Risking It All: A Novel

Risking It All: A Novel

by Nina Darnton


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Risking It All: A Novel by Nina Darnton

In the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and Jodi Picoult comes a novel from critically-acclaimed author Nina Darnton about a woman who'll go to any lengths to become a mother.

When Marcia, a driven, successful editor in New York with a loving husband, finds she can’t conceive a child, it rips the heart out of her seemingly-perfect life. Her desire to be a mother has become her obsession, and after trying and failing to become pregnant by every known method, she focuses all of her energy on her one remaining option: surrogacy. Her husband resists, and tries to convince her that they can be happy without a child; but faced with her unyielding determination, he relents, and reluctantly goes along with the idea. Everything looks good…until an unexpected tragedy occurs that changes their plans, their marriage, and their lives forever.

Praise for The Perfect Mother:

“A fast-paced thriller with the kind of emotional impact that transcends a simple whodunit." —Kirkus Reviews

“This haunting page-turner will keep you up all night and be long remembered after the last page has been read." —Mary Higgins Clark

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250075253
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 635,465
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

NINA DARNTON is the author of the critically acclaimed novels An African Affair and The Perfect Mother as well as Risking It All. She has written for The New York Times, Elle, House and Garden, Travel and Leisure, the New York Post, and Newsweek. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin, an MS in Psychology from the New School of Social Research, and an MFA from Columbia University. Nina and her husband John Darnton have three children and five grandchildren and live in New York City and New Paltz, New York.

Read an Excerpt


Marcia was sopping wet when she entered the lobby of her building on West End Avenue. She kicked off her soaked shoes in the doorway. They were probably ruined, she thought, but she was too excited to care. She went straight to her bedroom, dripping little rain puddles onto the Oriental rug in the entry hallway, changed out of her clothes and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. Catching a glimpse of herself in the bedroom mirror, she noticed her wet hair plastered around her face and towel-dried it with one hand while opening her briefcase. She ignored the manuscript she had brought home to edit and extracted three pamphlets she'd picked up in her doctor's office that afternoon. Clutching them in her hand, she curled up on her bed to read them again.

Surrogacy. Her last chance, her last hope. She had tried everything else. Surely this would work. But she knew getting Jeff to accept it would be an uphill fight. At least it wasn't adoption; she knew he would never give in on that. But he'd also been resistant to every form of conception other than as a by-product of their lovemaking. She would have preferred it to have happened naturally too, but it hadn't. They had tried to conceive a baby for three years with nothing to show for it but a less spontaneous and thus less exciting sex life. She had taken her temperature every day for months to determine when she was ovulating. She'd rush home when she was and miss dinner dates or parties required for her work. Making love became so separated from seduction it began to seem like a job. They'd been to doctors and they'd had every test anyone could think of and nothing explained why she couldn't conceive. Yes, they'd told her, he had a slightly low sperm count, but others with the condition still had children. Whether that was the problem or it was something else entirely, she remained barren and it had become the heartbreak of her life.

Convincing Jeff to try any medical intervention hadn't been easy. After the first two years of disappointments he was ready to give up. That had been a year ago but she remembered every detail of their conversation as if it were yesterday. She had just emerged from the bathroom, fighting tears.

"I got my period," she'd said disconsolately.

She'd climbed into bed, pulled up the blanket and turned away from him, staring silently into space.

"Don't react like this, Marcia. It's only one time."

"One more time after two years of only one more time. I feel so sad and so stressed I don't know what to do."

"Maybe it's the stress that's stopping it from happening," he said.

"I don't know, that sounds vaguely like it's my fault somehow."

"No, I'm not saying that. We're both tense."

"Look, if being tense prevented conception, rape victims would never get pregnant."

He paused for what seemed like a long time before venturing his next suggestion. "Listen, honey, please, turn around. I want to say something."

She sighed and turned to face him.

"Maybe we just can't do this," he said gently.

She didn't look at him. Her thoughts were far away. "Maybe not like this," she said quietly. "But there are other ways."

He looked perplexed.

"We could try IUI," she said.

"What's that?"

"It's intrauterine insemination."

He looked puzzled.

"You know," she added with a little smile, "the turkey baster method."

He withdrew his arm from her shoulder. "That's a turn-on," he said.

"It's not supposed to be a turn-on," she countered. "It's not about sex. It's about conception."

"I thought those two went together."

"Well, I guess this is for when they don't," she said softly, getting out of bed and leaving the room.

