About What Was Lost (Plume, $15.00) collects responses to miscarriage that were generally left unsaid by earlier generations of women. The introduction by editor and contributor Jessica Berger Gross traces the genesis of this volume to her search for other voices with which she could identify in the aftermath of her own miscarriage in her first trimester of pregnancy. “I’ve always found a particular kind of comfort in reading, so as I began to think more about these questions it was only natural that I would search my favorite bookstores… . I’d hoped to return home with an armload of books, but instead I came away with an idea for a book of my own.” Gross as writer and editor has taken her emptiness and made something full, and meaningful and honest of it — a process that will probably be familiar to those at home with Jewish ritual.
One of the most compelling essays here is “I Went Out Full.” The title is an allusion to a verse about Naomi from the biblical book of Ruth. Commentators explain that Naomi was “full” in the sense that she was pregnant when she left the land of Israel for Moab, but she came back empty. The authors, Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick, both mention conversations with rabbis as the defining moments of comfort for them. Bazelon wisely discusses others helping her to “take my grief seriously” and Lithwick notes that there are “no scripts” for dealing with miscarriage.
There may be no scripts, but there is great comfort to be found in Caroline Leavitt’s “The First Baby.” Leavitt describes a book her friend Peter made for her titled “Smart Answers for Dumb Questions,” such as “At least it wasn’t a real baby yet,” for which the response is “Yeah, and you’re so insensitive you aren’t a real person!”
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s frank essay chronicles her initial ambivalence about having children, which turned to a yearning for them after a miscarriage. She describes a poignant moment when she and her husband say a personal Kaddish for their lost child. She closes with a scene in which she and her husband are driving to a baby shower. He muses that the miscarried baby would have been 28 and they could have been grandparents by now. The emptiness doesn’t end even 28 years on, after the birth of two subsequent children.
Miranda Field, a poet, writes about her thoughts on a memory garden for miscarried and unborn children, “No one’s story, no one’s account of grief or sorrow or relief is questioned or held to account.” That is the value of this book — each individual story given its space, its sorrow. Field describes feeling about her body the way one feels about the “intersection of a highway where a fatality has happened.”
One of the only shortcomings of this collection is that almost all the writers appear to be educated upper-middle class and most probably white. There are also very few expressions of anger, which would seem to be a natural response to the pain of a miscarriage. And for readers particularly interested in the Jewish angle, there is already a book which deals with a Jewish ritual response to infertility and miscarriage, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin’s Tears of Sorrow, Tears of Hope: A New Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy. Nonetheless, this collection gives us an intimate glimpse at how we grieve and how we ultimately begin anew.
Beth Kissileff is completing her first novel, Questioning Return. She has taught Bible and English literature and has a PhD in comparative literature.