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The Seed: Infertility is a Feminist Issue (Exploded Views)

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In pop culture as much as in policy advocacy, the feminist movement has historically left infertile women out in the cold. This book traverses the chilly landscape of miscarriage, and the particular grief that accompanies the longing to make a family. Framed by her own desire for a child, journalist Alexandra Kimball brilliantly reveals the pain and loneliness of infertili In pop culture as much as in policy advocacy, the feminist movement has historically left infertile women out in the cold. This book traverses the chilly landscape of miscarriage, and the particular grief that accompanies the longing to make a family. Framed by her own desire for a child, journalist Alexandra Kimball brilliantly reveals the pain and loneliness of infertility, especially as a lifelong feminist. Her experience of online infertility support groups -- where women gather in forums to discuss IVF, surrogacy, and isolation -- leaves her longing for a real life community of women working to break down the stigma of infertility. In the tradition of Eula Biss's On Immunity and Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided, Kimball marries perceptive analysis with deep reportage -- her findings show the lie behind the prevailing, and at times paradoxical, cultural attitudes regarding women's right to actively choose to have children. Braiding together feminist history, memoir, and reporting from the front lines of the battle for reproductive rights and technology, The Seed plants in readers the desire for a world where no woman is made to feel that her biology is her destiny.


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In pop culture as much as in policy advocacy, the feminist movement has historically left infertile women out in the cold. This book traverses the chilly landscape of miscarriage, and the particular grief that accompanies the longing to make a family. Framed by her own desire for a child, journalist Alexandra Kimball brilliantly reveals the pain and loneliness of infertili In pop culture as much as in policy advocacy, the feminist movement has historically left infertile women out in the cold. This book traverses the chilly landscape of miscarriage, and the particular grief that accompanies the longing to make a family. Framed by her own desire for a child, journalist Alexandra Kimball brilliantly reveals the pain and loneliness of infertility, especially as a lifelong feminist. Her experience of online infertility support groups -- where women gather in forums to discuss IVF, surrogacy, and isolation -- leaves her longing for a real life community of women working to break down the stigma of infertility. In the tradition of Eula Biss's On Immunity and Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided, Kimball marries perceptive analysis with deep reportage -- her findings show the lie behind the prevailing, and at times paradoxical, cultural attitudes regarding women's right to actively choose to have children. Braiding together feminist history, memoir, and reporting from the front lines of the battle for reproductive rights and technology, The Seed plants in readers the desire for a world where no woman is made to feel that her biology is her destiny.

30 review for The Seed: Infertility is a Feminist Issue (Exploded Views)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I bristle when someone refers to an unmedicated vaginal delivery as 'natural'. The inference is that a medicated or caesarean birth is 'unnatural' (which is why I love the term 'belly birth') and therefore inferior to a birth where the baby was pushed—not pulled—out and without medical intervention. At best, 'natural' is a euphemism for 'vaginal'—but it is a persistent term stuck in slightly outdated feminism. As a feminist, I have long maintained that if you're too embarrassed to say the word ' I bristle when someone refers to an unmedicated vaginal delivery as 'natural'. The inference is that a medicated or caesarean birth is 'unnatural' (which is why I love the term 'belly birth') and therefore inferior to a birth where the baby was pushed—not pulled—out and without medical intervention. At best, 'natural' is a euphemism for 'vaginal'—but it is a persistent term stuck in slightly outdated feminism. As a feminist, I have long maintained that if you're too embarrassed to say the word 'vagina' then you should probably change the topic of conversation altogether... So I was delighted to receive an advance copy of The Seed, which expertly crafts Kimball's personal experience of miscarriage and infertility with sharp journalism. It is a reckoning for anyone who thinks of themselves as an intersectional feminist. This is the book I didn't know I needed to read; if you're reading this, it's likely the book you didn't know you needed to read, too. Because which of us infertiles have really examined our feminism through the prism of our collective infertility experience? Kimball states how as infertile people, our determination to have a baby is misunderstood more than not. The 'barren woman' is a mythological figure to be feared. Contemporaneously, we are often portrayed as desperate and foolish, reduced to mere "dupes of the patriarchy." The reality is, of course, far more complicated. Kimball argues that the fight for women's reproductive freedom has so far excluded the right to reproduce when medical intervention is required. It's a deft argument, and the cornerstone of the book. Reproductive rights must also mean access to fertility treatment, not just to birth control—all the more important if you're not a middle class white person. This eye-opening book left me nodding along with its probing questions. Shouldn't we transcend traditional definitions of 'womanliness' and what it means to be maternal? Shouldn't we support the desire to become a parent, as well as the choice not to reproduce? Why is acceptable to talk about birth work, but not the work of pregnancy loss and infertility? Shouldn't all forms of family constellations be celebrated? These are some of the questions feminism's fourth wave must answer. I am hopeful that The Seed will help steer the conversation in that direction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Salena

