Mel's latest book tour took a slightly different turn this time, in that we read a book about a stepmother who has no children of her own, having just lost a baby to SIDS. I was a bit dubious about this book, which is called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, at first, namely because as I'm about to evict two babies of my own SIDS is one of the last things I want to read about, but mostly I was worried about the stepmother aspect.
I am a stepmother. I am a stepmother to a 15 year-old girl and a 10 year-old boy, who live largely in Sweden and whom we see about once a month, for a week in October/February/June, and for a two week holiday at some point in the year. We have them every other Christmas, we get the "even years". They are the light of Aidan's life in every sentimental way - particularly his daughter, as they are extremely close, always have been and always will be. His son was born a sickly baby and still is a pretty sickly child, and as such he's more connected to his mother although he and his father have a strong, loving (if turbulent) relationship. Aidan's daughter he calls his "Princess", though, and it's immediately obvious to anyone who spends time with them that she has a very special role in his heart. Her birth was the only one he cried at of his two children. I think a part of me fears that he won't cry at the birth of ours, either.
Coming in to this arrangement was very, very hard, not least because Aidan's ex is
the Mistress of Satan not a fan of mine, nor am I a fan of hers. But I am careful to never say anything negative about her around the children, and indeed one year I got the pleasure of helping them pick out - and pay for - Christmas presents for them to give her, something I now make Aidan handle.
This book hit home in every possible way for me. I was completely engrossed in it, and although I found the heroine a bit melodramatic at times, the basis of the book - her struggle with her stepson and the role he plays in their life - was all too familiar. I too had that struggle. I too had a screaming battle with Aidan one Devon evening, where I was put in my place and have remained firmly there, once and for all. I too feel huge pangs of jealousy - not only do I only now have a great relationship with my father and can understand how father-daughter love works, but when you come in new to a situation and there's someone already holding a big key to the heart of the one you love, you find it hard. Yes, they're kids. Yes, of course they come first. But if you've never had kids of your own (and I haven't) you just can't understand how that love really works. Throw in a dysfunctional childhood and I was really in left field.
Emilia, in the book, eventually starts to come around to her stepson William. There comes a stage where she sees things in shops and wants to buy them for the kid, knowing it will make him happy. She puts him first. She starts to really love him. And that's where I'm at, that's what I've got - I really love my stepkids, too. I buy them things all the time for birthdays and Christmases, I have stashes of things everywhere. I want them to be happy. I want them to shine in their father's eyes. I want them to grow up knowing that nothing ever got in the way of their being loved, not me, not anything.
It doesn't mean it's not hard to deal with sometimes, because it is. And yes, I'm about to have twins and hopefully a whole new world opens up to me, but I can tell you here and now one of my greatest, pettiest fears...I knew that someday Aidan's kids would get married, would have kids of their own, and I wouldn't be able to relate. I would always be the stepmother, watching in heartbroken envy as the parents of two kids I love enough to be my own kids would be entitled to something I never would be entitled to. I would be there, on the pew or in my home, fervently buying gifts that I would hope wouldn't be stupid, holding hopes in my heart that I would get to participate, but I would know that I would never, ever know how it felt. I would not have had kids. I would not get those moments of pure and utter happiness.
It's stupid, but I think that if you ask every stepmother who couldn't have kids, she'll tell you there is one thing that hurts, that no matter how much love you get there's something that can never be healed by being included on the address of the Christmas card.
Anyway, the book - if you're a stepmom, particularly if you're a stepmom who cannot/does not have children of your own and has problems relating to the stepkids (of the younger variety, that is), then this book is for you. And if you're not a stepmom, then the one thing I can say about it is this: Being a mother, I have no doubt, is hard. But being a stepmother is just that much harder.
So the questions I chose:
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?
I have had a miscarriage. In fact, I've had two. Maybe a miscarriage isn't like holding your dead baby in your arms, hopefully I never have to find out, but I utterly, truly and completely believe that loss is loss. It fucking hurts like hell, no matter how far along you were. Loss at 5 weeks and loss at 5 months is loss. Further, I don't think there is a differentiation in infertility treatment - miscarriage is fucking awful, it doesn't matter if you miscarried after an IUI or IVF, it still hurts. I want to say that miscarriage after fertility treatment hurts more than a natural miscarriage, where you get to try again, but who the hell do I think I am, putting a value on someone else's pain? Loss is loss. It hurts, no matter how you look at it, and as someone who has stared the DNA down the toilet bowl I can say there's something so hauntingly awful about it, so intrinsically nightmarish, that anyone who would ever try to compare the levels of pain between any kind of loss would not be possible around me.
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?
I wrote the book on self-destructive. You want self-destructive, well, that was me. I've spent my life trying to destroy myself, and I made no exception when it came to trying to have babies. After my last miscarriage last August I became one seriously bitter chick, complete with caustic aggression and biting anger, with regards to other women who became pregnant. It was one big conspiracy. I hated myself and my body, my sex drive was affected, my self-esteem hit rock bottom, and in general you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hated themselves more.
But I started to get better.
I started to watch as others got pregnant, and I'd be happy for them. I started to reach out to my boy again, and started to try to like myself.
I think we all self-destruct just a bit before we can start to heal again.
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?
Why yes, I do believe in bashert. I actually believe there are a handful of people that we can be meant to be with, that can be our soulmates. I'm not so much a believer in love at first sight, more in "electricity at first sight", but they could be considered the same thing. I've had two great loves in my life, but nothing in the world could have compared me to the intense chemistry that brought Aidan and I together. All these years later, and I have no doubt still that he was the one I was meant to be with, even when we argue, even when he drives me crazy, even when he and I can't see eye to eye. There is, in my opinion, definitely someone who completes you (and JESUS do I hate quoting anything that came out of Tom Cruise's lips).
Also, this morning? The bloody show appeared.