Monday, October 22, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: "First Man" & a father's grief

(*Warning: spoilers*)

Going to the movies on Sunday afternoons is one of our favourite things to do, and yesterday's pick was "First Man," starring Ryan Gosling as the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

Dh has been a NASA geek since childhood (he was founder & president of his junior high rocket club), & I well remember watching that first moon landing at my grandparents' house in Minnesota (I was 8). Together, we've seen (& loved) "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13."  This movie fits in between those two, timewise.

I vaguely remembered hearing, when Neil Armstrong died a few years ago, that he & his first wife Janet (played in the movie by Claire Foy -- Queen Elizabeth in "The Crown")  had lost a little girl to cancer... but I did not expect grief and loss to be the centrepiece of this movie.  It was more of a personal portrait than a space epic (to dh's disappointment)(although there are plenty of scenes of rocket launches and moonwalking too -- mostly from the astronauts' perspective). Armstrong was a stoic and reserved man who did not show his emotions easily, even to his family -- but the death of his toddler daughter obviously affected him deeply -- as did the untimely deaths of many of his test pilot/astronaut friends and coworkers.

Now I'm tempted to pick up the book that provided the source material for the movie. (Another one for the TBR pile...!)  I want to know if the scene near the very end of Armstrong's stint on the moon is true, or a Hollywood embellishment.

What movies have you seen lately?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"The English Air" by D.E. Stevenson

The latest novel under discussion in my D.E. Stevenson online book club is "The English Air." The story opens in 1938 coastal England, as the Braithwaite family is preparing for a visit from their German cousin, Franz von Heiden.

Franz has an ulterior motive for reconnecting with his late mother's British relatives:  his father is a high-ranking official in Hitler's Nazi party, and has instructed his son to report to him on the thoughts/mindset and morale of the British people. Steeped in Nazi teachings and culture, Franz is convinced of the Fatherland's superiority -- but gradually, he warms to Britain and its people -- especially Wynne Braithwaite, the daughter of his mother's cousin -- and he begins to question the truthfulness of what he's been taught to believe. When Hitler invades Czechoslovakia in March 1939 -- after promising not to do so -- Franz is devastated. Ultimately, he is faced with a difficult choice.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  "Home front" novels about the two world wars have always interested me, and "The English Air" is a rare "slice of life" book, covering the period from 1938 to early 1940 and published later that year. The Second World War was just getting under way;  nobody knew then what the outcome would be. Understandably, it has a bit of a propaganda ring to it.

Stevenson's novels tend to be on the light side -- and while this is not a "serious" novel, it's certainly more serious than most Stevenson books tend to be, in both tone and subject matter.  It's also unusual, in that Franz, the German, is the central character, and we see much of the story through his eyes.

While this book is nearly 80 years old, some of its themes remain relevant today (at times, uncomfortably so): the folly of blind devotion to a charismatic leader; the power of opening one's eyes and heart to new experiences, to different ideas and different ways of life. "There is too little kindness amongst us today," Franz's Tante Anna tells him, and that too rings true. 

I rated this a solid four stars on Goodreads.

(For my other DES-related posts, click on the label below.)

This was book #21 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 88% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward

"Fear: Trump in the White House" -- the highly anticipated, recently released book by Bob Woodward -- is similar in many ways to Michael Wolff's "Fire & Fury" (which I read earlier this year & reviewed here) -- both of them fly-on-the-wall looks at the Trump White House during its first two years.

The difference, of course, being that this was written by BOB WOODWARD, of Woodward & Bernstein fame -- you know, the guys who doggedly investigated a mysterious little break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington back in the early 1970s, which eventually led to the resignation of a  president. I've read several of Woodward's previous 18 books (with & without Bernstein & others), including the first (and best), "All the President's Men" (which I re-read last year & reviewed here).

We might be able to brush off the gossipy books written earlier this year by Wolff & by Omarosa Manigault-Newman (who clearly had an axe to grind).  But when we hear the same sorts of stories from Bob Woodward, distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, it's clear that something is happening at the White House, and that we should all pay careful attention.

As Woodward himself said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, "People better wake up to what's going on."

In anecdote after anecdote, example after mind-numbing example, Woodward demonstrates that (as Chief of Staff John Kelly is said to have remarked) "We're in crazytown." 