    I really enjoyed this book. As a feminist dealing with infertility and recurrent miscarriage, I do feel confused and alienated by the way feminism deals with reproductive health issues and narratives about motherhood, loss, and infertility. This book was such a relief to me, to see another woman dealing with the same questions that I was and struggling with infertility in a way that opens her up to questions about her broader feminist identity. I was particularly struck when she argued that the I really enjoyed this book. As a feminist dealing with infertility and recurrent miscarriage, I do feel confused and alienated by the way feminism deals with reproductive health issues and narratives about motherhood, loss, and infertility. This book was such a relief to me, to see another woman dealing with the same questions that I was and struggling with infertility in a way that opens her up to questions about her broader feminist identity. I was particularly struck when she argued that the Handmaid's Tale frames infertile women as evil. The section where she described the shape of the grief of an infertile woman as not a woman with a baby-shaped hole in her heart but as a stack of paper dolls that have been cut out but not separated made me feel so very very seen, and that the loss is a loss of a single selfhood and mental timeline in addition to the loss of a baby was the only time I have seen my experience in that way depicted. It truly helped me to understand why it makes me feel uncomfortable when people try to make me feel better about my losses by telling me that I will get a baby one day. It's because a part of me wonders if my identity is permanently multiple (I could be five months pregnant and two months pregnant today if I had gotten to keep my pregnancies), and if I'm like humpty dumpty and even getting the baby I so desperately want won't put me back together again.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Received an ARC of this and it’s even better than I expected: nuanced, reasoned, empathetic, and rightly angry for how we all are cheated of thoughtful public discourse and representation.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    While feminists have long defended the rights of women to access safe and affordable birth control and abortion, there's been a curious blind spot -- a noticeable lack of interest and effort -- when it comes to matters of infertility and pregnancy loss. Some of the early feminists (not without reason) viewed motherhood as a tool of the patriarchy to suppress women's advancement. There's also a strand of feminism that celebrates "earth mothers" and "natural" parenting -- unmedicated home births, While feminists have long defended the rights of women to access safe and affordable birth control and abortion, there's been a curious blind spot -- a noticeable lack of interest and effort -- when it comes to matters of infertility and pregnancy loss. Some of the early feminists (not without reason) viewed motherhood as a tool of the patriarchy to suppress women's advancement. There's also a strand of feminism that celebrates "earth mothers" and "natural" parenting -- unmedicated home births, etc. Assisted reproductive technologies, on the other hand, are often viewed as "unnatural" and exploitive of women -- egg donors & surrogates, if not infertility patients themselves. Finally, someone has dared to ask some hard questions and point out the gaps and discrepancies in existing feminist thought on these subjects. "The Seed: How the Feminist Movement Fails Infertile Women" by Alexandra Kimball is an important addition to these discussions. It is a short book, under 150 pages (including notes & bibliography) -- but it packs a lot into them. I blazed through it in under 24 hours time. (The only other book I can think of that deals with infertility & (more specifically) pregnancy loss through a feminist lens (& which also points out the shortcomings of the feminist movement in this respect) is "Motherhood Lost" by Linda L. Layne (2003), which Kimball references several times.) "The Seed" is partly a memoir: Kimball endured multiple miscarriages and failed rounds of ARTs -- and an increasing sense of isolation from other, more fertile women -- before having a son last year, with the help of an egg donor and a surrogate. It's partly a historical & cultural study of how infertile women have been portrayed and viewed over the centuries, from ancient mythological figures to characters in modern movies and books/TV shows like "Baby Mama" and "The Handmaid's Tale." It's a review of feminist literature on the subjects of motherhood, infertility and assisted reproductive technologies. And it's a strong argument that feminism has failed infertile women in some pretty important ways. Shouldn't we support women who desperately want to be mothers, as well as those who are equally adamant that they do NOT want children? Shouldn't "reproductive rights" include access to fertility treatments, as well as birth control and abortion? Kimball argues that infertility & pregnancy loss are every bit as much valid forms of "work" as pregnancy/birth and motherhood are (which is, of course, itself often derided and devalued) -- not only the very real work it takes to get & stay pregnant through fertility treatments, but the emotional work of living as an infertile person in a fertile world, where parenthood is viewed as the "norm," taken for granted and comes so easily to so many. Grief is an important part of this work that is all too often ignored or minimized by those who have not experienced it. I gave this book four (4) stars. The language can be a bit academic at times, and there's so much food for thought here to chew on that it can sometimes be a bit dizzying. :) On balance, it's a really important book, and I am glad Kimball has written it. May there be many more like it to come!

