Maritime Memoirs: Joanne Gallant and Angela Parker-Brown

These two memoirs are written by Nova Scotian authors–one from Halifax and one from Truro–and both tell deeply personal stories. It was interesting to note that Gallant felt isolated in her experience with infertility while Parker-Brown felt supported in her journey with ALS.

A Womb in the Shape of A Heart by Joanne Gallant (Nimbus Publishing)

In Joanne Gallant’s courageous memoir about her struggle with infertility, she lays it all out before us: the good, the bad, and the mesh underwear.

I dream of running away. Not from my family or my life, but from a body that feels broken and a mind that pumps out anxiety like radiation from Chernobyl; a poisonous, invisible substance bent on my future destruction. I wonder what it would be like to have a body deliver a baby safely, on time, and without complication. How would it feel to be relaxed and sure of my body’s ability to bear children?

Joanne and her husband have been together since their first year of university. They both have good jobs, a house, and now all they need are kids. Kids that they both desperately want. Getting pregnant and staying pregnant doesn’t prove as easy as they had always assumed it would.

I had a plan, and I was under the illusion that my life was completely within my control. Fertility felt like a given, like something owed to me for following the rules.

Miscarriage after miscarriage fills Joanne with sorrow and shame. While she sees all around her pregnant women and families with children, she feels broken. And when she does finally have a pregnancy that sticks, she’s terrified the whole way through that something will go wrong, robbing her of the joyful anticipation of pregnancy. Even after their son is born, Joanne is ever watchful, scared something bad will happen to him.

After having their son, Joanne and Joey continue trying to have another. Their failure and disappointment almost ruin them. The grief and the fear was turning Joanne into a monster and driving them apart. And it was exhausting having to outwardly pretend everything was fine.

I am no longer childless, but I still long for the babies I lost, the ones I still wish for. I am a grieving mother, but I am also a mother with a child on her hip. My arms know the loneliness of being empty, and yet they are filled with the little boy who calls me Mama.

Joanne is successful in conveying the complex range and severity of emotions that infertility issues can cause for a woman and her partner. She also successfully conveys the confusion of experiencing the joys of motherhood at the same time as experiencing the loss of other children. I admire her ability to put it all down on paper for the world to read, and hope that the process has been helpful to her and to her readers.

I do not want him [her son] to grow up with a mother who is more concerned with what she doesn’t have than grateful for what she has.

Be ready for tears.

Coincidentally, soon after I read this memoir, I read a Halifax-based novel exploring this same topic, called Hold My Girl by Charlene Carr. Here’s a short video of Charlene Carr talking about Gallant’s memoir.

Other reviews of this book can be found at: The Miramichi Reader, Karissa Reads Books, and Quill & Quire.

Writing With My Eyes: Staying Alive While Dying by Angela Parker-Brown (Pottersfield Press)

Angie was officially diagnosed with ALS at the age of 46 in 2018. A mom of twin daughters, Angie doesn’t want to be pitied – she wants to be remembered as someone who lived life to the fullest despite her illness. At the time she wrote this book, Angie was unable to move anything but her eyes, and wrote the entire thing–as well as all the required correspondence–using her eye gaze equipment. “She wrote this book to inspire others to thrive in their lives no matter what that life looks like.”

Writing With My Eyes tells the story of Angie’s ALS journey, from the time she noticed her numb baby toe in 2016. It tells us about her trip to Disney World with her daughters, and how she had to enjoy most of it from a wheelchair. It talks about all her friends and family and care workers who supported her and helped her every day. But Angie also uses the platform to talk about what she learned about herself through all of this: her childhood trauma and the effect it’s had on her life.

Sometimes the thought of being “trapped” in my own body can cause me to feel overwhelmed or filled with panic. These are the times I have to pull out all the stops. I get quiet and think positive thoughts: “My girls still need me.” “I have a family who loves me.” “I have friends who make me laugh until I can’t breathe!” “I have much more trash TV to watch.” “I still have stories to tell.”

It brings tears to my eyes to read about how the community rallied around her when she needed them. As Elizabeth Johnston says in her review of the book at Atlantic Books Today, “Rather than rage against the dying light, her book is an elegiac survey of gratitude.”

This memoir reinforces my belief that people are good – something many of us need to be reminded of these days. It’s a book that is going to stay with many people for a very long time.

I want my girls always to remember how our little town stood with us in love and what a fierce fighter they have for a mother.

You can find an article about Angie and her book in this season’s edition of Atlantic Books Today (#97).

Near the end of her book, Angie talks about how the “small happy-inducing moments” in life are what keep us going. I love this. Some of Angie’s include: a good head scratch, a good laugh, dogs that follow you from room to room, watching people interact with her kids, and hearing her kids laugh. One of mine is reading about a very good friend of mine who is described by Angie in her book as a “genuinely kind and beautiful soul.” And then getting to write about it.

What are your small, happy-inducing moments?

Since writing this, Angie has passed away. You can read a tribute to her here.

Other reviews of this book can be found at: Atlantic Books Today, The Miramichi Reader, and Halifax Examiner.

Do not wait for the negative to celebrate the positive.

11 thoughts on “Maritime Memoirs: Joanne Gallant and Angela Parker-Brown

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Two such contrasting experiences! Angela Parker-Brown’s story sounds both heartrending and joyous. We humans only seem to value those small experiences when we’re up against it but you’ve made me think about the small joy of the spring sun on my face yesterday.

    • Naomi says:

      I need to keep reminding myself to appreciate the small things. I love feeling the sun on my face in the spring! Today, for me, it was watching a small group of kids working intently on art they were making out of a bunch of craft supplies we put out for them at the library. The different things they make amaze me!

  2. wadholloway says:

    My father was trapped inside his body by a stroke (lots of strokes) for 18 months until he manged to slip away. And it definitely made him desperate.
    Now my oldest daughter has times where she feels the same way as she deals with MS (in another city, which makes it hard).
    I’m not sure I’d want to read about it – though I did watch the French movie where … goes to wiki … The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

    • Naomi says:

      She doesn’t focus a lot on the ALS itself, but more the experience of knowing time is limited.
      It must be so hard to lose the ability to control your body. It also must be hard to witness. Thanks for sharing about your father and daughter.

  3. annelogan17 says:

    Wow two very painful to read books, but the second one sounds so wonderfully positive, it should be a must-read for everyone! I’m always relieved to hear of new books coming out that talk about the pain of infertility, because i have friends who deal with this issue and I can tell how challenging it is for them to express their emotions about it, but at the same time, feel like they can’t speak to someone like me who has two kids. It’s a very complicated part of being a woman I think.

    • Naomi says:

      Agreed. And we’re only just recently realizing how inappropriate it is to ask women about when they’re going to have a baby – or another baby. I personally find this hard – I really have to watch myself – it just wants to slip right out!

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