How Christa Parravani's memoir about seeking an abortion is a love letter to her children
Loved and Wanted chronicles the author's struggles with a broken health care system.
As the ever-ongoing debate about reproductive rights heats up yet again, a previously untold story on the topic hits shelves. Loved and Wanted, Christa Parravani's second memoir (following 2013's Her), chronicles the author's struggle to access necessary medical care when she became pregnant with her third child in West Virginia.
"I wrote it in a white heat," Parravani tells EW of the slim but intense volume, which is out now. "I only had four months to write the book. I don't know how I did it — off the fumes of worry over what was going to happen in this country, for my children."
When Parravani, a mother of two under significant financial and marital stress, unexpectedly became pregnant, she tried to seek an abortion in West Virginia, where her family lived at the time — but was obstructed by logistical roadblocks as well as dishonest medical staff at every turn. When she gave birth to her son, Keats, she faced a new problem: He was also dangerously underserved by the broken health care system, as were her two young daughters.
"After my son was born, I could not stop thinking about the experience that I had," she says. "I just started doing the research, and the research bared out that places that curtail reproductive health care also have the highest rates of infant mortality and child mortality and maternal mortality. And I wanted to know why. So even though this book is a memoir, it was really born out of the research that I did to try to understand what had happened to me."
In the end, Parravani's taboo-breaking memoir was the ultimate act of love for her children. Read on for more from EW's chat with the author.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you feel about the book coming out at a time like now, in this tumultuous political climate on top of a pandemic?
CHRISTA PARRAVANI: It's been a really strange time to publish a book. I mean, it's been a strange time to be a citizen of the country; it's a strange time to do any job. I feel like, no matter what happens with the publication of this book, I did my job. The conversation around health care is more essential now than it ever was before. I think we're starting to understand what happens to people who do not have access to reasonable health care, to doctors close by, to agency over their bodies in an honest medical system. And I had never imagined those things as being a conversation that would be so nationally relevant while I was writing.
The conversation about reproductive health care has existed for decades, of course, but it wasn't a conversation that was being had out in the open, like it is now, when I started writing. So publishing the book now, with the conversation having shifted the way that it has, I feel heard in a way that I didn't feel heard then. And I also feel that it is essential to keep the conversation going, because I know there are women out there who are in that exact predicament who can't afford to have another child and they don't know how they're going to make it. They need to hear this story so they know that they're not alone, which is how I felt when I was living it.
This book is so naked and so raw — were you scared to share this story?
I was so afraid to share this story, but I was also afraid of not sharing the story. I needed it to have that rawness to it. I thought, how do I make a book where a reader feels that they understand the quandary of this choice that I face — or lack of choice? And the only way that I knew to do it as a writer was to recreate the feeling I had at that moment. And so I wrote it in a way in which the voice is really bare. I needed the reader to understand through this really visceral experience with the text what it felt like to be in those rooms.
Because especially with a subject like reproductive health care, [where] we are so divided, I knew that the only way to be able to have a conversation with people who might not understand [my] position was to be able to just get to them on the gut level. Because whether or not you believe that women should have the right to choose, we all have to sort of agree that we all deserve to have adequate medical care, and that there are definite consequences for not providing adequate medical care for people.
The concept of choice comes up not only in terms of reproductive rights but also in a grander sense, about being denied choices in different ways, especially as a woman. Why was that meaningful to you to tease out in this broader way?
Well, in the grander scheme of reproductive rights, first and foremost, the epiphany that I had to have in order to write this book was that I could both want to have had access to reasonable health care and love and want my son. And the choice there is, how do I choose to bring this child into the world, knowing what I face in doing that is almost insurmountable? But the book is about choice in all sorts of ways; it's about how you choose to keep a marriage together, where you choose to live, how you choose your allegiance, whether or not you decide to speak up, even though it will be difficult.
I knew that it was a risk to write this book, but it was a choice I made anyway, because the ramifications for not speaking up around these issues resonated with me in terms of the world I made for the children that I have. So it's not just about reproductive health care — it's about the choice that we make every day, to live the lives that we live to the best of our abilities, and to live with passionate hope, which is kind of where I am now today as we wait for the presidential election. [Laughs] [This interview was conducted the day before Joe Biden was projected to win the election.]
You mention in the book the despair you felt when Trump was first elected, not to mention what the past four years have been like — and this administration has been disastrous regarding women's right to their own bodies. How are you feeling now, hopefully on the precipice of a new era?
I'm feeling a great amount of relief — and also I'm feeling as if we still have a lot of work to do, because the erosion of reproductive health care has been going on for a really long time, and it predates Trump. We've lost ground culturally in this country over the last four years; we've been losing ground for a really long time. So these issues exist outside of Trump. So my relief over the outcome of this election is palpable. On the other hand, I still worry that [there] will be a state-by-state erosion of reproductive health care — and we cannot rest. We still need to have this conversation.
That erosion comes up in the stark contrast between your experiences seeking health care in West Virginia and California. But another thread throughout the book is a sort of reflection upon place and home. Why was that theme essential to this story for you?
The theme of place is really important here because I wanted to be able to discuss what it means to be from a place. And it was really important to me also, just as an American, to think about what it means to be here and to be able to say, "I love it here. This is my country," and still be able to take a critical look at it. Because there is no way to make a better country without dismantling some of the misconceptions about it, or without questioning some of the ways in which we operate. So it was painful for me because I knew about the history of West Virginia and how the state has suffered. It was a hard decision for me to write about a place, knowing that I wasn't going to have fully positive things to say about it. But that didn't stop me from wanting to make a home for myself there.
I feel like a lot of people say, "Well, why don't you just live in New York?" or "Why don't you just live in Los Angeles?" But that's just discounting the fact that there are so many people that don't want to live in New York and Los Angeles, and they still deserve adequate health care! It was really important for me to speak for the women and children of the state of West Virginia, because the women and children in the state of West Virginia are the women and children of this country. There are so many states that have completely inadequate access to reproductive health care, to medical facilities, that have really high rates of poverty and homelessness. I wanted to be able to write a book in which people understood that even under those obstacles, that I still choose the place as home.
This is your story, but it inevitably involves and affects the people closest to you. You mention that your husband did not love the concept of the book at one time. What's your perspective on that as a memoirist, writing about those close to you and how they take it?
I think that any good piece of art has to be honest. And my husband is a writer; we both understand that if you lie to your reader, you're never going to be able to convey the story that you need to convey. In a good book, you have no choice but to tell the truth. And it's just something that we both understand. But the biggest worry for me was how the writing of this book would influence my children's lives later. The question, of course, that I've gotten, [is] "What are you going to tell your son about this book?" And immediately I thought, "I'm going to tell my son that he was loved and wanted, because he was loved and wanted." And this book comes out of that.
This story is as much his story as it is my story. The story is born out of a lack of choice that I had in the state of West Virginia. but it's a story that wouldn't exist if my son had not suffered from really inadequate medical care after he was born. I wrote this book because I saw that my child was a victim to that health care system, not because I was denied my choice. So this is a book about abortion that was written for my children [laughs], which is really hard to understand for some. But I did write it for them.
What do you hope readers take from the book?
I want readers to take from this book that I have written a love letter to my children through a subject that seemed unmentionable to me before, and that we have the power in this country to be able to tell our stories in a way that we can advocate for ourselves and our families — and that they have the power to do that too. Some people might think that the writing of this book was brave, but it was just what was required of me. I want people to know that they have that in them too, and that they ought not have shame about sharing their stories of hardship. Because those stories are transformative for other people.