Today I’m celebrating the publication of a newbook about what it means to be childless. The book is Avalanche: A Love story by Julia Leigh.
One of my guiding principles is that we honour each other’s stories. All our stories are personal, and they are also universal.
Our paths are different, and when we do the work we become the hero of our own story and live a fulfilling life.
To date I’ve published thirty Inspirational Stories here and, whilst not all of them resonate with me, I wouldn’t dream of challenging anyone’s story of what they went through. Because it’s their truth and I honour their right to tell it their way.
So when one of our childless ‘tribe’ publishes a book and finds her story savaged by no other than the New York Times, and Pamela Tsigdinos asks for volunteers to support her. I’m in.
Here’s some background to Avalanche.
‘At the age of thirty-eight, acclaimed novelist Julia Leigh made her first visit to the IVF clinic, full of optimism. So started a long and costly journey of nightly injections, blood tests, surgeries and rituals.
Writing in the immediate aftermath of her decision to stop treatment, Leigh lays bare the truths of her experience: the highs of hope and the depths of disappointment, the grip of yearning and desire, the toll on her relationships, and the unexpected graces and moments of black humour. Along the way she navigates the science of IVF, copes with the impact of treatment, and reconciles the seductive promises of the worldwide multi- billion-dollar IVF industry with the reality.
Avalanche is the book that has finally been written on IVF treatment: a courageous, compelling and ultimately wise account of a profoundly important and widespread experience. At the heart of this work is an exploration of who and how we love. It is a story we can all relate to – about the dreams we have for ourselves, our loves, and our relationships.’
And some praise from others:
‘One of the first intelligent, personal accounts of the daily business of IVF’ Lara Feigel, The Guardian
‘Avalanche is gut wrenchingly good. I read it in one intense sitting.’ Cathy Rentzenbrink author of The Last Act of Love
‘An astonishing and unflinching personal account of an IVF journey – fierce, touching and redemptive.’ Dame Jane Campion
‘Avalanche examines unspeakable things and, by speaking of them honestly and clearly, renders them quietly luminous and bright.’ Sydney Morning Herald
Unfortunately the book isn’t out in the UK yet so I haven’t been able to read it. So instead, I asked Julia some questions and here are her answers. And below are links to blogs where you can read what others think about Avalanche.
Please tell us a bit about the book and what prompted you to write it?
‘A writer contemplating whether or not to begin a new work asks herself – Is this truly a story worth telling? Avalanche felt necessary.
I’ve tried to tell an intensely personal story about a common experience that has largely remained unspoken. I wanted to offer a ‘shared aloneness’ to anyone who has desperately longed for a child.
I hope I’ve brought into the light the way the IVF industry really works – and I could only do that in non-fiction. I wanted to transmit what it feels like to be on the so-called ‘emotional roller-coaster’, to deeply honour that complex experience in all its detail. Ways of loving, the mysteries of the body, the vagaries of science, the ethics of medicine – the material raised so many questions.
I started writing it very soon after I made the decision to stop treatment because I wanted to capture my strong feelings before they were blanketed by time. I wanted to write something for all the women who are contemplating IVF, or currently undergoing it, or who have stopped or who are thinking about stopping (it’s so hard – the decision to ‘give up’). I wanted to speak to their family and friends.
I wanted to speak to young women who in a misguided way might be relying on fertility treatment as a kind of back-up. And I wanted to speak to the policy-makers too. Since there is so much IVF failure I wanted to provide an alternative voice to the miracle stories we frequently see in the media. I wanted to counter the push – yes, the push – of the worldwide multi-billion dollar IVF industry.’
What was the hardest part about writing it?
Writing a memoir can sometimes feel like an inherently lost cause because it’s impossible to convey the full complexity of so-called reality – but I went ahead anyway because without sharing our stories where would we be… Since I’d already lost so much I didn’t worry about losing face – and that afforded me a certain freedom.
The decision to stop pursuing treatment is pivotal for us all; can you share that story with us?
The decision to give up was incredibly difficult. So hard. I hope the book builds to that turning point. In my case, at the age of 44, after I had already done 2 IUI’s and 6 egg collections followed by 5 subsequent transfers, some of which were Grade A 5-day blastocysts, I asked my doctor what she thought I should do – and she suggested I try once more.
It was my sister who said I had to find another way to be happy. I’m very grateful she had the courage to speak to me so directly.
What did you learn from writing the book – how did it help you?
It was such an intense time that I wanted to ‘mark my own grave’; I didn’t want it to pass as if it had never happened. Writing helped me honour the experience.
Also, since publication I’ve found that the book has brought me closer to many of my friends who didn’t really know the detail of what had been going on during my treatment. I’ve also been deeply heartened by responses from readers who’ve been in the same boat.
If readers took one thing from your book, what would you hope that would be?
I wish I had a good answer to this one but I don’t. I feel I’d really have to listen carefully to a reader’s own experiences before I could offer any specific advice. My heart goes out to anyone longing for a child. In the book I say “What I try to hold onto – now that the treatment has failed – is a commitment to love widely and intensely. Tenderly. In ways I would not have previously expected. I to You; I to We; I to This. To unshackle my love from the great love I wanted to give my own child.”
What do you think?
Please add your comment below if any of Julia’s words resonate with you.
here’s the link to Pamela’s post which gives you access to what other bloggers think.
Owning and telling your story is a powerful way to healing so if Julia has inspired you to share your story – contact me and we can do that.