barren bitches book brigade: an exact replica…

Welcome to my first Barren Bitches Book Brigade tour! On this tour, we’re reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, by Elizabeth McCracken. I wrote extensively about this book a few months ago, as it truly lingered upon reading. Then Tash posted on online interview with the author, covering some more subtle aspects of issues raised by the book. While grief is an individualized process and there is no universal response when a much wanted child dies, the author discusses themes that may be common to grieving parents. Although I’ve never been big on book clubs, I couldn’t resist jumping into the conversation. Questions are posed by all participants then selected for discussion. So read on and jump in… 

The author expresses gratitude that she was able to easily conceive and deliver a healthy child after Pudding’s death. Even Pudding’s story, while distinct in its own right, is told through the lens of a grateful mother holding her happy sleeping baby in her lap. “I am not sure what sort of person I would be if that hadn’t happened,” she says. While it is impossible to hypothesize what might have been had some other course of events transpired, how has having other living child/ren either before or since your loss affected your grieving process? If you have not lost a child, how has your in/fertility affected how you view other people’s losses? And do your views change if the grieving have other living children?

The question should also ask “How has NOT having another child before or since your loss affected your grieving process?” I actually wrote about this when I first read the book, and again here. While no child could ever replace another, I think my inability to conceive another child before or since our son died definitely magnifies my grief. These are two very distinct losses and each is significant in and of itself. Yet I grieve them both at once. Together they create a deeper chasm in my life than either one alone.

I understand how someone with children could have an acute understanding of what they have lost when a child dies, and how the love for one child could make the love for the other grow even stronger. Yet I only know my own experience. The loss of my only child echoes the gaping hole in my life that infertility has left, and vice versa.  

After expressing some regret that she did not press for more urgent care with her midwives before Pudding’s death, the author apparently comes to peace with the medical care she received, as she realizes the outcome would not have likely changed. How does your (or her) experience affect the way in which you approach your medical care or approach to pregnancy and birth, if at all?

I think about this a lot. I knew that conceiving, carrying and delivering a baby could be complicated, due to my prior surgeries. Yet when I finally got pregnant and began experiencing complications well into my second semester, it seemed that very little could be done to stave off the inevitable. I questioned the care I received and whether earlier intervention or hospital bedrest might have helped. If we could have just lasted a few weeks longer, I wondered whether our son would have had a fighting chance in this world. Ultimately, none of that matters now. I have come to accept this. But it absolutely changed the way in which I approached my medical care when I tried to conceive again.  

I left my old ob/gyn who I think, despite her experience, compassion, our long relationship, and her insistence otherwise, simply could not handle my high-risk case. If I had been lucky enough to conceive again, I would have run to the best high-risk doctor I could find and demanded regular monitoring and early intervention. While my incident was rare (P-PROM occurs in just 1-2% of all pregnancies), the risk of recurrence is astounding. Of course I would have known that sometimes shit just happens and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Detecting a problem does not mean it can be avoided. But at least I might not have questioned whether something had been missed.  

Unfortunately, I was unable to conceive again. But now I face quite a different dilemma with the expectant mom with whom we have matched. While I won’t get into detail here, I will say that she desires a very low-tech, minimal intervention birth by midwives. Such a birth might have been a fantasy in my younger days. But I gave that up long ago, with full knowledge that any live birth I might be fortunate enough to experience firsthand would be highly medicalized. Truth is, after so long, I wouldn’t care what orifice a baby had to be removed from, if it was alive and (ideally) healthy. 

Plus I know more, if not better, now. After three years in DBL (aka Dead Baby Land), I know way too much about all the things that can go horribly wrong leading up to birth. Some things can be detected, some not. Yet I have no control over K’s birthing decisions. Even my questions for the midwives must be approached with tact and respect. This is not my body, after all, nor my baby. Right now I am trying to decide if, when, and how I might approach the midwives about my concerns. I may actually need counseling to overcome my anxieties. One might suggest that perhaps this is not the best match for me, under the circumstances. But that’s not it. I will resolve my issues so I can fully support K. I still believe in the power of the human body and the miracle that is live birth. Just not for me.

My favourite line of the book comes on page 103: “Closure is bullshit.” In your opinion (whether or not you have experienced pregnancy loss yourself), is this true or false?

