Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Barren Bitches Book Tour #6


I must admit that I read this book in less than 24 hours. I was relaxing on my father-in-law's boat when I decided to crack it open. And once I did, I just couldn't put it down. It was a heartwrenching (albeit sometimes funny) and eye-opening tale about love, life, loss and overcoming grief. It was like a trainwreck happening before my eyes that I couldn't look away from. Emilia, the main character, is certainly flawed. It is not easy to feel sorry for her, despite the fact that she recently lost her newborn daughter, Isabel, to SIDS. She is an admitted homewrecker who finds it difficult to face her 5-year old stepson after her loss. Moreso, she dreads their interaction every Wednesday. He is quite precocious and his very presence reminds her of his mother Carolyn and the damage she inflicted on their family. Not to mention the constant reminder of what is missing from her life. Emilia is forced to re-examine her life and accept her loss, while coming to terms with her mistakes and the mistakes of others. I really connected to the characters in the book and it really made me analyze how I have grieved over the babies I have lost and evaluate my actions. This novel is a must-read for anyone struggling with loss.


1. Throughout the book, my feelings towards Emilia were conflicted. If you felt that way too, why did you also feel that way?

I wanted to feel sorry for Emilia but there were many times her words and actions would make me want to smack her. It often seemed as though she wanted to be miserable. Near the end of the novel, her husband Jack even tells her that losing Isabel is not a "get out of jail free card" - that it does not give her permission to treat people however she wishes. She was often selfish, putting her own needs and image ahead of others. Rather than calling the car service, she insists on catching a taxi and considers William - and his booster seat - the ball and chain. She cares more about how others think of her than what is best for the child. The same goes for her tromp through Central Park, where William gets muddy and wet, and consequently sick. She insisted on continuing without a map, with little regard for William's feelings. Despite how much she said she wanted to be a good stepmother, her actions always seemed otherwise. It was as though she willed it upon herself to make mistakes. There were times leading up to the conclusion that I wished I could reach through the book and open her eyes as to what she was doing.


2. Emilia's handling of grief changes during the book. In the beginning, she mocks her friend, Mindy's wholeheartedly embrace of the "grief community" and rejects her offer to go on the Walk to Remember. She then changes her mind and does the Walk and comments that she envies "the ease of their grief" while wincing at the bad poetry read aloud at the pond. Do you find that your desire to openly express your grief has changed? Have the structures and practices in place helped you cope with your grief or do you wince like Emilia at things you find overly sentimental or just inappropriate for you?

I think that I have always wanted to openly express my grief. Ever since my first miscarriage, I have never wanted to feel ashamed about what happened to me. I wanted to educate others. I wanted to learn more about miscarriage and educate myself. I wanted to commemorate my babies. That desire has only grown stronger with my second loss. I feel it is even more important to share my feelings and not bottle them up. I realize it is okay to be sad and it is okay to take time to move on. It is okay to express myself. This blog has really helped me to alleviate the tendency to self-inflict guilt and remorse. I have joined support groups to connect with others who are going through similar journeys. These experiences have helped me tremendously. I have made long-lasting friendships, either IRL or online, and I don't know what I'd do without that support. I may not grieve in the same way as my friends but I respect and appreciate our differences. I'd like to believe it makes me a more well-rounded person to surround myself with a diverse group of people from all walks of life and infertility experiences that don't always mirror my own. It gives me a greater overall perspective.


6. There seems to be a natural urge to rank our pain against that of others. Emilia separates herself from Mindy by saying, rather graphically, that a miscarriage is nothing compared to a baby loss. Later at the Walk to Remember, Emilia again feels disgusted to find that a woman has named her miscarried children. How did this strike you in light of your own situation? Do you (consciously or subconsciously) rank the pains of (a) not being able to conceive; (b) not being able to carry a baby to term; and (c) the death of a baby/child? Did you choose your own pain as the worst?

That particular passage on page 65 really broke my heart. It was raw and honest and it made me emotional. Never having experienced a neonatal loss or loss after birth, I could not relate to Emilia's feelings. I have had two miscarriages and they both felt very powerful and profound to me. It was more than remains and blood into a toilet as Emilia suggested. It was my baby and all the hopes and dreams I had for my future family being flushed away. I try not to participate in the Pain Olympics (as others have called it) but I think it is natural. Pain is relative - what is painful to one person may not be as painful to another. When we are suffering, our pain feels so real and feels the worst because it is our pain. I try to look beyond myself and feel sympathy for others - no matter what their loss may be. Not being able to conceive is a loss - the loss of a potential child month after month. Not carrying a baby to term is a loss - the loss of experiencing pregnancy milestones and giving birth. The death of a baby that has been born is a loss - the loss of a loved one that you gave birth to and cuddled and held. All three losses are painful but it is moot for me to say which one ranks highest. They are each painful in their own right. I guess it comes down to whether you believe it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But who am I to minimize someone else's pain?


7. We all have had someone in our lives like William who innocently says the wrong thing more often than we would like. How has your infertility experience helped you respond better to those "innocent yet wrong" comments/questions?

