Welcome to the first of a 5-part* series of infertility book reviews to be published every other Friday this summer! While there are many books about infertility out there, I wanted to highlight a handful of some newer titles and some old classics. These books aren’t exactly beach reads - I imagine folks might look at you funny if you’re reading say, Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility while sunning in your finest bikini - but they’re quick enough reads packed with great information that you can pick up casually over the summer.
If you’re interested in the full list of infertility books sitting on my shelves at home, head over to my Resources page. *There might be a lil bonus book thrown in there, if you notice the big gap in July below :)
Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. All I ask is that comments stay on topic to the book reviewed that week. So, let's dive right into the first book of the Infertility Summer Reading Series!
Recommended to me by: Melissa Ford, Stirrup Queens
The Review: Read the introduction. I know that sounds totally boring, but trust me: the introduction is totally the book's hook. As I read each line, I starting ticking off notes in the margins, nodding along with all of Dr. Domar's statements about the emotions I have felt in my infertility journey. I started looking around the room for the hidden camera because honestly, it was like I was reading my own journey in someone else's book. And what a book it is.
Conquering Infertility explores the vast spectrum of infertility's impact in our lives, from our marriage to our relationships with our friends and family and even G-d, to our careers and our own dark thoughts. Throughout her exploration, Dr. Domar offers practical tips for surviving the largest and smallest crises along our journey. The focus of these coping skills is centered on the mind/body technique. It's not that we can think and positively wish our problems away (a la The Secret), rather, we can physically induce our bodies into a state of physiological relaxation where our breathing and heart rate have slowed. The belief is then that by reducing our mental stress, we also reduce the physiological stress we place on our bodies. Thus, we live healthier lives.
Dr. Domar leaps fully into this in Chapter 2: A Toolbox Full of Coping Skills. This is by far one of the most valuable chapters of the book. Offering a variety of relaxation methods: from guided imagery to mindfulness techniques - this chapter gives the reader a set of very practical skills they can carry with them for just about any stage of the infertility journey. I especially was fond of the "minis" - little 1-2 minute simple relaxation exercises that have practical application from hearing bad news from the doctor to when someone cuts you off in traffic (which, if you live in MA like I do, is all but normal here). The minis are a must for everyone!
Conquering Infertility also examines the notion of cognitive restructuring: recognizing and acknowledging the bevy of negative thoughts and emotions that cross through our minds, and then taking them apart and examining them for what they are. We might tell ourselves the myth that we are failures or broken, but when you really take that thought apart, you can see that it's nothing more than a myth, that our value as a woman is not determined by our (in)ability to bear children. Dr. Domar weaves the idea of cognitive restructuring throughout the book as we address the thoughts we have as we relate to our spouses, our friends and family, coworkers- even G-d.
I was particularly engaged in the section about Infertility and Your Career. Whether it was the simple advice of making sure to know where the most private bathroom at work is located (so should Aunt Flo arrive, you can cry in comfort) to deciding whether or not to tell your boss, I was rather invested in this section as I prepare to navigate treatment within the next six months. I did feel the section ended with a broader message of "if you can quit your job, do it" - and that didn't sit well with me. It feeds into the larger stereotype that infertility is a rich white woman's problem and well, some of us just don't have the financial luxury to become full-time infertility patients.
The Appendices offer some quick hits on everything from caffeine and herbs to exercise and body weight. They provide readers with a good foundation to encourage further research on those topics that pique their interest. The second appendix lists various resources; while the resources themselves are valuable, their contact information is outdated as the book was last printed in 2004 (e.g., RESOLVE is no longer based in Somerville, MA). I would search for the resources by name on Google first before trying to call any of the phone numbers or sending emails to those listed in the appendices.
Quotable Moment: Wonderfully wise words from Dr. Domar on the value of relaxation (emphasis mine)
“Try to do it every day, but if you miss one day, don’t judge yourself; simply try to do it the next day. Before you begin to develop a relaxation ritual, you must accept on a deep level that you deserve to take twenty minutes out of your day for mental and psychological relaxation. You need it, you have a right to it, and it will benefit your health. Don’t feel guilty about telling your husband or others that you need this time for yourself - after all, it will indirectly benefit those around you.”
Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates) Conquering Infertility is a really powerful read and still very relevant nearly 10 years after its first publication. To have received 5 tasty pomegranates, I would like to see an updated edition with including updated research and resources since its second printing in 2004. Conquering Infertility is a quick but thorough read with the the acute quality to pick it up and be inspired when you need it at all the stages of your infertility journey.
Food for Further Thought: While Dr. Domar wrote her book in 2002, there's been much research addressing the possible link between stress and infertility. As she notes, infertility breeds a vicious cycle: we're stressed that we can't get pregnant, stress impedes our fertility, we seek treatment, we get stressed about treatment before and afterward, and so on. However, a recent major meta-study just a few months ago claims there is in fact no link between stress and fertility. It's a pendulum game like so may other medical studies: we hear that red wine is good for us one day and bad the next. Cell phones are fine and then the next week, WHO announces they could actually give us cancer. So goes the pendulum for the link between infertility and stress. At the end of the day though, we know that stress does a number of crazy things to the human body, so whether mind/body techniques can help get you pregnant or not, is it all worth it to give you a better quality of (stress-relieved or stress-free) life?
Have you read Conquering Infertility? And what about conflicting recent research on stress and its possible link to infertility - what do you think? Don't forget to come back in two weeks when I review the new memoir, Inconceivable.And if you pick up Conquering Infertility and give it a read, circle back here and share your thoughts on the book!