(infertility mentioned; children in books mentioned)
Reading has been an integral part of my life as long as I can remember. Maybe I got hooked on the escape it offers, or the opportunity to live so many different lives – in any case I find myself often re-reading favourites. I tend to like alot of children’s literature (Madeleine L’Engle, the Narnia Chronicles, the Taran Wanderer chronicles, Gordon Korman, L.M. Montgomery), historical romance by Georgette Heyer, and some science fiction, like Anne McCaffrey and John Wyndham.
I got to thinking about how IF, adoption & childfree/less is presented in these kinds of books. I don’t mean as when IF is the raison d’etre, but as a part of the story. Most of the books I really enjoy have many characters that have depth to them, and have interactions with each other. Of the ‘sex & romance’ variety, I really enjoyed Nora Roberts for quite awhile. But then – I was reading it as an escape during the time of our IF where we’d started medical treatments – and it dawned on me that the formula of her books not only includes the predictable romance, but when you see the characters again in the next book they are pregnant or have a baby. So that took alot of the shine off Nora Roberts for me.
I had been a fan of the Dragonriders series by Anne McCaffrey and around this time, I discovered the book “Masterharper of Pern.” This one really resonated for me. Robinton (the Masterharper) is a character in many of the other books and he is just an amazing person (and musician). This book went through a previously unknown part of his life – where his first, deeply loved wife dies (no children). Later, he does have a child (Camo) with another woman who is more like a good friend – but the child suffers birth trauma and brain damage. Eventually the mother gives Robinton the following advice about the apprentices who look up to Robinton: “you know, you’ve a true son of your heart in [one of the apprentices] … he’s not the only apprentice who adores you, Rob. Don’t hesitate to give them the love that Camo cannot return. They deserve it, each in their own way, so you’re taking nothing from Camo.” For some reason this story line and this passage really grabbed my heart. Maybe because it speaks to all the children or people around us who can thrive with the love & nurturing we have to give – even when it doesn’t turn out the way we think it will. Also, I suppose seeing the tragedy & disappointment that Robinton has gone through, and how very much he contributes to his world – how he uses his talents – he is one of my heros. (is it weird to have a hero who is a book character???)
An entirely different book that I enjoyed for years had a mention of IF/child loss which really only struck me once we were really facing IF ourselves. “Cousin Kate” by Georgette Heyer is – like all Georgette Heyer Regency romance books – a completely absorbing world of history come to life, with characters you feel you know and could talk to. One of the characters is an older man, and he speaks of his marriage to his first wife (Anne), the loss of all their children, and their relationship with his nephew (Philip). “Anne was very fond of [Philip], too, and never jealous, as God knows she might have been, when she saw him so stout and vigorous, and had the anguish of watching her own son die. We lost all our children; two were still-born; and only Julian lived to stagger about in leading-strings. Both my little girls died in their infancy – faded away! They were all so sickly – all of them, even Julian! But nothing ever ailed Philip. Some women might have hated him, but not Anne! She thought of him as a comfort to us.” I can’t imagine how many times I read this book and took only trifling notice of this passage. Only after realizing we had IF to deal with did this strike me. And I still don’t know how anyone could have the attitude that Anne did. How could her love & joy in her nephew overcome the grief of losing her own children? How could she let go of those thoughts to enjoy the time she had with her nephew? I don’t know if I could.
I haven’t had any luck flipping through my Maeve Binchy collection to track down the next one – the setting is a small Irish village, and a couple who has been unable to have children. I think they seek some medical help but it’s around the 1950’s – 1960’s so not much can be done. Somehow it is revealed that they aren’t sexually intimate anymore because the husband feels that there’s just not much point anymore, is there?? Later on a little girl comes to live with them and they adopt her, so there is joy to be found for them. But reading the husband’s POV before we had IF (ouch! but surely you can make love even if you know it’s unlikely you’ll conceive?) and then after (that must have ripped out her heart. So making love has no “use” other than conceiving, and so you are denied this if you’re unlikely to conceive ??? And then you don’t even have the faint hope that a miracle could happen for you?)
The final story I want to share isn’t primarily from a book – it captured my heart more more as a musical than in book format but it was really a defining story in my adolescence. “Les Miserables” has the ability to transport me anytime. The main character is a man who is in jail for a small crime for 20 years and doesn’t marry or have his own family. He ends up basically adopting a young girl – their loving father-daughter relationship is beautiful. Then of course she meets a man and the two fall in love. There’s one song that struck me so much after IF, which didn’t really stand out before – with the lyrics “he’s like the son I might have known/if God had granted me a son …” I never really thought before that this man might have wanted a family, might have dreamed about his own children, but that was taken away from him by his life circumstances. Now I have tears in my eyes every time I hear him sing this, or even when I think of it. THe main character is another of my heroes, so loving and courageous.
I haven’t been reading a lot of new story-type books lately – I have a bad habit of getting too involved to put it down, reading far into the night and suffering for it the next day. I tend to re-read many of my favourites, hence my tendency to be reading children’s books – they are friends and magical worlds that are so familiar and welcoming to me. Whenever I do read something new, the IF lens gives me an outlook I didn’t previously have. The last Harry Potter book, for example – did you notice how all the main characters married, had children, etc? I understand ending the series is not the time to launch into IF in the world of magic … but it’s just such a carefree assumption. (or maybe they don’t have IF in that world. Mix up a potion and voila – dont’ you wish?)
And yes, I stayed up ALL night to read that book, and suffered for it the next day!