I Hope You Haven't Had a Miscarriage
When I sold my book proposal for About What Was Lost, an anthology of intimate essays about miscarriage, I hardly knew anyone in the writing world. The ambition to write was a dream I’d nurtured in private for many years. I hadn’t been to an MFA program and didn’t even belong to a writing group. All of a sudden I needed to find nineteen other writers willing to write about their personal experiences with miscarriage, a seldom discussed loss. For months, I emailed writers whose work I loved, my opening line the somewhat awkward, "I hope you haven't had a miscarriage, but if you have, perhaps you'd like to write about it for my book."
I was overwhelmed by the response, as writers sent me back notes, and then essays, about recent and long ago miscarriages. Joyce Maynard wrote me an essay the same day I emailed; her story came pouring out in one long session of writing and remembering. Other pieces followed. Some writers whom I hadn’t thought to email heard about my project and contacted me directly.
One day I read an essay in a women’s magazine by the writer Susanna Sonnenberg. The magazine ran an accompanying photo of a radiant Susanna, curly haired and several years older than me, sitting on the front porch of her house in Missoula, Montana. Her piece, like the photo, shimmered on the page. How easily and wisely she wrote about her life. I sent Susanna what had now become my standard email.
Susanna had suffered a miscarriage, and did want to write about it. In the coming weeks, she wrote a beautiful essay about twin losses—an unplanned pregnancy terminated, and a planned pregnancy ended by miscarriage; about being pregnant while working at an abortion clinic; about the walls that built up between Susanna and her husband in the midst of it all; and about her two young sons who have since made their family whole.
Susanna and I became close. Email conversations about writing turned into phone conversations about motherhood, and daughterhood. Susanna, like me, had become estranged from her mother after a difficult childhood. Susanna, like me, had taught herself how to be healthy and happy. I related to her, and admired her, and wanted to be like her all at once. I cried to Susanna about my longing to be a mother, and the difficulties of waiting for the baby my husband and I hoped to adopt from India. When I wrote an essay about why I stopped speaking to my parents, for Rebecca Walker’s forthcoming anthology, Susanna edited it with me over the phone, line by line, three times over, pushing me to describe scenes of childhood violence I hadn’t wanted to remember, mourning with me the childhoods neither of us got to have.
Although she’s in Montana and I’m in Massachusetts, we both grew up in New York (me in the suburbs, Susanna in the city), and twice have rendezvoused in Manhattan. We’ve met each other’s husbands, both supportive and good to the bone. I’ve watched her sons eat pancakes and discuss the wonders of the New York City Transit museum and the Staten Island Ferry.
Susanna’s become my friend, and beyond that, my mentor. In the couple of years since we’ve known one another, Susanna’s published widely in national magazines, and sold her memoir, Her Last Death, to Scribner. Knowing Susanna, and her writing, has helped me come to better understand the writer—as well as the mother—I’d like to be.
I’m writing this from Casa Libre en la Solana, a writing residency in Tucson, Arizona, where Susanna has spent time, and where she urged me to apply. My days here are a dreamlike mélange of sunlit writing and reading and walking down the street for my evening newspaper and vegetable burrito. After the sun sets over the dusty mountains, I tuck into bed and dream about the books I might write, the mother I hope to become, and the friends I’ll meet along the way.