Last week, I was asked to review Bringing in Finn which, according to the press release, centered around "one woman’s hard-fought and often painful journey to motherhood", including "the tragedy and heartbreak of losing pregnancies; the process of opening her heart and mind to the idea of her 61-year-old mother carrying her child for her; and the profound bond that blossomed between mother and daughter as a result of their unique experience together."
When I first read the premise of the book, I debated on whether or not to review it. Although infertility, pregnancy loss, and parenting after loss are extremely relevant to me, as a practicing Catholic, Peter and I had nixed IVF (and therefore things like gestational hosts and surrogates) from our fertility treatment possibilities a decade ago. Was I really the right person to read a book that's premise rests on that? Could I do it without bias and without projecting my personal beliefs about the process itself onto the book? After meditating about it for a bit, I ultimately decided that I could; after all, I work with clients all the time who have made choices that I wouldn't personally make. And I'm really glad that I agreed; while my personal views remain the same, I highly recommend this book for those battling through the trenches of infertility, suffering the devastation of loss, and those who have struggled with connecting with their parents- especially with a mother/daughter connection- on a deeper level, as well as anyone pursuing surrogacy. Mrs. Connell writes with a voice that is passionate and real; it is not surprising that she is a successful life coach and workshop speaker. As I read through the book (which I began on Thursday evening and finished Friday afternoon because it captured me that much), I felt that I was sitting next to this stunningly attractive mother on my sofa and she was unabashedly (and with language that mirrors my own at times!) opening up the heart and soul of the 6+ years of infertility and loss that ultimately led to her 'bringing in' her son Finnean.
Part of the connection was that with her Irish looks, she looks a lot like one of my dear friends. The honesty in her language was another. Like me, she had a history of sexual abuse, and our infertility and loss stories were so achingly similar that it hurt. Even though our paths diverged, our outcomes are so close: we are both mothers who are parenting after a difficult war with infertility and the heartbreak that comes with the loss of beloved children. We are mothers who, like those in the ALI community, choose to break the silence that has plagued our grandmothers and even our mothers and share with others the walk that we've taken.
Bringing in Finn begins with something many of us are familiar with: aching arms. After trying alternative options for getting her womanly health and fertility on track after she learned about the ill-effects of hormonal birth control and stopped using contraception altogether, Sara Connell and her husband, Bill, seek out the help of a reproductive endocrinologist and ultimately proceed with caution into the world of in-vitro fertilization. When they conceive fraternal twin boys, they are overjoyed. But when Sara begins bleeding and an emergency cerclage fails, she wakes from the fog of general anesthesia to learn that her sweet sons were delivered stillborn by Cesarean and that she almost died herself. With depth and honesty, she delves into the shards of her broken heart to walk the reader through her grief journey. There is no self-pity; neither is their shame in the fact that this happened to her. Instead, she openly expresses her anger, sorrow, and frustration; you are there with her- in the blinding lights of the hospital, on the floor as she sobs, bravely at her side as she hands over items to be cremated with her sons, sitting with her as she gazes at the shrine she and her husband prepare at their home for their sons. Her words are raw; her feelings are valid and, for the reader who knows this path (or is just beginning it), they are validating.
As the book continues, we see the emotional and financial turmoil of continuing IVF. She shares the sadness of a chemical pregnancy, of not getting pregnant at all, and the miscarriage of a singleton in the first trimester. In her honesty, Sara touches on the desperation, fear, and hope that are swelling inside of her in her quest to mother a living child, while at the same time openly discussing the strained relationship with her parents that she has struggled with since childhood.
But loss changes you. And it changes those who love you.
Vowing to open herself to her family, Sara talks to her parents about her struggles to conceive and, in her losses, she comes to find someone in her corner that she never imagined: her mother, Kristine. Having always viewed their daughter a bit flippantly in light of her alternative healing choices and career path, Sara is shocked when her mother shows up at a seminar she is teaching. But there is a greater shock yet to come: after meditating on what her life in retirement should embody, Kristine drops the bomb. She believes that she- even after menopause and on the cusp of 60 years old- should carry Sara and Bill's baby.
The book could read like an awful reality show or try to inspire heartwarming fuzzy feelings like those happy-ever-after baby shows, but it doesn't. Instead, Sara is brutal in her feelings- the joys, the happiness, the envy and jealousy.
"I felt brittle that morning...I wanted to be the one sitting in the...chair. I wanted to feel the baby moving in my body...I was not unconditionally at a point where I felt grateful for my body's inability to carry our children, but our path had already revealed undeniable gifts. I was experiencing a physical intimacy with my mother that I had likely not had since I was inside her womb. The love I felt seemed to burn away what had caused us pain... I'd heard clients speak of experiencing such relational transcendence when they were with a parent as the parent died. Yet we were being given this experience while bringing in a life." (pg.253)
As the book closes in on Finn's birth, she openly talks about the desire that somehow the medical staff could transport the ready-to-be-born Finnean into her womb so that she, herself, could deliver him, both having that experience while at the same time, sparing her mother the pain of labor and, ultimately, a C-section. Sara doesn't sugarcoat the sadness of being unable to breastfeed (she did prepare and was able to nurse for a short time) or her feelings of brokenness. But in the places where the book could fall into self-loathing or create its own pity party, she uses her honesty to keep on point. In no way is her story happy-go-lucky, but in a way that, no doubt, has helped numerous clients, she maintains balance and integrity and finds not only motherhood in her loss and in the successful delivery of Finnean, but also a daughterhood that she thought was lost forever. Bringing in Finn is more than a story of infertility, loss, and surrogacy; it is the story of mothers and daughters, of heartache and triumph, of suffering and healing. She sums up her story beautifully in the Epilogue:
"Before you name [situations] as broken and bad, consider that there may be something profound and important- not just for you, but for a greater good- that could not come any other way... I liked the idea of being open to chosen-ness, contemplating how even the broken-seeming parts of my story were and could be a portal for good. Perhaps I had been chosen. Perhaps we all had been." (pg.313)
Bringing in Finn by Sara Connell
(c) 2012 by Seal Press
Available at Amazon.com and your local bookseller or library
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book at no charge in exchange for reviewing the title.