This article first appeared in The Information Point newsletter Our World in 2016 when Aminah Hart told us about her book How I Met Your Father. Aminah, the mother of three children, sons Marlon and Louis who had myotubular myopathy and daughter Leila, then three years old, born after Aminah underwent IVF using anonymous donor sperm. Aminah told the Information Point about her life, her boys and the unconventional way she came to have her daughter and fall in love with Leila’s father Scott.
What made you decide to tell your story
The ABC’s Australian Story did a documentary about my life in 2014. After it aired, three different publishers approached me asking if I’d like to write a memoir and I thought it would be a lovely way to pay tribute to my deceased sons, Marlon and Louis and create a lasting record for my daughter Leila to read when she’s old enough given that she has quite a big back-story to her life and came into the world in quite an unconventional way.
Did you have any goals for the book when you began writing it
I was very fortunate to be approached by publishers rather than the other way around. Initially I was offered a ghost writer but I am very protective of the story of my childrens lives and so I very much wanted to tell the story in my own voice and my own way although I’d never written for public consumption before. Ultimately I was offered an advance to write my story and the publisher I chose, Louise Thurtell at Allen and Unwin, was very supportive in her encouragement at the times when I worried I couldn’t do it. She assured me I’d find my voice and once I did the story would flow. This turned out to be true although it took a month of procrastination and avoidance before I got started in earnest.
How long did the book take to write
I signed the contract with Allen and Unwin in December of 2014 with a manuscript deadline of July 31st. I procrastinated for all of January 2015 then finally started writing on February 1st. I delivered the last section of the manuscript on July 30th, one day early!
Did you have a particular time of day you wrote, a number of words or chapters you wrote each day, a place you liked to write
Once I got going, I treated it like my full time job and wrote every day, sometimes for up to ten hours in a day. Sometimes the words wouldn’t come and I’d give myself a break then come back to it when I felt able.
How did you go about putting the book together
Thankfully I had kept fairly detailed diaries since I’d left home in Australia, for London in 1995. I also kept complete journals during both of my sons lives that chronicled every detail of our days as I never wanted to forget. I have a good memory but I would never have remembered the finer details without those records, especially the more traumatic times as they had been tucked firmly away in my emotional archive in order to cope and move forward. It was incredibly emotionally gruelling revisiting some of those tragic and painful times in my life.
The book is very honest and there are parts which must have been hard to write – how did you deal with writing the hard parts
It was a very steep learning curve. My mind works in a linear and methodical way having spent so many years in advertising agencies managing deadline driven projects, so I expected to start the book at the beginning and work my way through it chronologically. However the part before I was born relied on my mother’s diaries and I discovered they were written in shorthand which I can’t read so she had to transcribe those first meaning I couldn’t start where I had hoped. So I tried moving on the period of my life where I first got married and had my first son Marlon but the story wouldn’t come out. This was when I realised how I had wrapped up the saddest parts of my life tightly in little boxes and put them away in the recesses of my mind. At first I wasn’t ready to access those memories at all. Eventually I thought to myself, start with the happy part, the part where I had my healthy daughter Leila and then met her dad and fell in love. So I basically started at the end and wrote the whole thing back to front.
Once I’d had the reassurance from my publisher Louise that the quality of my writing was good, that gave me the confidence to delve into the sadder parts of my life story and put them on the page for public consumption. As you can imagine there were lots of tears and snot at times and I simply had to down tools, take myself for a long walk and let the memories filter back through my mind, as painful as that was. Hopefully it helped make the story authentic for readers as the emotions on the page are very real.
The media have focused on the back to front nature of your relationship with Scott and it is a lovely way to start, knowing the happy ending and working back, however, the book covers much more than that – how would you describe the book and what would you like readers to take from the book after they have read it
For me, it’s primarily a story of motherhood. Both my mother’s and my own. Our journeys to and of motherhood, the challenges, the potholes along the way but overwhelmingly of maternal love and lengths we will go to to protect and nurture our children who can bring the greatest of joy and deepest of sorrow to our lives. It is also the story of me. The racism I faced as a child and the strong and determined black woman I became despite it, nurtured by and within a loving family who gave me the tools I would need to face the unimaginable challenges ahead when it came to creating my own family.
Do you read yourself and if so, what do you like to read
Funnily enough I’ve always enjoyed tales of goodness and positivity coming out of difficult or challenging circumstances. The God of Small Things is an all time favourite. I also like reading stories that make me cry because invariably they make me think and look for the reasons for the tears which is where you so often find meaning. Tuesdays with Morrie is a good example.
What are you currently reading
I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read a book since before I started writing my own. There was no spare time during the writing and there has been even less time since its release as I’ve been promoting it. The last book I read was Wild by Cheryl Strayed suggested to me by my publisher as a great example of how to write a memoir. I enjoyed it immensely and obviously it’s been a huge success.
What are the best things that have happened as a result of writing your book
The best thing that has happened has been the feedback from other people who have sent me messages from literally all over the world from India to Africa to the Americas and Asia, telling me how much my story has moved them, made them appreciate their lives and families all the more and given them hope, especially women who want to become mums but are still childless by chance and considering their options to create a family outside the box. I have replied to each and every message and each of them makes me believe that it was the right thing to do putting myself out there so personally by telling my life story.
The other thing has been getting the chance to read my story as a ‘reader’. Of course I still think of ways I could have bettered it but I sat on a plane to Japan and read my story for the first time. Whereas before it had just been the life I had lived, but in reading I understood why others see it as an exceptional life and exclaim my strength in not only surviving but being happy. These are the good things. The rest is just media!
There has been a lot written about the ‘happy ending’ to your story – you are now married, mum to a happy and healthy daughter and part of a large family but how would you describe your life right now
I like to think of this phase of my life since meeting Scott as a happy new beginning rather than a happy ending as the media have positioned it. It’s the start of a family life I never thought I’d have. There was a time when I didn’t think marriage and family were possible for me and my wildest dreams never envisaged me as a stepmother to four other kids. Now we are a big family in a busy and chaotic household of seven plus the boys’ girlfriends and I couldn’t be happier. But, I am taking nothing for granted and still living in the moment as my sons taught me to and appreciating each and every happy day.
Aminah’s memoir can be purchased at
Book Depository, iBooks or Amazon for the Kindle version.