The sad but true fact is that women aren’t listened to by doctors. They are regularly prescribed less medication than men for the same reported pain and routinely are misdiagnosed because doctors dismiss their symptoms. In Delicate Condition, Danielle Valentine expands on this truth and applies it to pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth are one of the most dangerous things a woman will ever do. The truly sad part is that it’s estimated that 80% of maternal deaths could have been prevented if doctors just would listen when women say something is wrong. Pregnant women are often left feeling alone, confused, and scared about what is happening with their own bodies. That’s exactly what happens to Anna in Delicate Condition. All she wants is someone to believe her that something is wrong because something is very wrong…
[Warning: Contained in this book and mentioned in this review are instances of miscarriage and infertility. If you have gone through a miscarriage or are having trouble conceiving there are places that can help you. Chasingrainbows.org , Miscarriagehurts.com , and Fertilityoutloud.com are just a few places that have resources to help.]
[Warning: My review of Delicate Condition contains some spoilers!]
A difficult subject in Delicate Condition
In America, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 women struggle with infertility. Despite this being a rather high percentage, most women are led to believe that a) they’re all alone in their struggle and b) it’s’ all their fault. Anna Alcott faces these and other common thought distortions in Delicate Condition.
An actress who has put off having a child until her late thirties, Anna wishes more than anything to have a child now. Doctor after doctor tells her that there’s no reason she can’t get pregnant, yet she continues to have problems with conception. Finally, she does conceive through IVF, but at 16 weeks she loses the baby in a heartbreaking and graphic miscarriage. The doctors all downplay both her mental and physical pain at the loss.
Anna is struggling to understand how her seemingly healthy pregnancy could have ended so horribly so she reaches out to her best friend. When Siobhan asks if there’s anything she can do, Anna answers as honestly as she can and asks “Can you get me my baby back?” Siobhan doesn’t answer her at first, but she does promise her that things will turn out for her.
Later Anna feels movement. Fetal movement. At first, everyone tells her that she’s hormonal and emotional and that some symptoms of pregnancy can continue for a while after a miscarriage. No one’s really listening to Anna. But finally, she gets someone else to feel the movement. The doctors still don’t believe her but finally, they agree to an ultrasound. Lo and behold, there’s Anna’s baby, alive and well! No one can explain what the miscarriage was, they’re just focused on the healthy baby.
But Anna begins to think that something is wrong. Why did it seem like she lost the baby? And there are other weird things happening around her. But still, no one will listen to Anna. They just tell her to calm down, soak in a bath, and take an aspirin. That is her husband’s and doctor’s cure for everything. No one will listen to Anna about what’s happening in her own body, just take an aspirin and get some rest. But a mother always knows and they really should have listened…
Delicate Condition has a very valid point
Delicate Condition is a horror story, one hundred percent. But at the same time, it’s a treatise on how the medical community (and society in general) treat women’s health. Every single thing that happens in Delicate Condition would have been avoided if someone, anyone, had just listened to what Anna was trying to tell them she felt in her own body. But instead of listening to her they just wrote her off as a whiny, weak, hysterical woman.
I think every woman in America has faced this. I know that I have come up against it many times and suffered poorly because of it. And Anna isn’t the only woman who has to deal with this attitude in Delicate Condition. As a broader context is given to the events Anna is enduring, we travel back hundreds of years and see other pregnant women who are having very troubling symptoms written off or dismissed by those around them. The way women are treated is a horror in and of itself, no less so (and maybe even more so) because that is how women are really treated.
I absolutely related to the different events Anna went through. Maybe I wasn’t worried that some kind of demon creature was growing inside of me, but aside from that, her story was very relatable. Which only ratcheted up my tension and fear.
Fear replaced with hope in Danielle Valentine’s novel
Unfortunately, Anna spends nine months living in fear because she is isolated and belittled. If she had leaned into her friends for support instead of listening to her husband and hiding away, everything would have been easier for her. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.
We need to talk about our health. We need to talk about our experiences. Even the embarrassing ones. Even the scary ones. And even the sad ones. The more we talk about what is happening to us, the more we realize we’re not alone. And the more help we can receive. Once Anna finally finds support she is given the ending she deserved all along. I love how the main messages of Delicate Condition are to find community and listen to people. We all need those two things.
Emotionally difficult but ultimately helpful
Anna’s miscarriage is very graphic and intense. It is not for the faint of heart. And anyone who has suffered a miscarriage is going to have a hard time reading it. About seven years ago I had a very difficult miscarriage. It was not identical to Anna’s but there were some poignant similarities. I cried the whole time I was reading that scene. When it was over I had to put the book down, walk into another room, and cry for about twenty minutes.
But when I was done crying I actually felt better. I realized that Valentine had nailed what happened during a miscarriage, not just physically but emotionally, so well that she must have had one too. I flipped to the back of the book and sure enough, there’s a section where Valentine discusses her own miscarriage and her reasons for writing Delicate Decision. Reading about her personal experience created a bond that helped me process Anna’s experience, and my own a little too. I think reading about Anna and Valentine could be helpful for other women out there like me too.
A conversation we need to have about miscarriage and women’s health
So often we just don’t talk about what we’ve been through. My family tried very hard to be there for me but they didn’t really know what to say, I didn’t know what I wanted to hear, and everyone was in pain so I pretended to be okay so that they wouldn’t feel bad. But that wasn’t really helpful for any of us.
If we could normalize talking about things like miscarriages and infertility in our society it would go a long way towards helping women (and their families, because loss doesn’t just affect women, it affects everyone around them, just in different ways) cope with what is arguable the most difficult event of their lives.
What was just as helpful to read was how Anna acted after her miscarriage. The thoughts she had, the things she said, the way she acted, it all was exactly what I had gone through. But I thought I was wrong and tried to hold it all in. Seeing Anna have the same reactions made me feel more normal and gave me some relief all these years later.
So even though it was traumatic reading through her miscarriage, I’m glad I did. And I’m very glad I kept reading (not gonna lie, I almost stopped and threw the book away after a few paragraphs into the miscarriage) because it ended up being a very cathartic experience that I think any woman who has suffered this kind of loss could really benefit from.
Delicate Condition is an intense experience worth the read
Danielle Valentine gives a great look into the impact that miscarriage has on a woman. The feelings of betrayal and disconnect from your own body can really mess with your head. Anna’s experience is so raw and real that it’s easy to connect to, even if it is a horror story.
I think that women will connect to this book more than men, but everyone will have chills trying to figure out what is going on with Anna’s baby. And of course, those who want to be familiar with the story of the new season of American Horror Story, titled AHS: Delicate, will definitely want to read this book. And soon, because Part 1 begins September 2o.
Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine is available now. Will you be checking out this book? Let us know on social media or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!