I love this line too. I think it is so true. There is no closure when a much beloved child dies. It just does not exist, for me anyway. People expect you to “get over it” and “move on.” And life does go on. But as the author says, death goes on too. “[A] person who is dead is a long, long story.”  Eventually, others will be ready to close that chapter of your life. They will think that enough time has passed that you should be able to reclaim some normalcy in your life. They expect you to somehow pick up the tiny fragments of your world that have been scattered by grief and piece them back together, as if they still fit. They expect you to magically acquire “closure” after some “appropriate” amount of time. 

But there is no such thing. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits together. Your child is still dead. There is no end to that cold, hard, irrefutable fact. As an ending, “closure” refers to a static loop. But human beings are dynamic, ever evolving individuals. And grief is a dynamic process, not a destination. To suggest that grief comes to an end is to misunderstand its very nature. Contrary to popular belief, time doesn’t heal all. Time helps heal the urgent pain and anguish of grief; but it settles just beneath the surface, like a deep scar. For me, the only thing “closure” could possibly mean is the acceptance of loss, the processing and integration of grief into your life, your story. Anything else is an illusion. 

Have you ever wished that someone wrote the book on the “lighter side of losing a child” (or IF, loss, insert your situation here)? Have you ever found that book? Have you found it in a blog? How have you used humor to work through times of grief?

I can’t say I’ve ever sought out such a book about loss; infertility, yes, but not babyloss. I’ve certainly relied on dark humor in my own way, to relieve awkward tension or try to make sense of the absurd. I’ve also found comfort in the use of humor by others. I do find myself drawn to authors and bloggers whose wit forms a human component to their perspective on infertility and loss. Yet in my own life, I’ve found that people (perhaps understandably) don’t know how to react to such humor. Only we can laugh, perhaps while quietly crying a little inside. 

A story to illustrate. Last year, we attended a “baby blessing” for my baby cousin (an “oops” baby). Soon we realized we were the only couple in the room without children. I was in between failed cycles, one period away from lost hope. I needed some fresh air, so I went outside and did some deep breathing. When I returned, I felt lighter. Then my aunt asked me to hold her empty coffee cup so she could hold a friend’s baby. I said sure, but then it just came out, I couldn’t help it. “That’s the story of my life,” I laughed. “I get stuck with the empty cup and someone else gets the baby.” She laughed awkwardly but did not appear to be amused. The few others nearby seemed unsure whether to laugh. It was true though, if not funny, and probably inappropriate. But whatever, that’s me. That’s how I released some of the tension of that day (at least until I broke down in the car on the way home). Then I made a quick escape… 

Aside from gorgeous writing, this book raised many interesting issues about loss and grief. If I had more time, I’d keep going with more questions. You can keep going by jumping to other readers on this tour. Hop along to another stop by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens.  You can also sign up for the next book for club: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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~ by luna on January 19, 2009.

12 Responses to “barren bitches book brigade: an exact replica…”

  1. I am all about dark humor. I would definitely have laughed at your empty cup joke. Of course, if I’d been there, you wouldn’t have been the only childless ones there.

  2. I think you said it beautifully that they’re separate griefs, but they echo against one another.

    It is interesting–and understandable–how the feelings transcend even your own body and into pregnancy in general. And for what it’s worth, I laughed at the coffee cup line.

  3. I believe it was your blog that first introduced me to this book so long ago.
    I like your statement, “For me, the only thing “closure” could possibly mean is the acceptance of loss, the processing and integration of grief into your life, your story. Anything else is an illusion.” So true. I was wanting to say that in my post, but couldn’t say it well enough (so I gave up, shh!)

    I do agree though. I think the closest thing to closure you can get with a loss is being able to integrate that grief into your functioning life.

    I liked your statements about dark humor. I like blogs that are sarcastic and humorous about IF, but I don’t believe such a blog could exist for babyloss. It’s just not a laughing matter, and dark jokes are so touchy and usually meant as a means of release… and people take them the wrong way because they can’t understand. I can understand the need to make such jokes everynow and then, but I imagine I would burst in tears the second something escaped my lips. Sometimes it’s the sarcastic statements, the witty, that we point towards others that make us realize how we really feel about a situation we’re in… I think. Maybe. I dunno. I’m jsut kinda rambling at this point 🙂 I may have laughed the dark laugh with you, and thought “Me too.”

    Good points on all accounts.