He'd gone along with it after that, but she knew he did so grudgingly. He hated the idea and he hated the process, and she knew, and appreciated, that he submitted only because he understood how important it was to her. But when that method also repeatedly failed, he was more than ready to give up. She'd begged him to talk to her doctor about another possibility and so, reluctantly, he went with her to discuss the next step with her gynecologist.

The doctor had suggested in-vitro fertilization: Marcia's egg would be harvested in a minor surgical procedure and then fertilized by Jeff's sperm outside her body. It would then be inserted into her uterus. The doctor explained that to increase the odds of success she would insert several fertilized eggs at the same time. The process, she said, would cost about $15,000.

They were shocked. Insurance wouldn't pay any of it and although they could afford it — Jeff had a good job in a law firm and Marcia was a senior editor at a publishing house — this was not a price they could shrug off. Besides, they realized that it might not take the first time around. Each cycle would multiply the cost by the same amount. How far were they ready to go?

"What if more than one egg takes?" Jeff had asked one night as they were lying in bed talking about it.

"That's very rare," Marcia answered.

"Not so rare. I can just imagine it. The Naiman Quintuplets," he said. He pretended to roll up his sleeves like a circus barker. "Come and see them. A modern miracle."

Marcia laughed. "Well, we'd be sure to get lots of presents. And five of each. Can't you just see them lined up in their cribs, all of them with your chin dimple?"

"It's not funny, Marcia. What if we did have twins? That's not rare at all in this procedure."

"We'd be done, then," she whispered.

"There'd be a few tough years, but we wouldn't have to do this part ever again."

They had gone through with it. There had been no way to turn back — Marcia wanted a baby too much. She'd have tried anything, paid anything, borrowed if she had to. And Jeff had gotten into the spirit of it. It had become a challenge, a kind of high-stakes game and, as usual, he simply didn't want to lose. He seemed equally devastated when it didn't work, Marcia thought. But when she insisted they try it again, he balked. And when she'd convinced him, promising this would be the last time, and once again failed to conceive, he refused to try a third time. The subject had been dropped. They stopped taking her temperature and consciously trying to conceive. But Marcia never really let it go. She was painfully aware that her thirty-ninth birthday was approaching and that soon she might lose her chance completely. She'd taken her temperature without telling him and made sure they made love when she thought she was ovulating. Still, nothing had happened and she felt bereft every month when she got her period. Continually disappointed, her usual optimism failed her and she fell into a depression from which she couldn't seem to emerge.

Now hope slowly stirred again, like a cat stretching after a long sleep. She felt a renewed sense of possibility and purpose, and resolved to research the subject thoroughly starting tomorrow. She knew Jeff would be against it — they had discussed surrogacy early on and both had rejected the idea — but that was before it was clear it was their only chance. She'd taken it up with her doctor today, and she believed that she had finally hit upon the right solution and that nothing now could stand in her way. Nothing, that is, except Jeff.


She spent the next two hours reading about surrogacy on the Internet, pulling up articles, criticisms, and testimonials from happy parents. She learned there were agencies that provided guidance through the process of surrogacy, companies with names like Conceptual Options and Growing Generations, and she made a note of their numbers, resolving to speak to their representatives. Maybe there is a book in it, she thought, featuring different couples talking about their experience. If not, there should be, she noted mechanically — she was an editor, after all.

She heard the door open and close — Jeff coming home. She decided not to discuss it with him right away. It would be prudent to wait until she had more hard facts with which to counter his arguments. But she was so excited that she was barely able to wait until they finished dinner. She fidgeted and fussed around the kitchen and when he started to tell her about a run-in he'd had with a colleague, he noticed she hardly heard a word he said. Seeing that something was preoccupying her, he asked what was going on. He didn't need to ask twice.

"Jeff, I saw Dr. Gordon today," she blurted, barely restraining her excitement.

Dr. Gordon was her gynecologist and Jeff stiffened. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes, everything's fine. It was just a checkup. But we discussed something I really want to talk to you about."


"She thinks maybe we should try surrogacy."

He let out an exasperated sigh. "Marcia, we already discussed surrogacy. That was one area I thought we agreed on. It's wrong. It's exploitive. It's rich people renting the wombs of poor people who do it only because they need the money."

"I've been reading up on it. Some women say they do it to help people who can't have children."

"I think that's bullshit."

She bristled. He was already turning this into an argument. "Why is the only scenario you can accept a selfish one? Believe it or not some people actually get pleasure from helping others."

"You used to say it was all about class," Jeff countered.

