Monday, September 17, 2007

Book Tour # 6: Love & Other Impossible Pursuits

Hot freakin’ damn! It is my first Stirrup Queens book club. Many, many thanks to Mel at Stirrup Queens & Sperm Palace Jesters for organizing the book club.

The book for this tour was Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldeman. I was so happy to read something other than an infertility or miscarriage self help book, that I read Love in less than two days. Below are my answers to some of the thoughtful questions the blogsphere posted about the book.

First a message from our main sponsor:

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston (with author participation!).

And now back to another episode of Ms. Planner tries to find ways to talk about herself:

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

When I first began reading Love and Other Impossible Pursuits I felt so sorry for Emilia. No one understood her; for me, even her husband didn’t support her when her stepson, William, babbled about putting the baby’s belongings on eBay. I had so much sympathy for her that I wanted to spend the afternoon holed up in her apartment with her, bemoaning how no one understood what a loss like this does to a woman.

By the Walk to Remember, my response to Emilia had changed. It seemed like her sadness had turned to rage. And she did not know how to handle it, so she lashed out at everyone else whether they deserved it or not. If you think about it, Carolyn (the ex wife) had every reason to despise Emila for the situation that she had a large role in creating. And I especially thought the way Emilia treated her mother – the one person who it seemed was always on her side – was most rude. Emilia thought her suffering gave her carte blanche to be a complete bitch.

Toward the end of the book, I was back on Emilia’s side. I think she was very fearful that being a caring stepmother to William was her "consolation prize" if she couldn’t have Isabel. And she didn’t want something to replace her being a mother to Isabel. In the end, facing this fear allowed her to focus on being what others in her life – mainly her husband and her stepson – needed her to be: an engaged stepmother. I think that new focus helped her disengage from her own grief.

Her transformation made me reflect on my own myopic grief over my recurrent miscarriages. Here's the part where I get to talk about myself. I had let myself wallow in my sadness so much that I began to act like a spoiled child. I cried if others (namely my husband) didn’t understand me. I felt the world "owed" me something. I didn’t like what I was becoming.

Strange, but being a third-party objective observer of Emilia’s fictional character ultimately helped me reflect more closely on my own behavior.

Question #4: Emilia often describes the intense physical and emotional connection between she and Jack. She often refers to him as her bashert. But after the loss of Isabel, and Emilia's spiral into solitary despair, that connection is damaged. This alteration is noted by Emilia when Jack declines her first offer of physical intimacy since their daughter's death. She becomes "terrified that I have become like Carolyn, cold to sex, unmoved by my husband, uninterested in the passion that once meant everything to me." What sort of relationship do you have with your significant other? Do you feel he/she is your bashert? What effect has IF/loss had on your emotional and/or physical relationship?

My husband’s blog nickname is Cowboy. We’ve been together for almost eight years. Married for almost three. I knew he was going to be the man I would spend the rest of my life with from the moment I met him, which was in a strip bar. See this post for the real story.

I call him Cowboy (and have long before I started to blog) because he truly is the essence of a cowboy. If we lived in an earlier time, I have no doubt that he would have been a real life cowboy out on the lonely range with a horse, a dog, a few changes of clothes and a good book. As such, he has a steeled composure that rarely lets you see how deep he can hurt. And this was hard for me to understand after my miscarriages. He never grieved openly so I thought he didn’t care. Of course he cared that his wife was hurting, but I thought he didn’t care that we lost our "children." And I held that against him for a long time, which didn’t cultivate a healing atmosphere in our marriage.

We started going to couples therapy after the second miscarriage. Actually, it was originally supposed to be therapy for me and he was going along to be supportive. In the end, we both were talking. And, more importantly, listening. Having that safe, neutral ground to talk through the pain, fear and hurt helped us find our deep connection again. Seeing a shrink together remains the best money we’ve spent during our TTC journey.

Physically I had a difficult time after both miscarriages. I am one of those lucky gals who has never had trouble with the ‘Big O’ in a physical relationship. After my first miscarriage, I suddenly found myself not being able to, well, you know. It was disconcerting for both of us. Me, I seriously thought my bajingo was broken in some way. And I think Cowboy took it a little personally. Like he wasn’t performing up to par. After a session of discussing this issue with the aforementioned therapist, I realized that I was approaching intimacy with an I-just-need-to-get-pregnant-again-right-away-and-this-will-be-fixed mentality, which was hindering my ability to, well, you know. Additionally, this approach put way to much pressure on Cowboy and he would withdraw from any intimacy. It was a vicious cycle of very little and not-so-fulfilling sex. I am so thankful we’ve gotten past that. By the way, discussing your inability to orgasm with a therapist in front of your husband makes the embarrassment of getting dildo-cammed on CD3 look like a cakewalk.

