A series about infertility is not an obvious candidate for becoming a viral hit on TikTok, a platform you probably associate more with teenagers, lip-synching and dance routines
But episodes of ALL OUR EGGS, a raw, bleakly funny, emotionally compelling Australian web-series exploring a couple’s journey through the world of infertility, have hit more than 3.6 million views since it launched at the end of March on the platform. The success of the show has led it to being featured on the BBC and in The Guardian, while, at the same time, over on Instagram, the show has attracted a loyal and growing following, whose sharing of experiences and feedback on the episodes is being incorporated into the writing of show itself.
Inspired by a memoir of IVF by Australian playwright Vanessa Bates, ALL OUR EGGS aims to tell its story of a couple’s five year fertility journey in Instagram and TikTok friendly episodes of 45 second to 2 minutes
From initial diagnosis to first transfer, across heartbreak, hope, despair and new beginnings, the show aims to convey something of the common experiences of couples and individuals, focussing on the key emotional moments and the intense experiences familiar to anyone who has grappled with infertility.
Starring acclaimed Australian TV actress Adrienne Pickering as Charlie, the show is written and directed by filmmaker Martha Goddard, who drew on both the original memoir and extensive interviews conducted with women living with fertility challenges. The result is a show that is resonating strongly with viewers, while also opening up a space for the infertility community to share its experiences.
IVF Babble spoke to Martha about the show, which is currently in production in Melbourne under COVID lockdown conditions, and we asked what viewers can expect and how IVF Babble readers can get involved!
Martha, how did you come to make a show about IVF
The show is based on ‘Legs up and Laughing’, an acclaimed IVF memoir by Australian playwright Vanessa Bates. The producer (Dan Prichard) gave me a copy of it and asked if I might be interested in working with him and Vanessa on adapting it. I read it in one sitting, and laughed, cried and gnashed my teeth at the great injustice that is infertility. It’s a very intimate piece with a biting wit and I was struck by how well it would work for audiences. I was also struck by the incredible sense of longing, and its very relatable situation, utterly heart-wrenching and on a more personal note, eye-opening. I was in my early thirties when I started this project and hadn’t taken the whole ‘will I have kids?’ question seriously, assuming I had plenty of time to think about that. I suppose you could say it was a bit of a wake-up call and it led me to some significant changes in my own life.
Originally, we worked with Vanessa on developing the show in a longer format, which aimed to retain the humour, frankness and emotional truth of the memoir. We chose to tell the story in the à la FLEAGBAG, with Charlie sharing her thoughts directly with the viewer by breaking the so-called fourth wall and talking to camera. But we moved away from autobiography to explore the wider experiences and outcomes of infertility, feeling it important the show not claim to be the ONLY possible experience, and respecting the decisions that so many people take regarding their fertility. I also interviewed medical experts and conducted interviews with numerous couples and individuals about their experience of trying to conceive. All of this really helped informed the scripts, expanding the series’ perspectives and enriching our characters, while at the same time, I recognised commonalities between people’s experiences, which gave the final shape to the show.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the production?
Talking to the many women who had undergone IVF was pretty overwhelming, given the intensity of their experiences, and their openness in sharing their most intimate moments with me. It was real privilege to gain such insight and I would very often end up sobbing by the end of each call. These stories stay with me, and determined me to get this show made and honour this trust. There are also major challenges in getting any show up (and that’s a whole other story!), and the process of development and funding has led to the show taking the micro-short form it’s now appearing in.
Yes, why tell the story in this way, and why TikTok and Instagram?
We’d shot a Proof Of Concept for a longer form brogans this show, which was very well received and which led us to be picked up by the national broadcaster in Australia. But budget cuts there and an overall lack of obvious means to get the show made as we had originally imagined, caused the project to go into a kind of limbo, until Dan (the producer) had the idea of putting short clips from the existing show out on TikTok. Really, it was an experiment. And it just exploded! Our first clip hit 1 million views in a week, and other clips have attracted big audiences, too. We also put it out on Instagram, where viewers began posting such moving comments, and encouragement that we realised this was a way forward for us. I was encouraged to re-conceputalise the show, into a show of moments, a piece that was both impressionistic and elliptical, in which we jump through time, seeing Charlie and Jack experience the key beats and moments of the fertility journey that we’d identified in the interview process. This approach is far more economical and practical, both financially and narratively, as we have a LOT of story to tell over the proposed 5 years of Charlie and Jack’s story. We are also using images and text to fill the ellipses, but audiences will be expected to do a lot of the story work too in imagining what happens between each episode.
