Barren Bitches Book Brigade: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

January 21, 2009

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

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 in this online book club: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

We’re supposed to answer three questions, but I appear to be incapable of limiting myself to three questions. Five seems to be my norm. The only time I’ve stuck to three was the BBBB when I was the only member who read the book and had to write all the questions myself.

Five is the new three, at least around here.

On pages 79-80, McCracken speaks of losing a friend after Pudding’s death. I was struck by the way she wrote this passage because it clearly expresses her feelings about the conflict and about her former friend, replacing the silence that she used to break off the friendship (I suspect the friend in question has read the book by now). Have you lost friends during or after your infertility/loss/adoption? If so, how much of the blame for the loss do you place on communication and/or miscommunication? Does your former friend know how you feel about him or her and the loss of his or her friendship?

I have drifted away (either partly or entirely) from several friends because it has been too painful to be around people with children, and these particular friendships were not worth overcoming the feelings (though several others have been worth it). Since I no longer live near any of them, it’s hard to know if we would have drifted apart anyway. It didn’t help that many of them, since having children, have become immensely boring.

I have also drifted away from a couple of friends because they have not handled my infertility in a way that has been helpful to me. But again, I think that the infertility was just a catalyst, and the friendships would have been doomed anyway. I think they have been mends all along.

I found myself constantly comparing her memoir to loss blogs I have read. In a very real way, blogs in general and loss blogs in particular are memoirs of that specific time. What are your favorite loss blogs and why? (Is it their writing style, etc.) Did you find yourself comparing her book to some of those blogs?

I have not known anyone IRL who lost a child during the time I knew them, but I have known several families that experienced a stillbirth far in the past. Each of them treated the lost baby somewhat differently. At one end of the reaction spectrum, acknowledging the child openly, within and outside the family. At the other end, keeping the child’s existence a secret until the other children became adults and only found out about their lost sibling in the context of gathering information for their own family-building. I’m sure there are others for whom most people have no idea that a loss occurred, sometimes even including their living children.

Cara from Building Heavenly Bridges has completely changed the way I think about losing a child. Initially, I was quite surprised to see the extent to which she incorporates Emma in the family’s daily life. Her daughters consider Emma to be their third sister, who just happens to live in Heaven. Cara has taught them to love their sister in Heaven actively, just as they love their sister on Earth, and everyone in the family works to keep Emma present in their lives. Cara also does amazing work online and locally to help grieving families, but it is her everyday actions within her own family that amaze me the most.

Most people outside of the ALI community seem to distinguish between pregnancy loss in each trimester. When I was reading this book I kept running through my head about my miscarriage, how I felt quite similar to what Elizabeth McCracken described often enough. It still reached me, even though I lost my little one so much earlier in the pregnancy. If you have had a miscarriage, rather than a stillbirth, did this book still resonate with you? Or could you not relate at all to the loss that she experiences?

I’ve had two early miscarriages, 23 DPO and 21 DPO. In some ways I imagine that a much later miscarriage or a stillbirth would be harder than an early miscarriage, but I really don’t know if any loss could affect me more than my first miscarriage. I do know that I was sideswiped in the same way that most people are, whatever the point at which their first loss occurs, since few people imagine anything bad or at least think that they won’t be one of the “few” unlucky ones.

The loss elements of the book resonated tremendously, but of course the parts about having a living child do not. I was quite surprised to learn in my Googling about McCracken that she gave birth to a daughter last month. Clearly, despite her original concerns about fertility issues due to her age, her fertility is outstanding. This aspect of her life makes me feel less connected to her story, because it has taken me seven years to get to zero babies. Not that losing any child is easy in any way, but it must prolong the pain when the next child takes years — even moreso when the next child never comes. The pacing of the grieving and healing process is completely different. But I really don’t know if the pain itself is different, since I haven’t lived all of those different lives. I also think that having a living child reduces the pain of loss for some people but not others.

Going back to the original question, I must point out that one of the things I appreciate most about the ALI community is that different losses are honored equally, which sadly is untrue everywhere else that I’ve seen, in which:
Early miscarriage < Late miscarriage < Stillbirth < Loss of living child.

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?

