by Linda Carbone and Ed Decker
Review by Susan Stark, Ph.D on Jul 31st 2000
Many of us know, or think we know, a thing or two about infertility. Perhaps we have known someone who has experienced infertility, or read about it in the newspapers, or seen stories on TV news magazines. Or perhaps we are among those who study infertility in a more systematic way as physicians, nurses, or medical ethicists. Whatever ones background or interest in infertility, A Little Pregnant: Our Memoir of Fertility, Infertility, and a Marriage is an informative and thoughtful memoir that gives the reader a detailed look into the lives of two people affected by infertility. It is, thus, a good book both for the lay person interested in infertility and for the medical ethicist (or other health care professional) investigating the ethical aspects of new (and old) reproductive technologies. While it may or may not change any views about infertility treatments, it will certainly make those views more well informed.
A Little Pregnant is a memoir that chronicles nearly a decade in the lives of Linda Carbone and Ed Decker, as they try to conceive a fetus and complete a pregnancy, and then when these efforts fail, to adopt a child. Both Carbone and Decker recount their story in alternating chapters. This alternation is effective and refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, their narrative style clearly conveys an important truth about infertility, namely that it is caused both by problems in the male reproductive system as well as problems in the female reproductive system. Second, the structure of the book makes clear the honest reality that infertility affects the lives not just of a couple, but of two separate and autonomous beings. It often affects those lives very differently and affects their ability to communicate and be in a close relationship with one another. So as a memoir about a marriage, A Little Pregnant is honest and three-dimensional. It depicts two people in love struggling to support and care for each other through a protracted stressful period during which they are not always equally committed to the final goal (Ed had always badly wanted children, while Linda had never been sure she did).
A Little Pregnant is refreshingly honest in other ways as well. Both Carbone and Decker describe their many medical procedures and surgeries in a straightforward way. The reader sees the procedures from the perspective of a patient replete with anxiety, curiosity, hope that the procedure will bring a "cure" for the infertility, and dread that some terrible disease is lurking as the cause of the infertility. The memoir also provides an honest portrayal of the psychological aspects of Carbones and Deckers struggle to get and stay pregnant (and then later to adopt). Decker, in particular, must face issues and obsessions from his past, and both must face coping mechanisms that have simply become effete from overuse.
A Little Pregnant is not without its faults, however. At times, but especially in the opening chapter, the tone of the book is extremely emotional, bordering on melodramatic. This is unfortunate because it leaves the reader with a hint of cynicism about the authors experiences. This cynicism dissipates and is eventually overcome as the reader comes to understand the authors more, and as their presentation of the emotional aspects of infertility (certainly serious in their own right) is tempered by the medical and psychological aspects of their experience and by their (especially Carbones) thoughtful, self-reflective analysis of this long ordeal.
In all, A Little Pregnant is important and well worth reading because it contains two subjective, first-person accounts of fertility, infertility, the struggle to have a child, and the strain that this can put on ones life and marriage. This book reads quickly and easily and would be useful for anyone thinking about infertility from an academic perspective and also for anyone confronting his or her own fertility and infertility.
Susan Stark is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Her teaching and research is focused around issues in ethics, feminism, and the philosophy of psychology.