Content note: Infertility portrayed in very problematic ways – possibly not the post to read if you’re in a tough place right now.
It’s old news now, but a month or so ago I read the Slate article that has been making the rounds in the infertility community – for good reason, it’s an excellent article hitting up a wide variety of issues and reasons infertility is particularly tricky when it comes to the workplace. It also gets into how, despite more openness and acceptance for infertility, there’s still a very long way to go.
Since my own experiences with infertility/miscarriage, I’ve definitely noticed storylines or even short bits in books/films/TV relating to adoption/loss/infertility (ALI) far more than I did before. While infertility is becoming more realistically depicted at times, I’m still somewhat surprised at how often I run across a particular trope that I strongly dislike: that women struggling with infertility/loss are scary.
Perhaps it’s because this came up in two books I read recently: The Alice Network (Kate Quinn) and Daughters of the Lake (Wendy Webb).
The Alice Network is largely about the female spy network that operated during WWI in France, interspersed with a young woman searching for her lost cousin in the wake of her brother’s suicide post WWII. All the trigger warnings apply on this book both from the ALI perspective (unplanned pregnancies, abortion, loss) and generally (war, torture, Nazis, rape, etc.). There’s a short bit, however, for a side character that includes infertility.
[Very minor spoiler ahead]
Spy trainer Captain Cameron went to jail because his wife decided to commit insurance fraud to provide for a child she couldn’t conceive. Her infertility causes her to go to desperate, not entirely sane, lengths. She conceives and recovers her mind.
Honestly, despite how much I was immersed in the rest of the story, this part almost made me put it down because it infuriated me so much.
Shortly thereafter, I picked up Wendy Webb’s Daughters of the Lake, a gothic suspense novel, on sale at some point and finally got around to reading it. It’s definitely a ghost story, but in a mildly shivery sort of way that I enjoyed (I then promptly picked up a couple of her other books from the library and those descend into terrifying outright horror stories – this one I found much milder).
The novel had a baby/baby loss subplot, however. Again, the theme of women deranged by loss and not having a child came up toward the end of the book.
Even setting aside artistic license and drama in novels, this Dear Prudence letter headlined “Help! Sometimes I Worry That My Infertile Friend Wants to Kidnap My Baby” (I would not click over if you’re in a fragile place because yes, this accurately sums up the substance of the letter). Prudie calls the letter writer’s comment to the friend unkind and gives the letter writer a thorough tongue lashing, but the letter itself definitely displays a truly alarming attitude toward those struggling with infertility.
I am so tired of women struggling to conceive or dealing with loss being portrayed as dangerous or harmful. Infertility made me feel a lot of emotions. Sad. Angry. Conflicted. Anxious. Frustrated. Jealous. Certainly these and many more, but while it’s true that I chose not to attend baby showers, disliked pregnancy announcements for the most part, and had to unfollow streams with lots of new baby/child pictures at times, I never wanted to harm anyone. I never wanted to take anyone’s baby. I never lost touch with reality. I never wished that difficulty or sadness would befall anyone. I’m not going to say that no one was ever disappointed in my reactions or that a few people insisted that I should be visibly overjoyed for pregnant women, but I tried – hard – to be kind and keep my feelings to myself in public. Mostly because it wasn’t other people’s fault and I knew they weren’t having babies at me. I just wished it was my turn and that conceiving had been easier (and – not going to lie – highly resented the amount of money we were shelling out for IVF).
This is why I write about infertility, in the hopes that reality will help to dispel some of the more pernicious bits of stigma surrounding this condition. But it doesn’t help when a scene giving a picture so much to the contrary are popping up in a novel as widely read as The Alice Network.