Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review: Empty Womb, Aching Heart

Empty Womb, Aching Heart: Hope and Help for Those Struggling With Infertility is not what I expected it to be and is unlike any of the other books I've read or perused on this topic.

Because the IF world, especially the Christian, online IF world is such a small, tight knit community, I find it difficult to be critical of anyone's love offering, for fear of hurting feelings. However, I don't think empty reviews, or false positive reviews really help anyone, and don't accomplish my goal of broadening conversation on and knowledge of the resources available. So with that in mind, I will attempt to tread lightly.

Empty Womb, Aching Heart can best be described as "Chicken Soup for the Infertile." It is a collection of stories gathered from women (and a few men) in their thirties and forties, detailing their personal experiences with various points in their infertility. This is not a teaching book.

I will say that it is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to get a broad exposure to an "insider's view" of various IF related heartaches. This would be great for a pastor or a friend who wanted to glean a smattering of different reactions and experiences, many of which are very typical of many IF journeys.

However, because the book is just a collection of other people's stories, I found little helpful in it on a cosmic, capital T Truth level.

My first critique is that only two passages in the entire book came from anyone in their twenties. Most passages were from people in their upper thirties and in to their forties, with a few from people in their young thirties. This made me, a late twenty something, feel particularly isolated. So many times in this journey people say "oh you're still young!" as though the only people allowed to truly wrestle with this issue are those who are nearing the end of their childbearing years. In truth, my youth makes this harder because if my body doesn't function right now with time on its side, I have little hope as time marches on. It also made me feel that I am years and years away from being able to really identify with a lot of things shared in the book, or that it will take me that long to come to the same kind of peace that some of the authors exude. So I found that element of the book to be particularly discouraging, especially because in one or two stories was the author's age even relevant, so this isolating factor could have been avoided altogether by the omission of ages.

Second because this is just a collection of stories, the only significant value is the comfort of the knowledge that others have been there too. But because God works in every life differently, there is no universality to any of the lessons. While I can marvel at God's work in another for the sake of His goodness and power, that does little to teach me about His plan for my life. Perhaps that was never the point of the book but I have to hope that if it was published for worldwide consumption, there was some goal of enhancing the reader's own picture of God.

Also, it was hard for me to really accept any of the assorted "truths" that were offered because we know absolutely nothing about the various authors, save for their name (real or pen) and an age, and in some cases, a location. This is not always relevant, but when someone is making assertions about God, I know it's at least easier for me to process when I know the bias of the person making the assertion. No scripture referenced was exegeted nor was the article author's interpretation substantiated. I realize that criticizing anonymity is an ironic statement coming from anyone in the world of the internet blogosphere, and I all realize that everyone has something offer, regardless of their "credentials" but for that very reason, I try to be very upfront with my biases and convictions and with the fact that anything I offer is opinion.

I try to be careful for not faulting something for not being what it was never intended to be. I realize this book was never intended to be a treatise on God's truth for infertile couples. But in recognizing that, I found a lack of a convincing purpose for the book, again aside from the end result of getting exposure to other people's emotion and knowing that one is not alone.

I can never fault anyone for trying to address this issue. I feel like a broken record when I say again that I appreciate that Ms. Schalesky (I think a better title for her is editor, not author) was willing to break the silence. And I am confident that her vision for this book was borne out of a sincere desire to equip, encourage and validate. All of those things are noble and good and as I said, this book is very good for exposing someone to a lot of feelings and experiences with IF. And if someone is at the point in their IF journey that they're just looking to hear from other people who have "been there, done that" this book is perfect. I will applaud Ms. Schalesky for her wisdom in including many stories that do not have "happy" endings of successful pregnancy or adoption, which would lead I think to a lot of false hope. The point of all the stories is that God's goodness is not confined to fixing biological problems. This is a very significant Truth that this book does tackle well. So for all of those things, I appreciate Ms. Schalesky and all those who submitted their stories.

The question of whether or not I would recommend this book I guess depends on what your intended purpose in reading it is. If it's to glean exposure to "our" world, such as would be appropriate for a pastor or friend of an IF couple, this is an excellent book. However, if you're an IF person at the point in your journey where you're hungering for solid, biblical teaching and encouragement, this may not be the tool for you at this time. I can't say that I would refuse to recommend it because there is nothing "wrong" with this book, morally or spiritually and I don't think it does any harm or disrespect. However, it has a very specific purpose and I think intended audience, so falling outside those bounds may make this book little more than a time passer for you.