The questions and ethics surrounding embryo adoption are at the core of Ortlepp’s debut novel.
After struggling to conceive naturally, Catriona and James turn to in vitro fertilization to increase their chances of having a baby. While James is eager to become a father, Catriona is skeptical that she would make a good mother. Still, despite her reservations, she goes along with her husband’s wishes. After a few failed attempts, Catriona is finally pregnant, but the path to motherhood is rife with obstacles. She is uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy, her birth plan gets pushed aside for medical interventions, and she falls into a deep depression after the birth of Sebastian, requiring a brief stay in a mental hospital. Even before the pregnancy was confirmed, Catriona knew this would be her last try, and she and James decide to donate a spare embryo to another infertile couple. Meanwhile, Diana and Liam are also desperate for a child. Despite pressure from priests and parents, they have decided to undergo IVF using an adopted embryo. Pregnancy and motherhood are an absolute delight for Diana, and she and her husband are in love with their son, Noah. But in a moment of distraction, Diana and Liam’s lives are changed when they discover that Noah has been kidnapped. Through nuanced characters and difficult questions, Ortlepp delves into the issues surrounding embryo adoption and postpartum psychosis without leaning into clichéd or preachy territory. Though occasional aspects of the plot are tied up a little too neatly, for the most part the novel’s momentum and pacing are strong. Catriona and Diana demonstrate that the title of “mother” is encompassing and expansive, and that beyond anything, the love one feels for her child is a force to be reckoned with.
While the novel handles heavy topics, it does so with a light and compassionate hand.