Unexpected: A Community Memoir of Motherhood, Medicine, Resilience, and Family
Ten years ago, when I endured three pregnancy losses in nine months, being a physician didn’t protect me from feeling isolated and overwhelmed. What I really longed for was a community of women--or even one encouraging story--that might reassure me that I wasn’t the only person finding the path to motherhood so complicated.
In Unexpected, I have created that resource for other women by crafting twenty-four true first-person narratives about what can happen when things don’t go as planned in pregnancy, in parenthood, and all along the way to creating families--including the candid story of my own life-threatening complications and losses. Unexpected joins the rich tradition of personal narratives about pregnancy and parenthood, while including compelling and accurate medical detail written in approachable language that will be understood and enjoyed by readers with or without medical training. Every story includes elements of medical crises, health challenges, or patienthood, and half of Unexpected’s contributors are medical professionals themselves, giving them an unusual level of insight into their own experiences as healers in need.
Unexpected invites you to walk alongside us as the intimate details of our stories unfold: Infertility, multiples, abortion, surrogacy. Loss of pregnancies, death of a child, death of a spouse. Coping with chronic or life-threatening disease in a child or in oneself. Questioning expectations for feminine strength and physical appearance. Devoting long hours to delivering other women’s babies and caring for new mothers while pregnant. Confronting turning points in medical history. Adoption, international and domestic, successful and failed. Foster and step-parenthood. Motherless mothering. Poverty, legal struggles, abuse. Mental illness, genetic disorders, career conflict. Single parenthood, teen parenthood, putting motherhood off for so long that it almost didn’t happen. Ambivalence over whether to become a mother--or wanting to be a mother desperately while ultimately choosing to redefine that vision.
All of the women in Unexpected are mothers. But they are also so much more. They are physicians, nurses, engineers, biologists, interior designers. They are homemakers, hired maids, office workers, teachers. They are researchers, artists, bloggers, massage therapists. They are partnered and single, young and old, widowed and divorced, gay and straight, urban and rural. They include women who have not been to college and women who have several advanced degrees. They and their partners and children represent a wide range of racial, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They live all over the United States, and some have immigrated here from other countries. They range in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. Their pregnancies took place from their mid-teens to their mid-forties. Their children range from newborns to fifty-somethings who are mothers of teens themselves. They grew up financially secure and destitute, coddled and abused, brave and fearful, innocent and tough. They have become, every one of them, courageous and outspoken women who are committed to using their stories to help others.
I began writing Unexpected as a way to reflect on where we’ve come from while we do our best to move forward and as a reminder to remain humble and generous in our support for each other. As its stories came together, I realized that we needed to share what we had created, with the hope of inspiring in others the resilience we had discovered among ourselves. I am honored that each of these remarkable women has entrusted me to help offer her story to the world.
Please read these excerpts from sample chapters.
To connect with my agent, Laura Gross, about Unexpected or other writing projects, please visit her website.
"I took your chapters with me camping this weekend and read them by the side of the Crooked River. As I finished each one, I held the papers in my lap and stared out at the river. Each one touched me and moved me and made my heart ache in so many different ways. Thank you so much for sharing them with me. You’re doing something spectacular and important. I look forward to seeing the fruition of this project.” Amber J. Keyser, PhD: Author of The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2016), and Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear (Twenty-First Century Books, 2018).
"Wow, these stories moved me. Each one had me tearing up at some point, and the grief I felt at the end of Lia's story shook my body. These are powerful stories, and you're a powerful writer. Your storytelling methods are very effective--dropping us into a conflict, building up the tension with episodes of rising action that each seem to be resolved until the next episode begins, showing a believable climax, and then offering a literary resolution, even when the medical or emotional issue isn't really resolved. And you do a wonderful job of circling back to the opening situation to help each essay feel tied up." Ali McCart Shaw: Executive Editor, Indigo Editing & Publications. Director, Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Freelance writer and memoirist.
“The pieces read so easily and smoothly, letting the stories carry the reader away without distraction. That’s a gift to the reader. There’s just the right tone and just the right amount of heart in them, too. I love the medical information, but the humanity comes through brilliantly.” Sandy Poole Keiter: Oregonian guest columnist, former KATU-TV reporter, and professional interviewer/video producer.
“Gorgeously written! I can only believe that you will do well with this effort: I want to read it all!” Robin Karr-Morse: Family therapist, Executive Director of The Parenting Institute, former Director of Parents’ Training for the Oregon Child Welfare System, and author of Ghosts From the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995, rev. 2014) and Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease (Basic Books, 2012).
"Thank you for sharing this with me. It's beautifully written. I felt Devorah’s grief so palpably--it took me back to that time. The story captures her voice and who she is. It's very raw and authentic, and it portrays a measure of her healing after having her own kids. As a person who knows and loves Devorah, I want to say that I think you've written a really thoughtful and honest story that accurately reflects the complicated and amazing woman she is. Now I can't wait to read your whole book when it comes out!” J.C., MD, MS: Community obstetrician/gynecologist and genetic counselor. Long-time close friend of one of the contributors, on reading that contributor’s story.
Throughout my career, I have sought opportunities to use written and spoken words to make complex topics accessible to a wide range of audiences. Having discovered my passion for medicine in an unconventional way, I have always appreciated the chance to bring a less traditional perspective to the profession. While completing post-baccalaureate premedical coursework, I served as an editorial assistant at New England Journal of Medicine and taught wilderness medicine to firefighters and Navy SEALs. During college and medical school, I published a book review in the New England Journal of Medicine, a column on day hiking in Harvard Magazine, and ten articles on travel and backcountry medicine topics in the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, and garnered second place in the Stanford Medical Center Poetry Month Contest for my piece You Have Never Really Heard Me Speak. During residency, I co-authored and published two academic papers and assistant-taught scientific writing to medical and PhD students. More recently, I serve as a medical consultant to best-selling author Jodi Picoult, including for her 2016 novel Small Great Things and her 2018 novel A Spark of Light. These days, I have been balancing part-time clinical work and busy family schedules with writing Unexpected, a project that weaves together my experiences as a medical professional, as a parent, and as a patient.