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What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir Hardcover – July 9, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this chronicle of a late-in-life pregnancy, New York City playwright and theater artist Cohen recalls an unlikely chain of events that, at age 44, transformed her life: "Three weeks ago I found out I was pregnant. Two weeks ago, I contemplated and rejected a late-term abortion. One week ago I was put on bed rest. I accepted my role as a miniature hospital, protecting a fragile life by lying on my left side and drinking Gatorade." Already the mother of an adopted daughter, Cohen's first experience with pregnancy is a minefield of physical and financial dangers: "A woman with no prenatal care for twenty-six weeks is a lousy insurance risk... To an obstetrician, she represents an expensive malpractice liability." Cohen questions herself-health, commitment and emotional readiness-and others while sorting through a growing mountain of advice, ultimately wondering whether one can ever be fully prepared to bring a baby into the world. Compelling, humanizing, and deeply honest, Cohen's narrative will get readers rooting for her growing family.
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About the Author

Alice Eve Cohen is a playwright, solo theater artist, and memoirist. She has written for Nickelodeon and PBS and received fellowships and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches at The New School in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (July 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020959
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,693,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amy Tiemann VINE VOICE on July 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Alice Eve Cohen draws on her skills as a one-woman show performer and storyteller to write a harrowing, moving, searingly honest memoir about the chaos that took over her settled life at age 44 when, after experiencing health problems and told she was menopausal and infertile, she discovered that she was actually six months pregnant.

I do not want to reveal too much about what happens next, because a reader should experience the story unfolding page by page, as Alice is told new "certainties" that are dashed again and again. "What I Thought I Knew" is the perfect title for this memoir, and Alice writes out ever-evolving lists of her own feelings, what her doctors have told her about her condition, and her baby's prognosis.

Nothing goes as planned, and Alice suffers ambivalence, guilt, and crippling depression. As a memoirist, Cohen shares her feelings with spare, unadorned honesty. Can she survive this experience? Can she be a mother to this child? What makes a mother? A good mother? She explores these questions directly, in simple, often poetic prose.

I am not usually a huge fan of memoir and what is being called "confessional journalism," but Cohen breaks through any reservations I have about personal narrative. Once I started, I didn't want to put the book down, so I read it in one evening. What differentiates Cohen's writing for me is that she does not use distancing techniques of irony or snark. She is incredibly straightforward and pulls us into her experience, sharing her most intimate experiences in a way that illuminates the choice to enter motherhood, along with family dynamics, depression, the fallibility of the medical system, the value of community and professional support, and ultimately, the mystery of grace.
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine you are a 44-year old woman who, after engaging in behaviors and enduring procedures best avoided during pregnancy and taking medicines known to cause harm to fetuses, learns that, against all odds, has conceived! Such is the long story short version of the situation a divorced, engaged, mother-of-one woman found herself in in 1999. In What I Thought I Knew, Alice Eve Cohen recounts how it all came about, what went down, and her struggles with the related moral and ethical issues. The author makes no bones about her ambivalence about the baby. And while her honesty is admirable, her actions during the latter part of her pregnancy are disturbing as is her litigiousness. Admittedly, it's easy for the insured to judge. One wonders, though, what the child feels about all this. Ultimately, what turns out to be the best of the story is also the worst (brutal honesty), and what would make it, I believe, a good pick for a book club. Better: The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso, Twelve Little Cakes by Dominika Dery, and Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
**Warning, contains spoilers!**

While reading What I Thought I knew, at first, I was very sympathetic to the author's (mother's)plight - She had never imagined that she would have a child, and finding out that she was carrying a child with possible birth defects when she was well into her forties traumatized her.

However, as the book continued, I cannot come to terms with her sealing in writing the fact that she did not want her daughter, thought about abortion and adoption and only came to terms with the baby's birth days after the child was actually born. I can understand her line of thinking, especially because she believed that the child would be born with disabilities, however, it seems to me that this is a private matter to be discussed with her husband and close friends, if only for the reason that her child may read it someday.

That being said, I do feel that she is brave for sharing her story. Few women can admit to thinking the same thoughts during a high-risk pregnancy, however for most others, this is a private story, not one to be shared with the masses.
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Format: Hardcover
What a fabulous book. It was so well written! Alice was so brave to re-live everything she went through in order to share her experience with us. I would love to read a follow up, part 2 in about fifteen years. As a DES Daughter, and never blessed with children, I can share in the fact that it would have been wonderful at thirty to find out I was pregnant. At forty-five and six months pregnant, not so much.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The premise of this story was very interesting. I'm not sure why I just never cared much about what the author went through because it was pretty traumatic. Her adamant stance that her choice was better because she had to agonize over it seemed more dogmatic than true. It is written retrospectively, of course, but the distance of time made the "poor me" attitude seem kind of lame.
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Format: Paperback
So you're 44 years old and this is what you know: your life is looking pretty darn good, at long last. You're getting married in a few months to an all-around great guy, your adopted daughter is thriving, your career is more and more satisfying. Except for this large, hard lump in your abdomen, things are really looking up.

But that lump does not go away. In fact, it gets bigger. You are anemic, depressed, and more than a little worried about cancer, since you're a DES daughter. Your gynecologist assures you that everything is fine.

And then you get the word that you are pregnant. Six months pregnant. Which, you think, is an impossibility since you were told you were infertile and likely in menopause.

This is the scenario that Alice Eve Cohen faced. By profession, Alice is a solo story performer, and she does what comes naturally - she tells a story. And what a story it is.

Her insurance plan, predictably, sucks. No high-risk obstetrician wants to take her on since Oxford Liberty pays so little and so late. Since she IS a DES daughter, her cervix is likely to dilate early... plus, at her age, 75% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Oh yes, and she has a deformed uterus, no prenatal care (in fact, she was on heavy hormones) and a definitely ambivalent attitude about carrying to term. At six months, termination of the pregnancy is challenging and yet there's a good chance the baby might have major issues. Urggghhh!

Alice Eve Cohen's story veers from a black comedy to a Kafka-type nightmare. She doesn't try to pretty it up. Even those of us who are pro-choice will wince at her desire to end her pregnancy so late in the game, and precisely what that entails.
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