Questions From Group A
- Clare endures a lot trying to create a child. She keeps trying, regardless of the fact that she continuously miscarries, continuously wakes up covered in blood, and knows that her child could have the same “problem” as her husband. What drove her to continue down this road and why do you think Henry participated?
- The present and future intersect frequently in the book. Often the result of these minglings is that information about the future is hinted at or revealed early but the actual experiences cannot be altered or prevented. If you could have known about the struggles you'd face on your path to parenthood, would you have wanted to know? Would you go back and warn or prepare yourself, even though you'd be powerless to change the outcome? Why or why not?
- How do the characters deal with the sense of fate (knowing how the future plays out) vs. free will? Do you think they end up doing things because they already know they happen? Does that take the guesswork out or make it harder to accept?
- Throughout the book, Claire deals with numerous losses (one that I found very moving is on pg. 361-362). Where do you find the strength to go on and keep trying and dealing with the infertility challenges that you are facing? Throughout out the book Claire uses several tactics to try to deal with infertility and loss. Of those, what stood out to you? Would you be able to use this in your own life?
- How would knowing bits and pieces of your future have affected your decision- making processes? Even though most of Henry's actions seem 'unavoidable', some seem to have been engineered to occur (for example, how would Clare have recognized Henry in the library if she hadn't already met him and known his role in her life?). Would you have been more or less deliberative in your actions? What parts of your life would have been most impacted?
- I love the references to music in this book. They are a convenient way for the author to clearly define the era the narrative is taking place in, but for those of us who can't time-travel, music and the times in which we listened to it play a powerful role in constructing memory. Which is to say, that it is almost impossible for me to think about our experience of infertility without thinking of “The Waters of March” as performed by Susanne McCorkle. Mel's written about this in the past. I also think about going with Mel to see Bruce Springsteen concert right when we started TTC and just being so certain that there was a child in-utero at the concert with us. There wasn't. Or not one that became a viable embryo. For that reason, I hardly ever listen to The Rising, which is the album Bruce was touring behind (The Seeger Sessions however is awesome and on regular rotation). That said, what are the songs you associate with your experience -- even if they have nothing to do with IF?
- When Henry and Clare begin trying for a baby there is a passage where Henry tells the reader, "I am a coward. A better man would take Clare by the shoulders and say, Love, this is all a mistake, let us accept it and go on, and be happy." He knows the torture his future child may have to live with, but his love for her keeps him from saying this to her. When he realizes that Clare's recurrent miscarriages could eventually kill her he gets a vasectomy without telling her (only to come from another time and get her pregnant). Do you think Clare's love for Henry and her desire to have his child was clouding her better judgment as to what was best for the child and for herself? I know many of us on here will stop at nothing to have a biological child, but if you knew what life was like for the chrono-displaced would you have been more willing to look at other options?
- Due to his ability to time travel and jumps into the future, Henry knows that he is going to die. Yet in the beginning, he works hard to try to create a baby with his wife. This situation obviously benefits Henry in that he gets to parent Alba for a bit before he dies. This situation also benefits Clare since she wants to be a mother. Yet Alba grows up without her father yet with his extraordinary abilities—abilities that were a difficult adjustment for Henry growing up. Do you think he acted in the best interests of his child when he helped create her knowing that he would not be around to help her understand her ability to time travel? Do you think it is truly possible to take the feelings of a child in mind prior to creation as well as fulfill your own need to parent? If you had been in Henry’s shoes, would you have created this child knowing she would be able to time travel and you would not be there to help her understand this anomaly?
- Henry’s ability to time travel is both a blessing and a curse. What do you think Niffenegger was trying to say about human anomalies in general and how can Henry’s ability to time travel relate to medical conditions such as deafness or infertility?
Questions From Group B
- Loss (and unrealized dreams) are a theme in this story -- Henry loses his mother, Clare loses Henry often and sometimes for long stretches, Clare's grandmother loses her brother and her husband, etc. At one point, her grandmother asks Clare, "do you ever miss him?" She replies, "every day, every minute. Every minute, yes that's the way, isn't it?" ... Self-pity floods me as though I've been injected with it. It's that way, isn't it? Isn't it?" How has your loss and/or unrealized dream changed you?
- Henry suggests adoption (p337) and then says (p339) that he doesn't feel incomplete without a child of his own and that Clare is obsessed with having a baby. Did / do you ever feel that one of you wants a baby much more than the other and if so, how did you cope with it?
- On page 346, Henry says: "Seeing Clare with a baby in her arms, the reality of our miscarriages grabs me and for a moment I feel nauseous...The feeling retreats and I am left with the actuality of what we've been doing: we have been losing children. Where are they, these lost children, wandering, hovering around confused?" Have you ever had a similar experience, wherein you come to a sudden realization of the weight of infertility and/or pregnancy loss?
