Review by Eve F.W. Linn
Alexis Marie Chute’s memoir, Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss, documents with intimate detail and incident her recovery after the loss of a child. Chute’s book offers an authentic new voice and important insights to the literature on pregnancy loss and parental bereavement. The conspiracy of silence that surrounds this universal issue only increases the pain of those dealing with a tragedy and perpetuates the stigma that prevents open discussion about this painful subject.
Chute is an award-winning artist, writer and filmmaker. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and Design from the University of Alberta and her Masters of Fine Arts from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a respected advocate for bereaved families and offers workshops on creativity and healing through the arts.
Written in spare yet lyrical language, Expecting Sunshine‘s taut narrative structure is well constructed. Expecting Sunshine is divided into three sections, each divided into weeks that document Chute’s personal transformation as well as the course of her pregnancy. A reader can choose to read the whole book, or small sections as desired.
Description alternates with facts; language signals and reflects different emotional states. Here is Chute’s description of a baby shower she co-hosts. She paints the scene.
One particular balloon was extra large and shaped like a cradle, boasting It’s a Boy! in baby-blue swirls… You will not make a scene, I warned myself, looking away…All I had were minutes with my baby before he died…Zachary’s ashes…were all that was left of my son. (7)
The reader sees the setting, hears the narrator talking to herself, and is confronted with the inescapable contrast between the narrator’s circumstance and that of the new mother with a living child.
The reader does not get the complete story of Zachary’s birth immediately; the slow reveal of information is very effective in holding the reader’s interest. Chute and her husband Aaron are attending a support group, Mourning Together, which triggers Chute’s rage, pain, frustration at the failed promise of faith. In a duet of shared memories, the couple describes the birth and their son’s short life:
And Zachary didn’t die in the birth canal like the doctors predicted. He moved a little in my arms.”…As always I ached for my baby as for a ghost limb… “Zachary didn’t cry,” Aaron reminisced. He did not open his eyes––but I peeked. They were blue. (22)
Readers want guidance, hope, and most of all a promise that their pain will end. Chute does not provide answers to those suffering through this most primal of losses. Her most valuable gift is her own example. Nowhere does this author make the reader feel less than a partner in this process. Chute has the rare ability to make each reader feel included. The tension and uncertainty that animates the first two thirds of the book showcases Chute’s powerful writing. In the last section, events move towards resolution with the delivery of a second son.
Midway through Expecting Sunshine is one of the most memorable sections in the book, “Horse with Blue Eyes.” Chute is driving along back roads when she feels impelled to stop. “I couldn’t remember the last time I felt such unguarded anticipation––not since early in my pregnancy with Zachary, at least. The thought made me shudder” (89). Here is the reality of a pregnancy after the death of a child, the dogged pull of anxiety fighting against possibility, the the months of repression: “I ate my pain…and it lived inside…my pregnancy was supposed to blanket all other states of the heart, if not suffocating them…at least concealing them for the sake of propriety” (77). In a moment of mystical communion with a horse with blue eyes, Chute finds her truth, her own voice speaking to her: “You have lost your child, but you are not lost” (91). The reality of loss is not the only reality. It is only by progressing through the season of unreality where nothing makes sense)— “Was not my body consecrated for death? My genetic helix a distorted and unsteady ladder?” (35)—that healing becomes possible.
Chute courageously reveals her darkest thoughts about a dark fact: pregnancy loss, a reality, which impacts one in four women, their partners and extended families. Readers are left to imagine Zachary. He is every baby, every child who is lost to an untimely and inexplicable death. The artifacts of his life are few, his remains weigh just ounces, but his impact and influence in the lives of his family and the readers of Expecting Sunshine is far-reaching.
Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing, and Pregnancy After Loss
by Alexis Marie Chute
She Writes Press, April 2017, $16.95 [paper] ISBN 9781631521744 203pp.
Eve F.W. Linn is an artist and poet who lives near Boston with her family. She received her B.A. cum laude in Studio Art from Smith College and her M.F.A. in poetry from Lesley University.