  4. Wow, that’s a tough one with the Expectant Mom. Obviously it’s her experience and body and that needs respected, but phew! I’d probably be on anti-anxiety drugs. You may consider *gently* asking (I know I’d shout them out like bullet points with a stern school teacher face on) questions about the baby that point to what kind of care she’s getting. And then following up if you’re not entirely happy with the answers.

    And you know me with the macabre. I swim in it. I couldn’t go on without it. Because if you’re not laughing . . .

  5. i can totally understand what you’re saying about holding the cup while somone else went and held the baby. i was there for 2 years. always made me want to punch someone 🙂

  6. I would’ve laughed at your coffee cup line, and then maybe burst into tears as well and embarrassed myself in front of everyone there. I think you are write that the dark humor of losing a baby is something that is only funny to those who have experienced it.

    I also really liked your definition of closure–acceptance, processing and integrating that grief into your life–that kind of closure I can believe in. It’s the kind of closure other people expect you to find, the healing and the end of grief, that is bullshit.

    Also, I don’t want to offer assvice when it isn’t asked for, but if you would like some help with how to approach the midwives with your questions I would be happy to help you. I am pretty low-interventionist myself when it comes to these things so I think I could help with some ways to phrase questions to make sure your concerns are addressed. I really think talking to the midwives will be hugely helpful for you, but a lot of how I would approach this kind of situation depends on what kind of midwives she is seeing and what kind of birth she has planned, etc. Anyway, I’d be happy to discuss it more if you are interested, just email me about it if you’d like. I just think you are in a difficult situation and your concerns and questions are so valid and important and I hope you can find a way to have that discussion.

  7. Hi Luna. Such a beautiful post. I am left pondering the situation with the “low-intervention” pregnancy and birth. Wow. I can certainly understand your needs here. since you have such little “control” (for lack of a batter word) I imagine that amplifies your anxiety about everything associated with this pregnancy. While our situations are totally different (I am pregnant with donor eggs) I do think there are some similarities in terms of anxiety. I just keep telling myself that this pregnancy is NOTHING like my other pregnancy. And K’s pregnancy is nothing like your pregnancy. I try to remind myself of the difference between rational and irrational anxiety. I don’t shove the anxiety away or ignore it but I do take a really close look at what I am feeling and why I am feeling it. I acknowledge the fear and anxiety but also the irrational nature of it. They are young and healthy (both K and my donor). It’s a completely different situation. Of course, past experiences will affect how we experience things and inform our concerns. On the days I can get away from my fear and know that this pregnancy is different I feel very free. I try to stay there ….but fail often.

  8. “Closure is bullshit.” Truer words were never spoken. Thanks for your insights here. It’s not a book I’ve read, but you’ve given me an appreciation for its content and insights…

  9. Luna, thanks for your comments. I especially appreciated your thoughts on how not being able to have another child has magnified your grief. As you know, I can relate! The losses are separate, but definitely intertwined.

    I also agree with you re: midwife care — definitely not for me either, although I know many women prefer them these days. But I understand your dilemma!! Do you think it would make you feel better if (if the birthmother agreed) you met with the midwives, or attended an appointment with them & the birthmom?

  10. Great responses to the questions. I am so sorry for your loss and the magnified grief of remaining childless. My experiences being in the hospital with birthmothers are actually opposite yours, so I was very interested to read your perspective. In my case I had always longed for an intervention-free childbirth and just projected that wish onto our birthmother(s). I never brought it up to them but just hoped it for them. They both chose interventions, instead, and it bothered me at first. I hope you find the words to speak to the midwives and let them know your concerns because I’m sure they will want to hear from you. Best wishes for your adoption.

  11. “But there is no such thing. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits together. Your child is still dead. There is no end to that cold, hard, irrefutable fact. As an ending, “closure” refers to a static loop. But human beings are dynamic, ever evolving individuals. And grief is a dynamic process, not a destination. To suggest that grief comes to an end is to misunderstand its very nature.”

    That describes it perfectly! Thank you.

  12. ‘closure’ is a load of crap;, a make-beleive word that other people around you make up when they feel uncomfortable watching you grieve.

    i hear you on the whole midwife thing. knowing everything that can go wrong i would hope for round-the-clock monitoring! this Luna, will be a great lesson in ‘letting go’, not that i would do any better.

    and i agree: i do beleive in wonderful outcomes and miracles; i do beleive in the marvel of the human body…but just not for me…i need all the help i can get.

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