Infertility is one of those topics that can be particularly daunting to discuss for those of us who have never been through it. That’s why I’m so grateful to host author Matt Appling here for a brief discussion of his new book that he co-authored with his wife: Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Live, Faith, and Love Together Through Infertility. Matt is a fantastic writer, and I encourage you to pick up a copy of their book at the end of the interview:
What kinds of books are out there on the market addressing infertility and what prompted you to write your own?
There are a lot of books on infertility, but as we were going through our journey and looking for encouragement, it was the gaps in the market that we thought we could try to fill. A big chunk of books are about how to cure infertility – the “self help” type of books. Eat this, don’t eat that, do these things and have a baby as quickly as possible. There was another segment of books that were more faith oriented, but again, we saw a big share of them that were saying what the medical books said, but in a spiritual way: “Say this prayer, do this thing, and God will give you a baby.” Very little of the literature is directed at men – as if men don’t really want children and are just along for the ride. If men are acknowledged, it’s often in a separate chapter.
We wanted to write a book for couples, not just women, about how to survive infertility in your faith, love and relationships. There are no guarantees with infertility, like all of life. You can buy all the self-help books, visit the best doctors, and still might not get a baby out of the deal. So we started with the question, “What does it look like to survive infertility, no matter what the result is?”
Talk about the process of writing this book with your wife.
It was a process of major trepidation! When I brought up the idea with Cheri, we had to put it on the shelf for a few months so we could pray and think about it. We also knew that this book could not just be us. We asked some friends to come along with us and share their stories and wisdom. The book simply would not have existed without them. We knew that we had not done the most or suffered the longest, we just had an opportunity.
Our collaboration came in the form of discussions, which was just a continuation of the many long conversations we were having relating to our treatment. I was the principal writer, but it was a conversational back-and-forth all the time. It was certainly nerve-wracking for me – my wife can be one of my biggest encouragers and one of my toughest critics! The book ended up being about 60,000 words, but I had to trash another 15,000. Yes, my writing process is not very efficient. But the first time Cheri read the whole manuscript through, she wept the whole time for our friends who had suffered so much. It was very cathartic to work together on something so personal.
Why should couples not experiencing infertility read your book?
Some of the best words of encouragement I’ve received have been from couples who have not had this problem! We spend an entire chapter on discussing modern family life and how our idea of “family” has evolved into what it is today. Besides that, we feel that all marriages are going to suffer through some kind of season – of sickness, of financial distress, or something else, and what we gleaned from our season can be applied to other situations and help to put things into perspective.
We also hope that couples will not only be able to support their friends or the couple in church who is suffering, but that they will look at their own children a bit differently. Life is a wonderful, terribly complex thing, and our journey gave us new eyes to see that.
What are some tips for being sensitive to the needs and experiences of couples who are dealing with infertility?
The first thing you can do is to watch what you say.
Infertility is just not in our cultural vocabulary, so even when we put our feet in our mouths, we usually don’t know it. We see a childless couple and never assume that they are having problems, so we jump to questions about “When are you having kids?” and the like. We had some really personal questions directed at us by people who assumed we were just waiting for a long time.
Acting as an armchair fertility doctor is never really helpful either, so tips like “just relax,” are not necessary. Just express that you are praying for your friends, and then find some other topic of conversation other than your own children! Many of us can be okay around our friends with children, but try to have conversations about something besides the kids.
Just to illustrate that people don’t know what to say about infertility: a couple of months ago I was at an authors’ event and the very first person to approach my table had a child clinging to her leg. I told her about my book, which was upcoming at the time, and she said, “Pffft…I wish I was infertile.” My jaw dropped and I may have laughed a little to ease the tension, because that’s what I do, even when other people are offensive. But she never caught herself or realized how wildly inappropriate that was. I should have referred her to a doctor who could help with her problem!
This book is quite a departure from your previous book on creativity. Tell us a bit about that book in case folks aren’t familiar with it.
Life After Art was my first book with Moody Publishers. I drew from my experiences as an Art teacher in rediscovering creativity as a source of spirituality. I am still teaching Art, still loving it, and still rediscovering every day the things I wrote on those pages. It’s a book that’s even more for the adult who doesn’t feel they are creative, who had teachers who told them that Art wasn’t “their thing,” the adult who feels stuck in life or work and just doesn’t know why. We all are made to be creative – it’s just a matter of finding out how.
Thanks Matt and Cheri for this extremely important book!
Learn more about Plus or Minus.