Rachel Cusk has caused some consternation over her review of Julia Leigh’s book Avalanche, a memoir of Leigh’s attempts to have a child via ART. Some of Cusk’s opinions regarding women “writing about the travails of assisted reproduction” (as I sometimes do) have offended my sensibilities, perhaps for uncommon reasons.

Cusk compares infertile women to second-rate creative writing students who spend “all their money and time on what would in the end prove a fruitless ambition”. The problem with this, she suggests, is that these perversely obstinate students and infertile women hopelessly romanticize the state of being a writer or a mother – if you switch the words in her so-called “half-analogy”, it would read like this:

“…they had started to idealize “being a mother,” to detach it from what motherhood really was or ever could be.

Cusk then says that women writing about ART are “putting into reverse the evolving contemporary discourse around motherhood. This woman doesn’t — can’t — fear what having a child will mean for her hard-won social and intellectual autonomy; she isn’t concerned with the right to express ambivalence toward this oldest and strongest of binds — indeed, she perhaps views maternal ambivalence as a somewhat grotesque luxury.

In calling us retrograde and anti-feminist she dismisses in one fell swoop the months I spent agonising over whether babies and motherhood – about which I had always harboured an uneasy ambivalence – were actually worth going through IVF for.

We are complex beings, Cusk, and cannot be lumped together under one unnuanced, unsubtle generalisation.

According to Cusk, the woman writing about the travails of assisted reproduction is:

“…unambivalent: she wants desperately, blindly, to become a mother, and while IVF certainly offers some hope that her desire might be fulfilled, it can also feed that desire, feed it until it is rendered all-consuming and capable of exacting every mental, physical and financial cost.

Not so for every woman who does IVF. I don’t intend to belittle the experience of infertile women who desperately want children, and I agree that the IVF industry peddles hope on a criminal scale, preying on women who do experience a more visceral desire to have children.

But just as fertile women of child-bearing age have serious fears and misgivings about motherhood (yet go on to have babies), so too do infertile women, rendering the whole enterprise of embarking on ART twice as agonising and even more prone to painful over-thinking about the realities of parenting.

Or was that just me?

Is that possible?

Find other responses to Cusk’s piece as well as reviews of Julia Leigh’s book here on Silent Sorority.

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