Question #8: For those of us who have suffered loss, the Walk to Remember maybe raises some feelings and issues. Emilia meets another woman who lost a child after birth. "It's a terrible way to lose them. However it happens is bad, but SIDS is the worst. I mean, of course I'd think that, but I know I'm right." Emilia feels out of place amongst the women mourning early losses "I realize, with a vertigo that almost knocks me off my feet, that this woman has named her miscarriages...I know it is unfair to feel disgust...I have no right to condemn her just because she has given her miscarriages middle names." Is there a hierarchy of loss? Do we share more than divides us? Can we get support and solace from others regardless of their exact experience... or do we seek out those whose experience most closely parallels our own?

I hated it I read Emilia’s thoughts on this subject. I physically felt myself get warm with rage. And then I was embarassed because I gave a first name to my first miscarriage. For a long time, I considered a loss a loss. It didn’t matter if the baby was 8 weeks in utero or a few days old. And then I started reading Niobe's Dead Baby Jokes blog. And my perception began to change.


I also recently attended an exhibit called BodyWorld’s that solidified my new way of thinking about miscarriage versus stillbirth versus infant death. It features a gallery of human fetuses from 5 weeks to 40 weeks. The exhibit is as tasteful and scientific as such a thing can be. Imagine a semi-circle of glass displays, serenely and elegantly lit. Focusing on each embryo, fetus and baby as if it were the most precious gem. And it really, really hit me that my losses, which were in the first few glass displays, were truly so much less in the scope than those in the last few display casements. It really put it in perspective for me.

So while there is a hierarchy, what we share, however, is the loss of the promise of a future with our child(ren). I will never get to hear my 8 week old in utero "child" laugh in some future day the same way that Emilia will never hear 2-day-old Isabel laugh. The same way that someone who hasn’t achieved pregnancy yet hasn’t had the chance to feel the light that fills you when you see the first positive pregnancy test. I believe strongly we can find common ground in those kinds of losses.

As my blog muse, Watson, once commented: "…either way, the journey is NO fun." Amen to that, sister.

14 comments:

Von said...

That's one very thought provoking post. This journey truly is not fun. It is not just us who bear the brunt. It is also our husbands, families, friends. Sometimes it's very easy to forget our beautiful men just because they deal with things in different manners.
Your honesty and strength is breathtaking. To be able to build a better bond with your partner during times like these is not an easy thing to do.
You should be very proud of both of you.
Von.
XXXXXXX

Thalia said...

Very interesting ms p, thank you.

I am a bit torn over this 'hierarchy of pain' thing. I've never believed in it, although I defend Emilia's (or Niobe's) right to feel that way because they got to meet their children, or at least got close to it. For me, the unthinkable idea of losing my unborn child now is more terrifying than the miscarriage I had at 8 weeks because i've grown to expect her to arrive, whereas for the 8-week embryo I hadn't. But at the time, it was absolutely the worst thing that had happened to us on the journey. Interestingly, the 5 week miscarriage I had was not nearly as bad. I was very disappointed and sad, but much less invested in the idea of this embryo turning into our child.

Tough stuff.

niobe said...

I think what Ms. Planner meant (and I'm sure she'll correct me if I'm wrong) was that her own perceptions of loss changed, partly after reading my blog.

But my personal view of losses is not really the same as Emilia. I don't see a graduated progression of loss and pain. Some of the people who suffer the most are the ones who have very early miscarriages or those who never become pregnant, mourning the babies they never even conceived.

Here's my (long and drawn out) analogy. Getting divorced is generally a tragic and painful experience. And that's true whether you've been married four days, four months, four years, twenty-four years, or forty years. Splitting up can be equally or more painful for those people who never actually got "divorced," because they never got married.

But how painful the break up is and how invested the person was in the marriage don't necessarily correspond to the length of time that she was married. Probably, those in very long term marriages often feel more of a sense of loss than those in very short-term marriages, but there are so many variations and exceptions that I don't think you can make a categorical rule. Similarly, two women who each get divorced after being married exactly the same amount of time may feel very different degrees of pain and loss.

And I think the same analysis applies to pregancy and pregnancy loss.