“The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader,"  Woodward writes. "Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Unlike Wolff & Manigault-Newman's books, Woodward's was meticulously researched and documented, with his methodology explained up front, and notes and an index at the back.  As Woodward explains in the Notes section, most of the book is based on "multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources." "Deep background" means the source agreed that all the information provided could be used without his or her identity being revealed (although it's not hard to identify who some of the sources might have been).  Most of the interviews were taped with the sources' consent (and later transcribed). Meeting notes, files, personal diaries and both government and personal documents were also used to provide a fuller picture. (Not only does Woodward describe how Gary Cohn and Rob Porter conspired to remove a critical letter from the President's desk before it was signed and sent -- from which we can infer that Cohn, Porter or both told him about the incident, in great detail -- he actually shows us an image of the unsigned letter.)  Other sources are documented in the notes section at the back.

The final sentence of the book is a killer.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

This was book #20 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 83% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)

Monday, October 15, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • While I'm happy for the Duke & Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry & Meghan Markle), who announced today that they are expecting a baby, did they really have to do it on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day?? (And here I always thought the Brits were ahead of us in North America when it comes to awareness of these issues...!) I am sure it was unintentional on their part, but it just goes to show we still have a long way to go when it comes to awareness of these issues. 
  • Yes, today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day (in Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month).  Around the world tonight,  bereaved parents will be lighting candles at 7 p.m. local time and letting them shine for one hour, providing a continuous "wave of light" for 24 hours in memory of our babies. I actually haven't participated in the candlelighting in recent years, but I think I will do it again this year. 
  • Trying to get back into our usual routine since returning from visiting my parents last week.  Last Monday was (Canadian) Thanksgiving (a statutory holiday);  Tuesday we travelled home;  Wednesday we went to the supermarket to restock our cupboards & fridge/freezer (which we usually do Monday). I had a hard time remembering what day it was! Hoping this week will be a little more "normal!"  
  • Dh & I went to see the most recent version of "A Star is Born" this weekend, starting Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga (as well as Sam Elliott -- sigh!! -- Dave Chapelle, and Andrew Dice Clay (!!) as Gaga's dad (!!))(and he was really good!!).  I remember seeing the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version when I was a teenager, and crying buckets over it... and I cried at this one too. Cooper can sing (& direct), Gaga can act, and together, they have fabulous chemistry. I predict Oscar nominations to come... 
  • Younger Nephew & his bride have been living in her parents' basement since their wedding in April, but this weekend, they moved into their recently purchased townhouse -- two bedrooms, two levels, and about two blocks away (a 5-10 minute walk) from our condo building. Dh & BIL both think they paid wayyyyyyy too much money for it -- and they probably did -- (is there any other kind of real estate, hereabouts??) -- but I understand their desire to spread their wings & get their own space.  We went there to see it yesterday. I still think of  YN as an adorable, curly-haired toddler with a soother stuck permanently in his mouth, and it's somewhat bizarre to realize (not for the first time) that he's now a married adult with a mortgage.  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Horror story

Did anyone else see this story about a funeral home in Detroit where the decomposed bodies of 11 infants were found in the ceiling, after an anonymous tip??

This is every bereaved parent's nightmare, I think. (One of them, anyway...) How did this happen? Obviously, this is NOT standard/proper funeral home procedure...!!  But what did the parents think the funeral home was doing with their babies' bodies??

One possible explanation (& something that has long bothered me):  I know many hospitals (even still today) will offer to "take care of things" for the parents of babies who are miscarried, stillborn or die shortly after birth.  The idea of planning a funeral for an infant is an overwhelming prospect for newly bereaved/totally in shock parents -- you were supposed to be planning a baby shower, a christening, a nursery!! NOT a funeral!! -- and many are grateful for the offer;  grateful to be able to shove the whole thing out of their minds.

Most don't realize this means their babies will likely be buried (or their ashes interred) in a common, unmarked plot, perhaps months after their deaths. I have heard stories -- not as frequently these days, thank goodness, but certainly when I was newly bereaved -- of parents who later wanted to know where their babies were buried, and were horrified when an exact location could not be provided.  I recall one blogger, a decade ago, who signed a form to release the bodies of her twins -- changed her mind shortly afterward -- and was then told the hospital could not locate the bodies!  (They were eventually found, thank goodness.)

(Years ago, some parents weren't even told that it was an option to plan their own funeral -- the dead baby was whisked away immediately after birth -- without ever being seen or held by the parents -- and parents were merely advised to get on with their lives and "have another one.")

This is why I am an adamant fan of having standard procedures for how to deal with pregnancy & infant losses in place across all hospitals -- nationally, if possible, and certainly state or province-wide -- and of parents being provided with a broad array of options and suggestions by their caregivers during the brief, precious time they get to spend with their babies.

