Sunday, July 06, 2008

Questions for Book Tour Seven: Happiness Sold Separately

Group A Questions

1. On pages 51-52, Elinor discusses her abortion experience. She says choices are a fairytale and that she had always been pro-choice but now realized she had no choice. Has your stance on abortion changed at all since you began suffering from infertility?

2. In the beginning of Chapter 4, Elinor finds it difficult to look at a newborn and its mother in the seat next to her. She says she isn't so much sad that she can't have a baby of her own but that she can't give her husband a child. Do you find your infertility more painful because of your desire to experience pregnancy and childbirth or because of your desire to see your spouse as a father?

3. Elinor states that there is a difference between sadness and insanity. How do you differentiate between the two during infertility treatments?

4. One of the parts of the book that brought me to tears was when the oak tree that Elinor loves is chopped down. The tree had become a solid source of support for her, something that gave her comfort following the failure of fertility treatment and the separation with her husband, so its loss was devastating. Have you found something inanimate that has provided you with such support? What happened (or what would happen) when you lost that support?

5. At the very close of the book, having discovered her balanced translocation, Elinor likens herself to a screwed up silverware drawer. "Yet there's solace in discovering something is tangibly wrong. A diagnosis rather than you're old" Have you ever felt like this? Do you have a diagnosis for your fertility problems? Was it a relief? If your problem is unidentified, or age is against you, do you wish that you did have a reason?

6. I feel like the author was trying to show all sides of these complicated relationships, wanting you to sympathize with Elinor, Ted, Gina and Toby. Did you find yourself able to sympathize, or at least not dislike, all of these characters?

7. Elinor's thought on page 47 really struck me: "When Elinor was paying attention to her career, she should have been paying attention to her biological clock. When she was paying attention to her biological clock, she should have been paying attention to her husband." It made me wonder: Am I paying attention now to the things I should be paying attention to now? Are you?

8. Both Elinor in this book and Amelia in Love and other Impossible Pursuits are uber-sarcastic. Come to think of it, Peggy Orenstein (Waiting for Daisy) is, too. Do you think the experience of being infertile makes one sarcastic, or do you think such high levels of sarcasm lower one's infertility? Obviously, I say this tongue-in-cheek, for the latter scenario is ridiculous. But as for the former, do you find yourself more sarcastic as a way of dealing with IF? If so, how does sarcasm help?

9. Elinor takes up laundry and Ted works on the hutch. What new hobbies did you pick up or abandon during treatments?

10 How did you feel about Toby? Do you think he manipulated the situation too much? Was it strange to you that Ted was willing to be a father figure to Toby, but did not want to talk about adoption with Elinor?

11. Lolly writes that Elinor wouldn't mind "pressing charges ... against God for taking her baby" .... and that one of the things she doesn't like about practicing law is "forever trying to enforce justice, to fight life's unfairness. It takes so much energy, and somehow seems to miss the point." How does this relate to your experience? Do you find yourself consuming lots of energy trying to fight life's unfairness? If so, how do you fight it? Does it seem to miss the point? Or do you see your fight accomplishing something?

12. Lolly describes how Elinor became superstitious in her attempts to conceive. "At one point she thought they should throw out the unlucky mattress...That's when she and Ted started checking into hotel rooms on weekends, trying to make getting pregnant fun." Did you ever engage in rituals to get around superstitions. How did you alter your behavior or possessions to improve your odds?

13. Elinor finally finds out there's a reason for her pregnancy problems, "a balanced translocation," and finds "there's solace in learning that something is tangibly wrong." How does (or would) a definitive, action-able diagnosis affect your ability to adjust or come to terms with your infertility? How would it affect your emotional response? Would it provide some closure? Alternatively, if you're in the unexplained category how does that ambiguity affect your decision-making and desire to keep trying?

14. Elinor participates in a book club meeting following her miscarriage and finds that "no one gets her"...and thinks "why should they? She's a barren, bitter, self-pitying grouch. She hates this book club. She smiles and loosens the grip on the stem of her wineglass, afraid she might snap it in half." Do you find yourself having similar experiences? Would the infertility struggle be easier for you if you felt that people "got you" or not? Please elaborate. [added by Melissa: I hope this book club doesn’t do that!]

Group B Questions

1. Elinor seemed to turn all of her books on the subject of infertility backwards on the bookshelves, where Roger found them while cleaning. Why do you think she did so? In what ways do you think people who are struggling with infertility help in keeping infertility such a "taboo" topic? Do you see infertility ever becoming a more accepted or understood topic?

2. "Warren" the old oak tree in Elinor's front yard is a symbolic character in the book. Ted and Elinor's unexpected pregnancy was conceived under the fateful tree. What were your thoughts on Warren's symbolism? Do you have a similar touchstone in your life for times of turmoil?

3. The end of the book was left open to the reader. Do you think that Elinor and Ted stayed together, or that they really finally separate? Did she pursue adoption on her own, or did they do another round of IVF with PGD? Do you think she ended up happy, or did she continue to struggle?

4. The book explores different kinds of love. It seems that their battle with fertility (and really Elinor’s battle with herself) has changed the type of love Ted feels for his wife. Has your journey with infertility and/or loss changed the love between you and your spouse?

5. Elinor seeks the comfort of odd places. At first it is in the laundry room, and then later changes to the oak tree in her yard. I think we all try to find comfort to help us make it through the bad patches. What were/are your sources of comfort?

6. Did you see a parallel between Elinor and Toby beyond their relationship with Ted?

7. What role does Roger (the cleaning guy) play in the book? What is the significance of the items left between Elinor's sheets?

8. What did you imagine happened to Elinor and Ted after the book ends? If you were Elinor, Ted and Gina, what do you think you would have done?

9. On page 66, Elinor reveals that she was more disappointed about not being able to have Ted's child versus not having a child at all. How did you react to this revelation? Can you understand her feelings and if so, how do they relate to your own?

10. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she threw all of her IF books into the mulcher. Most people would have thought she was crazy! Her thoughts about all of the books were so similar to mine. I guess my question is who else sees themselves in Elinor? On the surface it seems like the symbolism is pretty obvious but I think it went much deeper. Anyone else? Any other thoughts on this section?

11. Lolly circles back repeatedly to examine the peculiar dynamics of a marriage plagued by infertility. In particular, she focuses on the conflicting desires for closeness and distance that Elinor experiences. Why do you think Elinor "is irritated by her husband when he was attentive, and then resentful when he stepped back to giver her room?" (p. 12). Even during difficult treatment cycles, Ted was not a source of comfort to her (p. 26). Why?

12. As we see glimpses into Ted & Elinor's relationship after their unsuccessful fertility treatments, we discover that Ted seeks solace in the garage and the gym -- places where he can "fix" things. Elinor finds refuge in the laundry room and by re-reading classic novels from college. Why do you think Elinor is drawn to these activities? What activities do you engage in as a way to soothe your soul during your fertility quest and why do you think you are drawn to them? What about your partner - does he/she have places or tasks that provide some refuge?

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