Throughout the years that my husband and I were in the throes of infertility, we craved finding a connection with other couples who were going through this medical challenge. We also wanted to see our story represented in books and film. We knew these stories would become a part of the story we were telling ourselves daily: we will find a happy ending. However, we didn’t find very many works of fiction that deviated from the standard happily ever after: the couple eventually gets pregnant. infertility presents a problem for writers as they may struggle with how to resolve the matter in a way that isn’t predictable, but is still hopeful and satisfying.
I re-read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger while we were trying to conceive. The main character, Henry, is a time traveler, and when his wife becomes pregnant, this time traveling thing poses a serious threat to the fetus, resulting in much angst and heartache. I felt this book accurately portrayed the excitement of trying to conceive and the grief that comes from the loss or failure of a dream. This is a no-spoiler zone, so I won’t give away how the issue gets resolved.
But here’s where stories that touch on infertility are challenging for those who are going through it: we want to see happy endings, but for us, that may not mean a pregnancy. Yes, we need to read about couples who eventually get pregnant and live happily ever after. However, in reality, not all of us end up giving birth to a baby. For a writer, especially one who wants to present a happy ending, it can be difficult to merge a sense of reality with what you imagine the happy ending should be for your characters.
When I decided to tackle infertility in a romance novel, I thought a great deal about what the happy ending would be for my characters. In fact, the very first words I wrote were the ending! I wanted to know where my characters were going on their journey to parenthood, and I knew that it would be an unusual happy ending. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that readers, most of whom have not experienced infertility themselves, have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to INCONCEIVABLE’s resolution.
It took a while for me to find a home for a romance novel that challenges the traditional ideas of what happily ever after looks like. Romance novels are supposed to end with a couple reaching most, if not all, of their goals and dreams together in a way that resonates with readers. It’s time for publishers to support writers who want to play around with readers’ expectations of what a happy ending looks like. Sure, there are plenty of “happy for now” endings out there. But infertility challenges writers and readers to accept that there is no “one size fits all” happy ending for a couple’s story. As in real life, there are other ways besides pregnancy that they can find resolution and move forward with happiness and joy. I hope more writers will answer the call to go beyond making pregnancy the go-to happily ever after for anyone in their story who is dealing with infertility. Those of us who have gone through it appreciate being reminded that the best happy endings are the unexpected ones.