Peaks Islander writes striking memoir of ‘the uterus and the American dream’
Mira Ptacin is trying to recover from a horrific ordeal. She’s had an abortion after learning at a 20-week ultrasound that, “through a constellation of birth defects,” the baby would not be viable outside the womb. A short time later, she sees a fellow graduate student, Grace, who is troubled after selling her eggs to pay for her education. Mira empathizes with her friend’s feelings of isolation.
“No one talks about these things. No one asks about our vaginas,” she writes in her starkly honest memoir, “Poor Your Soul.” “My classmates know about me, but they don’t ask me what happened. How I’m feeling. What I’m thinking. I don’t want Grace to feel loneliness like this … She’s got no one. We are women. We should be comrades. It will make us stronger. Louder.”
And that’s the motivation behind this very personal work by Mira, a Peaks Island resident, creative nonfiction writer, former Salt Institute for Documentary Studies instructor and teacher of memoir writing for women at the Maine Correctional Institute. She calls her book “a memoir of the uterus and the American dream,” and with it presents a poignant and raw story of choice, loss and strength. It is not just her story, although hers is the primary focus. She entwines hers with that of her hardworking Polish immigrant mother, whose teenage son was killed by a drunk driver. Lest this sound like too much of a downer of a read, it also has just the right amount of surprisingly light-hearted moments, especially in the author’s depictions of her likable and wise mother and her sometimes goofball of a husband.
At 28, Mira was a new graduate student who felt an “urgency for success.” Three months into a romantic relationship she finds out she is pregnant. (She never missed a birth control pill—“I’m that 1 percent.”) She and her boyfriend, Andrew, feeling that “love is the best choice for now,” decide to have the baby and get engaged. “We were getting to know each other while we were buying baby books” and discussing delivery methods in doctors’ offices, she writes.
She loves the “speckle of a human” she is carrying, but is still conflicted about this accidental pregnancy and how it changes her plans. She ponders why it is so hard to be happy, and she feels guilty around her close-knit family about the circumstances of her upcoming wedding.
Then comes the nightmare of the ultrasound. She has three choices. If she terminates the pregnancy, it has to be done within days because of its late stage, and it would be a complex, “violent” abortion, she is told. She can do nothing and possibly miscarry. Or, labor could be induced and she could deliver the baby the next month.
Guilt pounds down. Did she, with all her doubt, will this to happen? In spite of the doctor’s reassurance that this is a random genetic fluke, she wonders if she’d done something wrong in those early months to cause it, and if so, what? She lashes out at her mother and Andrew, both of whom encourage her to abort: “You think that because I wasn’t excited that I don’t care?”
After the surgery, she falls into a grief that feels to her like insanity, and it impacts every part of her life. “After a child dies,” she writes, remembering vividly the aftermath of her brother’s death, “there is an elemental shift in everyone. But, who is moved when that child was never born?”
“Poor Your Soul,” is exceptional for its honest eloquence about such complicated and deep emotions and experiences. It’s not a pity party by any means, nor is it self-aggrandizing or egotistical. After reading it, you’ll know this writer, and, if you have a soul, you’ll grasp her grief, rejoice in her resiliency and be a better comrade for it.
Amy Canfield loves to read. She has been a book editor, a book reviewer for publications nationwide and is an editor at The Forecaster newspapers. She lives in South Portland.
Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan