About ten percent of American women ages 15-44 suffer from what is called “impaired fecundity”. In the case of Sarah Abadhi, protagonist of Denise Gelberg‘s novel “Fertility”, her infertility is due to a sexually transmitted disease passed along by a former boy friend. She has responded to her condition by plunging deeper into her work. She is one of the top lawyers at a “white shoe” New York law firm, a workaholic the firm sends confidently into some of their most difficult cases.
The first chapters find Sarah suddenly defending a hospital where a pharmacy mistake has almost killed the infant daughter of a wealthy and powerful couple. In the midst of gathering information and trying to redirect a potential lawsuit, Sarah meets Dr. Rick Smith, a pediatric intensivist whose heroic efforts have saved many young lives, but who has no interest in marriage or children of his own. Their relationship seems initially to revolve around jogging in Central Park, but when they become lovers and Sarah informs Rick that she is sterile the doctor mentions that medical advances like in-vitro fertilization could move her toward motherhood. “Are you sure your tubes are blocked? Sometimes they’re partially occluded but those little spermies don’t need a heck of a lot of room.” Soon after sharing the facts of Sarah’s life, Rick learns that he will become the father of her child.
The prospect of a baby coming into their lives changes both Sarah and Rick. She feels joy; he steps away from their relationship. The prospect of being a single parent doesn’t seem to disturb Sarah, especially given the support of her parents and her grandmother, a tough and philosophical Holocaust survivor who tells her, “Today I tink de mommas go a liddle bit crazy vit da babies… Dey forget babies have been born for tousants of years, fancy strollas or no fancy strollas.” The baby will arrive, daddy or no daddy. But just weeks before the birth date, Sarah and her unborn child are caught in a tremendous construction accident and are nearly killed. The baby, a girl, is delivered by C-section safe and sound. Sarah, now a patient in Rick’s hospital, is severely injured and begins a long recovery. Rick is suddenly forced to face the heavy responsibilities he’s avoided, and overcome the fractured childhood that he’d experienced and tried to forget.
He suddenly knew he could handle whatever he had to face. So he’d been catapulted into fatherhood against his will. What did that matter now? There was a living, breathing child in thre world that belonged to him and Sarah. The dream of them swimming together had only served to make obvious what some part of him already knew: She was the woman for him…
Three floors above him, in Sarah’s seventh floor room, happiness was in scarce supply. Sarah didn’t know which was worse, the physical agony or the crushing sense of failure as a mother.
If “Fertility” rings true in both human and technical terms it could be due to the detail of legal, medical and even engineering facts, the result of Denise’s close research and consultation. Tompkins County resident Denise Gelberg is a native of New York City with a background of thirty years as an elementary school teacher and a doctorate in labor relations from Cornell University. Her doctoral thesis was about the influence of the business sector on school reform and her book on that subject, “The ‘Business’ of Reforming American Schools” is used as a text in many colleges. Since 2000 she has worked with the national Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation. “Fertility” is her first novel and she admits, “Now I’m hooked — so much so that I’m working on my second novel.”