  5. 5 out of 5

    rabble.ca

    Review by Christina Turner: At the beginning of The Seed: Infertility Is A Feminist Issue, Alexandra Kimball recalls being asked by a well-meaning party guest if she has any children. When Kimball replies that she can't, because she's had three miscarriages, the stranger gapes at her and disappears. For Kimball, this moment exemplifies the social isolation she has experienced as an infertile woman. But it also leads to a strange insight: "infertility has a lot of power." It is this power -- infert Review by Christina Turner: At the beginning of The Seed: Infertility Is A Feminist Issue, Alexandra Kimball recalls being asked by a well-meaning party guest if she has any children. When Kimball replies that she can't, because she's had three miscarriages, the stranger gapes at her and disappears. For Kimball, this moment exemplifies the social isolation she has experienced as an infertile woman. But it also leads to a strange insight: "infertility has a lot of power." It is this power -- infertility's capacity to incite cultural panic, drive women apart, and, occasionally and hopefully, bring them together -- that Kimball sets out to explain in this timely and compelling book-length essay. Keep reading: http://rabble.ca/books/reviews/2019/0...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Domenica

    This book is an absolutely necessary and compelling read. It hits every mark—sharp, well-researched, specific yet wide reaching, and never clinical. For someone who’s never read any feminist writing on infertility, I also appreciated the scope, from policy to pop culture to personal grief, full of heart and meat. Kimball doesn’t shy away from self-implication in ethical debates, and the book really opened my mind up to the struggles, successes, and possibilities of alternative forms of family-ma This book is an absolutely necessary and compelling read. It hits every mark—sharp, well-researched, specific yet wide reaching, and never clinical. For someone who’s never read any feminist writing on infertility, I also appreciated the scope, from policy to pop culture to personal grief, full of heart and meat. Kimball doesn’t shy away from self-implication in ethical debates, and the book really opened my mind up to the struggles, successes, and possibilities of alternative forms of family-making. It is a topic I want to keep reading and thinking about. I am a better person (and a better feminist) for having read The Seed and look forward to what Kimball writes next.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Doug Levandowski

