Twenty writers tell how it feels when a pregnancy ends
About What Was Lost: Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope. Edited by Jessica Berger Gross. Penguin/Plume, 288 pp., $15, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Collections of essays reflect the tastes of their editors, so you may find it helpful to know that Jessica Berger Gross calls herself “an organic-eating, yoga-teaching, Birkenstock-wearing granola girl.” When she miscarried after eight and a half weeks, she sobbed for days, partly because she had to put aside her dreams of “the short list of literary French names I’d choose from” and “the chic Santa Monica baby store where we’d shop.”
No doubt Gross makes herself sound shallower than she is, but her self-portrait tells you something about this collection of essays by women who miscarried between the sixth and twenty-third weeks of their pregnancies. About What Was Lost resists deep engagement with the theme described on its cover – that many women find “that instead of simply grieving for the end of a pregnancy, they are mourning the loss of a child.” Contributors to the book tend to focus on their feelings of pain and grief, and how they absorbed them, not on the complex social, medical and religious questions miscarriage can raise.
But most entries are well written, and some transcend the limits of the collection. Novelist Caroline Leavitt and poet Rachel Zucker offer trenchant and perceptive essays that deal in part with the rude comments that others made about their miscarriages. One of Leavitt’s friends cheered by giving her a handmade book of hypothetical replies to people who said things like, “At least you didn’t know the baby.” (“Yeah, and if I had, I know he would have hated you!”) Zucker heard another strain of false comfort – “these things happen for a reason” – that got on her nerves. She had to stop herself from making hostile comebacks such as, “Perhaps when the baby heard all the people around me using stupid, trite clichés like these things happen for a reason the baby thought life wasn’t worth living.” Other contributors, too, faced insensitivity, which suggests both why this collection was needed and a paradox: The people most likely to read this book are women who have miscarried, but the people who need it most may be their friends.
Best line: Rebecca Johnson, a contributing editor of Vogue, writes of a pregnancy that ended after six weeks: “One out of four pregnancies ends in miscarriage; this was simply nature’s way of saying ‘Not this one, not yet.’ As a fertility doctor whom I interviewed once said to me, ‘Nature is extraordinarily wasteful when it comes to reproduction. Look at all the acorns on the forest floor.’”
Worst line: The title About What Was Lost. The title conflicts with the theme: If miscarriage often feels more like “the loss of a child” than the end of pregnancy, why wasn’t this book called About Who Was Lost?
Editor: Danielle Friedman
Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance readers’ edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.
Furthermore: Other contributors include journalist Joyce Maynard, novelists Sylvia Brownrigg and Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and Pam Houston, author of the short story collection Cowboys Are My Weakness. Julianna Baggott’s entry takes the form of a dialogue with her husband, the token male in the book.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
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