Robo-Babies: How Laura Gallagher's IVF journey inspired her new picture book

Published on: 19 August 2020 Author: Laura Gallagher

When Laura Gallagher was told she would need IVF to conceive, she realised how childhood stories with happy endings had given her an idealised view of life.

She explains how her fertility journey inspired her new book Robo-Babies, and why we need to give all children the chance to learn resilience and emotional intelligence...

Laura Gallagher and the front cover of her book Robo-Babies

Growing up, I adored anything fairy tale. I escaped into books, films and musicals, and loved Disney princess stories. I had a happy childhood and was always a positive person with a can-do attitude and an enthusiastic approach to any problems I faced.

When I discovered, as an adult, that life wasn't the fairy tale notion of just falling in love, getting married and then having a baby, it felt like my 8-year-old self's world had been turned upside down.

How had no-one ever told me that infertility was a real problem? How had I got through the first 32 years of my life not knowing anyone that had struggled to conceive or make a family? Why was I so ashamed and embarrassed when the doctor told me I would need to undergo IVF to fulfill my dream of becoming a mother?

I never lost hope that one day I would become a mother, but experiencing the pain of longing for a child, and going through the IVF process - while it was successful for me and my husband - took its toll on our mental health. And in the two years since our son Rafe was born, I have spoken to many people about the shame around infertility.

I now know that infertility, assisted conception and adoption are very common and have made dreams come true for so many couples, but why is the subject still so taboo? Many couples are now using assisted conception and adopting, and they almost have to grieve the dreams of having a baby that were created in their childhood and perpetuated by society.

Building children's resilience through books

Laura Gallagher and her son Rafe

Thinking back to my own childhood, and how I came to have this idealised view of marriage and having children, I realised that I had been immersed in stories of straight-forward happy endings where everything worked out OK, so I wasn't prepared for anything that deviated from this ideal.

I'm a firm believer in giving children the resources to cope with life's challenges; in showing them that it's okay to feel sad, disappointed, angry; and telling them that they can still find happy endings even if there are bumps in the road. What better way to do that than through stories that they can enjoy and engage with?

My drive to create a book like Robo-Babies was reinforced by the feedback from the focus group that me and my publisher, Sam, set up online. Many parents took part and shared all sorts of journeys and stories about their families, and we took a lot from their experiences and emotions; it confirmed to us that Robo-Babies is a book that parents would want their children to read.

And it's not just families who have experienced IVF or adoption; having pitched this book to many of my friends that had what I would consider a 'normal' route to parenthood, I was delighted to find that they were excited to read this story to their children, too. Why not educate all children on these issues? Why not prepare children and help them understand that life is not one-size-fits-all?

I chose robot characters to convey the message in a way that is easy for children to understand. Simply put, robots have parts and sometimes they don't work, which makes the robots feel sad and outcast.

I felt it was important to show children the range of emotions adults can experience but ultimately it's a positive story, showing the love and determination these parents feel as well as the initial sadness and anxiety. The beauty of the book is that it has many layers and can be interpreted to suit the reader or their circumstances.

It's important that all children realise they are special however they came into this world, and I also feel very strongly that as a society we need to break the taboos around fertility and get people talking about and sharing their experiences. Making a family filled with love is at the heart of everyone's journey and I hope that Robo-Babies reflects that.

Robo-Babies by Laura Gallagher, illustrated by Nicci Martin, is published by Owlet Press, 25th August 2020, £7.99 paperback.

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