She nodded. "I did and I still see that," she said evenly, "but I have to admit I'm open to a different interpretation now. I mean, if there's psychological testing, if the birth mother really knows what she's getting into — maybe it should only be allowed for women who already have children of their own, for example. And if the birth mother or family really need the added income, maybe it's a way of doing something good for both families."

He looked at her with feigned admiration. "It's amazing how you can adapt your principles to your needs," he said.

"No, I'm just able to let go of my prejudices when I have more information," she snapped.

He got up to get a beer. He hesitated at the refrigerator, clearly deciding whether to come back and resume the conversation, or settle down in the living room and look for a game on ESPN. She knew he didn't want to return, but he finally came back to the table and sat down heavily.

"It just feels wrong, Marcia. Unnatural. A woman isn't an incubator; she has feelings. You can't predict how she'll feel if she bonds with the child during her pregnancy and then has to give it away. What if she changes her mind? Remember that case you used to talk about? That woman who went through the whole surrogacy, signed a contract and everything, and then backed out when the baby was born? What was her name?"

"Mary Beth Whitehead. I followed that story compulsively." She frowned. "I was very much on her side at the time. But things have changed. When she did it, they used her egg. The baby really was her baby, biologically as well as emotionally. Whatever she thought before, whatever she signed up for, she was that baby's mother and it was heartbreaking to watch her pain."

"I know. And I don't think any woman can know how she'll feel about giving up her baby until she actually experiences childbirth," Jeff answered, grateful for even this slight concession. "That's not something you can just sign away without the option to change your mind. I mean, think about it. What if we did this and at the last minute, the mother changed her mind?"

"I don't know. But I'd like to find out how often something like that happens. One of the articles said that now it's not usually the surrogate's egg that's used. That's one of the good things that came out of the Whitehead case. If we did this, the baby would be genetically ours. We need to do more research. There are lots of families who have done it. I think the odds of success are knowable."

"I don't know. It just involves three people when it should involve two — like adoption, which I also never wanted."

"I've always known how you feel about adoption and that's why I never pushed it. But maybe we should revisit it. Would it really bother you so much to not have the baby come from us?"

"Come from us? You mean you think it comes from us when it's born to another mother? I'd call that the definition of not coming from us."

"Not really. But if you can't stand that idea, what is it actually about adoption that makes you so against it?"

"It's not about the genes. For me the worst part in adoption and in surrogacy too is the complications and intrusions it makes in your life. These days you don't just adopt a baby. You have to have a 'relationship' with the birth mother. Even if you don't, the child has a right to know who she is. Families become more complicated. I don't want any of that."

"Jeff, you're confusing things. If the surrogate gives birth to our baby there wouldn't be any reason to maintain a relationship with her after the pregnancy and delivery."

"Who knows? All I know is that our child should come from us in a normal way. I agreed to try to increase our chances and that didn't work. So maybe we're just not meant to have kids."

That stopped her. "Not meant to have kids," she repeated slowly. "Not meant by whom? God? Fate? Destiny? You don't even believe in any of those. We make our own destiny, you've said that a hundred times." She stopped talking and turned away, trying to stop her tears, but they came in spite of her resolve. He softened immediately, reaching out to take her hand.

"Honey, I just think it would be good to try to focus on other aspects of our lives. We're pretty lucky in so many ways. We love each other. We have a great marriage. We can make a good life together even if we never have children."

She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and got up to get a tissue to blow her nose. When she returned, he reached over to stroke her hair and gently pulled her into an embrace. "I love you so much, Marcia. I'm happy now. As we are. Aren't you happy with me?"

She kissed his neck. "You know I am. Of course I am. But I always wanted us to be a family. And I'm just not ready to give up on that, not yet."

"Would it be so terrible if we did? I mean, giving up isn't always a defeat. Sometimes it's more like just giving in."

"Giving in to what?"

"To reality."

She shrugged, lifted her chin and pursed her lips, a gesture he recognized as her stubborn refusal to hear him. He got up and stretched his legs before pulling the chair out and sitting down again. "We're all raised to think having kids is what couples have to do. There's this myth we're all fed of the perfect happy family," he said. "It's a portrait we have in our minds. But it doesn't always turn out that way and when that happens it's like someone erased the two children that were supposed to replace us. We can't help feeling there's something wrong. But it's not always so wonderful. Think of Nick and Sarah — really, Marcia, does their life seem so enviable?"

She couldn't help smiling just a little thinking of the chaos she'd noticed the last time she'd visited their friends.

