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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book Review - Sing you home, by Jodi Picoult

I often think of writing my own book on how infertility, fertility treatments and miscarriages impact on my life, but sadly can never find the time to get further than one chapter. Jodi Picoult has been one of my top three authors for the last eight or so years, and once again she has managed to write a story that has touched me in a deeply profound way.

Plot Summary
There are five main characters within this story; Max and Zoe were married, faced 10 years of infertility treatment and after a devastating still birth they divorced. Vanessa helps Zoe to put her life back together after the loss of her son and then husband, and quite unexpectedly they fall in love and become married. Liddy and Reid are the brother and sister in law of Max who welcome him into their home and church when he falls off the wagon and begins drinking again post divorce.
Max and Zoe have 3 frozen embryos for which Zoe is hoping to have implanted within Vanessa, to help realise her dreams of becoming a Mother. Max is shocked by his wife's new lifestyle as a lesbian and after receiving counselling from his pastor, he decides he doesn't want his biological children to be brought up in an un-christian, un-traditional family. It comes to light that his brother suffers with the same genetic fertility problems as Max,as Reid and Liddy have also suffered multiple miscarriages. Max is secretly in love with his sister in law and after some persuasion from his Church, he decides he wants to fight Zoe for the right to these embryos, to then pass on to his brother and sister in law. He claims his role will be that of an uncle and that Liddy and Reid would be the better parents versus Zoe and Vanessa.
The court case is an ugly media circus, fuelled by the Church's desire to make the world see how wrong and sinful a same sex marriage is. They claim to be fighting to protect the Christian values that society is leaving by the wayside.

