If you haven’t experienced a miscarriage yourself, you almost certainly know someone who has. Yet we don’t talk about it much as a society. In this episode, host Dr. Denise Millstine talks with Jackie Polzin about her novel “Brood” and with Dr. Kate White, author of “Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss.” They tackle the topics of isolation and guilt and the often-slow process of grief after pregnancy loss.
We talked with:
- Jackie Polzin lives in West St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and two children. Her first novel, “Brood,” won the Sue Kaufman First Fiction Prize and the L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Literary Hub and The Idaho Review.
- Kate White, M.D., M.P.H., is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine and the vice chair of academics in the OB-GYN department at Boston Medical Center. A board-certified OB-GYN, Dr. Kate has been caring for women for more than 20 years, helping them navigate periods, childbirth, pregnancy loss and every other stage leading up to menopause. She’s the author of the Mayo Clinic Press books “Your Sexual Health” and “Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss.”
We talked about:
- Silence. Though miscarriage is incredibly common, we don’t talk about it much as a society. Sometimes people don’t talk about miscarriage because they don’t want to make others uncomfortable. Sometimes friends and family are afraid of saying the wrong thing. This makes grief lonely and means many people don’t get the support they need.
- Slowness. Trying to rush through grief and “get it over with” probably won’t work. Dr. Kate and Jackie talk about sitting with the loss, as well as how to remember and honor their losses — plus, how you can support someone who has experienced a loss.
- Guilt. Many people who experience a miscarriage need to know: It’s not your fault. Dr. Kate wants you to know that there’s no place for guilt — and it makes grief worse.
Can’t get enough?
- Purchase Kate’s books, “Your Sexual Health” or “Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss.”
- Purchase Jackie’s book “Brood.”
- Other books on miscarriage mentioned in this episode include:
- “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill
- “Swimming Back to Trout River” by Linda Rui Feng.
- “Motherhood” by Shelia Heti
- “The White Book” by Han Kang
- “I Had a Miscarriage” by Jessica Zucker
- “An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination” by Elizabeth McCracken
- Want to read more on the topic? Check out our blog:
- If you’ve got ideas or book suggestions, email us at email@example.com.
- We invite you to complete the following survey as part of a research study at Mayo Clinic. Your responses are anonymous. Your participation in this survey as well as its completion are voluntary.
Read the transcript:
Dr. Denise Millstine: Welcome to the “Read. Talk. Grow” podcast, where we explore women’s health topics through books. In the same way that books can transport us to a different time, place, or culture, “Read. Talk. Grow” demonstrates how books can also give a new appreciation for health experiences and provide a platform from which womens’ health can be discussed.
At “Read. Talk. Grow.” we use books to learn about health conditions in the hopes that we can all lead happier, healthier lives. I’m your host, Dr. Denise Millstine. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where I practice women’s health internal medicine and integrative medicine. I am always reading and I love discussing books with my patients, professional colleagues, and now with you.
So today we’re going to talk about miscarriage. As we know, miscarriage is incredibly common, and yet very infrequently discussed. I am honored to be joined by writers, authors, and health experts, Jackie Polzin and Dr. Kate White. Jackie Polzin lives in West Saint Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and two children. Her first novel, “Brood,” won the Sue Kaufman First Fiction Prize and the L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Literary Hub, and The Idaho Review. Jackie, welcome to the show.
Jackie Polzin: Thank you so much Denise.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Dr. Kate White is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Vice Chair of Academics in the Ob-Gyn department at Boston Medical Center. She’s a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and of the Society of Family Planning. She’s a member of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Kate is a board-certified Ob-Gyn. She’s been caring for women for more than 20 years, helping them to navigate all things at women’s health, including periods of childbirth, pregnancy loss, and other stages leading up to menopause. She conducts research in contraception. She teaches medical students, residents, and fellows. She lectures regionally and nationally on topics about women’s health — reproductive health, particularly. She is the author of two Mayo Clinic Press books, and she lives just outside of Boston with her husband and three children. Welcome, Dr. Kate.
Dr. Kate White: It’s wonderful to be here. Thanks so much.
Dr. Denise Millstine: So we’re going to get to talking about your books. But first, I want to hear about your reading life. Jackie, tell us about your reading life.
