Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: Hannah's Hope

Since we began this new leg in our journey, I've been reading everything infertility related that I can get my hands on. The first full length book I've read dedicated exclusively to this subject is Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart In The Midst Of Infertility.

Hannah's Hope is written by Jennifer Saake, previously mentioned on this blog and mother to two living children. She and her husband have walked the road of infertility for 15 years and they have had their hearts broken by several miscarriages and even more failed adoptions. The book is appropriate for women at any stage of infertility, though she writes mostly for a general audience and less for specific problems within infertility.

The structure of each chapter of Ms. Saake's book is a passage (usually a single verse) of scripture, a historical fiction retelling of Hannah's story (the mother of Samuel), Ms. Saake's writings on the subject of the chapter, probing questions on the subject at hand, a list of scriptures for meditation, and a passage (never more than a page) written to the loved ones of people struggling with infertility, designed to give the loved ones special insights and ways to support their friend or family member.

One thing I appreciate about Ms. Saake's book is her conversational tone. The book is a very easy read, and Ms. Saake's pen flows as easily and comfortably as I imagine her tongue would if she were sitting with you having a cup of coffee. Throughout the reading, I felt as if I were sitting across the table from a friend as she shared some of her innermost thoughts. This put me at ease to explore my own thoughts, agreeing with her in most cases, disagreeing with her in others, and overall deepening my intentional thoughts on our own journey.

The historical fiction retelling of Hannah's story from I Samuel 1 is designed to explore the thoughts Hannah (and occasionally some of the other main characters) may have had as she grieved her way through her own infertility journey. Through the process, the reader develops a kinship with the biblical heroine, taking comfort in the fact that though she lived thousands of years ago, her struggle was largely the same as that of a woman today and is not unknown to the heart of God.

As Ms. Saake divulges her own history and feelings, the reader is taken on a journey through exploring anger, jealousy, fear, bitterness, grief, disappointment, stress, hope, and intimacy with the Almighty. She tackles issues from fear, to bioethics, to the strength of the marital relationship, and most importantly, the infertile couple's walk with God. She is sensitive and gentle while still bold with her convictions.

There is no false piety at all in Ms. Saake. Everything is brutally honest yet still respectful of the sovereignty of God. On more than one occasion, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts simply penned by Ms. Saake's hand. There was comfort and validation in "aha! someone else has felt this way too!"

Ms. Saake does not dwell in the depths of her feelings. She provides thoughtful scriptural encouragement while at the same time refraining from giving pat answers and comfort cliches. She adds her own thoughts and insights as revealed to her through meditation and experience.

My favorite passage in the book reads:

She [the woman at the well] sought happiness in the arms of men. Jesus provides peace that could be found in none other than Himself.

I sought joy in the new life of a baby. Jesus offers New life in Himself.

I wanted to know the feeling of carrying another soul inside my body. He provides the Holy Spirit to indwell me.

I longed to nurse a child. Paul wrote, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2-3).

I dreamed of watching my baby grow and mature. But am I ever-growing in Christ? "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14).

I bemoaned the "bread of adversity" I felt unfairly called to taste. The Lord answers with the cross: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).

I pleaded for a child to enrich my days on earth. He commands, "But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20-21).

p 95

Ms. Saake does not promise anyone a happy ending. She admits that even though she now has two living, biological children, the scars of infertility will always leave an ache in her heart. The journey God has taken her on through this process has not been completed or nullified by the successful conception and birth of children. I would guess that this would be of special comfort to those either struggling with secondary infertility or who still feel a loss that their family is not what they imagined or hoped it would be.

She exhorts the reader,

While Satan imprisons some with bondage to past sins, he can entangle others in what seems to be a good and righteous goal, causing them to lose sight of God in the midst of self-evaluation.
p 49

That hit me as especially poignant because I've been stewing so much about this lately that I need to guard my own heart against making motherhood my idol. That is an important challenge for every mother, mother to be, or mother at heart.

I found some of the "Burden Bearer" passages (written to friends and family members of infertile couples) to be helpful, and others were not of particular significance to me. I appreciated her frankness with her advice of how to support, and in some cases, how to refrain from causing more hurt, on infertile loved ones. One thing that should be noted is that the passages are to be read in conjunction with the rest of the book and are not intended to be read independently.

My primary critique of the book is that each chapter is very brief. Just when I thought "ok, we're tackling something I'm really struggling with," Ms. Saake moves on to another subject. I longed for her to exegete the scriptural passages she offered and share more details on the HOWS of her journey and the conclusions she's made. I don't think that this is a flaw, per say, because I don't think it was ever the author's intent to give an exhaustive chronicle of infertility and so I cannot blame her for not writing as if it were. This was simply was more of a disappointment--I longed to delve deeper with my new found friend in to emotions that are for me, still raw and in need of exploration. The approach is just a matter of personal preference and I'm sure for as many as there are of women like me who longed for more depth, there are equally many women who appreciated the brevity.

However, the ease of the flow of the book makes this a very excellent, easily accessible and processed resource for pastors, ministerial staff and anyone else truly interested in learning an "insider's perspective" on infertility. One of my very favorite chapters in the book was on how the church could help break its own silence on this matter and offer comfort to those in their congregations who are burdened with this grief. I only wish it were longer!

Overall, my impression of the book is very positive. I would heartily recommend it to anyone at any stage in their infertility journey. I also recommend it as a must-have resource for any pastor. I do recommend it for loved ones of the infertile, with the disclaimer that this book is not written specifically to give you (the loved one) advice, and reading it should be done with the intention of understanding the heart of your infertile friend or family member, and not specifically equipping with you with the "how tos" of what to do as the friend (though there is some).

Brava, Jennifer! A valiant, sincere, and godly effort that is very much appreciated.