    I thought the first and last two chapters (of five) were the strongest. For anyone who knows someone struggling with infertility (you do, even if you don't know you do) and who wants to support them, this book is a quick must-read. I thought the first and last two chapters (of five) were the strongest. For anyone who knows someone struggling with infertility (you do, even if you don't know you do) and who wants to support them, this book is a quick must-read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    Dense This is a dense academic text examining Western, feminism and female infertility. I found it educating, insightful, and relateable. Now, I don't expect the author to cite everyone. But saying that there isn't a modern feminist discourse around infertility when Flavia Dzodan exists? Her essays on infertility as a refugee Latina and white supremacist colonialism are masterpieces. It's a glaring omission. So I took off one star. Otherwise a great book. Dense This is a dense academic text examining Western, feminism and female infertility. I found it educating, insightful, and relateable. Now, I don't expect the author to cite everyone. But saying that there isn't a modern feminist discourse around infertility when Flavia Dzodan exists? Her essays on infertility as a refugee Latina and white supremacist colonialism are masterpieces. It's a glaring omission. So I took off one star. Otherwise a great book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I am hesitant as I write this about writing this at all. I could remain objective and merely say that I think this is an important contribution that addresses a significant lacuna in feminist political thought in failing to address the experience of medically infertile women and socially infertile persons (single people, LBGTQ people). Or, I could share my truth (which, I guess, is what I'm choosing to do), which is that this book spoke to me and made me feel seen in a way that I have not ever f I am hesitant as I write this about writing this at all. I could remain objective and merely say that I think this is an important contribution that addresses a significant lacuna in feminist political thought in failing to address the experience of medically infertile women and socially infertile persons (single people, LBGTQ people). Or, I could share my truth (which, I guess, is what I'm choosing to do), which is that this book spoke to me and made me feel seen in a way that I have not ever felt before. As a social practice, speaking of a person's own struggle with infertility is profoundly taboo, unless perhaps it is sanitized and filtered, the Instagram shot of a "miracle baby" that effaces the gory details of medical procedures and injections, the financial and relationship tolls, the multiple failures and pregnancy losses along the way. The labor of baby-making made invisible, only the beautiful product, the "miracle" child, is displayed. And as a political practice, admitting that you are pursuing pregnancy through ART signals that you are complicit in the patriarchy's reduction of women to no more than baby-making machines, that you have drunk the cool-aid and are so "baby crazy" that you're willing to do something considered dangerous and unethical to turn yourself into a brainless vessel for a fetus. I used to feel that way. I recall (with regret) privately heaping aspersions on childless couples who pursued IVF, believing that their infertility was the product of their own laziness (why didn't they start trying sooner?), or their lifestyle choices (if only they ate differently or exercised more, then they'd get pregnant), or their greed (this is a rich white privilege, can't they just accept that they'll be childless? And anyway, the planet is overpopulated and dying!). Women's hard-fought "right to choose" as it is presently formulated means merely a right to terminate a pregnancy, not a right to also choose pregnancy when a medical or social condition or mere happenstance forecloses that option without medical support or third-party intervention. Second-wave feminists view women and queer people who engage in ART as duped by the patriarchal, heteronormative, and capitalist medical technology industry. Worse yet, feminists contend that ART enslaves women, particularly women of lower social class, into becoming womb slaves. Ironically, their assumption is that no woman could ever consent to donating gametes or serving as a surrogate even while they champion the notion that women can (and have the right to) consent to abortion. The whole notion that women ought to control their reproductive functions ends at the point where a woman chooses to use technology to enhance her fertility instead of curtailing it, a fact that is particularly troubling when you consider that infertility strikes impoverished women and women of color at even higher rates than rich white women. But as Kimball points out, the making of infertiles invisible in the feminist movement is yet another example of the systemic problem that feminism faces in its failure to recognize the variety of lived experience of all women. Is it really any wonder, then, that so many women refuse to call themselves "feminists" even though they support equal political and economic rights for women? Feminism has made for itself a project of denying the experiences of certain marginalized women, such as trans women and infertile women, in order to cling to a backwards, unscientific, and misogynistic idea of an ideal, essentialist, "woman" who is defined by a working uterus and ovaries. Gloria Steinem, the ur-feminist herself, supported a ban on surrogacy in New York, citing the likelihood of the arrival of a Handmaids Tale future while denying the pain and suffering of women and men wishing to be parents as well as the agency of those wishing to be surrogates. Kimball's book was so important to me because it explains this history of how feminism came to take an anti-ART position and where the cultural notions of infertile women as immoral, lazy, and greedy come from. Kimball reviews cultural artifacts from films to paintings and provides an exhaustive review of the literature on all sides, which is a feat given this book clocks in at only 134 pages. The book also offers Kimball's personal experience with infertility and the isolation and grief that it brings. It elevates the physical and emotional work of infertility to the level of the maternal work of pregnancy and parenting, which is a radical act considering the current political climate. It empowered me to view my own experiences as of a piece with motherhood instead of as the failure to achieve it. And it forced me to ask myself whether concealing my personal struggle is protecting me or further isolating me while reinforcing the notion that such work is actually taboo and unspeakable. Would we as infertiles be better served by speaking our truth, going back to one essential tenet of feminism which is that the personal is political? Would we be better served by seeking collective solutions and political change (policies that treat ART as healthcare and not as commerce) instead of confining ourselves to online chatrooms where we only talk to each other and then only about individual outcomes? Surely, to advocate for ourselves means we must share our stories and challenge society's view that such stories are shameful, which also means opening ourselves up to public scrutiny and the cruelty that is so often heaped upon us, comments intended to minimize our suffering (well, at least you get to sleep in!) or deny our realities (if you just stop trying, it will happen!). It's a lot to ask of someone going through a process that at least one study has shown is as stressful as living with cancer. Kimball doesn't prescribe solutions, something that I don't think I would support in this context anyway, but she does offer hope for a feminist political philosophy that sees and accepts infertility and its treatment as a larger part of an overall reproductive justice agenda.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cherie