I wrote this question, and I am so curious to hear what other people think, because I’m really stumped. I wanted to pass it along to several people, but it would be outing my fertility/loss status and it would raise discussion topics that I don’t want to address with those people.

I also wouldn’t feel comfortable giving the book to a woman who has experienced a stillbirth or infant death, because I am lower on the loss hierarchy (see previous question).

I feel like I definitely can’t give it to pregnant women, even the ones that I think are too complacent, for fear of freaking them out — or is it better if they’re prepared for the full range of possibilities? Is it a blessing for them to realize how fortunate they are if they make it all the way through to a healthy child? Maybe, but I’m sure they wouldn’t think so.

The author talks about “out-traveling sadness” on page 132. It brought to mind all of the trips we took to forget about IF and how they never worked. What are others experiences/thoughts? Does it work for anyone?

I travel, a lot. In addition to the trips to Europe and Asia last year that I’ve already blogged about, I took several other international trips in 2008, and we visited even more countries the year before. I think it works out to 20 countries in just over two years (with repeat visits to a couple). The fact that I’ve lost count is a pretty good indication of how much we travel.

It seems that most other people dealing with infertility, especially those who are paying for their own treatments as we have been, are trying to save their money and use little or none of it for travel. Some of my trips have been paid for by work, and most others have been at least tax-deductible (and therefore, combined with the career benefits, easy to justify the expense). A few have been pure leisure, either incredible bargains or can’t-miss-it opportunities. Regardless of how we paid for them or why we went, all have been necessary. At this point in our lives, with whatever disposable income we have left after paying the RE, we need to travel. Speaking for both of us, we need to explore as much of the world as possible while we have the time, money, and freedom. Speaking only for myself, I need us to be the people whose lives are full of adventure, whose emails and postcards the fertiles read wistfully. I need to envied instead of pitied.

After last year’s hectic travel schedule, I was actually a little burned out on international trips for a while. Then, last week, the wanderlust returned. I decided that I’d like to spend a few days in a warm Mediterranean country before IVF #3 starts. After December and early January, with relentless winter and the restrictive feeling of being stuck in one place during an IVF cycle, I am feeling compelled to take advantage of this upcoming travel window. DH is thrilled and chomping at the bit to book the trip, but I’m insisting that we get the Trick Up My Sleeve health insurance settled first. If the Trick doesn’t work out, I will be prudent and save all of our money for IVF #3 (and beyond, for as many as we can manage — which, at $14k a pop, is getting harder and harder even as DH and I both take on more and more work). If the Trick does work, I will use a tiny bit of the money that would have gone to IVF and go far away, just for a little while. (We’re still trying to decide among a few candidate destinations — one of the best possible problems to have.)

It’s not about outrunning sadness, though, because the sadness has a tendency to come along for the ride. It’s about living the kind of life that we want to live. Our first choice would be a life with a child, but in the interim, frequent international trips to fabulous places are a pretty good fallback lifestyle.

13 Responses to “Barren Bitches Book Brigade: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination”

  1. Mel Says:

    I loved the question you posed and I want to hear more babylost mamas answer it. It is hard to know what is helpful vs. hurtful.

    This line: “But again, I think that the infertility was just a catalyst, and the friendships would have been doomed anyway” I agree with wholeheartedly. I think if the friendship is healthy, it can withstand a lot. And if it was weak, a crisis is going to push it to its breaking point. But it is more a statement about the friendship than the crisis.

  2. loribeth Says:

    Great answers — you made some really interesting points.

    I would agree with you that infertility is a complicating factor when it comes to pregnancy loss grief. I sometimes find myself resenting the younger, more fertile members of our support group. They may be terrified about a subsequent pregnancy — but they don’t doubt that there will BE a subsequent pregnancy (& moan to each other when they don’t get pregnant on the first or second try). I have one loss mom friend who also had IF problems & subsequently adopted & yet is prone to rolling her eyes at her daughter & saying boneheaded things to me like, “You want to take her for a week?” that make me grind my teeth. You would think she would know better.

    I try to remember that we’ve all lost a child & I certainly don’t believe that they feel their losses any less or more keenly than I do, just because they were successful at having another child and I was not. But it is a different context.