I remember my mother suggesting, tentatively, over the phone, before she even got to my side at the hospital, that perhaps we could have some sort of funeral or memorial service for Katie at the church dh & I attended? I hadn't even thought about that part of things, and the thought did give me some comfort. The hospital staff told me that because our daughter was past 24 weeks gestation, we were REQUIRED to arrange for burial or cremation. I didn't view it as a burden; it was actually kind of a relief to know that I was going to be able to do this for my baby, and I will be forever grateful for that.

I know everyone's experience & feelings will be different -- but I am sure that whatever the stories of those babies & their parents, this was NOT what they thought was going to happen!!  :(

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Childlessness & "The Big Bang Theory"

Childlessness -- voluntary or not -- is a topic not often explored on TV -- and when the subject is touched upon, it's often handled in a disappointing way.  More often than not, even female characters who say they don't want children wind up having them.

The question of children and the choice to have them (or not) reared its head on a recent (Oct. 4th) episode of "The Big Bang Theory," now in its 12th & final season. Penny & Leonard finally got around to talking about having children... and guess what? Leonard wants kids;  Penny doesn't. (You would think they would have discussed this BEFORE they got married, right? They've certainly known each other long enough by now...!) 

After Leonard stormed out of the apartment, the couple eventually made up & Leonard told Penny he can accept not having children. In the meantime, however, Penny was subjected to enormous pressure, not just from Leonard but also from Amy (they were supposed to be pregnant at the same time!!  their kids were supposed to be besties too!!!) and her dad (angered at the prospect of not being a grandfather). 

The eyerolling coup de grace for me, though, was seeing Bernadette -- who was originally completely unenthusiastic about having children, and still doesn't show much enthusiasm for motherhood since having not just one but TWO kids in quick succession! -- hand Penny just about every cliche in the book -- all the usual lines that parents use to try to convince the childless/free about the superiority of a life with kids.

(Even Sheldon & Amy are, apparently, fated to have children -- an episode of "Young Sheldon" last season ended with a voiceover from the adult Sheldon, talking about his love of contracts -- including the fact that he uses them with his children.) 

I will be curious to see whether there's a pregnancy announcement -- from Sheldon & Amy, or Leonard & Penny, or both -- before the season & series ends.

(We watched this episode while we were visiting my parents, who are also big fans of the show -- with them in the room. Awkward...!)

Here's a recap of the episode that I found online. (Note the headline: "Is Leonard and Penny's Marriage in Trouble?" -- even though they make up in the end -- and the editorializing: "Leonard apologizes for freaking out, then tells Penny he can accept not having children. (Hmm… we’ll see about that.)")  (As always, beware the comments...!)

Anyone else watch? Thoughts?

(I wrote/ranted about how the show "How I Met Your Mother" handled the issue of Robin's childlessness, here, here and here.) 

Friday, October 12, 2018

1 in 4

Many of my friends from the babyloss world (both online & in real life) have been posting this meme on their Facebook walls and other social media sites over the past few days, marking Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month (& Day, coming up on Monday, Oct. 15th). 

I did too. 

It's hard sometimes to "go public" with my ongoing grief -- to remind others of our loss (and that, yes, we are not "over it," 20 years later!) -- but if not now, then when, right? 

I am one of the estimated 1 in 4 who have lost a baby, through miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy or infant loss. (That statistic could potentially be higher, since many women miscarry before they are aware they are pregnant.)

I am also one of the (approximate) 1 in 5 to 1 in 4 women of my generation (born in the 1960s & 70s in developed countries) who does not (and will not) have (living) children -- both by choice & not (as was the case for me).  No "I am 1 in 4" memes for us (yet?), although I am sure there will be soon...! 

Just for fun, I Googled the phrase "1 in 4" to see what would pop up.  It wasn't what you might expect:

  • One of the first links to pop up http://1infour.ca/ .  It took a bit of searching through the site to figure out exactly what the site was for, but it appears to be an initiative to shed light on domestic violence issues in the Hamilton, Ontario area. 
  • There were several links related to mental health issues, including: 
  • http://www.oneinfour.org.uk/ supports people who have experienced child sexual abuse and trauma in the U.K.  
As I clicked on, here are some of the other "1 in 4" links I found: 
I gave up after scrolling through 10 pages (!) of Google results, without finding anything related to pregnancy & infant loss awareness (and remember, this is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month!), or childlessness.  All of the above links represent important issues -- but so too are the loss of much-wanted children (often for reasons that can never be explained).  1 in 4 is a pretty big chunk of the population. For all the progress I have personally witnessed on issues of pregnancy loss, infertility and involuntary childlessness over the past 20 years (and there HAS been progress), we clearly still have further to go to get our stories heard (let alone adequately understood!)...