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A Look at Fertility Books


a blog by Liz

When I started A Child Against All Odds by Robert Winston, I devoured the first chapter and wanted you all to read it. By the end of Chapter 4, I didn’t want any of you to read it. When I finally finished it, I was torn.

For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Robert Winston is a fertility doctor who has a fairly established reputation in the U.K. as a TV presenter of programs about fertility, or the lack thereof. (As far as I know, he is in no way related to Ray Winston, but that didn’t stop me from reading the entire book imagining that rough cockney accent.)

On the positive side, A Child Against All Odds contains the clearest discussion of all the processes that lead up to ovulation (and hopefully fertilisation and impregnation) I’ve have read to date. I don’t know about you, but I tend to focus on what is happening in my body RIGHT NOW and sometimes miss the bigger picture and how everything interconnects.

It also brings in stories and teachings from the major religions which, even for a heathen like me, gives interesting perspectives of any moral objections to fertility treatments. And for those who have been advised that your inability to reproduce is "God’s will" it might be worth mentioning that Rachel, wife of Jacob used drugs to increase her fertility. (It was Mandrake, since you ask.)

Now the negative. I was keenly aware throughout the book that the author was a practicing physician, because he is scrupulous in describing the succession of discoveries and achievements that have resulted in advances in fertility treatments. Let me quote a paragraph:

“While Steptoe and Edwards, ably assisted by Jean Purdey were having tribulations in Manchester … Professor Carl Wood at Monash University in Melbourne was becoming convinced that in vitro fertilisation might be better than tubal surgery in dealing with the common problem of blocked fallopian tubes.”

O.K., enough! I get the idea that advances were made by many different people across the world and it is only by sharing discoveries that they have got as far as they have, but it does feel a little like he is trying to please his colleagues. And maybe a touch of “I’ll credit you if you’ll credit me.” Yes, these people did amazing work, but they do little for my reading pleasure . . .

Winston also has a name dropping habit. (“I had the privileged to meet him once in the last decade of his life” (John Rock, IVF pioneer); “Chang was brilliant, modest, and hard working undoubtedly one of the most deeply impressive men I have ever met.” (followed by some fairly irrelevant tale of a dinner party he went to at his house); “Notable among them was the late Chief Rabbi Dr. Jackobivits, who officiated at my own wedding.”) Ugh.

The book does have really interesting tidbits on court cases, for example, one deciding who ‘owns’ frozen fertilised eggs if a couple split up and debates about whether egg donation should be a commercial transaction. Winston’s arguments are compelling but they are his arguments in his book and the only counterarguments he produces are ones that he already has a response to.

Winston did pull me in when he mentioned specific women or couples within the sections, i.e., the woman who persuaded her sister to be a surrogate; the parents who wanted a child without the crippling gene-related disease of the first son; the custody battles over fertilized embryos. But he offers no one narrative to follow. No ‘story’ to keep you gripped to the end. (Whilst reading this book I simultaneously got through 5 other novels.)

The book trailed off for me a bit towards the end. There was a long discussion about the around embryo research. I know I should be interested in that, but at this moment in time my concerns are around getting an embryo in the first place, what happens after that is so far removed from where I am right now I just couldn’t engage.

Do you know who I think this book would be fantastic for? Friends and family who don’t get why you are debating if IUI is the right thing to do, who don’t understand how emotionally hard infertility can be, who think that IVF is nothing short of a foolproof and easy way to get your whole family conceived in one go. But they’ll probably not read it.

For the rest of you, there are some pretty sobering facts about the likelihood of various treatments working. And it doesn’t pull many punches when debating potential risks associated with various treatments.

I wouldn’t read this if you are undergoing treatment but maybe if you are someway off major medical intervention or have come out the other side and want to marvel at how lucky you are. Go for it.

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Comments (2)

Thanks for this Liz (Secret D here, I also use the name Nellie!) I think I'll give it a miss but it was definitely interesting to read your review. Where do you find all the time?!

I agree with you that the clinical books are the toughest to digest. For me, it was hard, while parsing the data carefully, not to fret and worry about where I fit on the statistical spectrum, and the descriptions of the treatments always seemed to treat the individual as nothing more than a specimen. Ahem, there's a very real person with big thoughts and emotions attached to those body parts! Thanks for taking time time to provide the pros and cons and the cautionary notes.

Silent Sorority

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