Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen is a harrowing memoir of what happens when everything goes wrong in a pregnancy.

Alice has known since she was 30 that she was infertile. She had probably always suspected it as she's a DES daughter (her mother took DES, an anti-miscarriage drug, which was later found to cause birth defects, primarily in the reproductive arena of the baby girls.) But while married to her first husband, they wanted to have children, and she was told definitively there was no way. She was also put on horse estrogen pills that she'd probably have to take for the rest of her life, and they adopted a beautiful baby girl.

Fast forward a few years. Alice is divorced, a single Mom, dating a man ten years her junior, and her life is starting to get back on track. She's a writer, performer, and editor (all freelance), and her boyfriend is also a performer. They are very happy, and that's when her health starts to go off the rails. She feels sick all the time, and sore. Her doctors give her antacids and tell her that's just aging. Her period stops and she's having to go to the bathroom all the time. The doctors say she's entering early menopause, and a weakening of the bladder walls is a normal part of aging. Her breasts hurt (must be underwire bras) and she has a swollen abdomen (abdominal muscles lose tone as you get older). She has an x-ray of her aching hip (nothing), a gynecological exam (nothing) and is told, go ahead on vacation to Italy, drink lots of wine and relax. She goes on a diet and tries to work out.

Finally, she goes to the hospital and has an MRI. And that's when she hears the most shocking news. She's expecting them to tell her that she has a tumor, has cancer, will die. Instead, she is 6 months pregnant. She's 44, has been taking horse estrogen pills the whole time, dieting, drinking, taking no vitamins, and naturally (and with reason), she's terrified. The odds of her baby being malformed, handicapped, seriously ill, is very very high. She's not sure having the baby is the best option. But at 6 months, her options are very limited.

She goes through a roller-coaster of emotions as she tries to parse out what would be her best course of action. Her boyfriend is also upset, and they aren't always on the same page. Her insurance is terrible, and she's on bed rest and no high-risk ob/gym in New York will see her.

At the end of each chapter she writes out a list of things she thinks she knows. As a performer and writer, Ms. Cohen knows how to built up tension, how to stay focused on the crucial points, and how to draw the audience in. It's smoothly written and a whirlwind, just like the actual events were. I was riveted to the page and read the whole book in one sitting. I'm not going to spoil the ending, so you'll just have to read it to find out what she decided to do and how that worked out. Great memoir.


Kathy said...

This sounds like a great read! But definitely for someone like me who has already had all her kids. Sounds like no pregnant woman should ever pick it up. ;)

Rebecca Chapman said...

Sounds really great, must have been traumatising for her. I have to be honest though, I try to avoid pregnancy related stories. I don't want to be scared off having my own!

Kate Evangelista said...

YA Book Giveaway at: http://kateevangelistarandr.blogspot.com/

Carin said...

That does sound like an interesting memoir. Sounds like it's pretty emotional and intense.

Julie said...

This is on my wish list. I really want to read it, especially after reading your review.