Author: Luke C. Jackson and Kelly Jackson, artist Mara Wild
Publish Date: May 2021
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1-950354-63-4 (US Edition)
Author website: http://www.lukecjackson.com/
Guest Reviewed by Jennifer Takhar
Two-Week Wait (2021) is a graphic novel that details Joanne and Conrad’s, the protagonists, uneven in vitro fertilisation (IVF) journey which ultimately leads to the successful birth of their child. The authors, Luke and Kelly Jackson, have claimed that their representation of IVF, based on personal experience, “is not a medical text (but more) a relationship drama” (The Guardian, 2021). I would argue that Two-Week Wait is as much a medical text as it is a depiction of the emotional, corporeal and financial vicissitudes, (an amalgam I call “IVF affect”), that are commonplace in patient descriptions of assisted reproductive technologies (Takhar 2021).
The novel foregrounds medical infertility explorations and procedures. Its title, Two-Week Wait, refers to the final phase of the IVF procedure, the time between embryo transfer and blood testing for pregnancy. The readers learn about sperm testing which analyses morphology, motility and quantity and the concomitant emotional reactions of male patients in the face of suboptimal results: Conrad has little to say after the fertility specialist delivers the unexpected evaluation and tellingly his facial expressions are masked by his lowered head, covered up by a shock of orange hair. Joanne’s hysterosalpingogram (or HSG) is another stark, visualised medical moment in the story which offers readers heightened (in)fertility awareness as we follow the movement of the injected contrast dye into the patient’s uterine cavity and witness her “fallopian tubes light up” (p. 27). Joanne is subsequently diagnosed with endometriosis which the authors take the trouble of describing for readers, (p. 29) and, after her surgery, we learn of Joanne’s badly scarred fallopian tube which lead us into the couple’s IVF treatment. The series of reproductive pathologies in the novel underscore the (in)fertility awareness or didacticism if you will, put forward by the authors, albeit in a discreet manner that does not overwhelm the narrative or its readers.
The IVF lens and perceptual pitfalls
Although I recognize the clear, liberatory possibilities of graphic novels for researchers of fertility/infertility in this case, and the writers of these texts, I would like to draw attention to the “deforming IVF lens” (my term) that can undermine patients’ self-appreciation and self-representation. In their IVF story, Joanne and Conrad both place a heavy emphasis on their substandard sperm, pathological endometrium and scarred fallopian tube, especially in the first half of the novel. Ultimately it is Joanne’s defective fallopian tube that makes IVF mandatory. This representation leans towards gendered self-essentialism that may compound the belief that women are solely responsible for reproductive outcomes, even when recent research on declining sperm quality (Rolland, 2013; Levine et al., 2017) has undermined these ideas. I charge that this body fragmentation is an unfortunate but inevitable “side effect” of the IVF procedure on patients’ self-perception and their quest for success as portrayed in novels, graphic or otherwise. In Two Week Wait the essentializing potential of IVF is mitigated through an egalitarian representation of Joanne and Conrad’s voices, reactions and self-interrogation.
Jennifer Takhar is a Paris-based academic who works on Consumer Culture, transhumanisms, biotechnologies, innovative research methods and articulating marketing dynamics through novel representational forms. Her work is attentive to the rhetorical and literary strategies used to persuade consumers. Jennifer has published on these subjects in journals including Marketing Theory, the Journal of Marketing Management and Consumption, Markets & Culture.