This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman – with a giveaway

Whenever I am in a gathering of women, at some point, inevitably, the conversation will turn to birth stories. I usually nod and listen silently. I might add that I had a C-section and that it didn’t hurt, but I never tell the rest of my story because I know it would bring down a pall upon the conversation. Nobody really wants to hear about how my twins were born at 26 weeks, how the day of their birth was far from being “the happiest day of my life” or even a day of regular joy, but an occasion filled with fear and a grand sense of failure. Nobody wants to hear how I waited until the day after they were born to go see them for the first time, and when I did, I didn’t feel a burst of maternal love. I thought they looked weird and scary, and I wondered if they would ever look normal. These are not the kinds of things that we talk about in polite company, and until very recently, not even the kinds of things that mothers were willing to write about.

Vicki Forman does, however, in her prize-winning new book This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood. Vicki’s twins Evan and Eleanor were born at 23 weeks’ gestation. As the daughter of a doctor, Vicki was aware of the likelihood of severe disability should they survive, and asked for a DNR order, which was ignored. Her daughter died four days later, but her son survived with multiple disabilities.

Vicki writes with astonishing frankness about the following five years in which she learned to love her son without expectations as she sought the best medical solutions for his seemingly endless problems. She admits to telling off nurses and being rude to her brother-in-law and disobeying medical advice (like when she stopped using the apnea monitor because it went off needlessly in the night, and she had learned that by that stage ex-preemies rarely stopped breathing for a long time).

I could relate to many of these things. I, too, found that almost everything that people said to console me was the wrong thing. And at first I didn’t want to bond with other parents of multiply disabled children. And my medical vocabulary (in my case, in Japanese) expanded exponentially.

As my children were born in a Japanese hospital, I found many of the cultural differences interesting. If  I’d given birth in California, I would have been quickly introduced to a social worker and a spiritual adviser. Here, I was on my own. But after reading about Vicki’s anger and exasperation with the people who were assigned to help her, I’m not sure that having  a counselor would have been all that much help. 

Vicki’s husband, Cliff, is a Japanese-American, and through-out this book he is portrayed as kind, accepting, and patient. At one point, Vicki writes: “Where I wanted to flail and yell and lose my temper with everyone, my husband was staid and firm and in control. I don’t know how he did it. He once said, apropros of being Japanese, ‘My culture just accepts people who are sick and maimed. We take care of people when they get old and we take in people with disabilities.'”

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read it. It’s true that families here keep their elderly and disabled relatives at home, but, from my American point of view, it has always seemed to be less out of open-hearted acceptance than out of duty. Shikata ga nai. (It can’t be helped.) Gaman o suru. (Everyone must endure their harships.) Mewake o shinai. (Don’t burden others.)  Maybe I am wrong.

At any rate, This Lovely Life gave me many things to think about, and also made me feel less alone in this world.

This book is also gorgeously written and full of wisdom – real literature. I have an extra copy – if you’d like one, leave your name here and I’ll do a drawing in a week.

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12 thoughts on “This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman – with a giveaway

  1. I have to agree with your view about Japanese feeling a sense of duty as opposed to willingness in looking after the the elderly and there are very few young couples nowadays willing to do so. I’ve lost count of how many of my daughters friends or students have said that they won’t marry the oldest son for that reason alone.

  2. Hello, Suzanne
    The mother of a former classmate of my son’s is a volunteer “home help” for the elderly, work she says she has chosen to learn the ropes in preparation for the time the parents of her husband – the eldest son – are no longer able to care for themselves. Whether her desire to train for this role stems from a sense of duty I can’t say, but I was moved nonetheless.
    I would be very interested to read this book, so could you please include my name in the draw?

  3. I am sure that many of the families of the elderly and disabled take care of them out of love. But I was thinking that maybe Japanese immigrants carry with them memories of a kinder, gentler Japan, and pass these feelings along. In some ways, young Japanese seem quite selfish, and also society is not especially accomodating to the disabled. Most of the restaurants that we go to don’t have wheelchair ramps, so we won’t be able to visit them much longer.

    • As for those restaurants, I think it would be worth noting your predicament and ask them what they might like to do to accommodate you rather than risk losing your business. In my middle age I’ve started asking questions, and it does seem to be more acceptable than it used to be. It won’t hurt to get people thinking. It’s the same with us because my m-i-l has a hard time navigating stairs.

  4. I just picked up a copy Sunday (so you can exclude me from the contest) and I almost can’t bear to set it down (I’d like to take the afternoon off work and read more)…it is so beautifully and honestly written. I feel so lucky (and almost guilty) to have carried twins full-term. That the author was not only able to live through and cope with one heartbreak after another (and I’m only partway through), but to go back and write about it with such clarity is truly astonishing. [When I read that line you quote I actually thought of you and some of the difficulties you describe with negotiating Japanese culture with a disabled child and I was surprised too].

  5. wow, this sounds amazing. i’m an early intervention PT and just finished “love you to pieces”. well done, and i would love to own “this lovely life”.

  6. Dear Suzanne,
    Please include my name in the drawing. This Lovely Life sounds like a wonderful book. I have a good friend with a multiply disabled daughter and I would like to give the book to her (after reading it myself, of course!).

    I also want to thank you for your blog and the book Call Me Okaasan. I have just stumbled upon the blog this summer, while looking for answers to my own bicultural family issues, and immediately ordered the book. I had a lovely week on the Oregon coast, reading the book in moments of peace between the chaotic and noisy family reunion — 20 in a beach house! I gobbled that book up, and now I want to reread it again and really digest it slowly.

    I (Oregonian) have been married for nearly fifteen years to a German and raising my children in a small rural village in Germany… now we are living in the UK and my children are having trouble adjusting to being expatriates, while I am (guiltily) enjoying being in Anglo-Saxon culture again.

    I enjoy your blog very much because I relate to the rural setting and enjoy “visiting” Japan again — I was an English teacher in Kagoshima for three years in the late eighties and, after huge cultural shock(S), enjoyed it immensely. Must admit I had a huge crush on the math sensei and when I read your blog it reminds me of the road not taken…!

    It is refreshing to read a well-written blog, and if you recommend a book, it must be good, so please include me in your drawing.
    Thanks/Danke/Arigato gozaimasu,
    Susan

  7. Thank you, Liz and Susan! I am, of course, so happy that Love You to Pieces and Call Me Okaasan are finding their way to their intended audiences.

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