Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Questions for Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

These are the questions for Tour Six: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman

Group A

  1. Throughout the book my feelings towards Emilia were conflicted. If you felt that way too, why did you also feel that way?
  1. Emilia's handling of grief changes during the book. In the beginning she mocks her friend, Mindy's wholehearted embrace of "the grief community" and rejects her offer to go on the Walk to Remember. She then changes her mind and does the Walk and comments that she envies "the ease of their grief" while wincing at the bad poetry read aloud at the pond. Do you find that your desire to openly express your grief has changed? Have the structures and practices in place helped you cope with your grief or do you wince like Emilia at things you find overly sentimental or just inappropriate for you?
  1. In the end, Emilia acknowledges that perhaps the idea of bashert, a 'magical unit,' was just a "dream" a "kabalistic tale." That she had used this idea to justify ignoring her obligations to those she loved. Do you think your situation has led you to neglect your significant other (or other loved ones in your life)?
  1. Emilia often describes the intense physical and emotional connection between she and Jack. She often refers to him as her bashert. But after the loss of Isabel, and Emilia's spiral into solitary despair, that connection is damaged. This alteration is noted by Emilia when Jack declines her first offer of physical intimacy since their daughter's death. She becomes "terrified that I have become like Carolyn, cold to sex, unmoved by my husband, uninterested in the passion that once meant everything to me." What sort of relationship do you have with your significant other? Do you feel he/she is your bashert? What effect has IF/loss had on your emotional and/or physical relationship?
  1. Emilia has a difficult time relating to other women who have had losses in pregnancy, usually because she sees her situation as different and worse than those women who have had miscarriages. She is particularly hard on her friend Mindy. Do you feel like this attitude was justified on her part? Are mothers of SIDs victims much different and worse off than mothers of miscarriages? Or can we all belong to the same support group?
  1. There seems to be a natural urge to rank our pain against that of others. Emilia separates herself from Mindy (p65) by saying, rather graphically, that a miscarriage loss is nothing compared to baby loss. Later at the Walk To Remember (p256), Emilia again feels disgusted to find that a woman has named her miscarried children. How did this strike you in light of your own situation? Do you (consciously or subconsciously) rank the pains of (a) not being able to conceive; (b) not being able to carry a baby to term; and (c) the death of a baby/child? Did you choose your own pain as the worst?
  1. We all have had someone in our lives like William who innocently says the wrong thing more often then we would like. How has your infertility experience helped you respond better to those "innocent yet wrong" comments/questions?
  1. For those of us who have suffered loss, the Walk to Remember maybe raises some feelings and issues. Emilia meets another woman who lost a child after birth. "It's a terrible way to lose them. However it happens is bad, but SIDS is the worst. I mean, of course I'd think that, but I know I'm right." Emilia feels out of place amongst the women mourning early losses "I realize, with a vertigo that almost knocks me off my feet, that this woman has named her miscarriages...I know it is unfair to feel disgust...I have no right to condemn her just because she has given her miscarriages middle names." Is there a hierarchy of loss? Do we share more than divides us? Can we get support and solace from others regardless of their exact experience... or do we seek out those whose experience most closely parallels our own?
  1. This book was, I think, extremely profound to those of us who have suffered life and loss, and to those of us who are stepmothers. One particular theme that I really found very remarkable was the fact that Emilia had such an acute loss, which didn’t detract from her other role, which is as a stepmother. William’s comments that they should ebay the baby’s things were painful from that “from the mouth of babes” kind of space, but at the same time, I wondered myself why Emilia wasn’t going to try again, that her loss was horrific but there could, maybe, be another baby. But then I thought with the emotional turmoil of William and of grieving, maybe she wouldn’t be trying again. And then I thought perhaps she was not only needing to make her peace with her loss, but accepting that there would be no more chances in the future. Have you reached that stage yourself in your quest for a family, or could you envision such a time ahead? If you have stepkids, how much of a role do they play in that decision?
  1. Emilia states her belief on page 332 that those who are powerless in the face of fate are also blameless. Do you agree with this belief—that if something is destined to happen and it does, that you are blameless for its damage?
  1. Emilia tries to get the restaurant to begin carrying a pink cupcake for William, admitting, “He will be overcome by the bliss of a strawberry cupcake and he will forget the rage in his mother’s face when she looked at me. I wish there was a cupcake that delicious. What will it take for me to forget, I wonder?” Is that level of distraction only capable by children? What do you use to distract yourself when you’re trying to forget something painful?

