real life

There was a time when Julia just assumed she would be a mother.


In her heartbreakingly honest memoir, Avalanche, Julia Leigh lays bare her experience of IVF– a profoundly important and widespread experience – and probes the practice and promises of the lucrative IVF industry.

From her late-blooming yearning for a baby to the emotional limbo of fertility treatment and the consequences it has on her marriage, and relationships, Avalanche documents her journey. Leigh also searches for answers behind the IVF industry, asking – is it turning hope into happiness or rather exploiting women filled with desperation and longing? And when do you stop hoping and trying?

Here is an extract from Avalanche about the period of time when Julia reconnects with her ex, and they decide that they will try to have a baby.

Listen to Julia talk to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo on This Glorious Mess about her experience with IVF. (Post continues after audio.)


I noted that under his suit he was wearing the exact same T-shirt he used to wear when we were together. It couldn’t have lasted that long so he must have bought a new one: grey marle, with a stick-figure man doing the splits. I was crushed when he said he had to go, didn’t ask me to dinner.

In October 2007 I was living in New York, working on a screenplay and a novel. Paul and I reunited. By now he had the marriage and a garland of girlfriends behind him; he was also a loving father to a 12-year-old son.  I was 37, with my own trail of tender affections. I received an email announcing he was passing through town. Would I like to meet? He knocked at the door of the miniature studio I was subletting in the West Village. All the chemicals of love spilled through my bloodstream. We spent the day together. Walked around the neighbourhood, talked, saw a documentary about mass-produced corn. Talked and talked. Ate and talked and nodded and laughed and stared and smiled and talked and smelled and grinned and I was 19 again, he was 23, and we parted, chaste, my heart thumping, and I realised – joyfully – that it was too late, our soulless souls had flared, whatever doubts I’d ever had about him I no longer wanted to protect myself, I just didn’t care.


Julia Leigh. Image: Getty. 

‘Okay. Time to be direct. I adore you. I always have and always will, whatever happens.’ He took decisive action. When he returned to Australia he wrote to me from the Southern Highlands, just outside of Sydney, where he now lived in a small house while his ex-wife and son lived in another small house nearby. A warm and civil arrangement. He expressed his fears that our chance may have already been lost; that he had grown dull and hard; that we could hurt one another. He worried about what I wanted: did I really want him or did I just wonder what it might be like to be together? Did I want a child? He promised that there was nothing he would not do for me if we met each other full and open. ‘Could you bury me? Can you see yourself with me until then?’ he asked.

The child, the child. The child was there in that correspondence, nestled in among words of fear and hope and promise. Our child. Our beautiful child, our destined child was called forth as a possibility, conjured out of the ether. I told him that yes, I wanted a child very much, and that I did understand the magnitude of that commitment. I no longer wanted to be responsible solely for myself, I wanted to be intimately involved in the care of another. And I also said – it pains me now – that I needed to safeguard ‘my hard-won creative life’. Why was I so quick to add any sort of caveat? Why did I set the two ways of being – motherhood, writing – at odds? The truth, which I knew very well at the time, was that many women had gone before me and found ways to lead a creative life and also be a mother. There were countless prams in countless hallways. It wasn’t ‘rocket science’. It wasn’t either/or. There was enough space. The universe was expansive. Universe? Old-fashioned. Didn’t we live in a multiverse? I could have multiple centres of being; I already had multiple centres of being. Or no centre at all. So I wrote to tell all of this to Paul – as best I could – assuaging his anxiety and mine, adopting the tone of someone much wiser than myself, emanating the invincible power of love. I drew strength from the future. From our child, the treasured child-to-be. ‘Darling, darlinger, darlingest,’ I said. ‘We only have this one life to live so we are obliged to be magicians.’

Jessica Rowe speaks to Mamamia about her IVF experience. (Post continues after video.)

There’s another email worth mentioning. 6 November 2007. That day the New York Times ran a story on page four titled ‘A Foul Menace, Ready to Burst Again Onto Gaza’. It was reported that a LAGOON OF SEWERAGE (I used all caps at the time) had broken through its embankments and flooded an impoverished village. Five died, along with scores of sheep and goats. There was a real threat of another sewerage deluge. It’s the only news story on the entire page, I told Paul. That report of abject misery is surrounded by huge ads for luxury goods. Diamond earrings; a zebra-print handbag; a Philippe Starck candleholder; three bejewelled rings. So perverse: I suggested we frame it. I can see that even though I was already enthralled with our new-old love I hadn’t yet completely lost perspective. No matter how miserable things could ever be for me I was not at risk of drowning in a lagoon of sewerage.

  • 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.

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