Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Brigade Discussion: McCracken

I decided to join the Barren Bi**hes Book Brigade for the first time because of the selection for this tour: An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken. A friend gave me McCracken's The Giant's House last year and I loved it (thanks Holly!); I'm always excited to read more work from an author I admire.

Exact Replica is one of those books you hesitate to say you "enjoyed," because of the subject matter. It is a memoir of McCracken's loss of her first son to stillbirth. But I did enjoy it; it is absorbing and eloquently written.

My experience reading McCracken's memoir after enjoying her novel is similar to my experience reading Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto and then her memoir Truth & Beauty (and I'm pretty sure Patchett and McCracken are friends, coincidentally). Because I loved both novels, I found myself reading the memoirs as if they described the experiences of people I knew, which made them even more intense. In the end, my reaction to Exact Replica is summed up best by a quote from Alice Sebold on the back cover: "By the end of this memoir you will have held a beautiful child in your hands and you will have acknowledged him." That is why the author wrote the book, so that Pudding will be remembered, and I am honored to be one of the people who will do so.

Here are my responses to three of the discussion questions posed by other members of the Brigade:

Question #8: On page 13, McCracken writes, "I want a book that acknowledges that life goes on, but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn't, but eventually you'll feel better. You'll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead." Do you agree with the idea that those that have died continue on? Have you ever found that Time could actually change your perception of death? If you haven't experienced the death of a child (or even if you have), how might this translate into other areas of your life? (i.e. infertility, adoption, loss of other family members, etc).

I haven't experienced the death of a child, but this idea makes me think of my feelings about Lucy, our failed adoption. I've had several people either subtly or overtly encourage me to just move on and forget about what happened with Lucy in July. The implication, or at least my interpretation of it, is that remembering Lucy isn't normal and appropriate; that I am clinging to my sad story because I'm a drama queen or because I want other people to feel sorry for me. Particularly because we heard about Evie so quickly after losing Lucy, many people close to us seemed to feel relieved that they could stop consoling us and just be happy for us again. And to an extent our wounds were healed; we moved on with our lives, planned for Evie and now we are parenting her. Because consoling someone who is grieving is difficult and uncomfortable, people don't mention Lucy to us anymore and seem a bit shocked if we bring her up in casual conversation (e.g. "we shampoo Evie's hair like that because it's how Lucy's nurse taught us to do it"). People wonder, I suppose, why we would want to keep our loss alive by remembering it and talking about it.

But for J and I, because of the days we spent with Lucy in the hospital, it is impossible to simply forget that time in our lives and pretend that it doesn't still sting when we think about it. So much of our spring and summer revolved around Lucy! I will never be able to think back on that time in my life without acknowledging that her loss is a part of our lives. However distant in the past it becomes, it will never disappear from view.

One example of this has to do with something silly: our wipes warmer. When we left for the hospital, as M was in labor, I had every single thing ready to bring Lucy home. The only thing that wasn't ready was the wipes warmer. I didn't want to plug it in and have it waste electricity while we were at the hospital. I made a mental note: remember to plug in the wipes warmer when we bring her home! The morning we lost her, we stopped by our house to change clothes quickly before we headed downtown to meet our lawyer (and, it turns out, to hear the fateful news that the adoption was over). As we were rushing around the house that morning, I remembered to plug in the wipes warmer so that Lucy could have a cozy first diaper change in her new house. When we got home later that morning, devastated, and began dismantling the Pack 'N' Play and uninstalling the car seat, I was still numb. I had cried in the car on the way home, but the reality of what had just happened didn't really hit me until I found myself unplugging the wipes warmer. Such a simple, silly thing. To me it represented the idea of a real, live baby in our house, in our nursery. Unplugging it meant facing our lack of such a baby. I still think of that day sometimes when I am refilling the wipes warmer that keeps Evie's bum cozy and fresh. There are several things like this in our lives: losing Lucy is a long, long story.

Finally, I think that by referring to her as Lucy in my blog (since her parents changed her name) I am acknowledging that loss goes on. When we called her Clio, we were happy with anticipation. Now that she is Teresa, she is living happily with her parents. Lucy doesn't exist anymore, but she did exist for four days. In those days we loved her and parented her and lost her.

Question #10: 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?

I've tried a few times to use my blog as a calling card in real life. I've had people ask me about our history and I've said "here's a summary....blah, blah, blah...and if you want to know the details I have a blog..." The people I've mentioned this to rarely become readers, for whatever reason. I suppose it is because they either "aren't online people" or decide that because they know me in real life they'll just keep up with me that way and don't need to read. That makes sense to me. But I've been hurt by doing this, too. I have a few long-distance friends whom I've told about the blog and then subsequently found out they not only don't read it but never even checked it out once. That hurt my feelings. I mean, come on. I know I write a lot and I wouldn't expect people with busy schedules to be able to find time to read everything, but I can't imagine having a friend share his or her blog address with me and never checking it out at all. So that's "real life;" online, my blog is definitely my calling card. I have a link to it in the sig lines of my posts on sites like Diaper*swappers and find that I rarely have anyone either inside the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community or outside it say anything strange or offensive. My older posts about infertility, waiting, Lucy, etc., still get hits every month, so they are speaking for me.

