Review: How to Expect What You’re not Expecting

Touchwood Editions (2013), 245 pgs. Eds. Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-DeMoor.

Riffing off the title of the popular book What to Expect When You’re not Expecting, the essays in this anthology explore pregnancies and parenting experiences that result in loss. Loss as a concept is redefined by these stories; while stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage, and adoption are typically considered to be losses, each experience is felt and explored differently. The anthology is notable for also considering parenting experiences that are not frequently seen as losses, including moving from a homebirth to the NICU, teenage motherhood, trying to conceive, moving beyond grief, and raising high-needs children.

For a book that so generously considers such a scope of experiences, the subject of post-partum depression is absent, but this omission can perhaps be overlooked, given the collection’s reach into largely unacknowledged aspects of parenthood and pregnancy.

This collection is a must-read – not only for those who plan on becoming parents, or who have experienced similar losses of their own – but for people who like good writing, and appreciate the personal essay genre for the difficult questions these writers confront. Why do losses occur? Why are some losses perceived as tragic, while others are seen as mere misfortune? Chris Arthur details the painful “demarcation” of his son’s death at thirty-eight weeks gestation: “A key question for many people was whether Boll had been born alive and then died, or born dead…According to which applied, our loss was viewed as serious or merely unfortunate.”

The majority of pregnancy and childbirth books currently on the market may include a chapter on stillbirth or miscarriage, but don’t provide information about the devastating decisions some parents face. And what is clear from this collection is that these experiences are not uncommon: both Chris Tarry and Cathy Stonehouse write about having to terminate pregnancies that are not viable.

Readers will recognize some of the essays from previous publications, including Susan Olding’s “Female Troubles” (from the widely acclaimed Pathologies), as well as Carrie Snyder’s “Delivery” (published recently in TNQ) and Lisa Martin-DeMoor’s NMA-winning “Container of Light” (also published in TNQ). But what is so necessary is Hiemstra and Martin-DeMoor’s decision to gather these essays into a collection that addresses the largely unacknowledged aspects of grief one experiences at the loss of a child, as well as the many ways loss can occur.

Touchwood raises important issues by publishing this book, the fourth in their loose series about the experience of parenting – or for some people, the decision not to be parents – in a society so focused on childbearing and raising.

In addition to loss, another emotion that unites these essays is love: for having optimism, for having conceived, for having grief – for having given life in all its many forms. The aptly chosen “How” and “What” of the title ask as many questions as they answer, and in doing so provide much-needed guidance.


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