Jackie Polzin: My reading life has changed since I’ve had kids, so I have to be very deliberate about what I read. I have encountered, over the past maybe five years, some excellent books that incorporate miscarriage into the context of everyday lives in all different cultures. This summer I read “Swimming Back to Trout River” by Lisa Rui Feng, and that was just so wonderful in how this grief played out over a lifetime of how memory returns to you, and grief is a cyclical process. When I first had a baby, after having had a miscarriage, I remember reading Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation,” which was a very popular book at the time — while breastfeeding at night. In the night feeding, I would turn on my little lamp and there I would be, feeding the baby and barely able to see the words.
It was such an engrossing book that I read it in a couple of days, and for me as a new mother, just to believe I could do that ever again in my life was very empowering. Those are just two examples of books I have loved that opened up this world of seeing other people’s experiences of what I had experienced; and then Kate’s book, having read it just in the last year, I felt deeply indebted to her for the incredible work put into it because I realized it would have changed some of the decisions I made at the time, if I had that information — specifically about a D&C not being as risky as I thought it was. I would have made that decision for myself and I am certain my miscarriage would have been a much shorter lasting trauma for me. I’m very grateful for just the clarity that that book brought me in so many areas regarding miscarriage.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Dr. Kate, we’re going to jump in to your books specifically, and I think how it’s in conversation with Jackie’s book, “Brood,” but tell us how you read currently and about your reading life.
Dr. Kate White: My reading life began when I was three. I was a really shy kid and always found refuge in books. I have a big Irish Italian family and way too many cousins, aunts and uncles to be comfortable at the holidays. You’d always find me behind a couch, usually with a book. I think books have been a comfort to me my entire life, so I’ve always wanted to write one.
I’ve always respected books too much to really want to delve into the world of fiction. Jackie, the work that you do is extraordinary — I respect good fiction too much to ever write it. But I felt like, well, nonfiction, that could probably be my way in. I wrote the book the way that I like to read books, which is a combination of stories and information. I even feel like I get that in my fiction books, too. I love everything under the sun, post-apocalyptic, mysteries, beach reads, you name it, but when it came to this book, I wanted to pull the best of fiction, which is around stories and connections with people and experiences that I think people could relate to with the information I really wanted them to have.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I think your books are so very different. Doctor Kate’s book is “Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss: Hope and Healing When You’re No Longer Expecting,” which I think is the book that a person undergoing pregnancy loss is going to reach for. Jackie’s book “Brood,” on the surface, looks like it’s about chickens. I was recommended Jackie’s book by one of our editors, and I ordered it and got it. I called him and said, I think you got this wrong. This is a book about chickens — of course, before I even jumped into it. And then the writing, Jackie, and the story is so much about grief and the process. The chickens are there as well but tell us how you came to write this book.
Jackie Polzin: It’s funny because when people ask me what I was writing about during the many years I worked on the book, I would say it’s a book about chickens — knowing that was not what the book was about, but protecting myself from the difficulty of the conversation — of talking about miscarriage with people close to me, with people who I felt that might not be the direction they thought this conversation would take when they innocently asked about the book I was working on.
It’s so interesting to look back at that now and to see my own resistance to being uncomfortable in that way, and how in writing the book, when it came out, I thought, ‘Oh, now I will have that conversation with so many people.’ And yet that has not been my experience. There’s still this silence surrounding it, where I will have interviews where they say, ‘Just tell us what you don’t want to talk about.’
There’s nothing I don’t want to talk about. I’m comfortable talking about anything. The subject of miscarriage will not even come up or will be glanced over at half of a sentence. Part of that is on me, obviously, to engage and to initiate the conversation. In reading Kate’s book, my takeaway was we have work to do as a society, but as individuals to make this conversation happen. My own experience with miscarriage led to the writing of the book.
