I was offered a copy of this book to review, and I said yes, because I just thought it was a top idea. There are two aims. The first is to help you explain your child's conception to them - a sort of alternative birds-and-bees talk - openly and at an early stage so they can grow up knowing they're just another type of normal. The second aim is to help explain to your older child what's going on in mum and dad's life as they try again.

I was especially impressed with the second aim. When my mother discovered a lump in her breast I was already in my mid-teens, and even my youngest sister was as old as nine, but I believe it when people say that all children, regardless of age or maturity, are affected by upheavals in the household, and I am firmly of the opinion that age-appropriate communication, rather than hushed whispers and inexplicable tears and outbursts, is the kindest way. And when I say "firmly of the opinion", I mean "let me try to think up a whole other sentence just to emphasise how much I believe that". In fact, I would even go so far as to add two sentences, just to be on the safe side. There.

The book tells the story of a particular family who are trying to conceive their second IVF child. There is a brief and simple explanation of IVF itself, but most of this short tale is devoted to life outside the petri dish - the reasons for the treatment, the daily injections and frequent appointments and blood tests. I love the way it portrays the usual feelings of IVF as normal and not-the-child's-fault, and I applaud the subtle suggestions it gives in terms of how to react, both of which things are woven neatly into the storyline. On one page, the teary mother is sad coming home from the clinic after her blood test, so the little girl tries to cheer her up by offering her a lollypop. On another page, there's a chance for Grandma - or other babysitter - to take the hint by helping the older child craft up a get well card for mum on EPU day. Very clever and constructive.

I did an email interview with Leah Bryan, the author, although this is not to leave out Sara Riches, who has illustrated beautifully. Both of them come from our side of the stirrups, with Sara being the proud mum of two IVF sons, and Leah being the proud mum of embryos and reader extraordinaire to foster kids.

Leah's inspiration came one morning, and when she investigated, she found a clear gap in the literary offerings. "There was one in America where the characters are bears and that's supposed to help explain IVF. I thought that just made it more complicated," she said. By setting the story in a plain old family of three, it's all straightforward.

She's also kept the details deliberately simple, so parents can start reading it early on, but intends it to be used as a foundation, so parents can add information as circumstances or agegroup require. "I think that IVF parents know all too well the details of an IVF cycle so I made the book as simple as possible to empower the parents to add in details such as ICSI, frozen cycles, assisted hatching, donor eggs or sperm - any additional details that apply to their family and they feel their child is ready to hear about. Equally they can skip over some of the words and make it even simpler if they want to."

The book contains an album section at the back, where you can add your own pictures, or someone else's pictures, if your clinic was too stingy to give you an embryo photo like mine was, because to be honest, they all look roughly the same at the six-cell stage anyway. This personalises it, of course, helping to continue the dialogue, and also makes it seem that bit more special for the child. "I imagine it could be used regularly as part of storytime from when the child is a baby so that they'll always know how wanted they were and how loved they are," says Leah.

The book won't, of course, cover the many nuances of each individual case, but as she explains, "It does introduce the subject of IVF and makes it easier for parents to continue talking about it. Even young children are good at understanding real versus pretend." If I have one criticism, it's this: I wish the family in the story had names. As a reader, I find it easier to separate myself from the fiction if the author hands me a character complete with identifying moniker. This is probably just my thing. In any case, I'm going to call the little girl Leah, after the author, and poof! the problem has gone away. I'm sure the real Leah wouldn't object. After all, she's the one that said, "IVF is a very special way to make babies who otherwise might not be here and that's something to be celebrated." Obviously a woman after my own heart.

The Baby Doctor is available from Nunhouse Press.


8 Comments

Meg said...

I've been looking for one of these. My question Bea, before I order one - does the text exclude families who don't plan on trying again? Will it be relevant to us in that way?

MrsSpock said...

Great idea!

Anonymous said...

There are thirty-seven inherited diseases in newborns that require the two biological parents to be on hand and I am terrified that my donors were carriers and that my baby will be born ill. In some illnesses the biological parents need to be on hand for the cure. I am so upset, I know that there is nothing anyone can do but just telling people lessens my fear.

Bea said...

Anon - donor conception is a complex issue, and I think it's great you're aware of that. Being aware is the first step towards a) making an informed decision and b) handling things from wherever you're at. You're on the right track. Good luck!

Meg - the story is about a family conceiving their second IVF child, so there is no direct mention of the one-child option. You would have to be ready to point out the differences between that fiction and your family's fact, and I guess the bits on how to comfort mum while she goes through a cycle wouldn't be relevant. So you would have some adapting to do because you don't fit the storyline. The album is, of course, specific to the already-here child.

Bea

soralis said...

Sounds like a great book! Take care

The Broken Man said...

Great idea! Sounds like a fab book.

The Broken Man

Angie Best-Boss said...

Bea,
Thanks for sharing what is bound to be a wonderful resource for families! I look forward to sharing it with friends.

be well,
angie

Infertile "hoping to be fertile" Naomi said...

Great book!

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