The start of this book features Zoe at 28 weeks pregnant. She is ecstatic to have finally made it this far and believes that they are well and truly in the safe zone.  She recalls just how difficult her journey has been but how she has finally made it, and loving every minute. 
I could tell straight away that this book was going to cut me deep (for better or worse). I felt as if all my fears and experiences had been written down, my soul had been bared, for millions the world over to read.
I knew what was coming, that this happy bubble couldn't possibly last. Predictably Zoe miscarried and despite only being a few chapters in, I wept for her. I felt I had shared insight that those that have not suffered with infertility and losses could not even begin to comprehend.
Zoe's next move was one that many may not be able to understand; she wanted the green light to try again, using the 3 frozen embryos that were remaining from the last IVF cycle. I can understand it completely. When you lose a baby, you feel the aching loss but also the hard bitter stone of being responsible for that loss. Doctors will tell you that there is nothing that you could have done, but it still doesn't stop you from blaming your self and your body. Plus Zoe had now reached forty, she knew that there wasn't much time left.
Unfortunately her husband was not in agreement and the ultimatum was laid down; accept never being a Mother and keep me, or keep trying and lose me. Zoe chose the path of Mother hood, and with no chance of a reconciliation, Max walked out and then filed for divorce.
For me this is an ultimate fear. One day, will my husband simply have enough of all the stress, pressure and torment and decide that enough is enough. The thought of having to grieve for her lost son and the her husband is on a scale that not even I can comprehend.
Zoe talks early in the book about how her and Max have isolated themselves from friends and family, as it is just too painful to watch others play happy families when you are battling with infertility. Again I can relate. Luckily for me, none of my friends are considering starting a family any time soon, but I do come from a very large family. Having to hear news that a cousin or work colleague is pregnant is like a knife cutting deep into my heart. Sadly bitterness and long term trying to conceive go hand in hand, and most days I cannot summon the energy to pretend I'm happy for others, that they have something that I desperaprately crave.  I can sympathise that with Max gone, Zoe is truly vulnerable and isolated. When Vanessa (a guidance counsellor) comes along and the pair strike up a close relationship, I feel happy that Zoe has someone away from all the fertility craziness, that is helping to steer her through such a hellish time.
Zoe and Vanessa fall in love and get married - they have to go out of state to do this as Rhode Island does not accept same sex marriages in state. For me this is completely incomprehensible. In the UK, civil partnerships have been legal since 2005 and for me personally, I don't see homosexuality as an issue, I truly believe that you will be predisposed to being attracted to a specific gender, and that no one has the right to tell you that your preference is wrong.
By now Zoe has had further health implications that have resulted in her being unable to attempt another egg harvest. The only solution to both her and Vanessa having a biological child would be for Zoe's previously harvested (and then fertilised by Max) embryos to be implanted in Vanessa.  
Many people that have not struggled to procreate will often toss out the idea of adoption as being as good as a biological child, for me personally adoption is not the same. I want a child that looks like an amalgamation of me and my husband, that carries our traits and is filled with our DNA and blood. I completely understand why Zoe feels this is her last chance - after all, these embryos are her eggs that were made into potential offspring.
When Max (after subtle Church manipulation) decides that he wants these embryos to go to his brother and sister in law, I felt physically sick. To be an egg donor for someone is a very noble thing to do (and something I hope to be able to complete one day myself) but to have your eggs forcibly taken from you, your final chance to be a mother, it left me with chills.
When Liddy is introduced to the story, I can't help but dislike her. Granted she has suffered the same battles as Zoe, but unlike Zoe, she has age on her side and a married net worth of millions - the book gives no reason as to why she cannot simply go through IVF herself instead of taking away Zoe's chance of Mother hood. 
Liddy is introduced as the daughter of a Southern preacher. The descriptions summon an image of a weak minded 'belle' that needs permission from man or God to do anything and everything. She is preachy and a little too perfect to be tolerable. When she commits adultery with Max I could actually feel my temper start to boil.
Liddy and her Church are extremely opinionated and declare that God will punish sinners, and yet she commits one of the ultimate sins by sleeping with her brother in law. After it happens and Max tries to talk to her, she even has the cheek to tell him that the Max she fell in love with was kind hearted and generous, not the type of man that would covet his brothers wife. There is a part at the courthouse where Liddy confronts Zoe and in an end parting, she tells Zoe they have more in common than Zoe thinks as Liddy loves those children too! If I was Zoe, I honestly don't know how I would have refrained from being arrested for assault.
Religion carries a big part in this story. For me, this is a bit of an alien concept. I personally flitter between Aetheism and being Agnostic. The USA is by and large a Christian country and if books, TV and blogs are anything to go by, they can be pretty closed minded to accepting change or others that do not follow their ethos.
The two man Religious men in this book are Pastor Clive and Wade - to me, they conjured up an image of smooth talking, greased back hair, bigoted slime balls. (another strike against organised religion is that sadly there are reasons for these stereotypes) they were not above obtaining evidence illegally and seemed more interested in drumming up an anti-gay media frenzy then helping Max, or doing what was best for the potential children. They believed that having a child grow up in a house where it's 'parents' we're actually it's Aunt and Uncle, and the Uncle was the biological Father were deemed preferencial to them growing up with the biological Mother, simply because she was married to another woman.
Throughout the book Zoe had been helping a suicidal girl through music therapy. Unbeknown to her, this girl happened to be the black sheep daughter of Pastor Clive and the family made up an allegation that Zoe had sexually assaulted her - witnessed by another teacher (presumably another member of the Pastor's congregation) Zoe is given the choice of willingly signing over the embryos to Max or having a very public legal case launched against the alleged assault - resulting in deification of character and possibly loss of her career. With no choice, Zoe signs over the embryos to Max.
Liddy however manages to redeem her character by talking to Max about the true message from God; loving everyone equally, regardless of lifestyle or choices. As soon as Max has legal ownership of the embryos he gives them to Zoe. He felt this was the only way to do it, without the Pastor and Wade running interference.
This restored my faith in humanity, and to some extent religion. Liddy realised the pain that Zoe was going through and knew that she did not have the right to take her chance at motherhood away from her.
The ending of the book is beautifully written, from the point of view of a six year old girl. She has two Mother's a Father (who seems very active in her life) and an aunt Liddy who is a prominent figure, that will be getting married to the girls Father.
The ending filled me with hope. It may be entirely fiction, but that child at the end is what the whole journey is about. When you get there, you won't care how long it took, just that you are finally there.

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