Feb 21, 2011

What I Thought I Knew

by Alice Eve Cohen

Cohen had come to terms with the fact that she would never bear her own child, due to having a deformed uterus. She had an adopted daughter, a new happy relationship and a budding career. Then at age forty-four she starting having mysterious symptoms. Doctor after doctor told her she was just experiencing menopause, explaining away her sore breasts, frequent need to urinate, nausea and fatigue. None of them thought to question her years-old diagnosis of infertility. It wasn't until she had a CAT-scan to see if her bulging stomach had cancer that it was discovered she was actually six months pregnant. Thus began an immense emotional and physical trial in her life.

She didn't want the baby. Her first thought was to abort it, and later when she found out the myriad problems her infant could have- due to the fact that she had no prenatal care for six months, had been drinking and taking hormone supplements, etc. etc.- to possibly put it up for adoption. To make matters more complicated, she had awful insurance that wouldn't cover the medical costs and extreme difficulty finding a doctor willing to take her as a high-risk patient. It was overwhelming. I can't imagine having to fight the medical establishment for care while at the same time struggling with feelings of ambivalence towards the unborn child itself. Even after her baby was born (with unexpected health issues) she struggled to find love in her heart for it and wrestled with postpartum depression.

What I Thought I Knew must have been an incredibly painful book to write. I can't imagine going through what she experienced. The issues of her considering aborting or adopting out her child didn't bother me so much as the indifferent attitude of medical and insurance people. I couldn't believe that a gynecologist examined her at five months and didn't recognize she was pregnant! That infuriated me. And I was most disturbed by the lawsuit at the end of the story, where in order to pay for medical costs that were sinking her family, she had to go to court and present a wrongful-life case. Which basically states that if the doctors hadn't erred in not detecting her pregnancy for six months, she would never had had a child, that this baby shouldn't have been born. Can you imagine being that child, growing up and discovering that your mother went to court suing that you shouldn't have been allowed to live? Of course the author discusses how she struggled with that herself, but she really could see no other way to get money to pay for the astronomical medical costs. Still, it was the part of the book that I stewed over the most.

Somehow, I was expecting a bit more depth from this book. I breezed right through it; the storytelling is quick and vivid, the words flow easily. It's a book that can tear at your emotions and leave you closing the last page too quickly. I longed for just a bit more introspection, to slow me down and keep me immersed in the book longer. Yet I heartily admire the author for writing and sharing with all us readers what must have been a harrowing time in her life, and her complete honesty in sharing her ambivalent feelings and depression in the face of what many women would greet with unrestrained joy.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 194 pages, 2009

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bermudaonion said...

I think I liked this book more than you did. I admired the author's honesty in writing about such taboo subjects. Thanks for linking to my review.

Susan said...

Wow, this sounds like quite a moving book to read. Because pregnancy care is covered by our medical system up here in Canada, we don't worry about the costs of having a baby - except for all the expenses afterwards! lol I am always shocked when I see how much it costs, literally, just to go to the hospital for you in the US.

Did the author have a point of view - was she espousing that it was good to have a baby late in life, or more how hard it was to adjust, especially because the baby was unplanned, and because no one figured out she was pregnant? A 'how could this happen' kind of book?

Did she learn or discover that she did love her child, after all?

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- I did enjoy it, but somehow I was left wishing for a bit more depth...

Susan- Yes, the costs can be shocking. Thankfully, most insurances cover this sort of thing but she happened to have a particularly poor insurance carrier. It seemed to me the author definitely was not recommending having a baby later in life- it was a surprise to everyone and difficult for her to deal with. She did come to love her baby! it just took time.