Monday, January 19, 2009

Barren Bitches Book Tour


Once your done here, hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

This time we are reflecting on Elizabeth McCracken's memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

The first time I read this, I could not put it down. The second time I read it, I could not put it down. I think the third time I actually spent savoring certain passageways, reveling in the words. It was very powerful, very moving. The book was so strongly packed yet so open for understanding, I loved it both as the story and as the power of the words containing it.

It's hard to say,"This is a wonderful book," because it is such a sad story. Even sadder because it really happened, and not only to Elizabeth McCracken, but to many. Yet, I dare say I enjoyed this book. In this book I cried, I mourned, I sympathized, and I confirmed. Yes, indeed, "Closure is bullshit." but someday we too will be able to say, "It's a happy life-"

Okay, enough of my rambling. On with my questions to be answered... And this is my first time participating, so bear with me.

I was so moved by the writing and emotion in this book, and I wanted to pass it along to many people just because it's a great book, but I realized that a dead baby book is an awkward and probably inappropriate gift for most people. While reading, was there anybody that you wanted to give the book to? Why? Did you pass it along to anyone? If not, what held you back? Is it more appropriate for a woman who has lost a baby to give out a loss book than a woman who has not? What about a woman who has lost a baby, but the loss is unknown to the recipient -- does the gift expose her secret? Would you give the book to a woman that you know has lost a child?

Last month I ordered it on amazon and had it shipped straight to my sister's home across the country. I was unsure of how she would take it, you see she lost her daughter 10 years ago at full term. One day, healthy baby, the next day the heart had stopped.

Right after I sent it I worried, I fretted. Was she going to take it the wrong way? Would this upset her, would she even read it, would she quietly donate it to a local thrift store? I was starting to feel guilty, wondering if I'd done something wrong in sending it to her. She hadn't called me since she'd gotten it.

I finally heard from her yesterday. She thanked me for it. She was quiet, she told me that it was so strange because so much of it could have been a parallel of her own story. She told me how it was interesting to see how someone else handled it, how they survived as opposed to how she did.

Back to the original question; I think it would just depend on the situation. My sister yes, someone I barely know... I don't know what I would do. I agonized over it enough just wondering how my own sister would take it, let alone someone I barely know. I would like to say I would, but at the same time I'm afraid of making a wrong move.

I guess I, in turn, pose this question to all babylost mammas: How would you feel if someone sent you this book?

I know I would have graciously accepted it, but it would depend upon the hands it came from. My mother who said, "It could have been worse," after my miscarriage... I would wondered about her intentions. I would be critical and assume she was trying to show me just how bad it could have been. My sister, though? If she gave it to me, it would have been a nice balm. I would have known it was out of love.

Ah, and here's where we hop right back into bed with indecision. What's the situation, who's the person, what are they saying... circumstance.

McCracken views "A Figment" as her "calling card" -- the card that says, My first child was stillborn. "I want people to know about it but I don't want to say it out loud." She'll (figuratively) hand it to everyone who asks a stupid or just hard-to-answer question ("Is this your first?"), and everyone she generally just wants to know about her back story without the awkwardness of waiting for the segue and going through it. We obviously all blog -- do you view your blog as your calling card (do you have a calling card)? If you wrote a memoir, would it differ from your blog in any significant way? Do you think it would attract a different audience and would that change what you wrote?

Undoubtedly, who the audience is changes a piece. I have wrote on my blog about my loss, little pieces here and there in the privacy of my home about the entire journey, and I have wrote a short story that's still in the works.

I can honestly say that I do find myself unintentionally censoring myself in my work of the short story; this is something I am trying to work on. See, I want to tell it from a safe distance but I don't want to sugar coat it. I want to convey the pain, and the joy. I don't want to drive people away, because I want them to know and understand at a level they're comfortable with. I want it to be accessible to everyone. I also deal with accessibility with issues such as telling someone about ALI, people in the ALI community would know what that means, while people outside might think it's a weight loss drug. I try to write it in terms that everyone can understand, instead of just the people who have been in the same shoes. I want to open minds.

