Inconceivable
by Carolyn and Sean Savage


HarperOne, 2011. ISBN 978-0-062-00463-5.
Reviewed by Susan Ideus
Posted on 10/29/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir

Inconceivable is about both the miracle of birth and the tragedy of loss, parts of the very same event, precipitated by a mistake so unimaginable that it boggles the mind.

Few of us in this day of amazing medical and technical advancements have not at least known someone whose life has been touched by the in vitro process, conception, and birth facilitated by fertility specialists—doctors and clinics dedicated to helping couples overcome infertility issues. Despite the miracles wrought in the process, the players, however well-educated, highly trained, and ordinarily meticulous, are still human, there is still the possibility of failure—and margin for error.

One couple, Carolyn and Sean Savage, were victims of human error on the part of their fertility clinic. The irony of the title is obvious. First the couple was seeking medical intervention to conceive another child. The lapse in procedure at the clinic was so horrendous that it can certainly be called inconceivable. And then there are the choices they had to make—no other word suffices here.

Imagine the elation of learning of a much-wanted pregnancy, only to have the attendant hopes and dreams dashed immediately. Yes, Carolyn Savage had become pregnant as a result of an in-vitro process. However, the newly formed embryo was not one that belonged, either genetically or legally, to the Savages. It was, in fact, the hereditary offspring of another couple who were also using the services of the clinic.

Their fertility doctor, normally not a believer in abortion, advised them to terminate the pregnancy. Being faithful Catholics, the Savages would not consider it. Being moral and kind people, they made the decision to establish a relationship with the baby's biological parents. Being moral and kind people, they knew whatever the legalities that they would have to relinquish the baby to them once he was born. The couple tells their story in alternating voices—from the moment they learned of the error, the grueling and often contradictory emotions of the next nine months, their tortuous and conflicted decision-making, the delivery of the last child Carolyn could ever carry through to their few precious moments with the baby they had grown to cherish but had to give up.

The Savages' story could not have been scripted as fiction by a talented novelist and have contained more pathos, conflict and moral issues. That they survived with their family intact and functioning as a loving whole is testament to their strength of character and the depth of their faith. It will tug at your heartstrings. It has also caused me to rethink the impact of that elusive human factor, ethics aside, in the execution of even the most advanced, sophisticated and highly proven of scientific endeavors. Mistakes can and will happen.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Carolyn and Sean Savage live in Ohio with their children. Sean is a financial planner and Carolyn has been a teacher and school principal. The main focus of their lives is their family. "Despite all of the challenges and stress that comes with raising children, we believe there is no more important or satisfying career than parenthood. We both enjoy being involved in the church and the community giving of both our time and resources and hope to set the best example possible for our children."

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