I was caring for chickens and I was experiencing infertility for many years. I went out to check on — we had a broody hen, which was a new thing to me. I didn’t know what that was. It’s a hen that sits on an egg as if it’s going to hatch. It’s an unfertilized egg. There’s no rooster in the barn, so there’s no way this egg has the capacity to hatch. And day after day, she’s there on the egg she laid. We have to grab it away and trick her into getting the egg. She’d lay another one. She’d sit there and sit there, which becomes dangerous to their health. You have to sometimes feed them drops of water so that they stay alive in this period. Then one day I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s waiting for this thing to happen, that’s never going to happen. She reminds me of myself.’ In that moment, I knew I wanted to write about it. I started to see all the possibilities of writing about it that way. That was the seed, and it grew from there after a lot of time working on it.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I figured you had to have had chickens because some of your details are so specific. But one thing I really appreciated about your book is the pace of it — that the process of grief is slow. and it’s tender, and it’s hard. And I found that your book really carried me that way. Did you intend that pace to match grief and loss and that experience?
Jackie Polzin: I had read some works that were slower. I think it is my natural pace, both in writing and in life, and I gravitate towards that. I enjoy it. I know it’s a challenge. Especially in this culture, we are such a speed oriented culture, and I resist that wholeheartedly. And I don’t know that my writing is a statement in that way. I’m probably not capable of writing otherwise, but I do embrace the idea of that. In focusing on these little details of a life, how we move through a day, grieving or not — what takes up our time and how our life is essentially the sum of that, of these small parts. That interests me very much, and the outcome of that attention is probably slowness. Maybe in our culture that seems problematic, but to me it doesn’t. The question becomes what drama is in my future as a writer? How dramatic will I ever be?
Dr. Denise Millstine: I definitely hope you keep writing and I hope you keep incorporating women’s health in your topics. Dr. Kate, Jackie’s book touches on so many of the things that you also address in your book: the fact that after a loss like miscarriage, there is the event, but then the grief, which can blindside you at any moment — there are future pregnancies, there are your friends’ future pregnancies. Tell us a bit about the process that you went through to include so many facets of this experience in your book.
Dr. Kate White: I like to think that I was an empathetic, understanding physician before I had my losses. I like to think that I could have actually written this book based on what I saw my patients go through, but there is nothing actually like living through it yourself to know. I often joke that I wrote the book that I wish I had. Jackie, I totally wish I had my own book when I put through my losses. I would have really appreciated the roadmap because I’m a good rule follower, I’m a doctor and a test taker. Just give me the instructions, give me the rules of how to do that and then I’ll get better. That, of course, is not at all how grief works.
It’s the one downside of saying time heals, you just need more time, because then it’s really easy to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to fill these hours, I’m going to fill this time and just stay really busy, and not think about it. One day I’m going to wake up and be cured. That is totally not what happens. I love the line that “Grief is patient. It will wait for you.” No matter how much you are doing to try to push it off and just get through it white-knuckle, the only way out is through. Recognizing that my own tendency is towards wanting to hurry up the whole process, I wanted to make sure that I really normalized in the book that you may have only been pregnant for five or six weeks when you have your loss, but the grief could last such a multiplier of that so much longer and that is okay.
You are not wrong for not getting over it. Your process is not unusual or not healthy — that grief is complex and it is personal, and it takes the time that it needs. I don’t think we get that message enough and we don’t talk about miscarriage at all. We really don’t talk about grief at all in our society either. When these two things intersect, people can really feel alone and I wanted to speak to that.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I had an experience with a colleague who I went for a walk with and I was talking about the podcast and this project and said, I want to talk about miscarriage and she basically said, “That happens to everybody. I don’t know why it needs to be talked about.” I said, When’s the last time you talked to somebody about it?
And outside of the obvious loss, so a late pregnancy loss where your pregnancy has been announced or you are showing, I believe those are typically more supported because people know what has happened — but so many women experience pregnancy loss when nobody knew they were pregnant, and in order to tell someone about the miscarriage, you also have to tell them about the pregnancy. People just stay silent, which I think is a disservice because we don’t know how to support each other if we’re not raising the topic yet.
Dr. Kate White: It’s what Jackie was saying about avoiding this conversation. For somebody to say, ‘So how have you been?’ And you have to say ‘Well, I got pregnant and then I lost it.’ You’re giving them the whole rollercoaster of what’s happened to you recently. I think that a lot of people, especially women, don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable. What I experienced a lot was I don’t want to have these conversations because I don’t want to deal with their emotions in their grief. This is supposed to be about you. You’re sharing your loss and you’re the one who needs support, but because this is such an uncomfortable conversation and people have no idea what to say, it gets real awkward real quick.