As far as my blog, these pieces are anonymous (mostly), and I feel more free here. I can talk about how painful my cervix was during the miscarriage on here (Okay, even here I feel a little dirty writing that) but in a short story that my English professor is helping me to edit? I think I'd feel very dirty if I threw that tidbit in there, if you know what I mean. I was afraid it would turn away certain audience members that I wanted to reach... so I editted. However, here on my blog anything, and everything, is game.

I very much admire that about Figment. I think that McCraken wrote the book in just the right tone, with just the right amount of pain, to convey the spectrum of it without turning people away. She made it real, but not so real that you couldn't come back from it.

On page 94 Elizabeth McCracken writes, "I've never gotten over my discomfort at other people's discomfort" also "I don't even know what I would have wanted someone to say", and I am wondering how you have handled that discomfort when something terrible happened to you (suicide, miscarriage, failed cycle, etc.) Is it better for another person to say something cliche that makes you feel awful or is it better for them to ignore the topic all together?

Ah, yes. I like to tell people I have a super power, the power to hush a room and drive people's of all religions, sex, race, away from me. Because... I am the elephant in the room. I am the infertile, the one in four that miscarries. I loved that statement in the book, "I've never gotten over my discomfort at other people's discomfort." Neither have I.

I was surprised how much comfort it brought after my miscarriage just to hear someone tell me, "I'm sorry for your loss." It moved me so much to have others acknowledge the baby's existence. As opposed to how much it hurt when people said things, trying to be helpful that just... well, weren't (I wanted to do some face stomping every time someone said, "It could have been worse.")

I didn't like that everyone ignored the topic, and I didn't like having to be the advocate to teach them what to say, or to have to be the bigger person and understand that they just don't know what to say or do. I didn't like it when people stopped talking, grew morose if I mentioned it, or simply walked away awkwardly.

I too wish that they had said something, even though I wasn't sure what it was I wanted. It wasn't until after a friend emailed me to say, "I'm sorry for your loss," that I grasped that it was all I needed. Just for someone to acknowledge that this beautiful little life had left the world.

But, since we can't chose the comments we get... I would rather have had silence to some of the comments I received. I really, really, would have.

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?


This was also my favorite quote... and I feel it sums up the entire memoir. You never get closure, as in 'you get to say good bye and everything in your life returns to normalcy.' But you will be able go on with your life someday; someone will always be missing, but you can go on. I think this book tells that quite beautifully.

I believe closure really is bullshit. You never stop missing that person, that piece of you, that is missing. You never "get over" it. They can not be replaced. It's like a jigsaw puzzle that will always be missing a vital piece. Yes, the overall picture may come out stunning, but if you look close enough you can see that vital little piece. You can see that the picture is not whole, and never will be.


13 comments:

Michelle said...

I have to get this book. It sounds great. I too would much rather have someone acknowledge the mc then just pretend it never happened or act like it is no big deal.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Absolutely not ignoring the topic and giving you a hug for your loss.

I too want to hear how babylost mamas answer the question. I have agonized over every gift I've given that I hope will bring comfort and yet I don't know because I'm outside the experience. Even when I'm in the experience, I worry that the gift will be taken in the wrong way.

Penny said...

I experienced a loss of a different kind, and say that yes, closure never really happens. The aftermath just seems to shift with time. I'm saying this 27 years after my loss.

loribeth said...

Great answers. As a loss mother, I think I'd be touched if someone gave me the book, because (a) it would show they were thinking of me & (b) it would show they know I love to read about this stuff. : ) I LOVED your metaphor (correct term?) of the missing jigsaw puzzle piece. An absolutely perfect way to describe it!

Tash said...

You're extremely lovely to think of your sister, and remember her loss. She may have viewed this gift from you not only as a book, but as a signal that you have not forgotten -- and that is worth an awful lot.

I think you're right though: it would depend for me on the giver, and the book itself. I was very blessed that only two people sent me books, both were extremely appropriate given who they are, and how they know me. As a rule, I would probably tell people that sending books can be dicey (it may send the unwanted message: "You're not doing it right. Maybe this will help."), but clearly -- as you've so gently and compassionately stated, it depends on the people, the situation, and ultimately, the book. I think you did right. She could always put it on the shelf and just know that you thought of her and for me? That would be enough.

