Author Jacqueline Tomlins has written two books on two very different topics. In one, Tomlins documents her travels through Africa with her partner, Sarah. In the other, Tomlins helps others deal with a different journey she has taken, through infertility, loss and, eventually, a birth.
Both life episodes inspired Tomlins to write. The African book, A Girl’s Own Adventure -“ Across Africa Any Way, Any How, and The Infertility Handbook -“ A Guide To Making BabiesÂ were released by Allen and Unwin this year.
After saving enough money to get a mortgage, as most of her friends had already done, Tomlins spent six months in southern and eastern Africa at the end of 1998.
It was pre-baby -“ a bit like our last hurrah, Tomlins said.
She described the trip as both difficult and exciting. Each day you’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. It’s hugely challenging but it’s a buzz.
We used to joke about what was the best bit, and we thought it was three weeks spent in Tanzania, off the beaten track, off the beaten track, off the beaten track, she said.
We were in the middle of bloody nowhere. There were no tourists, there were no buses, there were no roads. We lived off rice and greasy watery soup with a bone in it. We had to live off our wits.
After Africa, the pair came to Australia, via Canada, and Tomlins started writing the story of their travels. At the same time, she began trying to conceive.
Eventually, she had spent five years and thousands of dollars trying. After a series of failures, she conceived once -“ and discovered it was an ectopic pregnancy. In the end she had to admit defeat.
Whether you’re going through IVF or you’re a dyke couple and you’re trying to do pregnancy, you go in with enormous amounts of enthusiasm and it’s hard when it doesn’t happen the first time, Tomlins told the Star.
And you think it’s going to, and it doesn’t. And then it doesn’t happen the third or the fourth time, and it’s hugely stressful. You don’t commit yourself to five years of hell. You commit yourself to the next one try.
The Infertility HandbookÂ was written between IVF treatments, for all would-be mothers.
To cover as many bases as possible, Tomlins interviewed doctors, nurses, counsellors, straight women having trouble conceiving as well as lesbians about their methods of insemination. She also interviewed lawyers to include comprehensive information on legal issues surrounding lesbian insemination.
There’s a huge lesbian baby boom going on, but people are really struggling -“ especially in Victoria -“ with the legal situation, Tomlins told the Star. It’s a nightmare. I really wanted to get this information out there, but I thought I would be unlikely to get a major publisher to take on a book just for the lesbian community. Going through treatment I’d kind of been in two camps. I’d been in the lesbian baby-making camp and the IVF camp, which are kind of separate but still come together.
Â When you’re going through IVF you kind of really want information -“ most people going through it realise they don’t know as much as they thought they did. Most people don’t know how babies are made, beyond the initial stuff.
The Infertility HandbookÂ was not written to be preachy. Although Tomlins included information about health and wellbeing, she did not advise never to drink another glass of alcohol.
When I was going through IVF I was a bloody basket case. And everything I read said -˜oh you shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that’. I wanted something that said this is tough, so do what you have to do or not do. You’ve just got to have a bit of balance. If you try to change your life that much -“ don’t ever smoke, drink, or go out -“ you’ll go crazy.
Tomlins started trying to get pregnant in Canada before moving to Melbourne. Because of the Victorian laws at the time, she had to travel to Sydney for three ovulation cycles, and then Albury for five more. When Tomlins and her partner were in Albury, the Victorian government changed the laws, which meant the end of travelling interstate.
Fucking hallelujah, Tomlins said. That was amazing for us. After all of that trying to get pregnant, I was a complete basket case, physically, emotionally and financially.
I got to the stage where I had to confront the fact that it might not work for me.
Like a lot of would-be lesbian mothers, Tomlins started trying to get pregnant at 35, an age when conception could become difficult.
It’s a very common age in the dyke community -“ we have jobs, careers, travel, everything’s sorted, settled, got a relationship that works well. And then we think -˜well, let’s do it’. But often it’s too bloody late, she said.
I didn’t think it would be difficult for me. My mum had five kids, my sister had three -“ they popped them out like bunnies. But they were 23.
After all of the failures, there was a happy ending. Sarah got pregnant on her second IVF treatment and gave birth to their son a year ago. And the pair were married at a large international ceremony in Canada this year.
It’s a very, very, very happy ending, Tomlins said.
I mean it’s a gruesome bloody story but we have him and he’s everything we hoped for and much, much more.