Until we all talk about it more, that’s going to be the common reaction, which I think drives people into a cave even more with not wanting to talk about it, which is the vicious cycle that we have to break.
Jackie Polzin: Kate’s book has a section that just says this is how you do it — this is how to help them to help you. These are the words, do you want to talk about it or do you not want to talk about it? You might have to say that directly to the people who love and care about you.
Dr. Kate White: Sometimes it’s helpful to have the words. I actually have this two-page spread in my book that you can photocopy and give to people, that’s like, ‘Hey, person who loves me, I know you want to help me. Here is exactly what I need.’ What I try to teach my kids and my patients, everyone, is ask — don’t guess what people need.
Ask them what they need. But it can be really hard if you’re not used to asking for help — if you’re the strong one. What if you’re the one who keeps your whole family together? It can be really difficult to figure out what that is. It’s almost like you could use it as a joke if you want. ‘Well, this doctor told me I can fill out this form and give it to you,’ but it can actually spur the conversation.
Dr. Denise Millstine: One of the reasons for our podcast is to use books like “Brood” as bridges to open these conversations. You might be sitting among people you know but aren’t particularly close to, and you’re not going to say, ‘I just read Dr. Kate White’s ‘Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss’ and I want to talk about it,’ but you certainly could open the conversation by saying, I’ve just finished this incredible novel called “Brood.” I can open the door to talking about miscarriage without showing my hand until I feel comfortable and that the person on the receiving end is ready to have that conversation with me at all. Jackie, I’m curious, did you picture that happening as you were writing this book or as it came into the world?
Jackie Polzin: I never pictured it coming into the world. This is my first book, and so it was very much writing into this darkness that I had become comfortable with, about my private secret life as a writer that was never going to come into the light — which is maybe an easier place to write from when you’re not really imagining an audience.
I know that I was motivated by a sense of isolation, of feeling very much alone in my experience — part of it, because there were moments I could have said something and didn’t, and that might have alleviated that feeling for me. It certainly would have. I had a sister who had experienced miscarriage, so in my family, I spoke with her, but that was it. My family knew and a couple of close friends knew. But there were so many more people who didn’t know and with whom it had felt like a secret.
During that time in child-bearing years, when you see so much pregnancy around you — I don’t think I let myself imagine that far into it. As I’ve said before, it’s still the question of miscarriage. People are hesitant because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. I know that’s a motive for it not being of — or they don’t want to feel the discomfort, and they don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. I know that it has sparked conversations and I’m very happy about that. I feel like on so many subjects in our culture, I wish there was a burgeoning of conversation.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Talk a little bit, both of you, please, about anniversaries and remembering the loss. The protagonist in “Brood” definitely thinks about the day. Dr. Kate, you talk a bit about this, but give us some insights into different ways women who have experienced miscarriage or people who’ve experienced miscarriage can look at those events and different ways to approach that.
Dr. Kate White: I really wanted to give people permission to remember the loss because there are so many people in your life that will tell you, ‘You were barely pregnant.’ Maybe you never saw a baby on ultrasound or there was no baby at all. It was just an empty sac in their uterus. But any time that that pregnancy test turns positive and you want to be a parent, it is a cause for celebration and then it’s a cause for grief when it’s a loss.
You should get to remember these. It could be something really small or it could be something larger. All of it is okay. It could be a Christmas ornament on your tree. For us, it’s a star topper, at the top of our tree. We plant a tree in the backyard of every house we ever live in to remember our daughter.
Other people do a lot of things with plants and flowers, but it can also be scholarships. It could be children’s books. It could be letters that you write to the baby that you lost — whatever feels right for the way that you express yourself, if you’re artistic at all. I am not. My only art is more work and more writing in the medical sphere, but whatever lets you express who you are and then in a way that you could do this on either an annual basis or something to revisit, I think could be really, really healthy and helpful.