How many episodes are you envisaging?
We are currently filming 9 episodes of the first series of 12, shooting them when we can. We are still working on the scripts for a much bigger series down the line after COVID lifts, and that outline imagines at least 40 more episodes. But the nature of the writing is quite organic, so that new ideas can easily be incorporated as we go along, so we may end up with more.
And that’s where viewers can contribute?
That’s right. Viewers have made such insightful comments that they are helping us to enrich the story still further, and we have posted questions too, to prompt these conversations. It’s exciting as a filmmaker to get that instant feedback to my work, and also engage in an immediate conversation with the audience. A great example of this is how one viewer challenged the conventional metaphor of a fertility journey being like boarding a rollercoaster. Instead she suggested that it’s more like going skydiving with a faulty parachute. Every time the chute fails, you plunge to the ground, but that doesn’t stop you from getting up, battered and bruised, and getting right back into that plane. It’s something that I can well imagine Charlie saying in a dedicated episode, and viewers absolutely identifying with it. We’d love for IVF Babble readers to share their experiences too, either publicly on our social media platforms, or by emailing us privately on firstname.lastname@example.org
The show is currently being made under COVID lockdown conditions. What does that mean practically?
It means a LOT of organising timewise to find gaps in our respective lives and also a great deal of trust and in our collaborators. The 9 episodes we are making at the moment, are being filmed at Adrienne’s home in Melbourne (which has literally just re-entered lockdown), with me directing over Zoom. We are extremely fortunate in that Adrienne’s husband, Chris Phillips, is a noted documentary filmmaker and so the camera is in very good hands, but directing online is challenging, as I miss that feeling of being directly on set, and connecting with Adrienne. The situation is further complicated by the fact that our sound designer is in Buenos Aires, while our composer is in Prague, but I guess that shows how working in COVID times has helped evolve the industry and working practices.
Can you give us any clues as to what lies ahead for Charlie and Jack?
Absolutely not! I can say however that the show will encompass a range of experiences, and approaches to parenting, some which we allude to, but others which Charlie and Jack will personally explore. We also have our ending in mind, as we wanted to ensure that there would be some sense of closure, but how we get there will be very organic – and both surprising and emotional.
Has making the show changed your own views around fertility?
Completely. As I said, for me, reading the memoir led me to rethinking my plans for my thirties, but it’s also made me so aware of approaching these topics in conversation. I cringe whenever I hear someone asking if a woman or couple want kids or advising them not to leave it too late – it’s such a depth charge of a comment, though doubtless made with no intention to wound. I’m a hundred times more sensitive around the topic of baby-making now, and at the very least I have a better clue of what NOT to say.
It’s also evolved my thinking about portraying alternative family structures on screen. There is so many more avenues open today than there was thirty years ago – third party donor eggs or sperm, donor embryos, surrogacy, and co-parenting arrangements between singles or couples, straight and gay. It’s becoming commonplace to see children thriving within alternative family structures, which is empowering people to re-vision the nuclear family and consider new possibilities. The show, which initially starts on a pretty conventional pathway, is going to open up and honour those possibilities and bring that richness to both our characters and our viewers.
What do you hope viewers will take away from watching the show?
The hope is that ALL OUR EGGS resonates with all those of you going through the process; or who know someone struggling to have a baby; or those who might be reflecting on their past journey; or about to embark on one. But also, we hope it can also inform and contribute to a public discussion around fertility, challenging any perceived stigma around this issue, and raising awareness of the emotional and physical challenges the road to parenthood presents to so many. Many of our viewers have already told us they are sending episodes to friends and family, and saying: This! This is what it’s like, and so I think the show can be an important means by which these sensitive topics can be addressed and understood, at least a little. And we hope that the audience fall in love with Charlie and Jack, and the story they have to tell.
MARTHA GODDARD is a director and writer based in Stanthorpe in rural Queensland, Australia. To date Martha has directed commercials, documentaries and 6 short films, screening at over thirty film festivals.