Book Review: The Fertility Doctor’s Guide to Overcoming Infertility
BOOK REVIEW: The Fertility Doctor’s Guide to Overcoming Infertility, by Jane Stewart
Reviewed by: Jody Lynee Madeira, Ph.D., J.D.1
1Indiana University Maurer School of Law
A startling number of books have been published on how to cope with and overcome the experience of infertility. There are books on many facets of infertility - diets, meditation, yoga, and exercises, of which the vast majority emphasize the power of positive psychology. One volume for men undergoing infertility is cheekily titled, How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup. Nowadays, a book must be truly unique to stand out as a singular tree among this forest of volumes.
The Fertility Doctor’s Guide to Overcoming Infertility, by Dr. Mark Trolice, does just that. Dr. Trolice’s book is attractive among these others for several factors. First, authored by a doctor, this book is directed at patients and the non-infertility trained physician. If patients and physicians had the luxury of sitting down for a series of one-on-one coffee shop conversations, the result might be remarkably close to The Fertility Doctor’s Guide. Dr. Trolice’s upbeat tone educates readers without talking down to them, anticipates their pressing questions, and answers them in the narrative or in sidebars throughout the volume. Second, Dr. Trolice’s writings are informed by his own unique history: he and his wife experienced infertility for 10 years, which infuses The Fertility Doctor’s Guide with an uncommon empathy. Third, unlike most other infertility-related publications, this book does not attempt to get patients to change something about themselves or to adopt a new routine in order to improve their chances of conceiving, save advocating optimal health with diet, exercise and avoidance of harmful substances. Instead, this is an instruction manual to one’s body and, most importantly, the supportive system, including the physician-patient relationships that are at the heart of fertility care.
This book is distinctive because of the author’s identity as an REI, and is successful in inviting his readers to walk beside him along several paths through the infertility experience. Some of these roads are more traveled, from the journey to becoming more knowledgeable about infertility’s causes and its contributing comorbidities, to coping with infertility, to often-overlooked tracks such as fertility care for individuals in transgender populations. Throughout, Dr. Trolice breaks down the traditional wall between doctor and patient, and addresses his audience as intelligent lay readers who are not only experts on their own bodies, emotions, and social connections, but are embedded in their own relationships and have their own family-building ideals. In other words, the tone of this book presumes patients may know little on the topic but can understand a great amount.
For the first several chapters, Dr. Trolice focuses on how women and men can protect their fertility, understand reproductive processes, and cope with infertility (including secondary infertility), while providing a sound overview of these introductory issues. These include infertility-related conditions, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. The chapter on “The Male Factor” is conspicuous because of Dr. Trolice’s honest statement that “chauvinistic mindsets” may have contributed to the deemphasis of male reproductive health.
The Fertility Doctor’s Guide is unique in its all-inclusive coverage to which prior published infertility books do not devote much attention, particularly self-help fertility methods, infertility issues faced by LGBTQ populations, oncofertility, use of donor gametes or embryos, and adoption. While each chapter may not be personally relevant to all readers, those who seek to step into others’ shoes by viewing infertility from another vantage point may gain additional insights into their own journey. Offering a deeper dive into infertility related issues such as treatment financing (including a comprehensive list of 20 different programs and plans) and early pregnancy complications, Dr. Trolice’s book will be potentially more useful to a wider array of readers. Even if patients inevitably need to research further into certain topics, The Fertility Doctor’s Guide is an excellent launching pad—while providing a robust grounding in a variety of other essential subjects.
Another example of the distinct difference between The Fertility Doctor’s Guide and other books is Chapter 10, “Treatments You Should Avoid”—a unique and frank contribution to the literature that is invaluable to anyone about to enter treatment. This section warns of common tests and procedures often recommended by providers with inadequate training, and urges questions about testing or treatment plans for which patients may be unsure or uncomfortable. Dr. Trolice’s straightforward presentation of “add-on” unsubstantiated procedures or tests recommended by some clinics resulting in their monetary advantage offers patients valuable information they may otherwise receive only through personal experience, thereby saving them great financial and emotional stress.
Taken in total, The Fertility Doctor’s Guide is a bold statement and an excellent representation of how infertility affects the 1 in 8: at once a bodily state, a medical condition, an emotional stressor, a trigger point for strategizing and decision making, and a force that starts and can end a relationship. In researching and deciphering so many disparate topics within infertility, Dr. Trolice continuously returns to one central point: infertility is something that the patient(s) and physician can address jointly, as a team. With that assertion, he gives the reader permission to feel a sense of informed optimism. In the well-known children’s story entitled, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” by Michael Rosen, various obstacles prompt the bear-hunting team to proclaim, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” Although infertility is still a formidable obstacle, it certainly will be less scary for Dr. Trolice’s readers, as he accompanies them along the arduous journey.