Monday, May 8, 2023

Q&A with Rachel HS Ginocchio



Rachel HS Ginocchio is the author of the new young adult book Roads to Family: All the Ways We Come to Be. She teaches sexuality health education, and she lives in Portland, Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write Roads to Family?


A: My son has always known his conception story; after all, I love showing him a photo of himself when he was a five-day-old embryo. But he had never really asked for too many details. So when his fourth grade teacher started to cover puberty, I thought I'd piggyback on her lessons and further explain how in vitro fertilization (IVF) works to create a new human. 


I grabbed a bunch of books from the library and the bookstore, and the two of us plopped down on the couch. As I began to read, I found myself starting to sweat and ad-lib the words.


It wasn’t because the language was awkward or embarrassing. After all, I’ve been in the field of sexual health education and reproduction for over a dozen years, and I was well versed in explaining reproductive anatomy and function.


I stumbled over the words because the books were not doing his conception story justice. Most of them did a solid job explaining sexual reproduction, but had zero information about insemination, IVF, donor conception, or surrogacy. In the rare instances that assisted reproduction was mentioned, it was explained more as a side-note than an equally valid means of growing a family.


When it came time to explain my daughter’s conception and adoption story to her, I already knew from the experience I had with my son, not to use any of those same books. None of them incorporated terms like “birth” or “first” parents, and I felt like they would be just as marginalizing to her origin story as they had been to my son’s.


I also came to see that the existing books could not explain how single, LGBTQ+, and other less traditional parents create family. So I decided to take matters into my own hands! I sat down and wrote a book that any family could use – no matter how their child came to be in the world or how their child came to be part of their family.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: To research Roads to Family, I read everything I could get my hands on: books, articles, blogs, essays, academic papers, and research studies. I also listened to a ton of podcasts, visited websites, and watched documentaries. In addition, I emailed and talked with professionals and other experts across many disciplines.


However, I learned the most from the two-dozen-plus interviews I conducted. I spoke with adults who used insemination, IVF, donors, surrogates, adoption, and foster care to bring children into their families. I chatted with donors and surrogates themselves, to learn about their experiences.


My favorite interviewees, however, were the kids and young adults who were adopted and/or conceived with assisted reproduction. They generously shared their feelings, experiences, and perspective with me -- about coming into the world and their families in the ways that they did.


What surprised me was the complexity of each narrative. When I first submitted an outline to my publisher, I thought that selecting stories for the book would be pretty straightforward: one story on insemination, one on donor conception, one on IVF, one on surrogacy, and one on adoption/foster care. Done!


But once I started researching and interviewing, I realized that each topic was far from simple and that there wasn't going to be one representative family that could capture all the essentials of any given family-building option.

Insemination can be IUI (intrauterine) or ICI (intracervical), it can be donea t home or in a clinic, it can involve an intended parent, a sperm donor, a genetic surrogate, or a combination of them. The sperm donor and/or surrogate can be a friend or family member, someone discovered through the internet or an app, or an individual matched through an agency.


That list repeats and expands with IVF, as egg and embryo donors, and gestational surrogates get thrown into the mix. Adoption brings a whole new range of possibilities (open/closed, agency/lawyer, international/domestic).


Then throw family structure into the equation (single, partnered, LBGTQ+, blended, extended, chosen) and then layer in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, political affiliation, geography, ability/disability, socioeconomics, etc. That simple outline I had naively rattled off to the publisher quickly turned into a very messy and complex reality.


In the end, I chose narratives that not only showed a variety of experiences, but ones that helped scaffold the information. In other words, each family story had to build on the concepts introduced in the previous family’s story. By scaffolding the family narratives this way, the reader’s knowledge base could grow as they made their way through the chapters.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “The book is nuanced, bringing to the forefront the validity of all families along with answers to the questions young people might have about themselves and others.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that Kirkus picked up on the fact that the book is nuanced. Booklist also came to the same conclusion, when they remarked, “She’s careful to approach each method of family creation as a range of possibilities rather than a single story.”


As I described in the previous question, one family couldn’t possibly bring to light every detail about a particular family-making option. I’m thrilled that both Kirkus and Booklist recognized this. As an author, it’s nerve-wracking enough trying to accurately and authentically capture an interviewee’s experiences. If that one personal experience was then meant to capture the whole of everyone’s experience? Well, that would go against the grain of the book.


The whole idea was to make sure that every reader finds at least some element of their own experiences (and those of family/friends) in the variety of family stories in the book. It’s the nuances of the narratives that make finding one’s own story on the pages possible.  


I also appreciate that the Kirkus review mentions that the book answers questions that young people might have about themselves and others. As a puberty and sexual health educator, I’m very familiar with the topics many young people are curious about.


In weaving the science of reproduction into the narratives, I was also able to provide information on a number of other sexual health topics: reproductive anatomy and physiology, puberty, the ovulation-menstruation cycle, hormones, birth control, pregnancy tests, abortion, miscarriage, sexual orientation, gender identity, and healthy relationships.


Q: Given the current political climate, what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: For many years now, as I have worked on the book and advocated for an explanation of human reproduction that is equally inclusive of all children and families, I have repeated  my mantra. Adults should argue, debate, and advocate for the ethical use of medical technologies. Absolutely.


But in doing so, they should never ever shame another human for the way that person came into the world, or for what family they landed in. After all, every human being on the face of this planet is made from the same three ingredients: an egg cell, a sperm cell, and a uterus; and nobody gets to choose how they came into the world or into their family.


The current polarized political climate is exhausting. We’re shutting down open dialogue and debate, and we’re banning books. I am sure that Roads to Family will be banned in many places because it emphasizes the equal validity of all means of human reproduction and family formation.


Maybe that is why it was so fun to have a book signing party in Florida. By the time those banning books know of my book’s existence, it will already be sitting on people’s shelves!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Next, I’m planning to write a picture book version of Roads to Family. In fact, my goal is to write a book for each grade band.


Plus…I have a couple other books in mind. But I’m not quite ready to share those ideas!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Last year I received a grant from the Oregon Department of Education to write lessons on human reproduction and family formation for fifth, seventh, and high school. I partnered with a number of organizations, consulted with a dozen experts across many disciplines, and received multiple rounds of input from over 200 students across demographics. I’ve been teaching these lessons in the classroom, and I am having a lot of fun with the students.


If anyone is interested, the lessons, an educator’s guide, and discussion prompts are all available for free at my website,


Roads to Family, All the Ways We Come to Be is written for middle and high school students, but it’s also a great resource for families and classrooms. In addition, I encourage youth educators and mentors, pediatricians, counselors, and other youth-serving professionals to grab a copy to help make their practice/organization more inclusive of all children and families.


Roads to Family is available wherever fine books are sold. And, please take five minutes to request that your local school/public library add it to their collection, and help make the book available to everyone.


You can find out more information about me, my work, and book events, and sign up for my newsletter at; follow me on Facebook and Instagram @roadstofamily; and be in touch at


For anyone in Portland, Oregon, I’ll be at Rose City Book Pub on May 22, 7:30-9:30pm. I’ll be drinking dark beer, facilitating a game of Jeopardy! about the science of reproduction, talking about the book, and doing a signing.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment