Delving into a scary new world
I don’t have children. And I’ve always been on the fence about whether or not I want to someday. I adore children, especially my nephews and my friends’ children, but having your own is another thing entirely. I feel it’s the single biggest decision people have to make in their lives. I’m often asked if I want children and when I say “I’m not sure” I’m consistently told “You will one day.” Perhaps they’re right, but I think there are plenty of people like me out there who are ambivalent about wanting to have children. And after all the research I had to do for Claiming Noah, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be brave enough to become a mother.
While writing Claiming Noah I researched fertility treatments, miscarriages, difficult pregnancies, even more difficult childbirths. Then of course there are all the problems you can face after the baby is born: trying to get your baby to feed and sleep while facing a barrage of advice (mostly unsolicited, from what I’m told) and dealing with the expectations placed on you by others and by yourself. I learnt that postpartum disorders are extremely common. Eighty per cent of women experience the baby blues, one in seven experience postnatal depression, and one or two in every thousand new mothers experience postpartum psychosis. They’re grim statistics and I really feel for any woman who has had to deal with these disorders while trying to take care of a newborn. Then there’s the competitive gauntlet of mothers’ groups, juggling work and childcare, and dealing with other people’s judgment and advice while trying to work out how to raise your child to be a decent human being. As an outsider to all of this it seems incredibly difficult and I’m in awe of anyone who can get through raising a child unscathed.
Claiming Noah is about two couples on either side of an embryo donation: the couple who decide to donate their excess embryo, and the couple who adopt and implant the embryo to raise as their own child. I hadn’t heard of embryo donation before I started writing Claiming Noah and I was surprised when I found out that it has been available in Australia for over 10 years. I knew that in the past IVF used to produce a lot multiple births – twins, triplets, even quadruplets. We all remember hearing about the mother who after going through IVF gave birth to octuplets in the US four years ago. But most fertility clinics won’t implant multiple embryos anymore. In Australia they’ll only implant one at a time (two at the most). The science behind IVF is progressing all the time and embryologists can work out which embryos have the best chance of survival, so those are the ones implanted first. A consequence of this change in process is that there are thousands of excess embryos in frozen storage. It’s estimated that there are over 120,000 in Australia. So embryo donation makes a lot of sense, even though only a small percentage of couples choose to take up that option.
I was interested in how the lives of couples on both the donating and receiving end of an embryo donation would intersect, so I decided to tell the story of Claiming Noah in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of each of the two women. I wanted to tell the story this way because the characters’ lives are so closely linked, even though they haven’t met each other, and I wanted to explore how the actions of one woman affected the other.
The other reason I had for structuring the story in this way is because I want the readers to empathise with both women and therefore find themselves torn about whose side they’re on. There isn’t a clear antagonist in this story, even though many of the characters do awful things at some point, and I think that’s an accurate representation of life. Everyone has their own agenda and we don’t always think about what impact our actions will have on other people.
I’ve been asked many times by people who have read Claiming Noah how it affected me to write a story that deals with such extreme emotional issues and moral dilemmas. Let’s just say I wasn’t a barrel of laughs while I was writing the first draft. I was working full-time, coming home from my marketing job to have dinner and relax for a while before I started writing at about 10pm and worked into the early hours of the morning. I’m a night owl anyway, so that isn’t as extreme as it sounds, but I remember the feeling of panic when I’d look at the clock, realise it was three o’clock in the morning, and then realise I had to get up for work in four hours. As well as the sleep deprivation, I was carrying around in my mind thoughts of infertility, postpartum psychosis, kidnapping and a mother’s grief at losing her son. Some scenes made me cry as I wrote them, others made me feel like a sociopath. But that’s what writing is all about. If you don’t feel anything, how can you expect your readers to?