Resurrection Year: A Story Told but not Seen

When the Patheos book club announced that Sheridan Voysey’s Resurrection Year was available for review, I was a little skeptical. To be honest, I shy away from the topic of infertility. It’s one that I know almost nothing about, and the little bit I do know about it is just enough to make me think I can open my mouth and say something phenomenally unhelpful. To be really, uncomfortably honest, I have a weird little secret resentment towards couples suffering from secondary infertility, mostly because that seems like it would be such a divine, blissful gift at this point in my life. So it’s hard for me to read stories about infertility with anything resembling empathy.

 

However, the opening of the book hooked me right off. The writing is good when Voysey is recounting he and his wife’s struggle with infertility. He doesn’t dress it up. He tells the story like it happened to them, not lingering too much or trying to overemphasize the pain and suffering with purple prose. As a result, the story is poignant. The pain comes through. The recounting of their last, failed attempt at IVF brought me to tears, wrapping up the first section of the book and bringing them back where they were when the book opened, in a car in the rain on Christmas.

 

It was the next section, the story of their Resurrection Year, the dark night of the soul they journeyed through and the sun breaking through again on the other side, where I felt the book stumble a little. Part of it was just the subject matter itself. Their struggle with infertility was just the spring-board for their headlong plunge into the age-old struggle of reconciling faith in God with suffering. I was fascinated with the way Voysey was grappling with it…not in theoretical, philosophical, or theological terms but in personal ones. The book didn’t take us through how the two of them worked through the question of suffering intellectually, although there was a little of that. But really it was about how they came to accept suffering in their everyday lives. They didn’t work through the problem of evil, and thank God for that. It’s been done over and over, by a million brilliant minds. But the book shows the Voyseys doing something that we all have to do, sooner or later. They lived through it. They faced the suffering and carried on, with their faith in God bent a little but never broken. It’s a beautiful story, and one that I think I would have loved if I had gotten to know them a little better.

 

At the end of the book, though, I had really mixed emotions. I loved what Voysey was trying to do with the book. I loved, loved, loved the fact that there was no fairy-tale happy ending tale of miraculous adoption or miraculous conception. I loved that the book was real, that it was about two people trying to keep faith in God in the midst of the reality of life. I can identify with that, even if the particular circumstances of our trials couldn’t be more different. But I also closed the book feeling frustrated. I felt like I never actually got to know Sheridan and Merryn. I mean, I knew their history, their struggle with infertility, their professional interests, their theological leanings, their Australian origins, and that they settled in Oxford. But that’s not who they are. I felt like I got a great outline of them, but none of the little things that give life and color to characters on the page. If those things are important in fiction, it seems to me that they are doubly important in a memoir, where the driving interest is not a narrative arc but a connection to the memoirist, an affection for them and a desire to see where their life leads. Towards the end, Voysey mentioned that his wife has brown hair, and I clutched onto that like a drowning person. Brown hair! One tiny detail! But still, I didn’t know Merryn. I could tell you a lot about her life but nothing about who she is, if that makes sense. What kind of wine she likes, what makes her laugh, what quirks she has, what her hobbies are, what irritates her about her husband. Same with Sheridan. I really wish those things were in there, that I had been able to come to know the Voyseys through the course of the book, so that at the end I could have closed it with satisfaction and a sense of fullness. Their struggle was a personal one, and I think the telling of it has the potential to really impact others who struggle with any kind of suffering. But for such a personal story, the book was oddly impersonal, and I think that was a great loss.

 

It occurs to me now, though, that perhaps that was the whole point. Perhaps Sheridan Voysey intentionally left the personal details, the subtle nuances, out of his book to give it a sort of Everyman feel. Maybe the lack of personal detail was part of his mission, to allow the readers who also struggle with infertility to enter into their struggle, and in doing so, to find hope. If that was the intention, then, I can’t say whether it succeeded or failed. I know that I didn’t feel like I went with them on their journey; I was always held at arm’s length, always watching their struggle, but never really entering into it. I just don’t know for certain whether that distance was through my fault or theirs. Regardless, though, I wish it hadn’t been there. I wish I could have known them better, understood their journey more, and felt the hope at the end with something more like communion. As it is, I tip my hat to them, wish them well, and go on with my life, impacted neither for good or ill by their journey. It is a journey I wish I knew less about, but had seen more of. For me, that will always be the crux of good writing.

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(To read more Patheos reviews of Resurrection Year, visit the Patheos Book Club. To buy the book, visit Amazon.)

