Finding Books as a Writer-Parent Who Experienced Loss
By: Chloe Yelena Miller
I wrote Viable, my memoir-in-verse about a miscarriage and postpartum depression after a second pregnancy, while seeking books on the same subjects. I needed comfort in a culture that is often silent around miscarriage or loss. Thankfully, our overall approach is changing, signaled by more titles published each year and celebrities like Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Chrissy Teigen sharing their stories.
The literary and secular books I read while writing Viable became a list of resources at the end of the poetry collection. I fashioned the list after the memoir The Long Goodbye. Author Meghan O’Rourke looked directly at literature and other writings as a means to mourn her mother. I found her list comforting during an earlier time of loss and hoped that the books I gathered together would help other parents in similar situation, friends of those parents and folks in the medical community, too.
Wanting to get pregnant, I started reading What to Expect Before You’re Expecting. The upbeat tone and exclamation points led me to distrust even the most obvious facts. Once I was pregnant, I wrote the collage poem Pregnancy (published in print and online by Teacher Voice, Malarkey Books, 2020), inspired by this series and similar ones. While these books might be good writing prompts as a way to resolve frustration through poetic-satire, they didn’t ground my experience or support me. I knew I needed facts, but also support and comfort.
At the tail end of my pregnancy, I discovered Origins: How The Nine Months Before Birth Shape The Rest Of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul. This scientific research presented through memoir was approachable and made sense. In an NPR interview (2010), Annie Murphy Paul says, “If I had more time — if we weren’t standing in the aisle of the supermarket, other shoppers elbowing past — I’d tell them that my immersion in fetal origins research made me less anxious about being pregnant, not more. It made me see pregnancy in a new light: as a scientific frontier, and an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of the next generation. Pregnancy isn’t just a nine-month wait for birth, but a crucial period unto itself: a staging ground for the rest of life.” I felt grounded by the text and hope of reliable facts.
I am thankful for Megan Leonard’s book of lullabies (2020) as a way to look back on being pregnant and those early days. In her poem, “I Rely on the Kindness of Other Moms,” I feel the kinship and her own kindness. She ends the first stanza with, “The moms I know are way too busy to give two figs about what anyone else is doing and we don’t miss our old lives or even our old bodies / because fuck we didn’t love our thighs when we were 23 anyway”. We are the community in our bodies, our voices and even the smallest supports, like sharing these poems.
Two anthologies, What God Is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color (University of Minnesota Press, 2019) edited by Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang and Unspoken: Writers on Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth (Life in Ten Minutes Project, 2020), edited by Whitney Roberts Hill and Elizabeth Ferris, have my heart. These books collect the truths no one wants to think about before they happen and can’t stop thinking about after they have. These intimate writings – the poems and the essays – give the reader a place to mourn and connect. The anthologies give the words air and space to read that the writers and readers are not alone.
It was the author-parents who reminded me of my individuality and same-ness with other parents while I was grieving my miscarriage. Their drive to create their own work encouraged me to write and, most importantly, look closely at my experiences and move forward. Finding kindness for ourselves can be difficult. The literature of personal experience can remind us of ourselves.
Chloe Yelena Miller lives and writes in Washington, D.C. Her poetry collection, Viable, was published by Lily Poetry Review Books (2021) and her poetry chapbook, Unrest, was published by Finishing Line Press (2013). Miller is a recipient of a 2020 and 2022 DC Arts and Humanities Fellowship (Individuals) grant. She teaches writing at the American University, University of Maryland Global Campus, and Politics & Prose Bookstore, as well as privately. Contact her and read some of her work at www.chloeyelenamiller.com / https://twitter.com/ChloeYMiller
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