This Lovely Life

This Lovely Life

3.7 4
by Vicki Forman
     
 

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Vicki Forman gave birth to Evan and Ellie, weighing just a pound at birth, at twenty-three weeks’ gestation. During the delivery she begged the doctors to "let her babies go" — she knew all too well that at twenty-three weeks they could very well die and, if they survived, they would face a high risk of permanent disabilities. However, California law

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Overview

Vicki Forman gave birth to Evan and Ellie, weighing just a pound at birth, at twenty-three weeks’ gestation. During the delivery she begged the doctors to "let her babies go" — she knew all too well that at twenty-three weeks they could very well die and, if they survived, they would face a high risk of permanent disabilities. However, California law demanded resuscitation. Her daughter died just four days later; her son survived and was indeed multiply disabled: blind, nonverbal, and dependent on a feeding tube. This Lovely Life tells, with brilliant intensity, of what became of the Forman family after the birth of the twins — the harrowing medical interventions and ethical considerations involving the sanctity of life and death. In the end, the longdelayed first steps of a five-year-old child will seem like the fist-pumping stuff of a triumph narrative. Forman’s intelligent voice gives a sensitive, nuanced rendering of her guilt, her anger, and her eventual acceptance in this portrait of a mother’s fierce love for her children.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Forman's enormously affecting memoir-winner of the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference Bakeless Prize-about the drastic disabilities of her extremely premature child poses challenging questions about parenthood and human compassion. Having given birth to twins at just six months' gestation (23 weeks), due to an undetected infection she learned of only much later, the author, living with her husband and three-year-old daughter in Southern California, and aware of the daunting health issues facing these babies, begged the doctors to "let them go." However, the doctors refused the "do-not-resuscitate" order, offering the infants every form of neonatal intensive care available, and while one of the twins died within days, the boy, Evan, survived, spending six months in the hospital before the family could take him home. Evan was plagued by severe developmental difficulties, including seizures, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, congenital heart defect and blindness, and the author writes with unflinching honesty about her raw fear and conflicted feelings. With time, Forman persevered as Evan's advocate, finding solace in friendships with other mothers of special-needs children and open to experimental therapies that might prove helpful. Numbed by the crass exigencies surrounding the burial of one child (cemetery plots, tax forms), and hardened by what she terms post-traumatic stress syndrome, Forman portrays herself (sometimes shockingly) as deeply flawed and forgivingly human. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
The harrowing experience of a woman whose twins were born at 23 weeks. Forman explores the many issues of premature birth without presuming to offer solutions or comfort, drawing directly from the raw outrage, torment and profound sorrow she recorded in her journal. She makes it her life purpose to stay apace with the minutiae of her children's fragile, ever-changing conditions, doggedly expanding her knowledge of medical terminology and navigating every diagnostic twist and turn with research, skepticism and occasional self-doubt. Beneath her outward mettle is a mother who is continually probing every phase of the grief process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance do not progress in conventional order but churn and shift within her consciousness on a minute-by-minute basis, depending on the latest lab report, nurse's comment or conference with doctors. Forman's lack of pretense is bracing and brutally poignant, and she recounts her experiences in meticulous emotive and medical detail. Whether praising or condemning hospital staff, wrestling with the marital pressures engendered by family health crises, struggling to find spiritual solace, driving her son 1,000 miles to an alternative-treatment center or watching him happily roll around on the motel bed, Forman is a warrior. Threaded through her untethered courage and candor are moments of sheer helplessness: "They say it's your baby, but until you go home it's not your baby."A searing tale of heartache and impressive depth of character.
From the Publisher
“It would be difficult not to be stirred by Vicki Forman's story; but what makes This Lovely Life so good goes well past story and into idea, with which her book is so rich. The idea of love; of choice; of ambivalence; of imperfection; of purpose: these are all here, in a narrative that is propulsive, startling and vivid, like motherhood itself.”
—Meg Wolitzer, author of The Ten-Year Nap

“Intimate, compelling, and hopeful—an absolutely important book.
—Rachel Simon, author of Riding in the Bus with My Sister

“Vicki Forman's This Lovely Life is its own kind of koan—a story about death that is full of life, a story about loss rich with things gained, a story of letting go, while at the same time holding on tightly to what we love best. Spare, bracing, lovely.”—Jennifer Graf Groneberg, author of Road Map to Holland

