Paula Knight is 47-years-old and spent many years dreaming the dream so many girls and women dream – to have a baby
She has written a book about her life focussing specifically on her journey through infertility and chronic illness, entitled The Facts of Life.
Paula is a professional illustrator and her book is very unusual as it is written in comic format. Before she wrote The Facts of Life she was a children’s illustrator and author having illustrated and written several children’s picture books.
Here she talks to Moira Smith on her journey and her brilliant book.
As a published author of children’s picture books it seems like quite a leap to move to writing a personal and moving memoir – how did that leap come about?
Paula: “I originally had the idea for a book about ten years ago when there was no awareness of childlessness.
“I was a children’s illustrator and had gradually become more interested in comics and graphic novels. When I realised there were other middle-aged women out there writing graphic novels, autobiographical memoirs dealing with tricky personal subject matter, it occurred to me that I could do the same with my book.
That cultural interest in graphic novels just happened to coincide with my own personal journey trying to have a baby.
A memoir written in this format makes for a very different and powerful book – I felt that it was a much quicker way to read and absorb this very powerful story.”
Did you have a clear idea in your mind of the messages that you wanted the book to convey before you wrote it, or did the messages just evolve through the telling of the ‘story’?
“Yes I did have a clear idea of some of the messages I wanted to convey – but the memories came first. As I was writing I recognised a thread of the pressures on women and where those pressures had come from.
When I started writing the book in 2007 the book a long time ago when there didn’t appear to be very much awareness or discussion about the issues around childlessness. Over the years the conversation has grown with communities like Gateway Women being established.”
Can a graphic novel be a more powerful way to convey a message?
“Yes, I think so, because you are using pictures and pictures say things that words can’t – it’s possibly more immediate. It can be easier for people to identify with images. It adds another dimension to the reading experience.”
Who would you like your book to appeal to?
“I want this book to appeal to people who might not be used to reading pictures as well as fans of comics and graphic novels. I think it’s a shame that people are weaned off reading pictures when young. I stuck to a very traditional comic book aesthetic so as not to scare people off. I wanted people who haven’t been able to have children to be able to relate to it whether or not they had ever read a graphic novel before.”
You clearly feel very strongly about the conditioning of becoming a mother that takes place with girls from a very young age – would you like the younger generation to read it to give them a “reality check” on their ideas about having children?
“Yes, I think so – that is my hope, but the book is only suitable for teenagers upwards. I’d prefer that parents think more carefully about their use of language around children and whether it may be fostering expectations and assumptions. For example, “you’ll understand when you have children” is such a common statement by parents when children are questioning their authority. The word ‘when’ is very pertinent.
I feel very strongly that there is a huge amount of social conditioning that leads most women to believe that having a baby when they choose is something that will automatically happen for them.”
Paula believes that this natural expectation needs to be challenged. How does she feel this can be done?
“Through awareness. Professor Geeta Nargund is a great advocate for fertility to be taught as part of PRP in schools. I agree – I just want young people to be educated about fertility – both girls and boys.
It’s not quite as simple as fertility education alone – I hope that teaching might also include that it’s ok to decide not to have children and it’s also ok to be unsure for many years.
Identification with other women who have been through similar experiences is clearly very powerful – is that something you wanted to achieve through your book? To let other women who have maybe not ever talked about their experiences know that other women have been through it?
“Definitely – I have already had several women contact me as they related so strongly to my story.”
How does your husband feel about the book?
“Obviously, as with any memoir, it also tells the stories of other people in my life. He’s been very gracious and very supportive on all levels. He knew it was a memoir and so would inevitably include him.”
Your book is clearly very personal. Has writing your book been a cathartic process in helping you process your emotions around not being able to have the baby you longed for?
“It’s a really interesting question. Now it’s finished I would say no, but while I was writing it, perhaps it was a conduit for certain emotions. Grief that I thought I had processed came flooding back in the weeks after I finished it. While I was focussing on the book it was a way to file away and deal with certain events, but ultimately now that the process of writing it is over I don’t feel that it was cathartic.”
After her last miscarriage Paula did seek out counselling which she found really helpful and she would recommend pregnancy-loss counselling to anybody going through something similar.
How is the book being received?
“Well – the reviews I have had so far have been really good. Interestingly I have had a couple of reviews from men in the comics industry who have enjoyed it, so it was good to hear that men as well as women can relate to it.”
Jody Day describes the loss felt through childlessness as a hidden loss – she describes it as a “disenfranchised grief” – how do you think society can become more aware of this grief?
“By people starting to talk about it more. I’m involved in a couple of groups of people who couldn’t have children on Facebook. I think people should be able to talk about it only if they want to and feel able to. I think social networking has a great part to play in this”
IVFbabble agrees that there needs to be a much greater understanding of childlessness and the emotional pain that comes with it. Paula’s book The Facts of Life is an unusual and powerful way of raising awareness of this very important issue.
To find out more about Gateway Women, visit www.gateway-women.com
To find out more about Paula and her book, visit her great blog, https://paulaknight.wordpress.com/category/the-facts-of-life/