    Wow. I have very mixed feelings on this book. I never thought of fertility as a feminist issue, but after reading this book, I totally could see that it is. However, the surrogacy part...I have major issues w surrogacy and the idea of "rent a woman/rent a woman's body" so that part I struggled to connect. One woman's very intimate and brave memoir. Wow. I have very mixed feelings on this book. I never thought of fertility as a feminist issue, but after reading this book, I totally could see that it is. However, the surrogacy part...I have major issues w surrogacy and the idea of "rent a woman/rent a woman's body" so that part I struggled to connect. One woman's very intimate and brave memoir.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leah Rachel von Essen

    The Seed: Infertility is a Feminist Issue by Alexandra Kimball is a superb, necessary text that writes the nonfiction defense for infertile women. She argues well that this is an intersectional issue—many of the language leveled against trans women hurts infertile women as well, as well as any other people who may be infertile or unable to have children in a way that comes easily, or naturally. It also fights strongly for the need for feminism to reclaim this as a call to action, showing how fem The Seed: Infertility is a Feminist Issue by Alexandra Kimball is a superb, necessary text that writes the nonfiction defense for infertile women. She argues well that this is an intersectional issue—many of the language leveled against trans women hurts infertile women as well, as well as any other people who may be infertile or unable to have children in a way that comes easily, or naturally. It also fights strongly for the need for feminism to reclaim this as a call to action, showing how feminism's focus on the right to not be a mother led to them neglecting to defend, or even to criticize, women who are infertile, imbuing them with stereotypical storylines portraying them as cold, evil, 'baby crazy,' or playing into the patriarchy's hands. The entire book is short, easily read, and important for any intersectional feminist right now to dig into. It challenged many ideas I didn't know I had, and is an excellent and convincing work with many superb analyses.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julya

    Rare is a 5 star review, and I didn't even expect it. This book is not just a memoir or telling of a single experience on the journey to motherhood, as if motherhood is only the destination. Infertility is put into a historical and feminist context, imbued also with the author's experiences and something like "existential musings" of the inherent difficulty and loneliness of infertility-as-identity. It's this historical and feminist context that I found most valuable, including having my eyes op Rare is a 5 star review, and I didn't even expect it. This book is not just a memoir or telling of a single experience on the journey to motherhood, as if motherhood is only the destination. Infertility is put into a historical and feminist context, imbued also with the author's experiences and something like "existential musings" of the inherent difficulty and loneliness of infertility-as-identity. It's this historical and feminist context that I found most valuable, including having my eyes opened to the struggle of single, queer, lesbian, trans women in this milieu where even feminism didn't have their back. I highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with infertility, curious about it, or interested in historical feminist perspectives on this taboo topic.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    This book was so important to me. I heard about it and had to read it. It addressed so much of the complex feelings I have about pregnancy loss and infertility. Infertility was my idenity, and my whole life revolved around my clinic. Until I got pregnant spontaneously and that baby was incredibly sick. This book was a blanket around my shoulders and a cup of tea with a knowing look when I felt so alone, so isolated, and so depressed about something that has been so hard for me, but so easy for s This book was so important to me. I heard about it and had to read it. It addressed so much of the complex feelings I have about pregnancy loss and infertility. Infertility was my idenity, and my whole life revolved around my clinic. Until I got pregnant spontaneously and that baby was incredibly sick. This book was a blanket around my shoulders and a cup of tea with a knowing look when I felt so alone, so isolated, and so depressed about something that has been so hard for me, but so easy for so many. Also queer inclusive (to a point) so TYSM,

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jawanza Barial-Lumumba

    An important read to understand the perspective of someone who is infertility in the difficulty of connecting in the feminist dialogue around fertility and womanhood and also connecting to perspectives outside of her own to talk about intersectionality. It's an important read for everyone to read through, especially touching on the historical and modern representation of infertile women in research, feminist texts, media, and more. A very quick read too. An important read to understand the perspective of someone who is infertility in the difficulty of connecting in the feminist dialogue around fertility and womanhood and also connecting to perspectives outside of her own to talk about intersectionality. It's an important read for everyone to read through, especially touching on the historical and modern representation of infertile women in research, feminist texts, media, and more. A very quick read too.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    4.5/5 stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

    So so so good. Will recommend to every women going through fertility issues and everyone else too.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rilley McKenna

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marie-France

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alanna

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  21. 5 out of 5

    Hanna

  22. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  23. 5 out of 5

    Terri

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Scott

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gwen Nguyen

  27. 5 out of 5

    Isobel Goddard

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Schallom

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tammi

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather

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