Jackie Polzin: One thing came to mind when you were talking about that, Kate, is how when I read the book — you include so many areas of interest when you talk about the things you can still do while experiencing miscarriage, or ways that you can remember. There is talk about people who exercise as a means of release and people who craft. I remember just painting this picture in my head of you as a person who would be like — Kate must be a crafter. She must be very crafty with her hands because of how openly you talk about all kinds of different interests in the book, so it’s funny to me to hear you say that you’re not crafty.
Dr. Kate White: I’m a total arts and crafts person. I just have no skill or talent in that area.
Jackie Polzin: Yeah, but the appreciation comes through. Definitely. I learned I was pregnant in early March of 2014 and I learned I was not pregnant at my first 12 or 13 week appointment. It wasn’t really clear when the pregnancy had ended, but I had a very prolonged experience of bleeding some, then not bleeding, then having tremendous amounts of blood unexpectedly — and this went on. My pregnancy resolved sometime between August and September, so that, for me, made it really difficult to say what would be the anniversary of this pregnancy. Hence, I wish I would have had a D&C as soon as possible.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Let’s talk about that, Doctor Kate — why women think they just have to navigate this on their own. There are medical professionals who can help with the process and assist them.
Dr. Kate White: In the same way that people think that periods are normal and natural, and even if they’re lousy, it’s something that’s just part of being a woman, and that you have to go through it on your own. I think a lot of people approach pregnancy loss that way, too. There’s nothing wrong with what we call formally expected management, which is just waiting it out. If that’s what feels right to you, that is a completely legit way to manage this. If you don’t realize that there are other ways that are healthy, that are safe, that you can choose — doctors may have their own preferences. Doctors are humans too and may guide you towards the thing that they think that you want.
Or if you come in saying, ‘I don’t really want any help,’ it’s really easy for the doctor to say, ‘Okay, great! Call me when it’s done,’ as opposed to, ‘I totally support whatever you want, but there’s medications and there are procedures that are super quick and safe.’ Doctors need to do a better job of communicating what these choices are.
It’s what I cover in my book as well, giving you a really good snapshot of what your choices are if you are, quote unquote, lucky enough to have a choice. A lot of miscarriages come out like gangbusters and it’s just over before you even do it. For some people, where it’s this prolonged course, like Jackie, like what you went through — some people would want that because they want the natural experience of their body passing the pregnancy. Other people say, ‘Oh my God, I want to get on with my life. I want to get on with trying to get pregnant again.’ It’s nice to know that there’s options for that, too.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Well, you both touch also on the way women often blame themselves when a pregnancy is lost. I think the protagonist in “Brood” thinks maybe she was over-cleaning or exposed to chemicals and that induced her miscarriage. Talk a little bit about that, and how it’s a natural reaction. A lot of that self-blame is less productive and often unnecessary.
Jackie Polzin: I don’t know how much the novel reflects the possibility of blame or not. It’s certainly heavier on it. At one point, I remember recognizing how much I still felt it was my fault personally. The narrator certainly touches on these possibilities of what might have caused it, and that’s such a human reaction — let’s make meaning of what happened and possibly avoid it, and just to have an answer for whatever reason.
I personally did that so much, and I can’t imagine how I could have avoided it. When I read that line — the heading — in Kate’s book, “It’s Not Your Fault,” it still gave me a cathartic release of being told that by a professional, by someone who knows the risks and the reasons as much as they can be known.
Dr. Kate White: Hundreds of years ago, people lost pregnancies and babies all the time. Not all babies live through infancy or through young childhood, and loss was as much of a part of a pregnancy as having a healthy child. People looked at pregnancy very differently. It also was something that could very easily kill you. The whole experience was different.
The time has passed, and we get the messages that if we do all the right things — if we eat the right foods, if we maintain a healthy weight, if we stay off of substances, if we exercise all the time, we can control our health and we can control what happens to us. People carry sometimes that impression with them into pregnancy when, as all parents know, all bets are off.
You are in control of nothing, including when you get pregnant, if the pregnancy sticks, what happens in the pregnancy, what your birth plan is like. All Ob-Gyns are very cynical about birth plans, by the way. The more someone comes in with a birth plan of what they want, the more likely they are to have an emergency C-section. Because it’s the universe’s way of telling you you are not in charge. This happens with the health of a pregnancy, too — I did all the right things. People are just so stunned. Jackie, you’re exactly right. We want an answer even if we have to make it up, because half the time we don’t know why losses happen.
