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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Book Tour #6: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about Love and Other Impossible Pursuits? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Tour by visiting the master list in the post above. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #7 (Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston) and all are welcome to join along (see the post above to sign up). All you need is a book and blog.

As much as I ultimately ended up loving Love and Other Impossible Pursuits as well as the grieving Emilia, it was a difficult book to start at first. How does one willingly dive head-first into a tale of loss? Not to mention the tension between the ex-wife and the narrator; the uncomfortable exchanges with her stepson, William; and the all-encompassing grief that is weighing down not only her marriage but her entire web of existence from half-siblings to parents to friends? In the end, I read the book for the same reason Emilia reads stepparenting books. Not for answers per se, but for the company. And Emilia is good company for the duration of the read.

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?

I had many fears that infertility would be the end of us. If it wasn't my own anger and sadness pushing him away, it was a fear that he would leave me for someone who could get pregnant naturally and carry to term. It was a pretty small-minded view of our marriage, but I was panicked and weepy so...

I think the fact that together we not only got through a first round of treatments, premature birth, and new parenthood, but we're willing to enter into treatments again is a testament to the strength of our marriage. Infertility is brutal. The ups and downs, the constant disappointment or grief, the internalized anger. The externalized anger. Even the strongest marriage can crumble when you're going through that. I'm thankful that we balance each other. That he makes me calm and I speed him along towards goals. That he helps me put things in perspective and I help him see the big picture. We're a good team.

Emilia has a difficult time relating to other women who have had losses in pregnancy, usually because she sees her situation as different and worse than those women who have had miscarriages. She is particularly hard on her friend Mindy. Do you feel like this attitude was justified on her part? Are mothers of SIDS victims much different and worse off than mothers of miscarriages? Or can we all belong to the same support group?

I'm always wary of those who create a hierarchy of pain. It makes me wonder if they're dealing with their own grief if they're focusing outwardly on everyone else's grief. Plus, I think I've firmly established my own feelings on inclusivity vs. exclusivity (and what can be more exclusive than telling someone in emotional pain that their emotional pain isn't bad enough to garner your support. See ya--go weep in your own Cheerios).

I think it would have been interesting to have Emilia come face-to-face with a mother who had her child murdered and the body never found and another who lost her five-year-old to cancer. Truly, when you start creating a hierarchy, what is the top of the pyramid?

Beyond that--I'm not sure what is accomplished by exclusionary support. It didn't solve Emilia's grief and like the stepparenting books that she found long after the fact, she could have perhaps found comfort or received words that changed her outlook from one of the women for whom she felt disgust. Grief is grief and while I think it's helpful to separate out reasons for grief--loss of a child from loss of a pregnancy from loss of a spouse--in order to focus the support, I don't think it's helpful to start pointing fingers and saying, "that's not as bad as what happened to me."

All of that said, I think Emilia's words come from a place of anger. There have been so many times that I've painted myself in a figurative corner due to a level of anger that opens the door for emphatic statements that I don't necessarily mean in my rational mind. I'd like to believe that the Emilia of ten years from now would look back on those words and say, "I was so angry back then" rather than, "it's true! I still believe that to this day."

We all have had someone in our lives like William who innocently says the wrong thing more often then we would like. How has your infertility experience helped you respond better to those "innocent yet wrong" comments/questions?

When these things are said, they're painful. And they get under the skin. And it's hard to smile and reeducate. But I think we have to forgive the questions that are asked not to force an opinion ("can you tell me more about IVF?" vs. "do you really think IVF is safe?"). And my feeling is everyone gets a put-your-foot-in-it-for-free card. Once you use it once and I've commented on the thoughtlessness, I expect all future interactions to be a bit more circumspect. And I do get cranky when the same crappy comments are repeated a second time.

But what do you do with a child? You know that he's not trying to be cruel and you know that he doesn't have the life skills to be more thoughtful and circumspect. But still...damn...I don't think I would have handled myself well in those situations.

12 comments:

Samantha said...

I felt like Emilia's interest in creating a "hierarchy of grief" was in part because she harbored a lot of guilt about Isabel's death as well as her actions following his death. She knew she wasn't handling her relationships with her husband and stepson well, or even her relationships with her parents or friends very well. I think she wanted to elevate her grief above others as a way to justify her actions.

It's interesting to think how she might have reacted if the Walk to Remember had been for children who died before becoming adults versus infant death and miscarriage. Perhaps then she would have seen the futility of trying to rank her pain.

I agree with you: I think Emilia will sometime be able to look back at this time period and realize how her anger was clouding everything.

Lori said...

I like your idea of changing Emilia's perspective of the hierarchy. She can only "look down" on mothers whose loss seem less than her own.

But having her "look up" the ladder at mothers of murdered or cancer-stricken children might have shown her the absurdity of the hierarchy.

(Of course, mothers of murdered or cancer-stricken children might beg to differ with this premise.)

Carlynn said...

Great answers, I really liked them all. I could totally relate to your statement 'I had many fears that infertility would be the end of us.' As you say, infertility is brutal and it does sometimes seem like it could destroy everything. Your description of your relationship with your husband is beautiful and inspiring.

I liked your statement about Emilia's exclusionary vision of grief cutting her off from possible avenues of support from other women who had lost children. I never thought of that, that I could actually receive something healing if I didn't place my grief on a pedestal about others.