If I wrote a memoir, I think that I would it would be very different from my blog. A memoir, although non-fiction, still must tell a story effectively. My blog is currently part story, part journal (e.g. this month Evie did...), part advice column (pleas for help from you all and my posts about adoption in general), part self-help writing therapy, part miscellany about my reading and crafts and such, part creative outlet and part tool to keep in touch with people. I do not plan to write a memoir, but if I did, it would focus on just the story of our marriage, infertility and adoption. I don't think such a memoir would have a very different audience; whether online or in a bookstore, I imagine the people who want to read ALI memoirs are other people who have experienced similar heartaches while trying to build their families.

Question #12: Early in the book Elizabeth talks about her second son as definitively not a "Miracle Baby" and of leaving behind her belief in luck and minor superstitions. How have your ideas of luck, prayer, miracles and superstitions changed as a result of your experiences of infertility and/or child loss? If your ideas changed, how militant are you about your new views? Do you see the changes as casualties, another thing(s) lost? Or do you perceive them as perspective gained, part of the evolving you?

I've never been superstitious or believed in luck, but my experiences with infertility and adoption have changed my perspective on prayer. I went through a period during our days of infertility treatment where I lost hope and felt like Shakespeare in the first few lines of Sonnet 29:

"When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope..."

For a long time, I felt that God wasn't hearing my prayers, that He was angry at me for some reason, that He was mean. I'd had bad things in my life before then, but I'd always harbored the belief that if I prayed hard enough about something that God would fix it for me--I just had never prayed hard and long enough about other things. Well, I prayed so hard and long during my infertility treatments that I eventually had to either abandon my faith or realize that prayer isn't a way to control God and make Him do what we want, it is a way to communicate with Him. Sounds obvious, I know, but I had a hard time accepting it, and I still struggle with feelings of powerlessness, resignation and cynicism when I say prayers of petition.

Sadly, I'm not joining in the next BBBB tour (Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go). Not because I'm not interested in the book. In fact, Mel described it in such provocative fashion that I had a hard time making the decision. The problem is that I am half of the way through my first TBR Challenge book (The Shadow of the Wind) and I'm loving it. I just can't put it down to read Ishiguro right now. But, Never Let Me Go will at least make it onto my 2010 TBR list! I would encourage anyone in the ALI community to head over to Stirrup Queens and sign up, if you have time to read a novel at this point in your life. Ishiguro's book sounds like a great page-turner.

ETA: sorry I forgot to do this part:

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.


  1. i can relate to people being surprised when you mention such a loss causually and openly because it did happen to you. and those memories and feelings are part of you and your past.

    i find it so frustrating when people don't acknowledge pain and grief but only good things. i can understand it, i still find it frustrating.

    btw, your daughter is beautiful!! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing about Lucy in this post. This is the first time I've come across your blog and reading that really hit close to home for me for some reason. I don't know, we are definitely considering adoption in our future. I have to confess that one of my biggest fears about adoption is the possibility of losing another baby, not to death in that case, but because of the adoption not working out. I've made it through 3 m/c, but the thought of putting the rest of my hope into an adoption and having it fail somehow seems like it is just too much for me to handle. I don't know, I think we will go that route eventually anyway, but reading your story really confirmed to me that losing an adoption like that is a very real loss, just like the babies I lost to m/c. It breaks my heart that you lost Lucy and that on top of that people don't recognize it as a loss.

    I also really resonated with your thoughts on prayer. I started to answer that question on my blog but it got so long and off topic that I set it aside and maybe I'll work on those thoughts in the future.

  3. Lucy's story has always resonated with me. And honestly, I do think about her often. I remember when we were waiting for Colt, we talked about what would happen if the adoption fell through. And I compared it to a death. I did this in front of my dear friend who carried and gave birth to a baby she knew would die moments after he arrived. He survived for an hour, she was pregnant again 6 weeks later and now has 3 beautiful living children. And a fourth that is not.

    She totally agreed that losing Colt after placement would be like losing her son she gave birth to. Because losing a baby is losing a dream. A dream for that child and what it would become. Your dream for your baby. Once I got that validation from someone whose child actually died...I felt like it was ok to think that.

    Strange, doesn't make a lot of sense when I write it. Anyway, I think of Lucy as a huge loss for you guys, but also grateful because without that loss...where would Evie be? But I know you will always think about her, and the dream of the life you would have with her.

  4. Hi Karen -- I started reading your blog around the time Lucy's adoption fell through, but I'm not sure I've commented before this, or at least since then. (Evie is absolutely adorable, by the way...!!)

    Thank you so much for your comments & especially the ones about adoption loss -- you have a really unique perspective to share with us. It's so sad when we feel that our losses are discounted and our grief is brushed aside by people who only want to focus on the happy parts of our lives.

