. But outside of that, don’t expect any more. Then, anything you do get in the way of involvement or compassion is icing on the cake” (265). This perspective is not only out-dated but it also is potentially offensive to many readers—including my husband, who agrees with me that both partners have the right to expect reciprocal “involvement [and] compassion” throughout this difficult process. Maybe our feeling is due to the fact that we’re in our early 30’s instead of our mid-40’s/early-50’s like the authors, but we just don’t appreciate this kind of commentary that reinforces gender stereotypes and roles.

In the end, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars because I like the humor, candor and personal approach it takes to this dreadful infertility experience. However, the sometimes-confusing structure, older point of view, and critical/stereotypical commentary was frustrating at moments. Also, I wish the authors had spent more time actually describing the details of the medications they took and the procedures they endured (besides harping on the weight gain that is “inevitable”), like they do with the various ART options, for which they give succinct descriptions and cost estimates. When Vargo and Regan tell it like it is, with humor and compassion, this book is incredibly refreshing and encouraging.

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