This is something I am still trying to work on. I am often taken aback by others' insensitive comments and don't know how to respond. A good friend who had just found out about my second loss innocently said, "Eleven weeks isn't that far along though, right?" I didn't want to be confrontational but at the same time, I wanted to tell her how I really felt. I wanted to tell her that I may not have been forty weeks along but it didn't lessen my pain. I still lost a baby, a baby which just weeks ago had a heart beating. I have a closet with toys, little onesies and maternity clothes I won't get to use - reminders of what should be. I think, above all, IF has made me much more in tune with others' emotions. I feel like I can empathize easier and sense pain from a mile away. I know more about what is and is not appropriate and I am more sensitive to that than I ever would have been before.


11. Emilia tries to get the restaurant to begin carrying a pink cupcake for William, admitting, "he will be overcome by the bliss of a strawberry cupcake and he will forget the rage in his mother's face when she looked at me. I wish there was a cupcake that delicious. What will it take for me to forget, I wonder?" Is that level of distraction only capable by children? What do you use to distract yourself when you're trying to forget something painful?

I think that there are certain things that we can do to temporarily distract ourselves from the pain. I don't believe we will ever truly forget but certain things can push it out of our minds for a moment (or if we're lucky - minutes). Writing definitely helps occupy my mind - to get my thoughts out on paper. As does listening to music. I get caught up in the lyrics and my mind wanders into a fantasyland. Movies can sometimes work - especially a good, silly comedy. There are times I just need to laugh so I won't cry. And sailing. DH and I own a 23' sailboat and going out for a sail (weather permitting, of course) can be the ultimate relaxation technique. I get lost in nature and just breathe in the fresh air. All of these things can help me to relieve my pain, if only temporarily.



Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about Love and Other Impossible Pursuits? Hope along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list at Stirrup Queens. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for Tour #7 (Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston) and all are welcome to join along. There will be author participation with this one! All you need is a book and a blog.


Also, if you haven't already, stop by and read Ayelet Waldman's online interview here. Very insightful! Thank you, Ayelet, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. And thank you for an awesome read - keep 'em coming!

12 comments:

Samantha said...

I felt the same way about Emilia. I frequently wanted to yell and slap her and point out how the things she was doing were not helpful to the situation. I think it is telling that as much as we found her exasperating, we also found her to be such a believable character and cared about her enough to want to change her ways.

I also like to get out into nature to ease my pain (no sailboat, but I like to walk).

Fertilize Me said...

Excellent Review !! I enjoyed reading your answers

Lori said...

I think part of Emilia's problem is that she WANTED to be ssmacked. She felt guilty for so many things that she kept sabotaging herself and the people around her.

"Pain is relative - what is painful to one person may not be as painful to another. When we are suffering, our pain feels so real and feels the worst because it is our pain." Well said, Kristen.

Anne said...

"Not being able to conceive is a loss - the loss of a potential child month after month." This is the one that anyone I talk to has the most trouble with. If they were pregnant within 1 2 3 months of trying, they have an inability to understand. "Not carrying a baby to term is a loss - the loss of experiencing pregnancy milestones and giving birth." This one gets a little more understanding, but it's still hard to balance your feelings and emotions with how far you are able to go to educate people. I enjoyed your take on the book.

Ms. Planner said...

"But who am I to minimize someone else's pain?" I really enjoyed your review of the book. And especially appreciated your thoughts on this particular question. You also remarked in a subsequent question that you are a more sensitive to other's pain. And, you know what? I can tell you are a sensitive person by the way you answered the questions with such thoughtfulness about your loss and the losses of others.

Thanks also for the review of "Tell Me You Love Me." We don't have cable but you can bet I've already reserved this show in our Netflix queue!

Lastly, I am so very sorry to have read of your losses. So very, very sorry.

lub said...

I'm joining! Thanks! Sounds like a great book!

The Town Criers said...

Your friend's comment really floored me. How do you even respond to something like that?

I feel the same way about support--both everyone in the blogosphere and face-to-face meetings.

Ayelet said...

Thank you so much for being SUCH careful readers! Wow. It's amazing to experience this.

Pain Olympics. I like that. I have to remind myself regularly that I'm NOT an athlete. ;)

jenna said...

In my post, I only remarked on the character of Emilia and her glib comments about the sorority of grief. I was so offended by her typecasting of grief. I don't think the experience causing the pain is as significant as how the person internalizes it. The significance of losing a baby that was born may or may not be as significant as losing a pregnancy or an adoption match. I had a hard time liking her character after that piece on pg 65.

Waiting Amy said...

I love that Emilia's character evoked such different responses from people. It has been so interesting to see how all the reactions to her behavior.

Of course your responses to the book show what a caring and compassionate person you are -- it is no surprise your experiences have only caused you to be more so.

Wishing you well in the future.

Katie said...

Good review. I am definitely going to have to get this book now. I love a good distraction!

SULLY said...

I can't wait to read this book now!

Searching Amazon.com as we speak!

Thank you!