And your one-time 'get out of jail free' card is a good idea. I usually shut my mouth and stomp away thinking 'What a dildo!' and not talking to the person for the next month. Must learn to politely reeducate.

Drowned Girl said...

I can understand this heirarchy of grief notion.

But I think that's because

a) I see myself as lucky I have a child, so my seven miscarriages to me are not as bad as even one for a woman with no children

and

b) I'm fearful life still has worse things to throw at me.


But I agree that Emilia's lack of charity for the pain of others is rooted in anger, and that anger stems from grief.

"I'd like to believe that the Emilia of ten years from now would look back on those words and say, "I was so angry back then" rather than, "it's true! I still believe that to this day."

I like that.

Ms. Planner said...

I really like your comments on the hierarchy of grief and especially the comment that if Emilia had searched for support beyond her own grief, she might have been less judgmental.

For me, the concept of hierarchy for loss is not "my loss is worse than hers," but more of, "wow, mine could have been so much worse." It doesn't alleviate any portion of my own grief but it does give it a little perspective beyond my own experience.

And thank you for organizing these book tours. I really, really enjoyed participating. Excellent work!

Kristen said...

"I had many fears that infertility would be the end of us. If it wasn't my own anger and sadness pushing him away, it was a fear that he would leave me for someone who could get pregnant naturally and carry to term." OMG, I feel this same way almost everyday. Although I have communicated to DH that I feel this way and he assures me it would never happen, I think about it and I still could see it happening. And the sad part is I wouldn't blame him.

"Truly, when you start creating a hierarchy, what is the top of the pyramid?" Very well said. What one person's worst fear is may not be another person's worst fear. For example, someone who's life goal is to have a family would consider IF their worst fear. Someone who's main goal in life is to be wealthy would not consider IF that bad. Pain is relative.

Great post as usual! I have come to expect no less from you, Mel!

Deb said...

I don't know how I would have handled myself with the comments that William made. I have difficulty when the nieces and nephews ask us why we don't have kids or tell us that we would make a good mom/dad so other more direct comments would be hard.

Thanks for sharing your well thought out post. I agree with your thoughts on the Hierarchy and appreciate your candidness about the toll IF takes on relationships. I have faced similar thoughts even though I feel I have a good marriage.

Waiting Amy said...

IF puts such a strain on all relationships. I'm glad that for you it has helped highlight to positives.

Emilia's approach to grief is so damaged by her own grief. I can understand how the depths of her despair warped her perceptions of others.

I love the question about William and inappropriate comments. They are so hard to stomach when from an unthoughtful adult. But is it really so different from a child? I think really they are both coming from a place of ignorance. But as you mentioned -- I expect much more from an adult once they are "schooled" on the matter!

Thank you for the tour. I so enjoyed the book and the thoughtful discussions!

Pamela Jeanne said...

"I'm thankful that we balance each other. That he makes me calm and I speed him along towards goals. That he helps me put things in perspective and I help him see the big picture. We're a good team."

We have the exact same dynamic! Sounds like it was a very interesting read with lots to mull over...

Ayelet said...

First of all, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to participate in these discussions. You guys are awesome!

You know, it's so funny. I made Emilia so angry -- so obsessed with her hierarchy of grief, because I wanted to show how stuck she was, how immature, really, at that point in her life. The book is about her being forced to confront her selfishness and grow up.

So I write all that, from this position of great wisdom, right? NOT. Today, after having found out that one of my kids has some learning issues, I had EXACTLY the same thought about some other mom who was complaining about something. Basically, I thought, Oh fuck you lady. You don't know what rough is. And then I caught myself. Hello??? Am I no more mature than Emilia? Are my fictional characters MORE mature than I am?

OY.

Bea said...

"I'd like to believe that the Emilia of ten years from now would look back on those words and say, "I was so angry back then" rather than, "it's true! I still believe that to this day."

That's a great line. I also like your answers to the first questions. You've well and truly proved your marriage - that's for sure. And not that you can get lax about it now, but you can take pride in having got this far.

Bea

Julia said...

Admittedly, I haven't read the book. But I have to say that Ayelet's comment above really rankled me. It feels very very judgmental. It feels like Ayelet is saying that she knows how one should grieve, and she made her character grieve differently so she could show her to be immature. Even though in my personal experience of grief I have mostly avoided it, anger is a common emotion of grief. To link it to immaturity is unfair. Not to mention that there really isn't a "proper" way to grieve, and it is upsetting beyond belief to see someone imply that there is.

Even the hierarchy of grief is not exactly full of crap. See, I lost a pregnancy to a miscarriage and a son to stillbirth. You bet you I hurt more from loosing my son than from loosing that pregnancy, even though that was my very first pregnancy, achieved after two years of infertility. Not to mention that my son's death affected many more people round me and in much deeper ways. This is not to say that I don't understand and accept that there are people who feel just as hurt by miscarriages as I do by my son's death, but I do have to admit that right after his death I looked into joining a local support group, and chose not to because all of them were for miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death. I just didn't feel that I would be able to offer proper support to those women who were there for a miscarriage, and I was afraid their stories might upset me, make me think unkind things about them. I don't feel like that anymore, but I am also not going to judge a woman who still does.