Group B

  1. It seems that Emilia straddles the fences between wanting to participate in the Walk to Remember. At first she talks of how silly it seems to walk around with other women mourning their losses, and later asks her own mother to attend. On the surface the walk itself seemed to be a failure for Emilia. She was frustrated with the appearance of her father, balked at the stars others wore, and felt distanced from the other walkers. But was there anything at the walk that could be considered a turning point for her?
  1. On page 65, Waldman writes, “She (Mindy) think we are members of the same sorority of pain, that we are sisters in grief… But when I’m with Mindy I’m afraid every minute that I’ll that I will tell her she has no fucking idea that a curl of flesh and DNA floating in a toilet bowl full of blood is not a baby, and that the remnants of pregnancy running down your legs is nothing, nothing like holding your dead child in your arms…” React to this statement as a woman who has lost a baby through miscarriage. In addition, can a similar sentiment apply to women experiencing different levels of infertility? Is one person’s “pain” moot in comparison to another’s if one has only failed with IUI versus one who has failed with multiple IVFs?
  1. Is the way Emilia quantifies loss similar or dissimilar to what we all tend to do? (i.e. her reactions to the miscarriages of a friend and the number of names on a heart of another participant at the walk) Why or why don't we do this?
  1. Do you think Jack was tolerant of Emilia's behavior for too long or that he was giving her adequate time and space to grieve? What place do significant others and support persons have in this time of personal devastation?
  1. How did you interpret Emilia's interactions with William? What did they say about her as a person, and in turn, her grief?
  1. We learn later in the book that Emilia is convinced that through her carelessness she smothered her daughter and killed her. Under the same circumstances, do you think you would blame yourself and how would you cope with the situation? Do you think Emilia's sometimes irrational behavior since the death of her daughter stems solely from this feeling of guilt or do you think it is an extension of her 'normal' personality coupled with the stress of her family life and the death of her newborn daughter?
  1. How did you feel about the walk to remember scenes in the book? Did you think it was healing for Emilia? If you have dealt with pregnancy loss, do you find that commemorating loss in community is helpful to you? If you are dealing with infertility do you feel that community has helped you deal with the struggle? In which ways?
  1. Emilia obviously deals with some self-destructive tendencies. Can you relate to her feelings? Have you dealt with self-destructive feelings on your journey to parenthood?
  1. Did you find it hard to relate to Emilia when she said a miscarriage was simply DNA floating around in a toilet bowl? Did it seem like she didn't give miscarriers the right to grieve when she was appalled by the women wearing stars with m/c dates and names?
  1. As I watched the main character go through the pain of her baby's sudden and unexpected death, I wondered if she would be willing to get pregnant again in the future. It was hard enough for me to start trying again after my ectopic - I can't even imagine what I would do after a miscarriage or the loss of a 3 month old baby. What were your thoughts?
  1. Do you think that Jack was supportive of Emilia's task for watching William on Wednesday? Should Emilia have to maintain the same demands/lifestyle standards has Carolyn placed upon William's nanny?
  1. Throughout the novel, Emilia feels she was drawn to her husband, Jack, through the concept of bashert – that it was a magical connection or fate that had drawn them together. Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you believe there is one soul mate for each of us?
  1. As Emilia is grieving over the loss of Isabel, she mentions that her friend Mindy’s miscarriage is not nearly the same as losing a child that you have held in your arms. How did this comment affect you? Did you agree that despite her efforts, Mindy is unable to relate to her and that the experiences are totally different?
  1. Emilia describes in great detail her feelings of guilt regarding Isabel’s death. For those of you who have experienced loss, did you feel responsible in some way? How did you handle those feelings?
  1. Emilia debates participating in the Walk to Remember and questions whether grief counseling or support groups really help when confronted with tragedy. What are your feelings about counseling and support groups? Do you feel that they have some merit?

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