Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Avalanche: A Love Story" by Julia Leigh

I am always up for a good "repro-lit" read -- especially when it reflects my own story (i.e., it doesn't end with a baby) -- and earlier this year, when Pamela first wrote about "Avalanche: A Love Story" by Australian writer and film maker Julia Leigh, I put it on my wish list. Unfortunately, it took some time before the book became available in Canada;  I was finally able to download an e-copy to my Kobo in August, after Pamela announced she'd be hosting a book tour with author participation. (I also love discussing books with other people!)

"Avalanche" is not a long book -- 133 pages -- but it packs a powerful punch. Reading it brought back a flood of memories from my own days in treatment (which you can read about under the label "The Treatment Diaries") -- not all of them good. It could be a difficult read, depending on where you are in your own infertility journey.

Leigh was 38 when she met, fell in love with and married Paul (they had actually met years earlier, then reconnected). The vision of Our Child (in capitals and italics) took hold in Leigh's mind, and quickly became all-consuming. Right from the start, however, there were challenges: besides Leigh's advancing age, there was also the obstacle of Paul's vasectomy. When a reversal was unsuccessful, he underwent a surgical procedure to retrieve and freeze his sperm. Before they got to use it, though, the marriage fell apart.

Leigh decided to try for motherhood on her own. Her ex refused to let her use his frozen sperm, so (while mourning the loss of Our Child, the child she had envisioned) she began the search for another donor. She finally found one, a willing male friend, when she was 42, and over the next two years, embarked on a series of ARTs, including egg retrieval and freezing, fresh and frozen embryo transfers, ICSI, IUIs and various "add ons" that Leigh's doctor suggested might (might! -- or might not... "It's up to you...") improve her odds of success ("embryo glue," anyone??).  She toyed with -- and rejected -- the idea of using a donor egg. Her sister offered to carry a baby for her. The treatments took a rising toll on her physical, emotional and financial well-being, until she finally reached the point where she knew she could not continue.

Reading "Avalanche" brought back a flood of memories for me, from the endless number of carrots offered that keep fertility patients coming back for more, right down to noticing the doctor's expensive car parked outside the clinic. From an emotional perspective, it's not an easy read (although it's beautifully written), but based on my own (far more limited) ART experiences, I think it's a pretty accurate one. It's something of a cautionary tale -- but it would be worthwhile reading for anyone thinking of embarking on ARTs, as well as anyone (including family & friends) who wants to know what women go through when they attempt ARTs. People -- and I include my pre-ART self among them -- often assume that "oh well, you/we can always do fertility treatments" without realizing exactly what that is going to involve -- that it's a slippery slope, that you'll find yourself crossing lines and doing things that you never imagined existed in the first place -- and (especially) that all your time, money, pain and effort will not necessarily result in a take-home baby. The mind-numbing litany of details contained in "Avalanche" might be shocking to the uninitiated -- but they also confirm to those of us who went through it (or something like it) that yes, this IS a Very Big Deal and not something that should be entered into lightly. 

My main issue with the book, if I can call it that, is it left me wanting more. Leigh wrote the book shortly after she abandoned fertility treatments (which might account, in part, for its raw tone and vivid descriptions).  I am hoping for a sequel, or an epilogue to any future editions, because I would like to know how she is doing and how her life has unfolded since then.  (Of course, she is answering readers' questions as part of Pamela's book tour, so perhaps we'll hear something there about her life today!) 

This review is part of a book tour organized by Pamela at Silent Sorority. Here's her post with all the details and a linked list of others who are participating! 

ETA: Updated link with live reviews:

This was book #16 that I've read so far in 2016.


  1. It sounds like a good read, and I'm sure I would also find a lot to relate too. We were offered all sorts of add-ons at our clinics and we tried the embryo glue in one cycle! I remember also worrying that I should be getting more extras but each one added several hundred euros on to the final cost. I have also noticed that people have an attitude that IVF is not such a big deal and they over estimate the success rates.

  2. Julia's memoir resulted in an emotional process of reliving my time in treatment. It was scary to go back through and revisit all those months in the clinic. It was my choice and I don't regret what we did, but I am amazed at how traumatized I am from the carrots my first set of REs offered (and the things they refused to consider).

    Agreeing with all you wrote and hoping that Ms. Leigh will write a follow-up, just like Pamela did.

  3. So very glad that you've been able to participate in the blog book tour, Loribeth. Avalanche does pack a powerful punch, doesn't it? It brings forth an avalanche of emotions...

    As the 'grand dames' in the community of bloggers on this topic we have had the benefit of time and healing to push through many of the raw emotions. I get why Julia had to get it down on paper and out of her head now rather than wait. In many ways, that's the first step to healing and moving forward. We're all part of a grand experiment here in understanding the immediate and long-term impacts of fertility treatment. I don't believe any of us knowingly signed up to be canaries in the coal mine, but perhaps books like Avalanche will help the next generation see what's behind the slick marketing of treatments.

    Furthermore, I hope that our cultural framework expands to allow women and men to openly grieve without the judgement shown by those who truly have NO CLUE what fertility clinics and the treatments can do to your heart and soul. Life-altering on so many levels.

  4. I really hope that Julia Leigh writes a follow up too! It seems like everyone who reviewed this book wrote about it bringing up some not so pleasant memories from their own infertility journey, myself included,

  5. I know, the end left me with a hanging feeling, as we all know there's so much more to the general story! I had to read the book twice, in all honesty. I knew it was raw the first time I read it, but it also struck me the first time as so.....normal. It seems Avalanche is pushing many of us to continue reflecting on and processing our experiences.

  6. I would also love to know how Julia Leigh is doing and how her life has unfolded since the book: I'm extremely curious about that.