They say God laughs when men make plans. Well, God laughs at women’s plans, too, especially the plans of happy women. At least that’s what Alice Eve Cohen thinks. She was one of those happy, planning women. Then she discovered that, although she wasn’t dying of a mysterious illness as feared, she was pregnant at age 44. She had taken birth control pills the first six months of her pregnancy, which meant that her child might be profoundly deformed.
Cohen recounts the events leading to and following the birth of her now seven-year-old daughter in the diary-style memoir What I Thought I Knew. The chapter ending lists of things Cohen “knows” swing wildly from the highs of elation as she schedules her wedding, to the depths of despair as she contemplates ending the pregnancy, her life or both. Compounding her no-win choices are the values of her fiancé, their respective families and the medical establishment.
Cohen is first and foremost a performer—a writer and actor of one-woman plays—so she knows how to build tension to a climax. Her easy intimacy when recounting the events of a pivotal year of her life is amazing. What I Thought I Knew seems made for verbatim adaptation to the stage, with ever increasing emotional highs and lower lows. Many chapters are recounted with the same cold, calculating journalism of a news story, while others are heart-wrenchingly personal. All of them are revelatory.