- Clare, desperate for a child, is told by a future Henry not to give up. She is told that in his present, they have a child. This absolute knowledge helps Clare maintain hope and move forward, despite considerable obstacles. In the absence of such absolute knowledge, what keeps you moving forward with treatment
through infertility? Where do you find your own inner strength?
- How does Henry's time travel and/or Clare's experienc
e with Henry's time travel serve as a metaphor for infertility?
- I found it interesting that Clare conceived Alba, her 7th and ultimately successful pregnancy, with a Henry from the past, after Henry in the present day had a vasectomy. Why do you think that Niffenegger made it so that THIS pregnancy was the successful one?
- If someone told you with certainty that you will have a baby sometime in the near future, like Clare was told, how would that affect you? Would it change your approach to cycling?
- For Henry, time travel is a heavy burden; because of this, he is very reluctant to pass down his gene mutation to his offspring - particularly when it results in multiple miscarriages. Do you think Clare is being irresponsible in pushing to have a biological child that is both a part of she and Henry? Or is it more than being a parent in which she covets?
- Before he died, Henry wrote Claire a letter telling her that he would see her again. While the knowledge clearly gave her comfort, it led her to spend the later part of her life waiting for him. Was it fair for Henry to give that information to Claire?
- If you read the book without knowing about the pregnancy/miscarriage aspect of the storyline, how did you feel when you got to that part of the story? If you were unprepared for that aspect of the storyline, did you find it particularly jarring or upsetting? Or, if you read the book already knowing about this storyline, do you think that changed how you reacted to it? Did you find the pregnancy/miscarriage aspect made you relate to the characters more?
- The book ends in 2053, when Claire is 82 years old. Prior to the ending, we are left in the year 2008. Were you satisfied with the ending of the story? What do you think happened to Alba, particularly with her time traveling? In those 45 years, do you think they found a "cure" to the "involuntary" aspect of the time traveling?
Questions From Group C
- If you were able to communicate with a past or future version of yourself, how much would you tell them? How much would you want to know? Discuss how well you think Clare and Henry struck this balance, giving examples of points and ways in which they conveyed or withheld information.
- There were several ways in which Clare and Henry's experience of infertility (and pregnancy after infertility) rang true - in their individual reactions, in their joint reaction as a couple, and in their interactions with the outside world. Choose one or two specific examples and relate them to your personal experience.
- What are your thoughts on Henry's choice to win the lottery in order to provide for himself and Clare? Was it "predestined" since he'd already been to the future and knew that he'd done it at some point, or did he wrestle with the idea before doing so?
- How did it change Henry and Claire's relationship in that Claire always knew she would marry Henry, but Henry had no knowledge of Claire until they meet when he was 28? Why did the author choose to have their meeting set up this way, when Henry could have told his younger self about how he would meet Claire?
- What do you think Clare meant by saying that adopting would be “just pretending?” Do you think she is justified in her view, even though she continues to try and conceive knowing that the babies time travel out of the womb and die?
- In the “TTW” the main character can at times, know what happens in the future, even though he can’t change it. In terms of infertility, I often wonder if I had been able to know what the end result of all this would be if I could be at peace with it, even if I couldn’t change it. How do you feel about that? If you could know what was going to happen sometime in the future in regards to your IF would you choose to know and not be able to change it, or continue the way you are and get to that place unaware of the final destination?
- "My body wanted a baby. I felt empty and I wanted to be full. I wanted someone to love who would stay: stay and be there, always. And I wanted Henry to be in this child, so that when he was gone, he wouldn't be entirely gone, there would be a bit of him with me." For me, this quote encapsulates the incredibly complex and sad contradictions at the heart of the book. Henry is not truly there. It's his time travelling which leaves Claire alone and at the same time causes her to miscarry. Her longing for a piece of him can't be filled, as she can't hang on to his child. Putting aside the perception of a child as someone who gives eternal love, I am taken by this image of the child as a reflection of the father. How do you feel about this? If you have used or considered donor gametes, has this been an issue for you or your partner? The loss of a genetic line, the acceptance that the child may not be "a part of" the parent? Is the grieving worse for the partner who does not use their own eggs/sperm, or for the other parent, who doesn't get to hold onto a tiny piece of their partner? Or is the essence of a parent passed on regardless of the genetic link?
- Why was Henry portrayed as wasting away at the end of his life? Was the
wasting away meant to represent something about his life?
- If you were to travel to emotionally important events and even play different roles in these events, such as Henry did throughout the book, which event(s) would you revisit? These events could be ones you’d want to revisit, or not.