TBR: Waiting for Daisy
As I explained in the first ever post on this blog, the name "Half Changed World" comes from the subtitle of Peggy Orenstein’s book, Flux. Before I started the blog, I googled Orenstein’s email address, and wrote her to ask if she minded my using the name. She responded with a very gracious note, pointing out that you can’t copyright a title, but wishing me well. Thus, when I received an email a few weeks ago from Orenstein announcing the publications of her new book, Waiting for Daisy, and offering me a review copy, I was happy to take her up on the offer.
In Flux, Orenstein examined the changing expectations and experiences of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, especially focusing on their choices whether to have children and whether to work for pay. The not very hidden subtext of the book was her own attempt to decide whether to have a child, what it would do to her career, and whether she would regret it down the road if she didn’t. Waiting for Daisy is explicitly about Orenstein and her husband’s decision to have a child, and how almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong (cancer, a molar pregnancy, miscarriages, failed IVF, a failed donor egg cycle) and the ultimate improbable conception of their daughter Daisy. Or, as the subtitle puts it "A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother."
I have been fortunate enough not to have personal experience with the world of fertility treatment. But I’ve read enough fertility blogs that little in Waiting for Daisy was a surprise to me, not the callousness of the doctors, not the way that the couple was sucked into more and more involved procedures, in spite of their initial ambivalence. If anything, it seems like Orenstein may have had the ironic blessing of responding sufficiently poorly to medication that she and her husband weren’t tempted into cycle after cycle of trying.
The part of the book that moved me most is probably the description of Orenstein’s encounter with the Japanese ritual for mourning miscarried or aborted fetuses. (This is a revised version of an article that appeared in the NYTimes Magazine several years ago.) I also really liked the way that Orenstein writes about her anger at Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s "chicken little natalism" even as she feels herself turning into the "poster child" for Hewlett’s thesis. She’s clear-headed enough to see both the big picture and her individual reality at the same time, and neither to believe that her life is prototypical nor to deny her own reality because it’s inconsistent with her story about the world. So, yes, she did ultimately get pregnant with her daughter without medical intervention, but no, that doesn’t mean that infertile women will conceive if they "just relax."
This is a quick read — I read it over the course of a weekend. While she covers some serious topics, Orenstein writes about them lightly. I enjoyed the time in her company.