I’m in a book club. It’s part of my pilot wives support group online. We all can get pretty lonely at times when our partner’s are gone for extended periods of time with little notice. So a book club is a harmless way to stay connected and busy.
A few months ago we read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. If you plan on reading the book, skip this paragraph. If you have read the book, you know the main character Rachel is a divorced alcoholic whose husband left her after rounds of unsuccessful IVF and went on to impregnate his mistress. The book features complex characters with an interesting murder mystery story line. Every character is this book is flawed, much like real people. One of our book club questions was about the least favorite character. I read as the women in my group just tore apart Rachel for her lack of self respect and acts of helplessness. Yes, she messed up. A lot. She has some huge issues. But I didn’t feel the same way toward this character as the other women in my group. I empathized with her. I know that shitty feeling where you just don’t feel like you’re good enough. I know that empty feeling inside that Rachel described after not being able to conceive for years. She was broken. I know that feeling too. So I felt like I had to stick up for Rachel and that shut the conversation down.
This month we’re reading Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. Again, another murder mystery this time entwined with elephant facts. Harmless, right? Spoiler alert. As I’m reading the book I’m noticing a theme of pregnancy loss, grief, and death of a child. Not exactly what I’m wanting to read at the moment but it was a compelling enough story for me to finish the book. This passage about an elephant who just delivered her still born calf stood out to me as I read next to my sleeping husband.
“If you are a mother, you must have someone to take care of. If that someone is taken from you, whether it is a newborn or an individual old enough to have offspring of its own, can you still call yourself a mother? Staring at Kagiso [the elephant], I realized that she hadn’t just lost her calf. She had lost herself…. Nature is a cruel bitch.” p199
I broke down and cried. These imaginary characters and story lines are starting to get to me. I can tell myself that they’re not real, but for too many women it is real! The book described how elephant grief was a communal process. All of the elephants in a heard would mourn the passing of one of their own. They stayed together. They made sure they were taking care of each other for however long the mourning process was going to be. And of course, elephants never forget.
The book club started discussing our grieving process versus an elephant’s. I immediately thought about pregnancy loss. The elephant who lost her calf was surrounded by all of the other elephants. They all touched the calf. They all bellowed out in pain together. The mother was never alone.
Then I think about pregnancy loss in our culture. Until recently, it was taboo to talk about. Women still don’t announce pregnancies until after the first trimester and the largest risk of miscarriage has passed. Is this to protect the women or everyone around her? Personally, I mourned my loss alone. I didn’t reach out. I didn’t tell anyone. I had all of those terrible feelings that come along with pregnancy loss that I tried to just shove away. I wanted to just move on. And I found that in order to truly move on, I had to talk about it and grieve. And even though I lost my child, I still feel like a mother. Everything I’m doing right now is for my child. That’s what keeps me going through procedure after procedure.
So now I feel like the crazy hormonal lady in my book club that sees infertility everywhere. And gets waaay to defensive about fictional characters, in this case, an elephant. I thought I’d just share a little piece of my brain today and two books worth avoiding if you don’t want to think about infertility and pregnancy loss.