stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
The Seed of a new discussion
space
Alexandra Kimball's book is invective against what she perceives as feminists' dismissal of infertility as a valid women's health issue
space
By ZOSIA BIELSKI
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, April 13, 2019 – Page R14

The delivery room was crowded the day Alexandra Kimball's son Charlie was born. On one side was Mindy, the surrogate who'd just delivered the baby, surrounded by her own husband and mother. On the other side, Kimball and her husband, Jeremy, held Charlie, a "manymothered child" who counts the couple, as well as Mindy and Anne, an egg-donor, as the reasons he's here.

As Kimball and her surrogate glanced at each other across the delivery room, Kimball described a "nice symmetry," with Mindy's labour "ending as mine had begun."

It's an unconventional birth story, one that might leave some observers uncertain, even today.

In her new book The Seed: How the Feminist Movement Fails Infertile Women, Kimball mines the judgment and fear that persist around those who turn to assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy - with women appearing to be one another's harshest critics.

The Seed is an invective against what the writer perceives as feminists' dismissal of infertility as a valid and urgent women's health issue. Today, the image of the infertile woman remains unflattering: the careerist who put motherhood on the backburner for too long and now pays big money to have babies on demand. The very real grief of women whose fertility treatments fail, this gets waved away as a "malaise of the privileged," Kimball observes.

(The subject is in the ether, with the Canadian anthology Through, Not Around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss published in February. "It is not your job to carry this burden quietly so those around you may be comfortable," write contributors and co-editors Allison McDonald Ace, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais and Caroline Starr.)

In The Seed, Kimball deftly calls out feminists' hypocrisy on this issue. While they've long clamoured for abortion and birth control - technology that allows women not to bear children - feminists have been far more reticent around, if not hostile toward, advances that help women who really want to have kids.

("Womb renting" is the nice term some feminists have for surrogacy, because they feel it exploits the surrogate.) Some feminists view women desperately trying to conceive as being behind the times, but reserve no such judgment for mothers who bear children "naturally." Never mind that surrogacy has allowed LGBTQ couples to build families, a point conveniently overlooked by the same radical feminists.

Our modern, lingering prejudices are nothing compared with times of yore, when "barren" women were viewed as downright demonic - posing the "ultimate threat to orderly family life."

Kimball offers a brilliant semiotic analysis of infertile women throughout history, mythology and pop culture.

In our earliest storytelling, they are bitter, angry, dishevelled monsters who cause miscarriages and stillbirths, such as Indonesia's Wewe Gombel, who swoops down from the trees naked, kidnapping the town folks' children and hiding them behind her droopy breasts. Throughout the Salem witch trials, non-conforming, childless women were often the targets of their communities' fear and wrath. Fast-forward to nineties' Hollywood and we're still queasy around infertile women. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle saw Rebecca De Mornay's femme fatale character miscarrying and taking her revenge on an unsuspecting nuclear family. With innovations in IVF in the 2000s come more insulting portrayals: Tina Fey's Liz Lemon goes so baby-biotech crazy she nearly tanks her career. Kimball's cultural read is strong, laying bare our longstanding anxieties around infertility as both ridiculous and disturbingly far-reaching.

The author's criticism of first and second wave feminists occasionally veers into heavy academia-speak. The writing is most beautiful when it's personal, as when Kimball apprehensively prepares a nursery for Charlie's arrival. "I put the things in the Room," she writes, "the room that every infertile couples has, the one that is supposed to be for a baby, then fills with sad junk, until (if) luck changes." It's a grief for something just out of reach: "The tragedy of infertility is one of proximity," Kimball writes.

But The Seed also presents some frustrating blind spots. The book opens with Kimball, still childless, wilting when a new mom and her toddler stroll past in a park. "As maternity is (still) supposed to provide a woman's life with meaning, informing and shaping everything else in her life," she writes, "the infertile woman is excluded from the accepted symbolic order of feminine life." If women still really believe this archaic garbage, we're in serious trouble.

Kimball criticizes the media for fixating on "IVF clinics and the rich, older white ladies," while acknowledging that she is an upper-middle-class woman whose son was born with the help of "tons of money." She alludes to the erasure of working class and non-white women from support groups, academic discussion and the infertility narrative as a whole. And she lauds SisterSong, a collective of women of colour fighting for reproductive justice, as well as powerhouse figures such as Michelle Obama and Chrissy Teigen for widening the story about who struggles to conceive. Still, Kimball doesn't really drill down to the particular challenges for infertile women who don't look like Liz Lemon.

In the end, women staring down infertility aren't always good to one another, either.

Scrolling through online message boards devoted to IVF and surrogacy, Kimball feels dismayed by the unfeminist tone of this world.

"The purpose of these groups was not communal, it was individual," Kimball writes. "Each member was there to figure out how she, personally, could have a baby. And once she did, it was rare to hear from her again."

After Charlie is born, Kimball considers returning to the message boards to start a heftier discussion about pressing infertility issues in Canada: the lack of strong regulation over fertility treatments; the limited access to reproductive health care, which is currently privatized; the need for more robust research into infertility's root causes. But there's a new baby to care for, so Kimball needs to step away from the screen.

These urgent realities are not meaningfully explored in The Seed. After agitating for infertile voices to speak up more loudly for themselves, it's too bad Kimball doesn't turn up her own megaphone. Beyond criticizing apathetic feminists, she might have guided us further forward.

Associated Graphic

In The Seed, Alexandra Kimball analyzes stories of infertile women throughout history, mythology and pop culture.

PAUL TEREFENKO

The Seed: How The Feminist Movement Fails Infertile Women

BY ALEXANDRA KIMBALL COACH HOUSE BOOKS, 144 PAGES

Monday, April 15, 2019

Correction

Today's book review of Alexandra Kimball's The Seed includes an incorrect subtitle, which the publisher changed recently without informing The Globe and Mail before the print deadline. The new subtitle is Infertility Is a Feminist Issue.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Jeffrey_Simpson Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page