Writing, Grieving, and Recovering: Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

Writing, Grieving, and Recovering: Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

I still get angry, I still get afraid. But in writing about all the things I felt I could not say, in breaking the unspoken rules of shame, I have changed how I tell my story. And in doing so, I have learned that breaking the silence is not about bravery. It is about what we choose to do with our vulnerability.

Emilie Pine, Notes to Self

In the disclaimer style of NPR’s Ira Glass, this post acknowledges the existence of women’s bodies.

It also contains affiliate links. More info about that here.

Finally, a shoutout to my friends joining me for this week’s #bloginstead! We’re using this week to connect with one another over blogs rather than just social media. Find out more.

As I write this, I’m three quarters through Emilie Pine’s evisceratingly well-written collection of personal essays, Notes to Self. Three quarters because, although I began the book last week and it isn’t particularly long, it’s hard to see well enough to read through all the ugly tears. (Good tears, mind you, tears of being seen and understood. But holy cow. I can’t remember a writer who’s made me cry this much since… Myself? When writing my own book on many of the same themes as Pine’s. It’s personal.)

In any case, this is a book to grapple with slowly…

Notes to Self

Notes to Self came into the world through happenstance, after Pine’s boyfriend came across some hastily scrawled “notes to self” she’d written for her own sanity while accompanying her alcoholic father through long-term health issues.


“They’re good,” he told her. At the behest of a publisher, she then reworked them into a series of writings that grapple with experiences of pain and loss on a variety of fronts: alcoholism in the family, coming of age, infertility, miscarriage, conflict, and the shame that surrounds women’s bodies.


Notes on Writing

Interspersed throughout are reflections that speak to the importance of writing through pain. It’s a welcome reminder for any writer that so much of our craft is about showing rather than hiding our vulnerability and inadequacies. Even if a thousand others have written about a loss that is similar to your own, the world could still benefit from your story… 

When people thank me for this collection, telling me that it breaks the silence around infertility and alcoholism, women’s bodies and family conflict, I wonder how it is that these silences still exist. We all go through these life experiences, and more, and I am certainly not the first to write about any of them. But it is as if the silence is so significant, so enduring, that after we break it, it re-forms. And so we have to keep breaking it. We need all our voices to do this. It is a collective task.

Emilie Pine, Notes to Self

When I was a child and Dad was beginning to struggle with the depression that has characterized his adult life, he made me promise that, when I grew up, I would not become a writer. I solemnly said the words. But inwardly I knew that I would do the opposite. Because what my dad really taught me, despite himself perhaps, is that writing is a way of making sense of the world, a way of processing–of possessing–thought and emotion, a way of making something worthwhile out of pain.

Emilie Pine, Notes to Self

Notes on Infertility

What I have most appreciated about the book is its honestly captured rendering of infertility grief–perhaps one of the best I’ve ever read.

After struggling for over a year to get pregnant, Pine begins to see that “infertility is a particular kind of loneliness.” She scans her social media feed “looking for that rare thing–a happy couple without kids” to no avail. 

“It’s hard when people ask me,” she says, “if I have children. They mean well, though it’s a terrible question to ask a woman in her late thirties. Because there’s really no easy way to answer. Occasionally I’m tempted to look around and say, ‘Oh yeah, I knew I forgot to do something.'”

For a long time, she and her partner devote their entire life and relationship to testing, timing, and procedures. Pine puts her professional work on hold, so consumed is she by the effort to bear a child. “That gap in my life, the wasted baby years on my CV, goes unexplained. How do I ever reflect, on paper, the grief that stopped me in my tracks?”

Other passages capture the intricacies of “trying to conceive” with laugh-out-loud deadpan:

I read that my cervical mucus is meant to be like eggwhite for optimum sperm motility. Right. Before now, I didn’t even register that I had cervical mucus, but now I’ve got to become a connoisseur of its consistency. I make an omelette just to remind myself what eggwhite looks like.

Emilie Pine, “From the Baby Years,” in Notes to Self

The couple eventually decides against IVF because of the considerable marital strain it puts on couples; they had watched it ruin the marriages of several of their friends. As Pine enters her forties, she tries to come to terms with the fact she will never be a biological mother.

I AM NEVER GOING TO HAVE A BABY. I am anxious about this fact. And I am grieving. And I am happy. . . . I can try to have a baby and fail every month and be unhappy. Or I can not-try and not-fail every month. The total number of children I have had remains the same either way, a big fat zero. But the outcome is totally different. I choose to be happy. This happiness is not perfect, or pain free. It carries grief within it. It is all the stronger for that. . . . I can give myself permission to be someone else, someone other than a mother. Someone other than the woman manically checking her cervical mucus.

Emilie Pine, “From the Baby Years,” in Notes to Self

This book isn’t for everyone. It’s real. It doesn’t poeticize the messy, bodily reality of our lives.

But for anyone who, like Pine, believes that writing is about making sense of pain, who maybe needs a friendly reminder that it’s not about bravery (we’ll never have enough of that!) but about what we learn to do with our vulnerability, you’ll find ready validation in these essays. Ugly tears and all.

What are the simple truths you are returning to during this difficult historical moment? I’d love to hear about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!


2 Responses

  1. This sounds beautiful and honest and truly helpful. I really look forward to reading more of your writing. I follow you on IG, but this is the first time I have read your blog. Thank you so much for your work in the world. Truly, I know you are helping many with your writing.

    • Nicole Roccas says:

      Thank you Mary Ellen! I’m so glad you stopped by and I’ll keep an eye out for you on IG!! <3 And yes, Emilie Pine's book is definitely beautiful and honest--and raw. She has a gift!

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