Carrie said...

This was a great post. I wasn't going to read the book as I had heard about Emilia's reactions to miscarriages.
I already feel on shaky ground at my reaction to early loss and it has taken me a while to stop being so hard on myself and realise that I have every right to grieve because these losses hurt. It doesn't compare to the loss of a child perhaps (I pray I never know), but it does hurt.
Your reflection on your life is so good too.

Anne said...

I skipped rage and went straight to embarrassment for naming my miscarriage, but then I rationalized - it was a baby to ME. And naming HIM made ME feel better, more connected. I told some family HIS name a few weeks ago and they didn't laugh and didn't comment and I'm going to take that as an affirmation that they agree with me, naming the babe was a good thing to do. Emilia gets to have her opinion because we all do, but not because she's right or wrong. *Have really enjoyed reading your blog.

Ms. Planner said...

To clarify on Niobe's & Thalia's comments (two ladies, who are always more eloquent than me), reading Niobe's blog helped MY perceptions of loss change.

I learned that there were people out there, women who were probably a lot like me, who had endured -- at least in my opinion -- so much more than I had. It did not dull the pain for me, it just made me realize mine had its place on the global scale of pain and suffering. It gave me perspective to help me cognitively reason with the pain I feel over my losses.

You ladies are so smart and intelligent. I am honored that you chose to read and react to my blog.

amy said...

Wow. Great insight on Emilia's using her suffering to allow her bad behavior....I definitely do that sometimes too.

This journey is no fun at all...AMEN!

Amy
dancingwithinfertility.blogspot.com

Kristen said...

Wow, this is an awesome post.

I am so sorry for your losses. It breaks my heart to see others in this situation. I have had 2 losses and I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone else - not even my worst enemy.

I am so glad that therapy helped to improve your marriage. IF is truly a test of commitment and communication.

And that exhibit sounds so horrifying and yet I am drawn to it. I am very curious now to see it. I do not believe a loss is a loss but I think having never gone through neonatal or infant loss, I could never imagine their pain. I try not to participate in the pain olympics. I believe the pain is different but I am unable to say whether one type of pain is worse than the other.

Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

The Town Criers said...

I love Niobe's analogy.

Wait, wait, but the book: I love your thoughts on therapy. I think a good therapist can make all the difference in the world and I'm glad Cowboy came with you and you two were able to get to this different space after the losses.

And how much do I love the word bajingo?

Waiting Amy said...

First, thank you for sharing such intimate details about your journey with Cowboy as a couple. (it was my question, and I love that you approached it so honestly and thoughtfully!)

Second, thank you so much for how you described your take on the "hierarchy of pain." I answered a similar question in a similar manner, but without nearly the grace and adeptness. I feel much as you do on the issue, but also not with any exclusionary outlook.

I think you are eloquent!

Lori said...

I, too, will be adding "bajingo" to my vocabulary.

Body Worlds came to my town, too. Only my reaction was different. It made my unconceived, uncarried, unmanifested child even more real. It was years after I closed the door on IF, but it brought back many of the feelings.

Great insertion into the discussion.

Ayelet said...

Um, I'll be using Bajingo from now on, too. ;) Don't be surprised if you see it turn up in a novel!

It's so amazing for me to read these takes on the book...I'm dying to see the body exhibit. I wonder what my reaction will be? How will I feel about seeing a second trimester fetus. That the age my baby (and he WAS a baby to us, even if he was no where near conception) was when we lost him.

Thank you so much...for reading, and for making me think.

missedconceptions said...

The "bajingo" episode of Scrubs was just on, and I still laugh whenever Elliot say that word. She has to turn to her boyfriend and proclaim "I have a vagina and you have a penis." Kills me every time.

I am so tempted just to turn to my students sometime and say "bajingo, bajingo, bajingo."

Miscarriage is very hard on a marriage.

passingwindows said...

I really liked your statement that 'I think she was very fearful that being a caring stepmother to William was her "consolation prize" if she couldn’t have Isabel. And she didn’t want something to replace her being a mother to Isabel. In the end, facing this fear allowed her to focus on being what others in her life – mainly her husband and her stepson – needed her to be: an engaged stepmother.' I hadn't realised that but it's so true, maybe Emilia felt that if she was a good stepmother to William, the universe would think she already had a child and would somehow withold any biological children. Irrational but loss and infertility can do that to you.

I loved your bit about the therapist as well. The idea was brought up and squashed by both me and my husband but your positive experience is making me think again.