Women struggle and write their way to motherhood

November 12, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

They met at last on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show, taking one good look before hugging as they'd been instructed: chest to chest, cheek to cheek, faces to the camera.

Barbara Shulgood and Lynne Sipiora, dear to each other as two can possibly be, were having intimacy on cue. How appropriate. The two women are battle-scarred veterans of infertility treatment, where that is sine qua non.

"Dear Barbara, Dear Lynne" (Addison-Wesley Publishing; $19.95) is their new book of letters to each other, written over three years of struggle to become parents.

They appeared on the "Sally Jessy" show -- and a host of othershows, regional and national -- over the past six weeks to talk about the struggle, and the book.

Their correspondence began in February 1985, with a desperate cry from Barbara -- a brief note about her loneliness -- published in a newsletter for the infertile. She garnered many replies, but only one soulmate. Lynne lived halfway across the country, and the two tacitly decided not to meet until both achieved motherhood.

Yet they held nothing back from the pages of their letters. It is a tale of raw heartache, black humor and sheer grit that got them to that carefully choreographed rendezvous on national TV. They hugged. They drew back and looked at each other hard again. "You're beautiful," Barbara said to Lynne.

Consummation! Under the klieg lights.

Oy, as Barbara would say, how did they ever make it?

The emotional isolation. The poisonous anger. The jealousy that blazes over every scrap of someone else's good fortune: a neighbor wheeling a baby by in a stroller, an announcement over the loudspeaker at Sears about a "baby sale."

Then the really big blows. The newborn girl who is everything Barbara and her husband could ever want -- for five days, until her birth mother takes her back. Another baby girl handed to Lynne by her birth mother just after she is born, but who dies before the end of the day.

Somehow, Barbara and Lynne do make it. They bleed for each other, exhort each other to hang in, get off a few bitterly witty one-liners, and manage to move on, time after time.

Millions of women and their partners are doing this every day. But the majority of the infertile are silent. What is remarkable about this book, liberating about it, is that it is something for all those people, and those who care about them, to hold onto.

Barbara, now 49 -- age 42 when the story starts -- a lifelong Californian, former schoolteacher, birdwatcher and committed feminist who has known since girlhood that motherhood was indispensable to her leading a meaningful life.

And Lynne, now 37 and living in Indiana, but oft-moved because of her husband's job, a woman who glories in fixing up old houses and in her work as a human resources manager, a stepmother to her husband's adolescent daughter -- which only complicates and escalates her desire to be a parent.

As their correspondence began, Barbara had already left the torture at the fertility doctor and moved on to the agonizing trials of private adoption. She is the trailblazer and plays the mentor-expert-older sister role in their relationship.

Acceptance. The women's letters teach it lyrically, like the Psalms. There are other lessons here as well: How to prepare for the worst while still hoping for the best. How to grieve, then finish feeling sad.

But the most searing lesson in the letters of Lynne and Barbara is about honesty. Somehow, these two spit out the most personal feelings of frustration, anger and jealousy in the most articulate way. It's shocking. But it really works. It heals, although that's exactly the kind of trendy self-help talk that makes these irreverent women squirm.

They're honest about their raging jealousies with each other -- even of each other. And the two have one outright argument, just before the end of the book. They rant and rave. Then they work it out.

When they met on TV, Barbara presented Lynne with a teapot because she ritually drank tea while reading Barbara's letters. Lynne gave Barbara one of four rings she inherited from her grandmother.

The rings had been meant for her daughters, the ones she fantasized would one day sit down with Barbara's two girls to read over some yellowed letters that all began "Dear Barbara, Dear Lynne." It was not to be.

Barbara took the letters to a publisher, who snapped them up long before they yellowed. And Lynne has sons; the second one was born to her only eight months ago, after a return to the fertility doctor.

Both women had planned blissful nonstop mothering; each quit her job to be home with children full-time. That fantasy didn't quite work out, either.

Here are Barbara and Lynne, out touring the country, trying to tamp down distress over the weeks away from home. Here they are, learning acceptance again, on another journey toward their children.

SHARED WISDOM

What: Infertility newsletter, published monthly by Resolve Inc., a national organization for the infertile.

L Contact: Resolve at (617) 623-1156, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

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