Two-Week Wait: An IVF Story
By Luke C Jackson, Kelly Jackson and Mara Wild
Published by Scribe
ISBN-10: 1913348644, ISBN-13: 978-1913348649
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Written by Luke and Kelly Jackson, 'Two-Week Wait' is a story about IVF that anyone with experience of the treatment can identify with. The cast of characters is relatable and familiar; Joanne and Conrad – a professional couple in their thirties, a circle of mostly supportive friends and family, and the staff at the infertility clinic where the couple have their IVF attempts. The story is more or less a composite of the many stories of the many couples who go through assisted conception, just as the writers themselves drew on their own personal IVF story as well as several interviews with other couples undergoing assisted conception.
Having read a large number of such stories, which tend to be in the form of short articles or first person accounts, I'm used to reading versions of events which are edited and tweaked to take account of the readership. There are good reasons for this, but sometimes the stories melt into one amorphous version, particularly if they are from a hetero-normative perspective. Feelings are almost invariably described hyperbolically and the version of events that emerges does not do justice to the complexities of the factors at play. There is no room for nuance or ambiguity when conventions demand heartbreak as default; nor is there much sense of the other forces at work as everything is mediated through the eyes of those at the epicentre of infertility treatment. But this is a lot to ask of a standard article.
What makes this story different, and more successful as a narrative medium, is its format as a graphic novel. This offers opportunities to pack a hefty amount of content, dispensing with the need to streamline the narrative to a few key events and offering considerably more light and shade within it. The story-board format can foreground frustrating telephone exchanges in just one or two frames, adding background detail to supplement the story – particularly in terms of subtextual information. Speech balloons use external and internal dialogue to good effect, and the panels allow the reader to mediate their own interpretation of events (admittedly depending on individual reading speed and level of concentration). When dots and bubbles are used in speech, the reader is invited to use empathy and imagination to reflect on Joanne and Conrad's unspoken emotions.
The illustrator, Mara Wild, uses a subdued palette of greys, blues and various shades of peachy pink, which are designed to maintain a low level of visual tension – there are no attention-seeking primary colours here – and keep the attention on Joanne and Conrad's many challenges as they try to juggle diagnosis, treatment, work and finances while, bravely, asking for support from family and friends who aren't always good at responding appropriately. At times, the couple's parents seem a textbook example in how not to react – for example pleading inability to help financially with treatment one month, only to send the couple off on a luxury retreat holiday the next.
There are other familiar characters – the friend whose 'swimmers' have never let them down, the importune attentions at family gatherings – all these will be recognisable to anyone who has had to suffer carelessly offered words and opinions. This adds colour to the story, although the older cast members risk degenerating into caricatures (why are they so frequently depicted as ineffectual, well-meaning old dears who are always putting their foot in it?). The dialogue often feels a bit soap-opera and under-powered, indeed the whole book feels like a story-board for a TV drama. The comedy-drama 'Trying' (Apple TV), see BioNews 1082, which treads many of the same paths but cuts it with humour, is woven through with many of the same themes.
As a novice reader of graphic novels, I had to reread several sections of the book to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Some of the panels left me puzzled – I had to work at it – graphic novels can look deceptively simple, yet I was often muddled about who was doing the talking and my own issues with intermittent face blindness were not helped by the fluidly drawn faces on the page.
'Two Week Wait' accurately shows how a life challenge can affect personal relationships, whilst leaving the reader to do some of the work. It could potentially appeal to heterosexual people embarking on an IVF treatment as it showcases many of the situations that would ideally be supported with good quality counselling, particularly the difficulties created within relationships for the couple, family and wider circle of friends. It is one particular type of IVF journey. Less familiar stories are there to be told and this genre can certainly bring value to their telling.
Buy Two-Week Wait: An IVF Story from Amazon UK.