Book Review - In Viro Fertility Goddess by Jodi Panayotov

In Viro Fertility Goddess by Jodi Panayotov. Blink Press, June 2007, pp. 218. ISBN 978~~0~~9803110~~0~~6

Infertility sucks and IVF is worse. Yet women rarely talk about either, or make jokes, a truth Jodi Panayotov found out the hard way when aged 37 she struggled to get pregnant and to stay that way.

It never fails to amaze me the insensitive things people say to women who, after a few years of wedded bliss, fail to spawn. The comment by Panayotov’s fellow stewardess is typical. “You’ve been married for years now, when are you going to have a baby?”

How I wish all women would react as Panayotov did that day. “Actually, I just lost one, miscarriage you know.”

When a non-pregnant stewardess approaches Panayotov shortly after this incident to confide that she’d also had a miscarriage but had only told her family about it, Panayotov responds with a question revelatory of the driving motivation behind In Vitro Fertility Goddess. “Why is it we don’t talk about it? It’s like there ‘s a hidden code of silence of something. I’ve never in ten years of working here heard of one miscarriage. And I’ve heard all about every birth.”

In Vitro Fertility Goddess is Panayotov’s attempt to talk, even laugh, about the reproductive difficulties faced by she and her husband Michel. From the early days of her journey where repeated miscarriages saw her join “the freakish underclass somewhere between the Fertile and Infertile” that only exists on “obscure websites” because “nobody…admits to being [a] member,” to Panayotov’s reluctant commencement of IVF, Infertility Treatment Goddess contributes to the growing recognition that women suffer psychic and physical costs not just when they are unable to control their bodies and their lives in order to avoid having children, but when such control eludes them when they try to conceive.

In Vitro Fertility Goddess has much going for it. Taking a stylistic leaf out of Bridget Jones’s Diary it is at times laugh-out-loud funny. A medical receptionist retreats when a miscarrying Panayotov yells at her, “as if a large dog has mounted and is attempting to have sex with her.” When Panayotov confesses to seeing a herbalist to cure her fertility woes, her IVF doctor goes “all quiet,” as if she were confessing to “joining the Branch Davidians or something.” And like Brigette Jones, it promises and delivers an insight into the minds of women whose circumstances rather than choices have derailed their lives from conventional female courses, and a conclusion (one we know about from the start courtesy of the mother-baby photo gracing the book’s back cover) that rewards the heroine’s struggles with happy-ever-afters.

What works less well is the unevenness of the book’s tone and style, the unreflective way the text conflates embryos and babies and the unmitigated bitchyness of the author’s lambasting of fertile women as either “smug pregnants” or selfish aborters whose mere existence demonstrates an insensitivity to Panayotov’s plight that makes her wish to purchase a voodoo doll so she can prick them in effigy.

Few, if any of these not insubstantial problems, are Panayotov’s fault. Authors are not editors, and this book reads like the first draft a promising manuscript, rather than the final text of a published work. Grammatical errors, contradictions and repetitiveness (we are told twice about a neighbour’s front window sticker welcoming dogs but not children, and as many times about the unsavoury details of the clinic masturbation room in which husband Michel fulfils his end of the IVF bargain), the loss of Bridget Jones voice during parts of the narration and a complete absence of humour during what was clearly the most emotionally trying part of the Panayotovs’ journey to parenthood are just the sort of problems the editorial process is designed to identify and assist the author to address.

That it failed to do so, and that Panayotov’s editor was her husband Michel, not only underscores the essential nature of editing to the production of quality Australian literary works, but the need for that editorial input to be professional: both skilled and impartial.

Publication history

Infertility Goddess  Sydney Morning Herald