An unexpectedly hopeful, but never mawkish, tale of love and loss.
The literature on death is vast, that on the grieving process somewhat smaller, that concerning teratology—in the grimly archaic language of medicine, the birth of “monsters”—smaller still. With grace and compassion, Ptacin describes the roller-coaster plunge from cautious elation to profound sorrow as romance (“We fell in love. Exposed kneecaps and collarbones, and entire evenings spent devouring one another; we were like wild forces”) yielded to pregnancy. Then pregnancy became ever fraught as the first “abnormal” tests began to come in: “I thought maybe it was my fault,” the author writes of the first iffy report, “maybe I forgot to take my folic acid one morning, maybe I was too stressed and cantankerous and it was poisonous to the baby.” After reeling off a list of deformities—spina bifida, clubbed feet, irregular heartbeat, lack of brain development—the doctor asked whether Ptacin still wanted to know the sex of her baby. The question then became what to do, how to reconcile modern medicine and the health of the mother with Catholic doctrine and the beliefs that she, her beloved, and her family held—not to mention the opinions of those with no stake in the matter. “If I choose to terminate,” she writes, “I’ll be what the pro-lifers hate.” Her choice is heartbreaking and shattering, and it makes for difficult reading; in the end, Ptacin suggests, there is nothing to say, only acknowledgment that something terrible has happened and the need to summon the will to go on. In all this, the author’s Polish-immigrant mother emerges as a wise counselor and moral anchor: “Poor baby. Poor her soul. It is very sad,” she said, and that is just right. But Ptacin herself, who is neither heroic nor helpless, also rises in our estimation, even as she sinks in her grief.
Beautifully written, at just the right emotional pitch. Of interest to all readers but likely to find a home among bereaved mothers.