Good Reading : March 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING MARCH 2015 30 COVER STORY ‘Ifyouthinkabouthowmanypeoplearestrugglingforchildrenwhentherearealltheseviableembryosoutthere...itbreaksyourheartalittlebit.’ So what to do with the excess embryos? It’s this choice that catalyses the tragedies, triumphs and terrors of the rest of the novel. James and Catriona decide to put their leftover embryos up for adoption, which means that any of their embryos could be implanted in a stranger’s womb. If that pregnancy were to be successful, another child could come into existence that is their full genetic offspring – but they would have no idea. ‘I didn’t know much about embryonic adoption before I started researching it, and it think that’s true of most people,’ says Amanda. ‘Most people I spoke to, unless they’d been through IVF themselves, didn’t seem to know it was an option, even though it’s been around for about 10 years. It was my sister who told me about it. She knew two people who used embryonic adoption to have a baby together, and it fascinated me that you could go through an entire pregnancy and childbirth and have a baby that is no way genetically related to you or your partner.’ Because of this lack of knowledge and the uneasiness some people may feel about having their own genetic child born to someone else, the option of putting excess embryos up for adoption is rarely utilised. A frozen embryo can be preserved for up to 10 years, but most couples avoid making a direct decision about their suspended embryos and keep them ‘on ice’ until they are no longer viable. ‘I feel for couples because it’s a ridiculously hard decision to make. It’s not just a little bit of sper m or an egg – it’s an actual formed embryo. Most couples just keep it in storage so they don’t have to make a conscious decision to destroy it. But there are 120 000 frozen embryos in Australia right now. If you think about how many people are struggling for children when there are all these viable embryos out there ... it breaks your heart a little bit.’ Catriona and James, however, have little time for wondering about the fates of their excess embryos. They have enough trouble with the one developing rapidly inside Catriona’s womb, inflicting bouts of morning sickness, fatigue and stress. In Catriona’s exper ience, the only reason an expecting mother would be glowing is because of a constant sheen of sticky sweat. And the problems don’t stop once the baby has been born. After hours of labour in an excruciating attempt at a natural birth, Catriona is forced to undergo an emergency caesarean. Enduring the pain should be all worth it. But, as she holds her baby for the first time, the expected rush of affection as maternal hormones flood her body fails to materialise; she knows something is wrong. This initial lack of connection between mother and child is quite common, as is the four or five days of mild depression known as ‘the baby blues’ experienced by many new mothers. But Catriona’s feelings develop into something infinitely more sinister. She is diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a rare but severe condition that is marked by the onset of psychotic symptoms – such as paranoia, hallucinations and even violence in some cases – in the mother of a newborn. ‘It’s such a scary disorder; it horrified me as I researched it. It’s a disorder where you’re not even part of yourself. It’s almost like you’ve been possessed by something.’ Amanda says the best piece of research she discovered about the disorder was a book called Understanding Postpartum Psychosis: A temporary madness by Teresa M Twomey. It includes case histories of women who experienced the disorder to varying degrees. Most were suicidal at some point and had also thought about harming their babies, and one chilling account was written by a mother who had murdered her child and was recounting her story from prison.