You have seen and heard the advertisements: ‘Is there something missing from your house? Is it the patter of tiny feet?’
‘We can fix that’, say the IVF clinics. ‘We can make it happen for you. Our success rates are better than that clinic down the road.’
And we all know the glorious success stories of assisted fertility. They are our own children, our nieces and nephews, the beloved kids of friends.
But where are the voices of the women who have poured their all into the science of IVF – emotionally, physically, financially – and come away with empty arms?
We don’t hear those stories because they are too painful to tell, and the hopeful don’t want to hear them. But, as Avalanche, a beautiful new memoir by Australian writer Julia Leigh suggests, perhaps we need to, so that we can adjust expectations and get a clearer picture of the incredible feats promised by the IVF industry.
Listen to Julia talk to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo on This Glorious Mess. (Post continues after audio.)
Julia was 38 when she first visited an IVF clinic. She spent the next six years, tens of thousands of dollars, and a great deal of anguish trying everything that was suggested to her before finally stopping.
“I kept going, I kept going, I kept going, with this increasing dread feeling that it might not work,” says Leigh. “[Finally] My sister said to me, ‘Where does this stop? It’s so hard on your body.’ She was very frustrated that the doctor had told me to try again [after the last failed attempt].”
So Julia stopped. And started writing Avalanche, a stunning, quiet, blackly humorous book. It’s about a world that women enter filled with hope and an industry that is happy to fan those flames, despite mounting evidence that perhaps, realism may be more appropriate.
"In Australia and New Zealand all the clinics report their data to the University of New South Wales," says Leigh. "The last one, at the end of 2015, looked at 2013. From 71,000 assisted reproductive cycles, what percentage resulted in a live birth? 18.2 per cent."
That's not the figure you would be expecting if you were looking at those glossy advertisements.
"I'm not angry," she says. "But I really think there does need to be a shift in the way doctors communicate to their patients."
Julia says that during her years of IVF, she kept her trials to herself. "People don't know what to say, and fair enough," she says.
So what should people say?
"Assure somebody," says Julia. "That even if they can't quite see it yet, they will find other ways of loving."
- Avalanche is published by Penguin books, and is available now.
Listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess, where Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo also chat about how designer birthing gowns are now A Thing, what "love language" your child is speaking, and why banning TV in the mornings is a great parenting rule.... until you want to break it.