Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss, and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love”

Mira Ptacin’s essay, “A Kind of Love,” was published on The Fertile Source a couple of weeks ago. Here, editor Jessica Powers talks with Mira about her experience with losing a pregnancy and then writing about it.

Your essay delves so honestly into the conflicting, ambiguous feelings of pregnancy: fear and a new love welling up inside you. In your case, it was complicated by the unexpectedness of the pregnancy, how sick you were, and the reality that your baby was not going to make it outside of the womb. What gave you the freedom to expose all of these things we don’t like to talk about in this essay?

I have the most wonderful parents. The raised me to believe that it’s not just important, but essential to vocalize my thoughts and feelings, and often. They’ve always encouraged me to pave my own path. So to answer your question, I believe that my parents gave me the freedom, or gifted me with the freedom to make “feelings sharing” a vital part of my well-being. One way I make sense of the world around me is by putting my feelings about life into words. Losing a child was one of the most confusing, upsetting, life-altering moments I’d ever experienced, so writing was the tool that helped me make sense of it all. I needed to understand what happened, and what grief was.

I had to describe my world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely. By the practice of writing about my sadness, I began to understand it, and be less afraid of it. By exploring my grief I came to understand that there was no “answer” or explanation. This is what helped me begin my healing process. Self-expression is not just freedom or a gift, it’s a necessity.
You offer such an interesting juxtaposition between the doctors’ phrasing to tell you your baby was going to die–“it is sick,” they said–versus the way you explained it to your family, which is “the baby is sick.” Did you struggle with the coldness of scientific knowledge and the practice of medicine? How in the end did the medical establishment treat you? Did you continue to find it alienating or were you finally embraced, somehow, when you made the decision to terminate the pregnancy?
 
 

 

 
 
 

Mira Ptacin

I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence when this all happened. SLC is one of the most expensive schools in the country, and I was on student loans, so before I got pregnant (before I had even met Andrew, for that matter), I had chosen to opt out of the health insurance to save a little money. Then I met Andrew. Then we got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on it—I had been taking birth control every single day, and never had missed a pill! When we found out I was pregnant, I had to sign up for Medicaid, because we weren’t married. While we loved our doctor, we hated the clinic we went to. After we found out the baby wasn’t viable outside my womb, it was all downhill. Right after we received the horrible news in the ultrasound, we were escorted over to see a genetic counselor, who would take our family history to see what had gone wrong. Minutes after receiving the terrible news, and minutes before seeing the genetic counselor, we were told that he refused to see us, that he “wasn’t allowed” to see us, because Medicaid only allowed me one doctor visit per day.  We were shaken, tired, terribly confused. We didn’t know if we had done something wrong. We wanted help, and we wanted answers. Finally, after she spotted my husband and me crying in a waiting room, a medical intern stepped in and convinced the genetic counselor to talk to us, rather than eat his lunch. In a room that smelled like mayonnaise and lettuce from his lunch, the genetic counselor proceeded to explain what might have possibly happened that caused our baby to be so sick. (It was purely a genetic fluke; nothing we could’ve done.) During the actual procedure, there was very little privacy at the hospital. We were often uncomfortable and exposed. We shared rooms. They were running late and short-staffed. The whole experience was harsh, painful, shocking, traumatic. And very impersonal. I’m assuming this is not due to the doctors’ and nurses’ and employees’ lack of care, but because the hospital just wasn’t equipped. It didn’t have enough money and or resources. It was exhausted. Everyone was exhausted. Sadly, the majority of people in NYC, not to mention in this country, are not rich and cannot afford good medical care, so this type of treatment happens more often than not. In fact, this goes on every day. That’s pretty pathetic, considering we live in one of the wealthiest industrialized nations.

There’s a moment in your essay when you sight a hawk and it sets you off on an absurd set of speculations that become metaphorical for your predicament. Can you talk about how you crafted that scene? How do you balance what happened in real life with crafting it to mean something larger, symbolically speaking, within an essay?
Writers have to be careful with metaphor. Sometimes, it’s best just to be direct, rather than try to find too many metaphors. You want to make sure the reader gets lost in the story, not caught up in the voice of the writer. You don’t want your audience to start pondering the writer’s craft, or questioning your technique. But sometimes, in real life, when something really significant is actually happening, you can’t help but notice all the little signs and the little metaphors surrounding you. Sometimes life just speaks in metaphor, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s important to always be CONSCIOUS and honest with yourself, and trust your skills as a writer. Being fancy doesn’t always mean you’re being awesome.
 
 

 

 When this scene in Squaw Valley was actually happening in “real time”, things were extremely confusing and difficult for me. Nothing made sense, but the things I did see seemed to just be metaphors, everything seemed to be a sign or metaphor. Or maybe I was just looking for a sign or answer to where to go next and what to do. I was also at a Writer’s Retreat, which was really tricky: I was there for a nonfiction conference, but I didn’t tell anyone what was going on “underneath the surface” in my life. I was sort of being a fictional nonfiction writer. And at the time, I wasn’t writing about what was happening in my life. Looking back at it now, I think that was really crazy of me. But by having such a secret, I was lonely and was looking for signs or symbols for an answer, signs from things other than people. And I think I found many of them on that fortuitous hike.

I only confided in one professor, an extremely talented and compassionate author named Jason Roberts (http://jasonroberts.net/) who was one of my writing coaches. We were talking about a manuscript I was working on about a murder at an “Oriental massage parlor” in my hometown. After some discussion about nonfiction/memoir/narrative, I eventually told him about my current predicament, and he told me to throw away the true crime manuscript and that I should be writing about my pregnancy/loss. Maybe he said I HAD to write about it. So I did. And it became a book.

You’re currently at work on a memoir. Can you tell us about it?

First of all, I have to thank Jason Roberts for encouraging me to write about it. When writers are in the beginning stages of their career, it’s very difficult to navigate one’s way, and having gurus/advisors/mentors is more valuable than gold.

Three years ago I began writing about loss and am now in the final stages of editing my manuscript:
“Poor Your Soul” is a memoir about the thin line between decisions made out of love and choices made when influenced by guilt. It traces my mother’s coming-of-age at age twenty-eight, her immigration from Poland to Battle Creek, Michigan, the adoption of her son Julian and his tragic death, mirrored by my migration from the Midwest to Manhattan, my accidental pregnancy and decision to keep the baby, the traumatic loss of my baby, and finally, my marriage in New York City, also at age twenty-eight. Our two stories are strikingly similar, and by reflecting on my mother’s, I learn how to cope with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in her the search for identity. In other words, this book is about the Uterus and The American Dream.
My mother learned to speak English by watching soap operas, and as a result, her English is a bit butchered. “Embrace yourself” really means brace yourself. And when Mum says something is eating her “out”, it’s really eating her up. POOR YOUR SOUL is something my mom would say as a warning, like “If I catch you watching T.V. on a school night, then poor your soul. POOR YOUR SOUL!” It translates into “I sure do feel sorry for your poor soul because it’s going straight to hell.” Soap operas are hardly realistic—plotlines generally revolving around amnesiacs, the resurrected dead, and the occasional demonic possession. An episode can switch between several dramatic threads at once, linked by chance meetings and coincidences. They’re like tapestries that never end. When one story ends another thread slithers in. In a precisely similar way, I have seen my own storyline develop. Embrace yourself.
 
 

 

2 Responses to “Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss, and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love””


  • Mira, nice interview! Nice writing! Dad

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