What I counsel patients who have had loss, in addition to talking about all the reasons why we think it happened, I give a really long list of all the things that didn’t cause it: what you ate, if you had a drink, how much you slept, if you were stressed, if you had sex, if you lifted something heavy — all the things that you were thinking about might have caused this, did not. Most of the time, it’s a chromosomal problem that happened before the pregnancy test was positive.
I need people to know, even if they say they’re fine, I give this list — and half of people start crying because they were thinking about all the things that happened in the last eight weeks, four months, whatever it was, because it is easier to blame yourself than it is to accept the unknown. Guilt makes grief even worse. I try really hard through novels, through our books — to make sure that people don’t feel that way.
Jackie Polzin: I keep hearing you say that — it’s easier to blame yourself than to accept the unknown. I’m feeling devastated by the truth of that.
Dr. Kate White: My mom passed away six months ago, actually almost five months ago now. Ironically, this is the one issue I didn’t want to bring up during the podcast because I’m unreliable in how I emotionally respond. I find myself still doing that. I am still looking for things I could have done to prevent it. I’ve got a really great therapist who reminds me, I’m not God or her doctors and there’s nothing I could do to prevent death. A lot of doctors are like, ‘Well, I don’t accept that.’ We like to think that we can. This is a person I have been very close to my whole life, and I am still struggling because the idea of accepting the unknown of why things happen, that’s outside of our control, is just so hard to live with. It’s a similar thing that happens with living, breathing people who die, but also with pregnancy loss. A lot of people will feel this.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Well, I want to thank both of you for writing these books and putting them into the world and opening a line of conversation about pregnancy loss and grief. They are far from the only books on the market, of course, we have a companion episode where we talked with one of our medical librarians about some memoir and fiction that features miscarriage.
I know the two of you have also read in this arena as well. Jackie, you talked about “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill and also “Swimming Back to Trout River” by Linda Rui Feng. Any other books that you want our listeners to know about that feature miscarriage or pregnancy loss or grief?
Jackie Polzin: Sheila Heti’s “Motherhood” is not about miscarriage, but it is about this tough subject of really thinking about motherhood and what it might mean to be a mother. It explores that territory very comprehensively. Any person could get so much out of that book from turning the idea of motherhood over in their mind in this acrobatic way. She’s a very curious person and an agile thinker. I thought ‘Wow, she did so much thinking for me.’ I felt grateful after reading that book. “The White Book” by Han Kang — I read that while pregnant for the second time and the beauty of the language, it’s an exploration of grief, motherhood and loss. It’s such a simple, quiet book — but the language — what a beautiful way of experiencing grief through different eyes. Those are some that come to mind.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Well, I think you bring up another related and really excellent point about the tendency to romanticize motherhood — that it’s about these warm, loving moments and that forgets about some of the sacrifices and challenges and how hard it can be — and giving women permission to talk about that authentically, rather than always having to put forward that face of everything being bright and special, and nothing but wonderful. Thank you for putting that on our radar. Dr. Kate, how about you? Are there books you keep on your shelf?
Dr. Kate White: Yeah. The two that come to mind are “I Had a Miscarriage” by Jessica Zucker, and she talks a lot in detail about her loss and trying to do a lot of advocacy work getting people to be able to talk about their losses. The book that I read curled up in the fetal position, weeping on my couch was “An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination” by Elizabeth McCracken.
It is the best telling of what stillbirth is like that I’ve ever read of my two losses. One was at 29 weeks and one was at five. While I didn’t have to give birth to my daughter the way that Elizabeth did with her child, it was that same feeling of — you are full and now you are empty. My husband, lying across from me reading on the couch was like, ‘You don’t have to read this,’ and I was like, ‘But no, no, no! She gets it! She totally gets it! That idea of seeing yourself in the pages of a book is one of the most powerful things that books can offer you. Especially if a later pregnancy loss is something that you have gone through, I highly recommend her book.
Jackie Polzin: Kate, I have a question. How much longer, after having experienced a late-term miscarriage, did you read that book and feel comfortable reading? How much time do you think you had to wait to read a book like that?
