The heart starving nature of the absence of “me too” in human conversation – a daily normality for those of us in the early years of grieving childlessness and/or recovery from multiple failed fertility treatments.
Julia Leigh’s Avalanche: A Love Story spelled this in me for a bit. Her compact, almost torpedo like manner of iterating the realities surrounding wanting a child, attitudes towards conception, the fertility industry, failed treatments and their emotional fallout, is riveting.
On society’s one – sided baby making narrative: “Later, when I began to confide I’d started treatment, I would invariably be reassured and provided with an example or two of a recent success story. The media too, was full of good news.” (Julia Leigh)
Uh – huh.
On the fertility treatment head space: “On the way back (from the clinic) I couldn’t have cared less if I died in a car crash. Imagine: the car tumbling off the side of the bridge. How soothing.” And “Even my spiteful fantasies were hollow and impotent – that too made me sad.” (Julia Leigh)
Me too. Been there.
On the shackles of perpetual failed treatments: “The process was forever throwing up new ways to be disappointed that I hadn’t even dreamt existed. The uncertainty took its toll.” (Julia Leigh)
On the real and valid dream of a child: “Our child was not unreal to me. It was not a real child but also it was not unreal. Maybe a better way to say it is that the unknown unconceived had been an inner presence. A desired and nurtured inner presence. Not real but a singular presence in which I had radical faith. A presence that could not be substituted or replaced.” (Julia Leigh)
Certainly. ME TOO!!
It is my hope that the above will one day be understood as normal responses to abnormal circumstances. In the meantime, I’ll take it as confirmation that I wasn’t crazy and that furthermore, like motherhood, this experience is also universal.
I’ve always said, me and people like me have been dealt a double whammy – we lost our children AND due to the way we lost them we are then thrust into the excruciating position of having to explain our life altering pain and plight. Ms. Leigh doesn’t do this, however. Her lack of justifications for her raw pain, actions and other feelings held me in a captivated grip throughout. In her writing is a blatant absence of coddling those fortunate enough to have sidestepped this gruesome path of infertility, reproductive medicine and involuntary childlessness. Her unabashed accounts dare those with softer hearts and open minds to empathize while perhaps provoking those emotionally checked out souls with superiority complexes to do what they do best – judge and condescend.
Rachel Cusk’s New York Times review of Leigh’s book was every bit as inappropriate as Avalanche is bold. Steeped perhaps in the privilege of having no concept, Ms. Cusk drags us through incorrect assumptions and baseless analogies, such as likening balancing career with easily procured motherhood to negotiating a career amid the thrashing roller coaster of fertility treatments. Her cluelessness felt both insulting and comedic.
Her review went way past a healthy critique of the work into a depth of disregard that, in my opinion, warrants an apology. I found myself wondering “Is there any other major human struggle towards which such indifference would be tolerated – as a feature in the New York Times Book Review, nonetheless?” Sadly, I venture to say the answer may be no.
For all her haughty spewing on the job of a writer she epically misses what I feel is a major responsibility of those who write – perception of the universal. Ms. Cusk’s failure to see a piece of herself – and her children – in Julia Leigh ironically illustrates the need for such a book as well as more books on the subject.
You can find my comment on the review, as well as some others on the Times FB page here.
Elissa Strauss’s accurate and sharply articulated account of Ms. Cusk’s review in Slate, however, was more than welcome. Ms. Strauss, a parenting blogger, said it so well: “Our collective understanding of reproductive challenges is so limited, so lacking in nuance, that even the most perceptive thinkers land in hackneyed, and insensitive, terrain when exploring the subject.”
I on the other hand relished the rare witnessing of my own reflection all of the way to the end of this memoir –
“In my heart of hearts I always knew this – it wasn’t a revelation: I have to save myself.” (Julia Leigh)
And, one element of the aftermath:
“What I try to hold on to now that the treatment has failed – is a commitment to love widely and intensely. Tenderly. In ways I would not have previously expected.” (Julia Leigh)
Took me awhile to get there.
But definitely, me too.
As I finished the book, dangling, a smirk spread across my face. Two years and eight months out of my final failed treatment, I know there’s more to this powerfully told story. So much more. Who will tell the rest and how will they do it? A story void of the stroke of luck of a child being born is such a worthy one to tell as, like motherhood, the experiences of grief and resurrection are also universal.
Julia Leigh’s Avalanche, A Love Story can be ordered here.
This post is a part of a blog tour organized by Pamela over at Silent Sorority. Visit her blog for her post as well as links to many other reviews of this wonderful and much needed book.