  5. Your blog is one of my last stops on the Book Tour, and the only one that deals with an adoption loss (I think... knock on wood). Thank you for bringing such a different point of view.

    I wonder if part of some people's reluctance to treat your loss of Lucy as seriously as a death is that Lucy is still alive out there somewhere (albeit with another name, and of course, another family). Because her experience is so different than if she had died, they forget that your experience is not much different at all.

    Sonnet 29 was always one of my favorites.

  6. You brought up a lot of interesting things. I'm sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you're able to talk about it.

  7. I think people just don't understand the emotional connection, especially if they have never adopted. I considered adopting embryos, and I remember how strongly I felt like my kids had already been created. I was devastated when it didn't work (INSURANCE JERKS!), and people just couldn't understand why. I'm sorry for your loss.

  8. I think in some ways, an adoption that fails after you have met the child and viewed them as your own can be harder than a loss. You know that child you love is out there somewhere and you can't have them. I know that would devastate me. I can definitely see how a mom with a failed adoption would identify with this book.

  9. The varied kinds of deep and devestaing loss that come to us throughout parenting are still astounding to me. Thank you for opening your heart.


  10. I found you through ICLW -- and your writing really hit a nerve with me. Particularly this quote:

    "For a long time, I felt that God wasn't hearing my prayers, that He was angry at me for some reason, that He was mean. I'd had bad things in my life before then, but I'd always harbored the belief that if I prayed hard enough about something that God would fix it for me--I just had never prayed hard and long enough about other things. Well, I prayed so hard and long during my infertility treatments that I eventually had to either abandon my faith or realize that prayer isn't a way to control God and make Him do what we want, it is a way to communicate with Him. Sounds obvious, I know, but I had a hard time accepting it, and I still struggle with feelings of powerlessness, resignation and cynicism when I say prayers of petition."

    I have been struggling a long time with my anger at God for not answering our prayers for a child yet -- and am just recently learning how to let go of that and have faith that things will work out -- in His way and in His time.

    It's so nice to hear your thoughts being put into words by others.


  11. After reading a bit of your story it sounds very much like you had the universal rug pulled out from under you. Which is a feeling I can relate to without question. Your perspective added another dimension to this book for me -- I'm incredibly impressed reading around how much thought this book is provoking!

    And I recently read and loved Shadow of the Wind. Hope you do too. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Thanks for stopping by my blog on the tour.

    I like how you related to your failed adoption as a loss. Not being in the adoption community, I never would have thought of it that way, but you were handed a loss.

  13. :( for Lucy. Thank you so much for sharing that story. I know that must have been hard to write. I have never experienced a failed adoption, but I can't imagine. Honestly, that's why my hubby and I have decided to adopt an older child who has already been signed over. I do not think I could bear the emotions of getting a baby and then having it taken away. I would just die.

  14. Your responses to the questions are beautiful. Thank you for your openness. I think I'll find this book soon - it sounds like something I need to do for myself.

  15. The part about the wipe warmer really broke my heart because I could visualize it--that literal straw that broke the camels back. I am so sorry about Lucy.

  16. Karen, your insight and wisdom is so valuable to me. You are doing God's work...right now. Keep it up.

    Things that seem obvious to you in hindsight can now be obvious to me as well because of reading your words. (If that makes sense.)

    Thank you for giving me a bit of hindsight as well.

  17. I wanted to respond to one of the (many, excellent!) points you made. You said that if someone told you they had a blog, you would check it out. I have a friend whose wife started a blog when she was pregnant (recently). I eventually looked at it because he just kept bringing it up. Obviously, it would have been hurtful to say I didn't care. Now, I only look at it when I have to tell him that I have. However, he funnels all questions there (maybe unintentionally) - if I ask how baby and mother are doing, he says, "There are pictures on the blog." Here's the thing. Contrary to what you might expect, I'm not avoiding the blog because of the baby (doesn't bother me), but because I think the mom has nothing interesting to say. "Here are pictures of my small child, isn't she cute" would be every single caption, and I don't think that's worth the effort of following. Lots of my friends have baby blogs and I try to check in every six months to a year so I can see how old the kids are, whether there are new babies, and whether anything momentous has happened to the families. Reading regularly seems pointless, though.

    I thought of that because I completely agree that I would treat an IF blog differently. That's more an outpouring of the soul. You have something to say. But I wonder whether non-IF people are able to understand that. I haven't read people's musings-on-political-science sort of blogs because if it's important enough for me to hear, they can say it to me in person. The IF thing is different, because you can only say it so many times before you break down. I don't know...maybe I'm inconsistent. But I'm thinking how it looks from the other side...?

    I'm not trying to be a downer, actually, I just thought it was interesting.

  18. (Responding to your comment) - saying she hasn't bothered to read your blog but looks at Russian bride ads is unkind AND insane. And, Evie is beautiful AND you have interesting things to say, so I don't know what she's thinking.


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