Annie said...

"Ah, yes. I like to tell people I have a super power, the power to hush a room and drive people's of all religions, sex, race, away from me. Because... I am the elephant in the room. I am the infertile, the one in four that miscarries."

Yes, I have been there in a room full of women, mothers, who stood around and looked at their feet while I cried and cried and no one said anything, no one touched me, and eventually they all drifted away and went back to their own conversations, leaving me there crying. It is still shocking to me that people can react that way.

Sometimes I want to take it even further and say shocking things in order to make people uncomfortable, maybe hoping to shock them with my reality, and sometimes just to get them to shut up and stop saying stupid things to me. But in the end, yeah, I have still not gotten over my discomfort at other people's discomfort...

I think giving the book to your sister was such a wonderful thing. I am glad she was thankful for it. I imagine it was touching for her to know that you still think of her and her baby so many years later.

I also agree with you that receiving this book would really depend on the giver and how they've reacted to my previous m/c. There are some people I would probably assume the worst of and think giving this book to me was there way of saying things could be worse. But for others I would know they just thought it would help me or that it reminded them of what I've been through and I would appreciate that.

Rachel said...

First of all, I am sorry for your loss.

Secondly, I am glad you shared this book with your sister, and that she took it well. I have been thinking of sharing it with a friend, but I am not certain how she would react. I personally would have appreciated receiving it.

Thanks for sharing your answers.

Melissa said...

first of all, i am SO sorry for your loss.


"I didn't like that everyone ignored the topic, and I didn't like having to be the advocate to teach them what to say, or to have to be the bigger person and understand that they just don't know what to say or do. I didn't like it when people stopped talking, grew morose if I mentioned it, or simply walked away awkwardly."

God i can relate to that!!!!!!!!!!!!!! one of my SIL's who had a mc sent me a fruit basket (while all the other women chipped in $). One of them sent me a text message and then announced her 3rd pregnancy the following week.


i was so ANGRY at having to be the bigger person, the one trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. why did i have to be sensitive and understanding when many people said nothing, not even *i'm sorry*.

the silence only means they aren't acknowledging the baby, the situation, or my families feelings

Cassandra said...

FWIW, I think it's great for you to talk about your cervix. That's exactly the kind of information that could really help someone in the midst of a miscarriage, which no one else might ever have mentioned before.

The Steadfast Warrior said...

I am glad your sister took the gift well. If someone had done so for me, I would have accepted it gladly, because to have someone think about you and think that it would offer some comfort is something special.

I'm torn about the comments side of things. There is a part of me that wishes to have never heard some of the things people have said to me (my fav- "I do hope you'll wait at least a year this time"). On the other hand, silence would be deafening. I don't think I could handle it. So that kind of leaves me in a void. Others have said (I think it was Lori), that what any of us really want is someone to acknowledge our babies lives.When you wrote, "It wasn't until after a friend emailed me to say, "I'm sorry for your loss," that I grasped that it was all I needed. Just for someone to acknowledge that this beautiful little life had left the world" I felt myself nodding. Such a simple thing- such a powerful healing tool.

I think I understand your hesitation at having to be the one to teach people what to say (or not say). Sometimes it's too hard, too painful. For myself though, I've been through so much in my life. I guess I have gotten used to this sort of role. It doesn't mean I enjoy it though.

Karen said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about the book and I'm so sorry for your loss and for your sister's, as well.

I completely agree with what you wrote: "I didn't like having to be the advocate to teach them what to say, or to have to be the bigger person and understand that they just don't know what to say or do" I feel exactly the same way; it's only been a few months and I'm already exhausted from being an advocate and patient educator about open adoption.

That's great you're writing a short story about your experience.

Kristin said...

Whenever I read about someone's loss,whether recent or years ago, I grieve for them because i know how very hard it is. I truly am sorry for your loss. I also think it is wonderful that you remembered your sister with this book.

I also love your jigsaw puzzle piece analogy. It paints such a clear picture.

luna said...

I have that super power too. I'd MUCH rather be able to fly or be invisible. loved your answer on closure too.