THE RULES OF CONCEPTION
Author: Angela Lawrence
Harlequin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Does anyone else ever read books in ‘themes’ by accident? It’s just something I noticed (and not for the first time) when I picked up The Rules of Conception by Angela Lawrence straight after reading Peace, Love and Khaki Socks by Kim Lock. Both books deal with pregnancy and birth choices; while the two are different in treatment and outcome, both explore a woman’s right to choose, even if that goes against societal norms. Although I have two near-grown sons, I found The Rules of Conception, with its focus on a woman’s decision to have a child without a partner in the picture, to be an interesting read because I know a number of childless women in their late 30’s who potentially could be considering this option.
Rachel Richards, 35, is ready to be a mother. It’s a deep-seated feeling that has been growing for some time. However, following the break-up of another relationship, Rachel realises she may have to go it alone if she’s ever going to have a child. Being a single mother doesn’t faze her … but missing the chance to be a mother at all does. When the story begins, Rachel has already begun researching available options, ranging from co-parenting, adoption and using anonymous sperm donors, but she finally settles on using a known donor.
After a few false starts, Rachel chooses Digby, a softly-spoken Canadian, to be her child’s biological father; he is clear that he wants to have children, but he doesn’t want to have a child to call his own. The two draw up an agreement – Rachel is thorough and Digby has a few conditions of his own – and the unorthodox conception process begins. Rachel hopes the process will go smoothly; she has everything sorted for future motherhood and her friends and parents are supportive. But life follows its own timetable, and not everything goes as smoothly as she hopes; aside from failing to fall pregnant straight away (thus keeping Digby ‘on call’, which Rachel finds a little embarrassing), things on the job front are becoming increasingly difficult. Her boss, Lyndall, has always been difficult; when she discovers Rachel’s pregnancy plans, she becomes a nightmare. It gets to the point where Rachel is not sure who she can trust at work and whether she’ll even have a job to support her future child. Something’s got to give … but Rachel is determined that it won’t be her dream of having a child.
Pregnancy, when it happens, is far from the radiant, glowing experience Rachel expected. Morning sickness is a killer and much of the time she feels decidedly unwell – stress from work only exacerbates this, as does the attention of a married colleague. And Digby is uncharacteristically withdrawn, which makes Rachel realise how little she knows about the father of her child. Should she have stuck to the ‘normal’ rules of conception and just waited for Mr Right to come along? Or should she have gone with someone she didn’t know?
Thought-provoking and refreshing, The Rules of Conception is an engaging read about a topic that will divide some readers. I like that about it – we all want freedom of choice, yet, when others make choices we disagree with, we can be quick to judge; Lawrence taps into that well, challenging readers to re-think pre-existing opinions. Having never been in Rachel’s situation, I was amazed by the options out there … and I wondered several times, ‘If life was different, what would I have done?’ For various reasons many women don’t marry and have children young – rather than judging them for the choices they may have made that leaves them with a waning biological clock, wanting children but sans partner, I think we need to emphathise, support and talk about it.
Lawrence has made some headway with this task by creating an engaging protagonist in Rachel and surrounding her with supportive family and friends; at one point Rachel is told off by her sister for not including her family in her progress, which is a lovely moment. To bring the point home, Lawrence includes characters, such as Patrick, Rachel’s CEO, who are less supportive, but do realistically reflect the wide range of opinions out there. Other questions readers will be led to consider include ‘Is a sperm donor a father?’ and ‘What do you call a father in biology only?’
Whether you agree with Rachel’s choice or not, The Rules of Conception is a book worth reading – it’s funny and light-hearted in a lot of ways, but deals with an issue that for increasing numbers of women is heart-wrenching. That’s without even considering the whole Stay-At-Home-Mum versus Working Mum issue, or the father-figure debate. I liked it and I’m looking forward to seeing what Lawrence comes up with next.
Available from good bookstores and Harlequin Australia. This copy was courtesy of Harlequin.
To read a chapter sampler, click here.
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