“If such a heartbreaking story must be any parent's to tell at all, I'm thankful that it should fall to such a talented voice as Vicki Forman to bring it to the rest of us. Forman writes with sensitivity and clarity; her love is powerful and her eyes are wide open. This Lovely Life is a beautiful story of loss and love, and ultimately of understanding, one that left me shaken, haunted and deeply moved long after I finished reading.”
—Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of Schuyler's Monster

"Forman’s enormously affecting memoir…about the drastic disabilities of her extremely premature child poses challenging questions about parenthood and human compassion…. Forman portrays herself (sometimes shockingly) as deeply flawed and forgivingly human.
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED

"A searing tale of heartache and impressive depth of character" —Kirkus

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547394404
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
07/23/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
102,904
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

1
I LEARNED ABOUT GRIEF during this time. I learned that no matter the true temperature, grief made the air crisp and cold; that it caused me to drive slowly, carefully; there was very little I could eat. I learned that I didn’t notice things until they flew out at me and that most stories and books and news articles were unreadable, being accounts not of the events themselves, but of me. Of what I had lost and would never have again, of what I had once allowed myself to want, the things I used to love. Of small consolations no longer available. I learned that my heart could stop and start a dozen times a day and that my throat felt so sore and tight I often had to swallow air simply in order to breathe. The world receded; everything took place in slow motion and was viewed as if down the wrong end of a very long telescope. So much was unfamiliar that if I was asked my name, I had to think for long moments. “Grief is a visceral process of disengagement,” a friend said. In my grief, old versions of disembodiment became a cruel joke. You thought that was bad, not being able to walk into a roomful of strangers without disassociating or turning remote and distant? That was nothing. Try this. Try heart-stopping, immobilizing grief.
The stages of grief were slippery, I found, the boundaries melded, the order mixed up, confused. I backed up through denial, depression, blame, and acceptance. I did my bargaining and got angry all at once. I discovered, somehow, in my grief, that routine would be my only salvation — the routine of familiar places, the same aisles in the supermarket, programmed drives and walks. The same food, food I knew I could tolerate. The less I had to think about, the fewer decisions, the more I might actually find a way to put one foot in front of the other.
I backed my car into a vintage Porsche and crushed in its driver’s-side door. I rented a car while mine was in the shop being repaired. As I was parking the rental car in the hospital lot, I heard the crunch of metal going bad. I had somehow smashed the hood under the fender of the high-profile SUV parked next to me. When I got my own car from the shop, I once again backed into a classic car, this time a Mustang. Grief had made me not safe.
In the midst of this grief I somehow betrayed even myself. I put my makeup on. I took care of my living children; I went to the hospital. I did not go back to work. The doctor who wrote the prescriptions for the pills that held me together told me that if I’d had a regular job he would have put me on disability, and it was true: I wasn’t functioning.
###
The day I gave birth was hot, a Sunday. The heat had been rising since Friday, the same day my pains began. My husband, Cliff, had picked this day to visit a friend in from out of town. At the last minute I had to tell him no. “You can’t go, I’m not feeling well.” Only then did I mention the cramps, the dull pains in my belly. When, at one in the afternoon, I started to bleed, there was no way to deny it was time to get help.
Even as I put my hand to the phone and called the doctor I reassured my husband I felt certain everything was fine, that I was simply having trouble from some early complications, those that had cleared up in the past few weeks. I was barely six months along. I could not possibly be in labor.
###
The OB on call ordered me to check in to Labor and Delivery. “Things can happen fast with twins,” he said. I walked into L & D at three in the afternoon and was hooked up to a monitor that revealed I was having contractions every two minutes.
When I finally connected the news on the monitor with the pain in my belly — or when the monitor made the connection for me — I was stunned, silenced. Okay, I thought, I’m having preterm labor. No need to panic; there was a lot they could do. In my mind, I was still going home in time for dinner. I waited for the doctor to examine me. The nurse had a glance and said, “Oh my, you are bleeding.” The doctor’s glove came out red. Another nurse had a flashlight beamed on me below. “Oh God,” she moaned, and her expression — a quick glance, a cringe, a look away — told me everything I needed to know.
“Is your husband here?” the doctor asked. “Who’s here with you?”
My husband appeared from around the corner — he had simply gone to park the car; our three-year-old daughter was with him still, this was not meant to be a long visit by any means. I was six to seven centimeters dilated, the doctor announced, much too far gone to stop the labor. I was six months pregnant; my twins were no larger than my hand. I was having my babies today.

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