  • sd

    “To be really, uncomfortably honest, I have a weird little secret resentment towards couples suffering from secondary infertility, mostly because that seems like it would be such a divine, blissful gift at this point in my life. So it’s hard for me to read stories about infertility with anything resembling empathy.”

    Me too!!! I’m so relieved to hear another Catholic mom say this. I have always wanted kids and would have been devastated if I couldn’t have any at all. I certainly sympathize with Catholic couples who can’t have kids at all, yet IVF is not a moral option. That would be awful. But I feel like for me, secondary infertility would be the best of both worlds. I would still get to have biological kids, but I wouldn’t have to worry about baby after baby after baby (NFP is extremely difficult for me due to a health issue, and has resulted in multiple unplanned pregnancies). I would be jumping up and down and praising the Lord if I had secondary infertility. I understand that many couples would be devastated by it, but for me, it would feel like the weight of the world had been lifted.

  • k

    I agree with J. Infertility is not discussed hardly at all on big Catholic blogs. There is a wonderful infertile Catholic blog community, but none of those blogs are “big.” I’m glad moms have lots of resources in the Catholic blogging world because they need all the support they can get. I’m wondering if you didn’t feel connected because your stories are so different. Just a guess. I love that you were so honest about being uncomfortably honest because I feel the same resentment about stay-at-home moms with lots of kids! I’m a work-outside-the-home mom who has secondary infertility (we have one son). And, if I were reading an entire memoir about the cross of being super duper fertile, I might feel as though I was kept at arms length, too. That being said, you’ve read way more good lit than I and are way smarter about writing than I. Obviously, the resentment doesn’t keep me away from your blog and your writing never keeps me at arms length :) I wish I lived next door and could babysit!

  • TheodoreSeeber

    No need to enter into their pain to relieve it. Ask them to babysit.

  • briana_patton

    I think its good to realize there are difficulties on both sides. And to be honest enough to admit the other side looks greener. With #6 on the way and due only 17 mos after #5 I am looking forward to menopause. And secretely hoping, or not, that it comes early. I do wonder what it would be like to really long for a baby, but there has not been space enough between kids to know.

  • Family Snodgrass

    Calah, I enjoy your writing and your candor, as well as the peek into your family life, and I’m glad you’re posting again. After reading this post a few days ago, I keep coming back, checking the comments to see whether anyone has written what I’ve been thinking. And they haven’t yet, so I guess that leaves me. :)

    This part…”To be really, uncomfortably honest, I have a weird little secret resentment towards couples suffering from secondary infertility, mostly because that seems like it would be such a divine, blissful gift at this point in my life. So it’s hard for me to read stories about infertility with anything resembling empathy.”

    I have not suffered infertility; like you, I have been blessed with abundant fertility…my oldest is 4 and I’m expecting my fourth. But this part of your post left my jaw hanging open. Perhaps you have not seen up close the pain that is infertility in a couple desiring children. Perhaps you are conflating the ideas of infertility after having had several children and infertility suffered before one’s heart has been filled by children. Perhaps you have more sorrow about this “weird little secret resentment” of someone else’s suffering than you let on here. Whatever the case, you should know that couples who desire children and suffer infertility suffer MUCH. In the spirit of overcoming your resentment, I would urge you not to “shy away from the topic of infertility” but rather to embrace it as a learning experience. It’s hard to resent another’s suffering, once you know it more intimately, especially when one’s own cup runneth over.

    I wish you and your family all the best, and thank you for your beautiful blog.

    • sd

      I’m the commenter who wrote below about how much I
      related to that paragraph. I think you are being a bit unfair to Calah. I am
      also very fertile and have had a terrible time with NFP. I’ve had four
      pregnancies, all surprises. While I adore my children, having multiple
      unplanned pregnancies has been unbelievably stressful (and even almost ended my marriage). I understand that people who are very fertile often can’t comprehend what infertility is like, but I also think people who struggle with infertility don’t understand the stresses of multiple surprise pregnancies or many kids close together.

      I agree that being totally infertile would be awful. I still wouldn’t trade my struggles for being completely infertile. But Calah was talking about *secondary* infertility, which is completely different. People with secondary infertility still get to have kids. I would feel immensely relieved if I had secondary infertility now.

      I don’t think you should get on her case for being honest. I was so relieved to see that another devout Catholic mom has the same feelings I do. I would hate to have her stop being so honest because she’s afraid of offending people.


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