Life beyond IVF purgatory

Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey. Thomas Nelson Inc., 2013. Website

Jen:

Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey. Book cover portrays title written in sky by an aeroplaneIt wasn't so much a phone call as a lifeline. That's how I remember the day the fertility clinic called me with news of my pregnancy. After six years of hoping and lamenting, the life my husband and I had all but given up on was to be ours.

Meanwhile, religious broadcaster Sheridan Voysey and his wife Merryn Voysey were in IVF purgatory. In 2010, after a decade-long journey through 'Expectation. Expectation. Expectation. Disappointment', the Voyseys came to the 'heart-breaking conclusion' that their quest for a family was over.

'The wilderness, I find, reflecting on those scriptures, is a place of rich significance,' writes Sheridan in his aptly named memoir Resurrection Year. 'At its best it is the place where we encounter God and discover his will for our lives ... At its worst it is the place of unfaithfulness and judgment'.

I don't think it's giving anything away, Barry, to say that when we first meet this deeply Christian couple both are struggling to see the wood for the trees.

It doesn't much improve, for Sheridan anyway, when Merryn suggests they look towards Europe for their 'new life'. The move would mean turning his back on a successful media career and Christian talkback radio show. He's unsure whether his ego, already reeling from the perils of infertility, can survive another hit.

'Empty and confused', yet totally committed to Merryn, he decides that cutting ties and relocating overseas is the only path towards 'restoration'.

While undeniably candid and, at times, uncomfortably confessional, there's nothing glib about this very modern story. Often we hear of IVF success stories (yours truly, a forever grateful example), yet Resurrection Year reminds us that while great advances have been made in this critical area, IVF is no miracle cure.

Sheridan writes with the clarity of someone who knows what it means to live daily with the spectre of infertility. 'Like chronic illness, unwanted singleness, and other life statuses that deviate from the 'norm', childlessness can bring isolation', he writes. 'Infertility can remove you from community.'

And yet he's nothing if not engaged with the world around him and driven to find his and Merryn's place in that world. Resurrection Year delights with a surprising vitality. This is a book motivated by a lightness of being, propelled by the author's need to reconcile with a 'God who is sometimes silent but never absent'.

At its heart lies a trembling, poetic reminder to hold fast onto a lifeline, wherever we may find it. As Sheridan reminds us, Barry, in the exigent realm of infertility there are no easy answers and even fewer absolutes, barring one: that the one thing more tragic than 'a broken dream is a life forever defined by it'. 

Barry:

Jen, thank you for sharing; the evocation of bliss redolent of sorrow. You know what's at stake here.

Resurrection Year reveals two broken people rediscovering joy and purpose in disappointment's aftermath. Sheridan is an award-winning writer and broadcaster; Merryn, a skilled medical statistician. This is more than window dressing and ego; in particular, the self-worth of a 'bloke' is inextricably tied into what he can do.

That said, I agree Jen that Sheridan's angst over his 'purpose', the grief at interrupted roles, is less weighty for the reader than the couple's infertility and desire for answers.

Male infertility is largely an unexplored country for Australians and our national media. One in six Australian couples suffer infertility, and medical stats place Sheridan as one in 20 male Australians whose lives, and those of their partners, are blighted by infertility. Forty per cent of relevant treatments in Australia address male infertility, yet that is largely unspoken; at least by men.

Jen, the process of manning up on Voysey's part, his shame and sense of responsibility for Merryn's unrealised hopes, makes for a tough and moving read, doesn't it? But without sharing the varying ethical and cultural armwrestles over adoption, conception, and their IVF efforts, this just wouldn't hit home ... well, what else but a 'balls and all' account will help break the silence about male infertility?

To get to this point of public revelation and musing, past catharsis, past confession, and towards their mutual acceptance of childlessness, required the understanding and cooperation of the author's wife and, putting it bluntly, considerable cojones.

Yet for all its intensity, Jen, I agree it's not a bleak book. The couple's faith in each other; humour interspersed with serendipitous insights; their ongoing hopes for fulfillment ... it balances the chronicling of their grief and uncertainty — and ultimately their belief in each other and their God.

A 'public Christian', Voysey knows the adage that 'God provides' is hit and miss: 'I feel like I'm about to burst into tears all the time. Perhaps I didn't pray hard enough ... I can hardly pray at the moment though. Feelings of spiritual failure haunt me ... God, why won't you come through for her? Why? She's getting damaged by this.'

A purportedly interventionist God doesn't intervene. Benjamin Franklin's quip that 'God helps those who help themselves' self-evidently doesn't ring true. But doubt doesn't deny the strength or consolation of their faith in a God of grace, as Voysey proves.

While some theological agonising may alienate some readers, the couple's love, joy, pain and devotion bleed through the pages. 


Barry Gittins headshotJen Vuk headshotBarry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army. He has written for Eureka Street, Inside History, Crosslight, The Transit Lounge, Changing Attitude Australia and The Rubicon.

Jen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend. 


Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Jen Vuk, Resurrection Year, IVF, infertility

 

 

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