Stories can reflect both ourselves and our not-selves back to us. While fiction often transports us to another world, memoir brings us back home into our own experience, with a different perspective and a corresponding sense of feeling less alone in our humanity. At least, that’s how many of us tend to read memoir: like addicts seeking that not-alone fix.
This is certainly the case in my own personal reading. When I used to travel, I packed travelogues. When I came out as a lesbian, I was holding a fat biography of James Baldwin. When I lost a baby, I drowned in narratives of miscarriage. As the parent of toddlers, I dragged “mom-oirs” around. During the breakup of my marriage, I devoured divorce stories. When I got depressed, I sank into tales of depression. So, where was Love Song for Baby X in those days when I was trying and trying (and mostly failing) to get pregnant?
Those of us who have ever had to try too hard to get pregnant or stay pregnant will immediately resonate with the theme of Love Song for Baby X. Cheryl Dumesnil traces her infertility journey through a path familiar to many women, one along which we appreciate all the company we can get. She brings her companions, Hope, Fear, Optimism, Pessimism and their friends Logic and Disgruntlement, letting these characters compete for control of her psychological state. She details the infertility carnival ride of testing, procedures, emotions, and hormones, letting the reader rise and fall along with each new hope, each new disappointment. Dumesnil’s roller coaster of multiple miscarriages parallels the story of her temporarily legal marriage to her wife, quickly followed by an annulment decreed by the State of California, creating a whiplash of emotion right up through a (finally!) successful pregnancy, the big payoff in her quest to create a family against all the odds.
Love Song’s lifeblood comes from the tenacious humor Dumesnil infuses into her story, such as the comic details of having to remove sperm from a nitrogen tank while trying to maintain a romantic atmosphere. She is at her best in small moments when she drifts toward poetry, a land where she clearly feels comfortable: “Then we stepped off the curb into the parking lot, falling once again into the great unknown.” A perfect blend of the worldly and the sublime, just like…parenting.
Dumesnil’s memoir – full of humor, honesty and, in the end, hope — is a good addition to the pile of books on your bedside table to help you get through those long days of waiting between trying and the pregnancy test. Readers without personal experience of the alternate universe of infertility might get bogged down in the step-by-step processes and particulars, but any lesbian who has made a similar effort at conception will especially appreciate Dumesnil’s keen eye and talent for comic relief.