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"We've opened up this baby-shaped hole in our lives. We have explored what it should look like, feel like, to be parents. How do we ever close that hole again and carry on as before?" writes Caroline Gallup in the beginning of chapter 14, at the end of her book about infertility and fertility treatment. The wish to get pregnant, the pain of wanting but not succeeding, the doubts and the not knowing what is right or when to stop trying -- this is what Making Babies the Hard Way is about. It is the depiction of a physical, emotional, social and economical challenge that most people never experience and few expect to face. For those for whom pregnancy isn't easily achieved, however, a psychologically demanding process begins.
It is a personal book, describing the efforts and the personal sacrifices inherent in the struggle to have a child without being able to conceive the easy way. The story about the Gallups' journey through fertility treatment is told mainly from Caroline's point of view, with occasional passages written by Bruce. Friends, family, acquaintances and health care professionals are also part of the picture, painted from Caroline's perspective. Misunderstandings between patient and doctor, the problems arising between the Gallups' and their close ones, the crises in the couple's relationship, and the importance of Caroline's spiritual faith are all clearly illustrated throughout the text.
The narrative is easy to read. Based on diaries, it fuses the chronologically depicted practicalities of going to the doctor's, getting reactions from family and friends, making decisions about trying sperm donation etc., with Caroline's internal process filled with private questions directed to the self, such as "what if this doesn't work?" "Have I the courage to stop?" Of course there are passages in the book where one has other questions than those Caroline poses, and other passages where one gets curious about how other people understand the situation. However, it is certainly one of the book's great strengths that it is mainly Caroline's own, uninterrupted story.
To read the book felt to me like being an outsider who is gently being allowed to partake in a private pilgrimage over rough terrain. The hardships are numerous and intense, but even when the journey seems hopeless, the spirited guidance provided by Caroline Gallup makes visible all the treasures to be experienced along the way. Sorrow, disappointment, anger and doubt is there, but so is inevitably courage, love, friendship, faith and lessons to be learnt. To feel the strength that grows between the two, their love of life and their acceptance of how it turns out for them, is uplifting. For this reason, I believe this book can doubtlessly be read as self-help literature for anyone facing infertility and treatment.
The self-help function applies not only to people directly affected by infertility, but also to their entourage. Having a friend in the same situation as Caroline Gallup while reading Making Babies the Hard Way, I found the book to be a comfort and a source of courage. It is not uncommon that people in the Gallups' situation, for different reasons, do not want to talk about what they are going through. As a friend, to be left on the outside of this process can leave you feeling shut out and without the possibility to give support, and even if you are trusted with your friends' story, you may not be sure how to give support in a way that is helpful. Making Babies the Hard Way gave me useful insights about the feelings, questions and states of mind that couples in the Gallups' situation may experience. I thank Caroline Gallup for that.
© 2008 Minna Forsell
Minna Forsell is a psychologist, recently graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works in a psychiatric health care center in Volda, Western Norway.