Perinatal Therapist's Book Review: Elizabeth McCracken
I used to be an avid reader, until I had kids — surprise, surprise. Now, as my kids are much more independent, I’m getting back in the groove of reading for pleasure, and am excited to share some good reads with you! I'd also love to hear any book recommendations you might have.
Content Note: Discussion of stillbirth/pregnancy loss.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
by Elizabeth McCracken
Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir is a beautifully written, intimate account of late term pregnancy loss. Alternately tender and tart, McCracken describes the exquisite pain of her first son’s stillbirth and having her and her husband’s hopes and dreams completely gutted. As she recounts the feelings of guilt and recrimination, the what-ifs, the moments that haunt her, we understand that the grief and the regrets about what could have gone differently do not go away, but that she has somehow found a way to carry on without them consuming her.
What strikes me most is how human McCracken allows herself to be with us. She unapologetically recounts her resentments, her disappointments and her limitations. Her narrative paints the complex picture of life moving on in the face of tragedy, dealing with the banal and the brutal (when the movers don’t show up on the day they promised and you’ve just lost your baby).
When McCracken and her husband happen to become pregnant again soon after, so that, ironically, their second baby is due close to the anniversary of their loss, McCracken must juggle joy and sorrow hand in hand. Her story demonstrates how just continuing on is the most challenging and most rewarding act.
For those who are parents to “rainbow babies,” McCracken’s experience of being pregnant for the second time while the world arounds her sees her as a first-time mother-to-be points out how painful it can be for us when our whole experience is not seen or acknowledged. We take so much for granted, approaching pregnancy with lightness and optimism, while PAIL (pregnancy and infant loss) parents carry the painful knowledge of how badly things can go wrong. McCracken’s hope is kept in check by fear, the nine months of pregnancy one long held breath.
The real story here is how McCracken learns to carry the grief alongside the joy in life. Allowing ourselves to laugh at the silly moments and to appreciate the joyful ones can seem like a betrayal of our loss, a diminishing of the significance of that person (no matter how small they were); but to live in our sorrow is the greater betrayal.
Here’s a small takeaway: many folk seem to believe that grief is a linear and progressive path (along the lines of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief that culminate in acceptance) that should end with “closure.” We judge ourselves and others for grieving too long, or in the wrong way, often telling ourselves we should be “over it” after “x” amount of time. McCracken says,
“I’ll tell you what I’ve come to believe:
Closure is bullshit.”