Ayşegül Savaş on the Mystery of Pregnancy

This week’s story, “Notions of the Sacred,” is about a woman who discovers she’s pregnant—something that has come as a surprise. She thinks of the face of the Virgin Mother in scenes of the Annunciation and has a new understanding of the mystery of her gaze. Do you think she’s close to a state of euphoria?

I wanted to examine all the intangible elements that accompany a pregnancy—the various superstitions, the sacred and secret halo attributed to it.

The narrator feels that something has changed with the discovery of her pregnancy—but what, exactly? Everything appears the same from the outside, and yet she has entered a new state, one whose characteristics she cannot quite define. If she is euphoric, her experience is also maybe cut short by the fact that she tries to articulate it.

She goes to a party, and, while she’s drinking a non-alcoholic beer, a man starts teasing her. He becomes the first person she tells, but, while jokingly asking her if she belongs to the Greek or American school of thought, referring to whether news should be kept to oneself or shared, he also introduces a note of caution about the precarious nature of pregnancy. Why did you want to introduce that idea here?

Structurally, that conversation is a foreshadowing of what is to come. But it is also the first of many beliefs surrounding pregnancy that the narrator will encounter throughout the story. Announcing a pregnancy or keeping it a secret are ways in which we try to exert some control over a very enigmatic process. Much of the story is about this dichotomy: the unnameable mystery and our attempts to codify it in language and superstition.

The narrator has a friend, Zoe, with whom she was once very close. They’ve recently rekindled their friendship, and it turns out that Zoe is pregnant. Their shared condition brings them closer again, and the narrator reflects, “I, too, had begun to talk like Zoe—about intentions and fate, the deep knowledge of nature and our bodies.” She feels a greater bond with Zoe than she does with the father of her baby, a man she hasn’t yet told. Why do you think that’s the case?

The narrator’s attitude to her pregnancy is more ritualistic than it is practical. She wants to hold on to the mysterious feeling rather than make tangible plans. And she wants to be close to other women—to Zoe and to her mother—because she believes they will understand her state better than the father of her baby. At the same time, she has a self-centered, almost egotistical, attitude; it is concerned only with herself, her body, and the imaginary glow that she is emitting. She shares her news with Zoe to indulge in these feelings. The way that the two of them talk about pregnancy is meant to emphasize its mystery, and yet it also misses the mark, perhaps because it is so unmysterious; it pertains to contemporary culture, to the way that the sacred and the body have been commodified in New Age discourse.

The narrator starts bleeding, and it becomes apparent that she is losing the baby. In the story, when she first mentions both her pregnancy and the beginning of her miscarriage, she uses the word “it”—is that because both these states are more elemental than language?

Yes, these states are beyond language, and their articulation chips away at their essence. Later in the story, the narrator says that the physical pain of her miscarriage freed her from the need to give it meaning. Pure experience is more sacred, I think, than our attempts to enshrine elemental states in ritualistic acts—they cannot be integrated into the “flat dimension” of everyday life.

While the narrator’s pregnancy is coming to an end, Zoe is celebrating hers. The narrator feels that Zoe is avoiding the corrupted atmosphere that surrounded her. Later, she’s more generous about Zoe’s motivations, and believes that she might hear from her soon. How do you think readers will respond? Do you think that they’ll understand Zoe’s silence, or judge it on behalf of the narrator?

I wonder about that. Zoe hasn’t done anything obviously wrong. After all, she sends the narrator several kind messages, and at the end of the story the narrator is certain that Zoe will get in touch soon and propose a proper conversation. At the same time, Zoe’s reaction just isn’t caring enough, and it is certainly very different from how she reacted to the news of the narrator’s pregnancy. I suppose Zoe is consumed by her own happy state and she can’t really make room for another’s suffering, at least not immediately. Ultimately, what feels superficial in Zoe’s reaction to the miscarriage is the hypothetical justification for her silence: if we were to ask Zoe why she doesn’t call her friend, she might say something that sounds wise, perhaps that she is making space for her own happiness before tending to those around her. But these justifications wouldn’t be so different from the way that Zoe and the narrator talked about their pregnancies just a few weeks earlier, trying to name their special state, to turn it into a sort of achievement.

Will the feeling of understanding this other world and its depths stay with the narrator?

I think so. At the same time, I think that she’ll remember it differently than how she discussed it with Zoe, and her attempts at capturing its misty essence. This story is about our relationship to the intangible, but it is also composed of language, and so, although we the readers understand that the narrator has changed, we cannot really know what this change entails. ♦

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