Pregnancy is supposed to be joyous, a time of celebration and new life. When it isn’t joyful—when it ends in miscarriage or stillbirth or other loss—people struggle with words, with telling the story, with sharing the grief. How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting is a brave and beautiful anthology that walks right into those tough, unexpected moments. Twenty writers, including editors Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-Demoor, share their stories of pregnancy, parenthood and loss with candid honesty.
This book attracted my attention because I am a mom, and many of my friends have faced losses during their pregnancies. I’ve struggled with knowing how to comfort them during that time, what to say about their loss when my three daughters are running around healthy and alive. So I read this book as a mom who hasn’t faced what these authors discuss, yet was touched by their pain, their openness, and the beauty they found in their stories.
About the Editors and Contributors
Martin-Demoor is an Edmontonian who has two children, several poetry awards, and a host of publishing credits. Hiemstra is a poet and visual artist from Toronto who shared the pain of losing her stillborn nephew, showing that pain affects every member of the family (and even community) and not just parents. The contributors included both men and women who used a variety of techniques to tell their stories. Scott Harris and a few other writers broke their essay into numbered sections, with each section giving a glimpse of the story. Some contributors used poetry, as Yvonne Blomer does in her haibun about motherhood. Some told their stories chronologically and others didn’t, but all were well-written. Most of the writers have won or been finalists for various literary prizes; all have been previously published.
About the Stories
The stories’ focus ranges from infertility to miscarriage to losing a parent to rebellious sons to adoption—things we don’t expect. Their words ring with a poetry that carried me beyond the loss, such as Martin-Demoor’s words about her miscarriage: “What we saw was not the baby, nor its death, but a report of these things, an image carried by sound out of a dark place” (p. 129). It may seem depressing to read an entire book about loss, but each story was unique and each writer found hope and healing somewhere in his or her story.
As a writer, I’ve often turned to writing to help me sort out my thoughts, so I understood Maureen Scott Harris’s struggle to express her loss: “For years I’ve been writing-not-writing about my pregnancy and the baby I gave up. Time and again, I’ve laboured to make space for writing as if words will just well up and fill the page. But the page stayed blank because what wells up is not writing or words, but feelings, and those I can’t bear” (p. 147). Reading these essays is a cathartic experience as each writer struggles with feelings that many of us as readers have also faced or seen friends face.
This is a valuable, healing book, for we need to share our stories and hear other stories. As a mom, I’ve learned I need community—I need other women who know what it is like to be a mom. As these men and women shared their stories, their intimate journeys, with me, I felt like each of them was sitting beside me, giving me hope. Lorri Nielsen Glenn says in her essay, “As we have learned to breathe again, we have found other parents—far more than we imaged—with stories that echo ours. All along, we were not alone, but none of us had the courage to talk then. We talk now” (p. 106).
I am thankful these parents found the courage to talk, as I’m sure every other reader will be as well.