Encouraged, he went on, "Their apartment is cramped. The couch is stained. There are toys all over — you can't walk through the living room without crunching some plastic action figure underfoot. The kids can be cute, but they also scream and cry and have tantrums when they don't get what they want. Nick says it's almost impossible to work at home. It takes so long to put the kids to bed that Sarah says she usually just goes straight to sleep when they do. No more wine and cheese before dinner as they tell each other about their day. And that's a couple with normal kids. What if there are problems?"

Marcia seemed to be listening so he continued.

"And think of Ben and Kathy. They decided not to have kids and they're living an incredible life. They have money for anything they want. They have an amazing apartment filled with designer furniture and antiques. They have elegant dinner parties using their wedding silver and china, and the place always looks beautiful. She dresses like a fashion model. They do things together and fill their lives with activities and travel and fun."

Marcia gave a desultory shrug. "Their life just seems so empty and shallow and narcissistic," she said. "I can't believe they chose it. It makes me so mad that they had the ability to have a family and turned it down. Did you know she got pregnant?"

Jeff frowned; she hadn't been listening after all, he realized.

"Well, she did. And she had an abortion," Marcia said, ignoring Jeff's expression. "And I, who want it so much, can't get pregnant. It's not fair."

He raised his voice in frustration. "I know. It's not fair. But we've tried everything. Maybe it's time to start accepting it."


Excerpted from "Risking It All"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Nina Darnton.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Risking It All 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Would you do anything to have a family? Marcia must make that decision and with a resistant husband she must convince him to take the least paved path. It was so interesting to read a story about a woman who had fulfilled all the professional goals that she had wanted, but starting a family was not working out for her so she must really push and exceed the obvious to get what she had always dreamed of. Then when she gets her dreams answered things look a little different than she imagined and she must roll with the punches!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marcia and Jeff truly want a baby. They have tried so many things, even IVF, all of which have failed. Now, Marcia wants to try surrogacy and hopes Jeff will agree. However, Jeff is not for it for many reason. He feels it exploits poor women and the expense is horrendous. But Marcia continues her in-depth research. Soon, Marcia finds the perfect surrogate. Eve is a widow with a young son, named Danny. She needs the money to help provide for him. Quickly, the process is done and the surrogate is pregnant with twins. Marcia and Eve become close friends. The birth is not easy and one baby is stillborn. The other baby, a little boy they name Griffin, is tiny and in an incubator. Add to that, Eve dies from an embolism. Marcia insists that they take Danny home with them as he has no other family. Suffering from grief at the loss of his mother, Danny has a hard time settling in and Jeff’s disinterest in the boy makes matters worse. All the problems with Danny and his adjustments to school lead to problems with their marriage. Marcia is a senior editor with a publisher and Jeff is an attorney. Marcia has been lucky to take an extended maternity leave as little Griffin has had problems with colic. It also gives her time to bond with Danny. If only Jeff would warm to the boy and give him the attention he needs instead of always trying to discipline him or ignore him. The plot of this story is a good one and in many ways, the author did a good job in writing it. I did not like Jeff because I truly felt he did not want a child. So now that they have baby Griffin plus Danny to raise, Jeff becomes somewhat belligerent. Jeff is a jerk. Period. I didn’t really care for Marcia’s character either. Her insistence on surrogacy in the face of her husband’s disapproval needed more discussion between them before going forward with the plan. Another thing Marcia does that grated with me was her rude treatment of her editorial assistant, Julie. It reminded me of “The Devil Wears Prada.” I hope editors don’t treat their assistants like this. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
onemused More than 1 year ago
"Risking It All" was a gripping fiction about Marcia, her husband Jeff, and their difficult quest to have a child. When we enter their lives, they have already exhausted every other infertility treatment aside from surrogacy, and Marcia is willing to do whatever it takes to have a baby. Even though Jeff would be content without a child, he is willing to follow Marcia's lead and enter the realm of surrogacy. Marcia has carefully weighed her options and selected a surrogate in California for several reasons. When Jeff meets her, they give the go ahead and embark on a new journey. Of course, things are never as simple as they seem, and all the characters' lives are forever altered. This book gripped me from the get-go. Although it's not a thriller, you quickly become engaged in Marcia and Jeff's lives and genuinely want to know what will happen with them. I found myself caught up in the story. Although it's not a novel or crazy storyline, it easily pulls the reader in and begs to be followed. Marcia felt very three-dimensional and tangible. Jeff was less so, but he grew over time. It's an intriguing and emotional read but ends well. I highly recommend to people who like in-depth character studies and fiction. Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher. All opinions are my own.