Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

This book was the focus of the latest book tour, and I enjoyed it although some of the content was very harrowing, I thought – the death of Emilia’s baby daughter from SIDS. But there was much to smile about, too, in her relationship with her stepson.

  • Did you find it hard to relate to Emilia when she said a miscarriage was simply DNA floating around in a toilet bowl?  Did it seem like she didn’t give miscarriers the right to grieve when she was appalled by the women wearing stars with m/c dates and names? 

I could understand her feelings. I have a feeling myself, sometimes, that there is a heriarchy of loss and sadness. I see myself in the “multiple miscarriages but has one child and hasn’t faced infertility as such” band and my heart breaks for women who have suffered stillbirth or neonatal death, sometimes more than once, combined with early loss, infertility and no living children.

Anger is one stage of grieving, and it’s quite natural for Emilia to express her anger at those around her who haven’t shared her terrible loss.

I think we can form ourselves into a broader community and support each other across the board, but we will always find the most solace from those who have the closest experience to our own.

On the other hand, I find that looking beyond my own specific type of loss, helps me find compassion in myself that I can then extend to me too, if that makes sense.  We can be too hard on ourselves.  When I feel empathy for another woman and I feel my heart heavy with her sadness, somehow it helps me to recognise my own right to be sad.

I think Emilia’s anger at the women remembering their miscarriages is in part anger at herself, guilt, and an inability to give herself permission to be angry and sad.

  • Emilia describes in great detail her feelings of guilt regarding Isabel’s death. For those of you who have experienced loss, did you feel responsible in some way? How did you handle those feelings? 

I have had miscarriages where I felt responsible. In several cases, I began to feel unwell at work and it was hard, afterwards, to tell whether I felt so tired and exhausted that day because I was beginning to miscarry, or whether I had “overdone things”. Of course, healthy embryos don’t self-destruct because you have a long day at work!

I was lucky that miscarriages 5 and 6, both requiring d&cs, were tested and karyotyped. Both were abnormal. This gave me great closure. I knew that nothing I could have done would have saved that pregnancy. I also gradually began to absorb, that maybe I was never going to catch that “good egg”.

In the UK, it’s not common for embryonic tissue to be tested after a miscarriage. If it was offered more routinely, I think more women would feel a lot less guilt.

I do suffer continuing feelings of guilt about loss, but it’s about the loss of my mother. It was twenty years ago and I continually relive her pain, my inability to help her, my youth and lack of weight with the medical staff, my decision not to call my younger brother to the hospital for her dying, and above all, my promise to my sister that I would talk to my mother about her prognosis, which I never did. 

If we feel unresolved guilt, it haunts us in our dreams. I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s being able to articulate our feelings, and to feel compassion for ourselves. I have been seeing  a therapist from my hospital’s birthright centre. Her specialism is support for bad prenatal diagnosis, and pregnancy loss but we long ago began to look back further, to the sadness and guilt I carried for so long. Now, I can look back on my 22-yo self and I understand that I did the best I could. Your own forgiveness is the most powerful forgiveness of all.

  • Emilia debates participating in the Walk to Remember and questions whether grief counselling or support groups really help when confronted with tragedy. What are your feelings about counselling and support groups? Do you feel that they have some merit?

I do. Bottling your feelings up is never good.  I think for some, individual counselling or therapy is what’s needed,  for others  peer support is more useful. Just finding others who can express your feelings, and realising that you are not alone, and your feelings are not “wrong” or unusual, is very comforting. The internet is one way of sharing feelings and finding others with a shared experience.

    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!).

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    ~ by drownedgirl on September 16, 2007.

    10 Responses to “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits”

    1. You are much more enlightened than I, i found it very hard to forgive Emilia for that comparison between her loss and others. In general I thought ayelet waldman was pretty tough on all her characters, they showed an astonishing lack of senstivity to each other throughout the book.

      Interesting to read your take on it, thank you.

    2. I’m also a big believer in not bottling things up, and in making sure that things are talked about, either in therapy or through words. I think it helps us get through things easier, knowing that we can put words to what we’re going through. I don’t necessarily agree with the hierarchy of pain idea, but then we all face different situations in different ways.

    3. I agree that most people will relate better to the woman who has experienced a similar type of loss. From a compassionate point of view, yes there are varying degrees but sometimes people judge others pain harshly. That is how it came across in the book that Emilia was judging others so harshly that only her pain and the others who had experienced infant death mattered.

      It is a tricky situation and in grief, sometimes, we don’t know any better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the book!

    4. Wow. I’m going to have to check out your blog more thoroughly. I really found your answers, especially to Q#1 and Q#2, insightful.

      Compassion (Q#1) and forgiveness (Q#2). These thoughts will stick with me.

    5. I am particularly struck by your thoughtful responses, especially, “When I feel empathy for another woman and I feel my heart heavy with her sadness, somehow it helps me to recognise my own right to be sad.” I think that ability to recognize grief in others means that you no longer have to constantly justify the grief in yourself.

      I also understand where you are coming from discussing guilt and family members. There are things that I am sorry about from when my brother died 17 years ago, and I have been surprised at the vehemence of my feelings that have returned relating to that event while I’ve been struggling with infertility. New losses bring up issues from older losses. I wondered if that was one reason Emilia struggled so much: she harbored feelings of guilt about breaking up Jack’s first marriage, which made her view her subsequent misfortunes in more of a guilty manner.

    6. I’m so sorry about your mother, DG.

      It’s so true what you’ve said about tissue testing. It would relieve some of the guilt. Perhaps not all–but definitely some to have definitive answers.

    7. Thanks so much for reading, and for your lovely, sensitive take on the issues raised in the book.

      Maybe the reason I’m so hard on my characters is because I’m hard on myself…but there’s redemption, too, isn’t there? At least there was supposed to be.

    8. I just about cried when I read about the loss of your mother. I am truly sorry for your loss.

      I loved your quote “If we feel unresolved guilt, it haunts us in our dreams. I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s being able to articulate our feelings, and to feel compassion for ourselves.” Sometimes the hardest part is forgiving ourselves for things we’ve done and that we feel guilty about.

      Thank you for your input on the book. Very insightful.

    9. Hi Fuschia, I got a lot out of this book when I read it some time back, as a miscarrying part-time stepmum with no live children (eek that was a longwinded self-description!) it’s hard to find fiction which covers both topics (baby loss and stepparenting), so this book meant a lot to me. I like your answers. Seraphina xx

    10. I agree that it is natural to seek out those whose loss most closely mirrors your own. Loss and grief are universal, but there is something special about being with those who have been exactly where you are during your loss.

      Thank you for sharing about your mother and its impact on dealing with your losses. A few others have shared similar stories and it is important to remember how other experiences in our lives impact how we cope with tragedy.

      thanks for your insightful comments.

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