It is curious that Elizabeth McCraken’s memoir of the year following the full term stillbirth of her first child was given widespread media coverage, including a long review in The New York Times. It is certainly a well written and moving book that deserves widespread reviews. But it is curious that similar books describing very similar experiences following abortion are routinely shunned, ignored, and dismissed by the main stream media.
McCraken’s reflections hit strikingly similar themes to those reported by women and men who have lost a child to abortion. She struggles with both self blame and blame of others. She has difficulty telling those she loves about her tragedy, and they struggle with how to comfort her. What is she to think of Mother’s Day, except to be distressed. Is she a mother even though she cannot hold her child?
All the trials of a woman who has lost a child, whether to miscarriage or abortion, are touched upon. And she marvels at what curious grace that allows human beings, even at our most devastated moments, to somehow continue to function, and even occasionally laugh, when every fiber of your being is in mourning. If there is a God, she writes, “the most basic proof of His existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.”
“I will always be a woman whose first child died, and I won’t give up either that grievance or the bad jokes of everyday life. I will hold on to both forever. I want a book that acknowledges that life goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. . . . The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks of your soul.”
McCracken quickly became pregnant with a second child. He was born just over a year after the death of “Pudding,” the affectionate nickname for her stillborn son which she and her husband memorialize on the birth/death certificate. But while the second child comforts her and her husband, she rightly insists that he can never replace the child who died. Yet even the second son’s history is touched and changed by Pudding, as worry and fret over another loss loomed over every moment of her second pregnancy.
Together, the second and first child, inspire the title of her book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Though separate individuals, her two sons are intertwined, as all brothers are, even though Pudding never took a breath.
Yet most importantly, she wants to convey the uniqueness of the son who was never born but still transformed her, her husband, and many others, and thereby forever changed some part of the world.
“I don’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve or put it away in cold storage. I don’t want to fetishize, I don’t want to repress, I want his death to be what it is: a fact. Something that people know without me having to explain it. I don’t feel the need to tell my story to everyone, but when people ask, Is this your first child? I can’t bear any of the possible answers. I’m not ready for my first child to fade into history.”