Background to the book by Vanessa Gorman

More than ten years ago I had an idea to write a scrapbook which used many forms to tell a story of love and spirituality in our time. I began collecting articles and essays, quotes and poems, the detritus of romantic notions.

I have always loved reading memoir and kept a haphazard journal of my own life and thoughts. I fell in love at thirty-three and began keeping a journal of life with my partner Michael as we navigated our way through the modern minefield of love and gender relations, arguing about commitment versus freedom and when or even if to have a baby (me desperately for, him against). I eventually got pregnant and then our baby daughter Layla died eight hours after birth. In the months after her death my journal became a kind of lifeline for me. A place to put my deepest thoughts, emotions and fears without worrying about judgment from others.

Friends I eventually showed some of my writing to, suggested I should try to write a book. I put together a proposal and Penguin gave me an advance and a deadline which is the only way I could force myself to do it with the delightful distraction of a toddler underfoot. I found a family day care place for two days and the wonderful Elizabeth came to mind my son Raphael at home on the other afternoons so I could write.

The book, Layla's Story- A memoir of sex, love, loss and longing chronicles a ten year period in my life both before and after losing my daughter. Through a scrapbook of narrative, letters, journal, emails, poems, quotes, graphics and photos I tell the story of falling in love with Michael,
terminating a pregnancy, leaving the city for a seachange, arguing about the baby issue, getting pregnant, losing the baby, the terrible grief that followed, the redemption of having my son and the joys of life with a new partner and child.

To be frank I was also attempting to write a self help book disguised as a memoir. I have bought a few self help books over the years but rarely finished them. A personal narrative story struck me as a more interesting way to share the process of coping with grief and healing from loss.

Traditionally, losing a baby was not seen as a big death, the assumption being that you didn’t know that person therefore it couldn’t hurt that much. So I suppose I have been trying to describe the devastation of this loss. How it shakes you to the very core. How you discover new sides to yourself (some of them dark and appalling). How to heal and ways to find joy in your life again. And of course it is another way to make meaning from the devastation and celebrate Layla’s short but powerful life. Ultimately, I wanted it to be a transmission from one heart to another.

I began writing the book when my son Raphael was 19 months old and wrote my way through another pregnancy, nurturing both babies in their creation. I worked on the editing process for the first two months of my new daughter’s life, trying to make my brain work through a stew of tiredness.

People have asked me if it was hard to write. Why relive this kind of pain? Writing was a way of keeping her memory alive, celebrating her short life. It was a way to make sense of the loss and possibly give voice to the pain we all share through bereavement. Yes, parts of it were hard to write but it was harder to live through. The writing in fact helped me work through a lot of the grief and begin to see it as ‘just a story’ - one of six billion stories on the planet.

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