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The inspiration behind Leslie Rasmussen's 'The Stories We Cannot Tell'

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Pregnancy can be the start of a journey filled with many difficult decisions. And some people suffer with the pain and sometimes the shame and silence as they navigate what's best for them and their fetus, including the possibility of having to terminate a pregnancy. A new novel out this month is about those decisions told through the eyes of two women named Rachel and Katie. One is desperate to start a family but is struggling to stay pregnant. The other finds herself pregnant by accident. "The Stories We Cannot Tell" is the title of Leslie Rasmussen's book out this month. I started by asking her what inspired this story.

LESLIE RASMUSSEN: Over 25 years ago, I was trying to get pregnant, and I had so many issues with miscarriages and getting pregnant. I was looking for somebody to talk to about it. And there wasn't the internet, and there wasn't a lot of places to go. And eventually I found this organization called Resolve. And through it, I met a woman, and we exchanged emails, and we went through this whole thing together. I never honestly thought about writing a book about any of this until, like, during COVID. And this whole story came to me about women who want babies more than anything in the world but end up with having to make a decision that they really don't want to make.

FADEL: And when you talk about that decision, you're talking about the decision sometimes that women have to make to end their pregnancies.

RASMUSSEN: Exactly. There's a lot of, you know, embarrassment, like, I can't hold a pregnancy. And then there's shame. I don't think that people should feel shame for a decision they don't want to make, you know? But it's either for their health, or the baby may not make it, or there's lots of reasons.

FADEL: Is it still that way in 2023? These are still stories that are difficult to tell, to talk about, to share with each other.

RASMUSSEN: I think they are. And I think, to some degree, Roe makes that worse because it's, like, wait, you just took my rights away. So there - is there something wrong with me trying to make this decision for myself?

FADEL: If you don't mind me asking, Leslie, if you could just tell me more about your own struggles at that time and the stories that you couldn't tell back then.

RASMUSSEN: Sure. Well, basically, I started trying at 29 years old.

FADEL: Yeah.

RASMUSSEN: I didn't have my first child until I was 34. So that tells you...

FADEL: Oh, wow.

RASMUSSEN: ...How long I struggled. I would get pregnant and miscarry. And then finally I got pregnant, and the pregnancy held, and I was very excited - and similar to Rachel in the sense we got towards - little before our second trimester when I heard that the baby wasn't going to make it.

FADEL: Oh.

RASMUSSEN: And going through it was just devastating. I'm 27 years past it, so I can talk about it. But this story, I could not have written back then.

FADEL: Yeah.

RASMUSSEN: There was no way.

FADEL: I mean, an emotional roller coaster - elation and devastation, joy and grief for five years.

RASMUSSEN: Right. Yeah, and denial to some extent. And there was also that feeling like I was doing something wrong; there was something wrong with me. So that all came into play, too. Right.

FADEL: Although we are living in a time where that is up for debate on whether people can or cannot tell you what to do, and that comes up only once in your book. There's this moment in your book where Rachel finds out some really bad news about her pregnancy, and the doctor tells her, quote, "even with the Supreme Court decision, living in California, you still have the option of terminating the pregnancy now." I wanted to ask why you made that decision to reference Dobbs here almost indirectly one time in a book that revolves around the difficult decisions women have to make sometimes when they're pregnant.

RASMUSSEN: Well, I was shocked when Roe was overturned. I mean, it was just, like, what is going on? I didn't want the book to be political in any way, but I felt like I had to at least address it because the book takes place in Los Angeles, and we do have the rights to make decisions still here. So that's why I put that line in, is just to sort of reference that it's taking place in 2023.

FADEL: Oh, OK. That makes a lot of sense. It's interesting 'cause your character, Katie, who is a devout Catholic - her faith is really important to her. She struggles with it in a way that is different than what Rachel is struggling with. If you could describe the dynamic, the differences between these characters who are both facing these really difficult choices about their pregnancies.

RASMUSSEN: Right. Well, first of all, Katie got pregnant unintentionally. So, you know, that was the first part of her journey, was to figure out, oh, gosh, am I going to have the baby? What am I going to do? But being raised Catholic, she almost would never probably have thought she would make that decision. With Rachel, she was raised pro-choice, but now she's faced with this decision about a baby she wants more than anything and a baby that she's been trying for for so long. So, you know, even though she gets this news, she's still struggling with, how do I do this when this is the baby I want?

FADEL: I know you said, I didn't want this book to be political, but because of the nature of the topic, is it inherently political to even talk about reproduction in 2023 in a post Roe v. Wade world?

RASMUSSEN: I'd like to think it isn't, but, yes, I guess it is because of - you know, there's so many people in other states that don't have the freedoms that we have in California. But I think with this book, what I really wanted to say is, you know, even if you are pro-life, you still have to consider and be compassionate of the other person going through it. And that's the problem with politics. You know, if somebody said, OK, to all men, you're going to be castrated, that would never go through, you know (laughter)?

FADEL: Yeah.

RASMUSSEN: But with women, it's like, they can just take away our rights without considering a vote from women? - 'cause that's who really should be voting on it.

FADEL: That's author Leslie Rasmussen. Her novel, "The Stories We Cannot Tell," is out this month. Leslie, thank you.

RASMUSSEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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