Book Tour - Handmaids Tale

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite author's and "The Handmaid's Tale" is one of my favorite books, so when the Barren Bitches Book Brigade decided to "tour" this book, I could not resist. I first read this book in college. I have a copy and thumb through it now and again, but this was the first time in about 2 years that I had actually read it cover to cover. And it was the first time I had read it while dealing with infertility. It was amazing to see how I had sympathy for not only Offred but also Serena, which was something I had not had before. As usual, it was a book I could not put down, as usual, I found parallells in this society. I also highly recommend the movie made some time ago with Robert Duval, Fay Dunaway and Natasha Richardson.

Below are questions and my answers from the book tour:

Question: Aunt Lydia describes the handmaids as "a transitionalgeneration," that has the especially difficult job of normalizing the new fertility practices(chapter 20.) Do you think that infertile women today can be called a transitional generation? If so, in what ways were things different before, and how do you think things might be different after?

Yes, I do believe this is the transitional generation of infertiles.

Scientifically, it is definitely a transitional period. Since the 1970s the reproductive sciences have explored the many ways to help infertiles, with often mixed results. Even today, scientists are just now understanding what makes a viable embryo and what limits there are to manipulating eggs and sperm. Techniques that were used 10 – 15 years ago are being rapidly replaced with new protocols and medications that have helped to increase success rates. And yet, there are still many questions left to answer. We joke that it is a lottery, but in many ways, it is.

Socially and economically it is a transitional period. The fact that many states do not cover fertility treatments in their health care coverage causes fertility treatments to be too expensive for many infertiles. The ones who can afford treatment are often looked upon in society as people who have “chosen” to do something for their infertility which is “foolish” or “extravagant” and often chided for not “just adopting”. This lack of understanding of the process of fertility treatments versus adoption, etc. is in a transitional state as well, as more and more infertiles are sharing their stories. I do think that the internet and other media are helping to change people’s attitude towards the infertile world. I do think that health care reform will cause many of the procedures to be covered. I think that sharing our voices in this cause will make a difference to the next generation.

Question: One major theme through this book is the role that religion plays in the new society's "quest for babies" (arguably, it's a very sinister role, but a role nonetheless). In fertility treatments, you often hear of the religion playing a role in the lives of the men and women who undergo treatments – some won't reduce as it's against their views, some won't undergo certain types of treatments, and others separate their views on religion from their views on the science of fertility treatments and options. What role did/does religion play or not play in your fertility treatments or child-rearing choices?

I feel that the book really showed the dangers of a theocracy (and why I don’t believe in organized religion). Their agenda was forced onto society and there was no “choice” for the men and women in that society. Forcing an ideal, whether its “moral” or “ethical” on another person is choking and suffocating to not only the individual but the society as a whole. And it eventually will breakdown that society.

For me, the moral and ethical issues with fertility treatments were not as important as the logistics and economics of the options we had. But my experience is different from anyone else, and because of that, I do not feel that my choices should be the only ones out there.

Being a secondary infertile, there is the guilt of already having something that many do not---a healthy child. We did debate about whether we “really” wanted another child. However, given our family dynamics we felt a sibling was definitely something we wanted and needed. And we had decided that no matter what, we were going to have another one, whether by adoption or treatment. Fertility treatments are covered in my state (IVF for 3 cycles). Adoption is not. It came down to the economics. Morally, I would have had no problem with adopting. Morally, I would have no problem with egg donation/sperm donation. I believe that what ever it takes to make a family, that is what you do.

As for child-rearing and religion, I feel that people have moral compasses whether or not they have religion. Teach your child the golden rule “treat others as you wish to be treated”.

Question: On pg. 70, Offred is discussing her past studies of psychology and at this time she mentions a study done on three pigeons trained to peck at buttons for grain. She states: Three groups of them: the first got one grain per peck, the second one grain every other peck, the third was random. When the man in charge cut off the grain, the first group gave up quite soon, the second group a little later. The third group never gave up. They'd peck themselves to death rather than quit. While reading these lines, I could not help but identify with the third group of pigeons. Sadly, I think I've come to a point where I will never give up, even if it means death before success. How about you? Do you identify with one of these groups? What do you think Atwood's intention was in including this bit of information?

I identify with the second group. We went into fertility treatments feeling like we needed to try this solution first, but if we tried the three cycles and it did not work, I think we would have started to explore other options, such as adoption. We had already started filling out the forms to be foster-to-adopt. I take the analogy as saying that the third group would never give up to the point of losing the actual goal, and Atwood’s use of it to show the desperation and hopelessness of the society’s goals in general and the Handmaids and Wives goals in specific.

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about The Handmaid's Tale? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade by visiting the master list at Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #9 (The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler with author participation!) and all are welcome to join along . All you need is a book and blog.


Samantha said…
Nice answers. I always figured I would be in that second group of chickens, and be able to do the "three cycles and you're done" but the idea of not trying again when I didn't succeed has turned out to be a more difficult pill to swallow than I originally thought. There's a lot of thoughts of what if. Yet, I don't want to end up in the that third hen group. Like you said, you don't want to end up in a situation of trying simply for the sake of trying.
deanna said…
I, too, think we are a transitional generation. I hope that the science is in transition (as it certainly needs to be!), but I think societal attitudes are definitely turning more in our favor. It seemed the only time infertility was mentioned was as a sidenote to those wild stories about baby-crazed women ending up with sextuplets, or hearing that a couple started on meds because they just couldn't be patient with nature. Though people like my dad haven't made the transition (ie: I "promised" him I would *never* let my RE put me on meds, because he thought it was so crazy and risky), I think many other people are hearing our stories and realizing it's mostly average couples dealing with infertility and they're not taking the easy way out by seeking intervention. They're taking a long, sorrowful road that deserves compassion and empathy, rather than judgement.
loribeth said…
I agree that we're a transitional generation. Even in the few years since I stopped infertility treatment, there have been so many medical & technological advances. Now if only society's knowledge & attitudes would catch up...!! I agree with you that sharing our voices through the Internet & other forums will help.
The Dunn Family said…
I also thought I would be in group 2 of the pigeons. 3 tries, and we were moving on. But that's all easy to say since it worked for us on try 1. I can't be so sure I would have given up.

I'm with you on the religion thing as well. I'm completely against organized religion, and it scares me terribly that the leaders of our country make decisions based on religious beliefs that I don't share.

Thanks for your honest answers.
Bea said…
I like your answer to the first. I also agree this is a transitional generation. As time goes on, ethical issues get sorted out and people become less "freaked" by the technology itself, just as anaesthesia has gone from being controversial to being a routine part of medical care. It will be better for the next generation, I think.

Lori said…
I am a pigeon of the 2nd group. Although devastating at the time, the odds of success with ART were so miniscule that we went on to adoption. I am fortunate that we weren't in a gray area.

Good answers!
The Town Criers said…
"I feel that people have moral compasses whether or not they have religion."

It's such an interesting point. I mean, yes, they discussed the fact that members of other religions either converted or left, but there are so many variations within Christianity that theocracies can become a scary place where religion is used to suppress rather than engage.
Ms. Infertile said…
"I think that sharing our voices in this cause will make a difference to the next generation." - I do too. I think we are definately a trnsitional generation when it comes to infertility and hope that the next generation won't have to face things like no insurance coverage, or insensitive comments from others.
Drowned Girl said…
Suffering recurrent miscarriage puts you in the third group of pigeons. A positive HPT, however doomed, is a positive motivator.

However, even the most dim pigeon eventually gets to realise that the chances seem to be dwindling.

I was so lucky a friend offered me her eggs.

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