    P.S. I can never limit myself to answering just three questions either. ; )

  3. luna Says:

    how wonderful that you get to travel so much. I agree it’s more about having the life you want, with the the experiences and memories, rather that outrunning sadness. escape is only temporary, and as you said it usually comes along anyway, or is right there when you get back.

    good for you for taking those opportunities as they present themselves.

  4. Karen Says:

    First, I have to say I laughed out loud that once you were the only one who read the book…sounds like some IRL book clubs I’ve been in.

    You made several good points here about friendships and loss hierarchy.

    In response to the question you submitted, I think that not many of us are answering it in our posts because it is such a stumper, really. I thought about it when I got Mel’s e-mail and came to the conclusion that I’d only recommend it to someone if they 1. read a lot and 2. already had living children and 3. we were having a conversation about good memoirs/sad books/ALI topics. Unless those 3 conditions were in place, I would probably feel strange recommending it. But I could see myself recommending it in a blog comment sometime 🙂

  5. sassy Says:

    I’m for the travelling as well, good for you. I’m trying to outpaint my own IF issues… (:

  6. Elizabeth Says:

    Elizabeth McC. here–thank you for reading the book & talking about it.

    You know, I feel like one thing I learned from the loss of my son is that grief is incomparable. Not in the sense that people usually mean, where one thing is so much bigger or more than others, but truly incomparable, immeasurable. Like comparing a chair to a cloud, or something (apples and oranges being way too similar). I don’t know why it’s human nature to even try. One of my husband’s best friends has been struggling with infertility for about seven years, including 2 failed IVF cycles, and hers is the most profound grief I can imagine. I absolutely understand myself as luckier than her, having lost one child, ending up with two. So I guess I’m willing to compare luck, if not grief.

  7. Kathy Says:

    Thank you for visiting/commenting on my blog. I remember you from the last time I did ICLW (in July `08). I really like the title of your blog — very clever. I hope and pray that you get that baby smiling in the back seat someday. (((HUGS)))

    Anyway, I LOVED reading your answers to the questions for the book from this month. I wish I had taken time to read it and participate. I did it for Eat, Pray, Love awhile back and loved the experience of the BBBB! I do hope to read this book one of these days, it sounds like a good/powerful/thought-provoking one. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    (ICLW #24)

  8. In Due Time Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses to this book. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  9. rosesdaughter Says:

    A friend of mine recommended this book after my miscarriage at 10 weeks. I am still reading it slowly, but it seems like a good one.


  10. Soralis Says:

    We are one of those couples who didn’t get to do any traveling due to IF treatment costs. I am glad to hear you are taking some time to enjoy other things in life.

    Good luck with your journey


  11. Kristin Says:

    This was a fabulous book and I truly identified with many parts of it. I’ve been through two infant loss/stillbirths with friends and I’ve had many earlier losses myself. Its wonderful to have someone paint a picture of what it is like for the rest of the world to read.

  12. Cara Says:

    I didn’t participate in the official club, but I would love to take a stab at your question.

    I was unbelieveably lucky to receive a galley copy of this book from my agent as I am also writing a babyloss memoir/help book and we thought it would make a great comparison. It arrived four days before it was officially released. I had it done in two.

    Like you, I found myself wanting to fed-ex copies to friends and family with highlighted sections and random post-its saying “This – this is what I was feeling back then” and “That – that is what you could have done” (or not done as the case may be) I didn’t.

    I did however share it with the few people in my life that had reached out with a, “I really want to know how I can best support you. Is there anything I can read to help me?”

    So – I guess my long winded answer is I needed an invitation of readiness and sympathetic motivation to hand the book over. I hope my book is able to transcend this hesitency by offering a seciton for the “tertiary mourner” as Mel says. Here’s hoping because people need to know and some, even want to know.

    And, BTW – I’m so glad my blog and Emma have had such a profound meaning for you.

  13. Malky B. Says:

    Having had both an early and very late (full term) pregnancy loss, I can say that you cannot even compare the 2. The late loss after having to go thru an entire pregnancy, feel the babies movement, months and months of discomfort all to result in no take home baby can in no way compare to an early disappointment.

    The mourning process can be somewhat similar but the loss is not as devastating.

    I enjoy travel a few times a year as a good distraction. Even if I am still sad about IF seeing new places and stimulating the mind in that way helps for a while. The anticipation of the trip is also a nice distraction.

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