Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dear Thing: Book Review

Although I receive tons of requests, I don't often agree to review fiction.  My fiction reading time is my sacred relaxation time (my form of meditation) before bed every night, and I'm not willing to waste it on a potentially crappy book. 

But when the request for me to review Dear Thing arrived in my inbox, I agreed immediately.  Its not every day I find a novel written about infertility, the area of psychotherapy I work in, and which I am passionate about.

The book is about a couple who have been struggling with infertility for many years and at the point of giving up trying to have a family.  It is suspected that the wife has poor quality eggs and potentially issues that will make it difficult for her to carry a pregnancy.  The husband's best friend, a single mom of one child, offers to be their surrogate.  The only problem is, she is secretly in love with him and always has been.

I am pleased to tell you that I loved this book.  I was eager to get back to it each night and anxious to finish it and uncover the resolution.

The author, an American, turned Brit, Julie Cohen, is an excellent and engaging writer that manages to draw out your empathy for each one of the characters despite their different positions and motivations.  I would have liked her to delve a bit deeper into the character of the husband so readers could really understand what makes him tick.  Quite a bit more information is provided about the wife so its easier to understand her reactions and perspectives.

Unfortunately, there is one thing that really concerns me about this novel: it is going to reinforce a lot of misconceptions that already exist about surrogacy/gestational carriers.

In the book, the best friend, Romily, is a traditional surrogate, meaning it is her egg, and the husband's sperm that create the embryo.  This practice is no longer encouraged as you can imagine it can raise all sorts of emotional, ethical and legal issues.  In the Assisted Reproductive Technology world, we how almost exclusively use gestational carriers, which means an egg donor is used, either from the intended mother, or another egg donor, so the carrier has no biological connection to the baby.

Secondly, the three characters embark on the process without any assistance from lawyers or medical professionals.  Now do folks still do this? I am sure they do.  Is it a good idea? Oh goodness no!  Most fertility clinics will not proceed with treatment unless their are legal documents drawn up ahead of time and everyone involved has gone through a full battery of tests to make sure there are no problems or potential health risks. 

Although I did feel somewhat empathetic towards Romily (a struggling single mom), it irks me that, again, the book perpetuates this myth that surrogates are always desperate, financially disadvantaged individuals and intended parents are wealthy people exploiting these women.  Not so!

Perhaps because I am an infertility counsellor and I see the immense pain and loss the intended parents experience, I identified far more with the wife.  That being said, the book also brings people's biggest fear of surrogates to the forefront: that they will end up wanting to keep the baby.  Well, this is one reason we don't use traditional surrogates anymore, and in my experience, I have never come across a gestational carrier for whom this is the case.

Apparently Julie Cohen is married with one child, but I have to wonder if she went through infertility herself seeing as its an issue that generally is not on a person's radar unless they have.  Either way, I applaud her for bringing attention to the issue.

In sum, I really enjoyed this book and do recommend it if you want a good read.  Just don't let the plot and events shape your perspectives on using a gestational carrier...and certainly don't follow the actions of the characters, because they were extremely stupid to do what they did!!!

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review, all opinions on this blog are my own.

Thank goodness I wrote this post last weekend because Big A has been home with the stomach flu until today, and now I have it, although thankfully a seemingly more mild form (no barfing, just bad headache, body aches and lack of appetite).  Hope you're feeling better than I am on this Hump Day!

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