Note: please be wary of reading this post if you have difficulty reading about miscarriage, fertility, or the loss of a child.
At twenty-eight, Mira Ptacin discovered she was pregnant. Though it was unplanned, she embraced the idea of starting a family and became engaged to Andrew, the father. Five months later, an ultrasound revealed that her child would be born with a constellation of birth defects and no chance of survival outside the womb. Mira was given three options: terminate the pregnancy, induce early delivery, or wait and inevitably miscarry.
Mira’s story is paired with that of her mother, who emigrated from Poland to the United States, and who also experienced grievous loss when her only son was killed by a drunk driver. These deftly interwoven stories offer a picture of mother and daughter finding strength in themselves and each other in the face of tragedy.
Author: Mira Pitacin
“Pregnancy. I didn’t find it beautiful. I found it disturbing. But can’t something be both disturbing and beautiful at the same time? Can’t things be tremendous and lonesome at the same time? Simultaneously heartbreaking and glorious? Wasn’t that New York?”
Poor Your Soul was a beautiful, heartbreaking, moving experience. I found myself almost hypnotized by Mira Pitacin’s masterful use of language and perspective. One evening, after I’d read a particularly emotional section of the book, I actually crawled into bed next to my husband and said, out loud, “I feel sad. Sad in the best way.”
Mira accounts the painful experience of having your world turned upside down, learning to accept and even embrace your new reality, and then having it all crumble. And then learning to accept that, too. Despite the fact that she never missed any birth control pills, she and her new boyfriend find themselves pregnant. They get engaged, and then at their first ultrasound, learn that their child will not live. Crushed by the choice before her, Mira ends up choosing the path her doctors, her fiance, and even her relatively parents urge her to make: to terminate the pregnancy. Her grief threatens to consume her as she and her fiance—eventually her husband—struggle to regain some sense of normalcy.
Mira switches back and forth between her pregnancy journey and her childhood, through which we get to see her mother’s journey through life and loss. Like Mira, her mother struggled to define herself both within and apart from her family before setting off to find independence and a sense of self. We learn how and why Mira’s sense of home, duty, pride, womanhood, and family shaped into what they are today. We see Mira’s grief reflected in that of her mother when Julian, Mira’s brother, is killed by a drunk driver. We see a tangible illustration of the fact that everyone handles grief differently, and everyone’s reactions are valid even if they are not always compatible.
“Mom says that people always remember things the way they want to remember them instead of the way it was, because it was never just one way. That memory isn’t what happened; it’s what happens over time.”
Yes, this book was very sad, but it was also sometimes light-hearted, often uplifting, and consistently beautiful. It offers hope in the fact that we are all human. It offers forgiveness in the fact that we all feel guilty about things for which we should not. And it offers solace in the fact that we are never alone, no matter how lonely we feel.
Mira also uses New York City to help illustrate her themes: the sense of adventure and anticipation, the overwhelming crowds without true connection, the excitement, the ugliness. I live in the metro area, and so I related to these metaphors and loved them. Everyone in New York both loves and hates it, and that is what we love about it—and what we hate about it.
This was kind of a dark horse for me; I picked it up with a friend when we were at the Brooklyn Book Festival last summer, and we read it together. I bought it because it sounded good, but I had no idea what I was in for. I am so glad that I did.