Dr. Kate White: I actually had my next child, so I think it was probably two or three years. I was in those blur days of breastfeeding and having a newborn. I was years out from the loss and it still completely gutted me and it was still extraordinarily healing. Grief is long. It’s messy. You think you’re healed, then it’s like, ‘No, actually not,’ but then you’re better, but then there’s another moment. It’s a rough path — it’s not linear. I don’t think I could have read the book any sooner than I did, but I am so glad that I read it when I did.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I think that’s an excellent point, that many of these books are right for the right person at the right time. Another hope of mine is that even if “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” isn’t right for the person experiencing loss — if it’s on someone’s radar, perhaps someone who cares about you could read it and then support you better in as much as they understand really what’s going on, as reflected from another woman who experienced a very similar situation.
But Jackie, it’s such a great question. When do you read these books? I think Dr. Kate’s book about miscarriage and pregnancy loss should be handed to every woman experiencing it — not that she’s going to read it cover to cover in that first week, but she has that to dip back into. I wonder if you have a thought about “Brood” and when you think would be, in general, a good moment for a woman to read that if she has experienced pregnancy loss?
Jackie Polzin: I don’t know. I think that’s maybe why I asked Kate that question. There’s so many wonderful books. I have a close friend who was pregnant right when my book came out. I was like, ‘Well, maybe don’t read it.’ It’s just — what it’s about. In the end, she did have a miscarriage. That’s something she had experienced in the past. I don’t think she’s read the book, nor would I recommend that she read the book. Now she has a healthy baby who’s six months old. But I think it’s a very good question.
Dr. Kate White: I think it goes to people understanding what they’re going to find in these books so that they can figure that out for themselves. It’s like a rollercoaster. There are days that you’re up at 2 a.m. by yourself, it’s too late to call a friend, and you start going online, which can be a really dangerous place to go because you’re just feeling alone. Sometimes these books could actually fill that void in that moment, even if it is maybe earlier in the process that we might think someone might want to read it. It’s about — what could that book give you? When you’re seeking that thing, that’s the time to read it, which might be really soon after a loss. It might be five or ten years later.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I feel like it’s a book you should just have on yourself and it will come out when it’s ready to be read. So many women experience miscarriage, and perhaps if it’s not something that you’re immediately living through, all women should read it so that we can support each other and open the conversation.
Again, I want to thank you both for putting these books into the world, for being willing to come on the podcast and talk about the difficult topic that is miscarriage — for giving us more books to consider if we are mothers or if we are living with pregnancy loss. Are there any last words that either of you want to add?
Jackie Polzin: I would quote the great Kate White and say ‘You are not alone.’ That’s what I would like to say.
Dr. Kate White: Can I build on that? There’s an incredible community of people who have walked this road before you — you are not alone. It may be hard to find them. The only way that you will know is by venturing out. I think it’s rare that there’s a family that has not had a miscarriage, even if you don’t know — starting with the family you’re born into and the family you make. If you don’t actually feel like you can share that information with the people most around you, it’s one of the healthiest uses for the Internet that there is — in terms of support groups and Facebook groups. There are a lot of other people who are sharing their stories and I think that could help battle that feeling of being alone and give you some of the words and maybe a little bit of bravery to then bring it up to the people who love you.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Thank you for that. We have talked about many resources and books on the podcast today, and we’re going to put those into the show notes so that our listeners can look up those books and determine if they are right for them. As I mentioned, there is a companion episode about miscarriage where we focused really on Readers Advisory and worked with a medical librarian to find some additional books if you’re interested in reading on this topic.
Thank you for joining us to talk books and health today on “Read. Talk. Grow.” To continue the conversation and send comments, visit the show notes or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Read. Talk. Grow” is a production of Mayo Clinic Press. Our producer is Lisa Speckhard-Pasque and our recording engineer is Rick Andresen. The podcast is for informational purposes only and is not designed to replace a physician’s medical assessment and judgment.
Information presented is not intended as medical advice. Please contact a healthcare professional for medical assistance with specific questions pertaining to your own health if needed. Keep reading everyone.
Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy LossShop Now