A couple of weeks ago, on the way to the beach, I popped into the book store and picked up a book I had pre-ordered (I love that combination: beach and books), This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman. I first ran across Forman's writing in her Special Needs Mama column on Literary Mama and from there I found my way to her blog.
I was drawn to Forman's heart-wrenching story--the extremely premature birth of twins, the subsequent loss of one baby and the multiple disabilities faced by the surviving one. But I was also drawn to her writing style--clear, smart, brutally honest--and her character. Even though we live in literally opposite corners of the country, and even though our experiences are equally opposite, I felt like she was someone I'd like to sit across the table from at a coffee shop and have a good chat with.
This Lovely Life covers Forman's birth story, from arrival at the hospital in full labor, through the loss of Ellie and the agonizing months her son Evan spent in the NICU and his subsequent readmissions to hospitals for various surgeries and other complications. It is a sad book, for sure (I found myself in tears several times) and incredibly moving, but it is not depressing. Though Forman does nothing to mask her range of emotions--anger, guilt, frustration, exhaustion, depression--throughout she writes with an awe-inspiring clarity and manages to bring to the book a sense of...I'm not sure what the word is...not joy, but appreciation of life...grace, perhaps? The book is the story of her learning to become the mother of her disabled son and her dead daughter, and that is a beautiful thing. Even after having read her blog and column and knowing the eventual outcome, I still found it beautiful.
One element that I especially connected with was when she mentions that she remembers almost nothing of her older daughter's third year, the year she spend going back and forth to the NICU and other hospitals. While I obviously didn't experience anything nearly so dramatic or painful, I feel like I missed out on M's fourth year, the year the twins were babies demanding every ounce of my body, mind and soul.
The book reminded me to be more grateful (grateful for my full-term, healthy twins, and grateful for each day). I appreciate that she did not go all "god-ey." While I understand that in difficult times people find themselves turning to a higher power for comfort, counting your blessings doesn't always make for compelling narrative. That's not to say that the book doesn't have a spiritual element, which Forman approaches as honestly as she does her other emotions in the book--with hope and ambivalence--a very real and human response I believe.
As I read, I didn't want to stop. When I was at work, I wanted to go home and read more. I don't often buy books anymore, but wait for them to show up on the library shelves, but I am so glad that I bought and read this one.