MFA Alum’s Debut Memoir Published During Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
By Liz Waldie
October 11, 2022
When Leah Mele-Bazaz found out that her first daughter had died in utero at the start of her third trimester, she instantly withdrew from everyone and everything around her. She told herself she would never talk about it, and she certainly would never write about it.
“It was so shocking that I wanted to bury it within me,” she explained. But despite her promise to never put pen to paper, Mele-Bazaz started writing as soon as she got home from the hospital.
At the time, Mele-Bazaz was a student of Drexel Storylab, a program in the Department of English and Philosophy run by Nomi Eve geared toward adults interested in writing careers. Eve, director of the Creative Writing MFA program, had known Mele-Bazaz during her pregnancy, learned about her loss and encouraged her to apply to the MFA program.
Mele-Bazaz couldn’t stop writing. The more that happened to her during her healing process, the more she felt it was important to continue documenting her story. Ultimately, she applied to the MFA program with what she had written of her memoir so far.
Now, Mele-Bazaz has walked the halls of Drexel for years, as an undergraduate politics student, a Storylab attendee, an MFA student and, currently, a faculty member. “It’s been a bit of a full circle with Drexel,” she laughed.
While the MFA program is geared toward fiction writing, Mele-Bazaz was able to work with Eve to tailor her experience to a nonfiction genre.
“We had packet exchanges where we got to work one-on-one with faculty. It was a very distinguishing factor of the program, getting developmental edits from these accredited writers. Just seeing their thought processes and how they edited scenes and worked line-by-line,” Mele-Bazaz noted.
Over time, she started submitting excerpts of her memoir to literary magazines, winning awards along the way, and a few weeks before graduating from the program, she gave birth to her second daughter. During her maternity leave, she stayed up late writing the rest of her book, submitted her work to Kat Biggie Press—a publisher that specializes in grief memoirs—and heard back within a month that the book had been accepted for publication.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and Mele-Bazaz hopes to bring healing to those who have had experiences like hers with her debut memoir, Laila: Held for a Moment.
“My main audience is women who are looking to heal, or any parent really,” she said. “But I’ve also been getting great reactions from friends, reviewers—people who haven't gone through a similar experience—that have found it helpful in terms of learning about people who have lost things.”
When asked whether her second daughter would make an appearance in the memoir, Mele-Bazaz shook her head and said that would come in her second book.
“It’s my first daughter’s story, the story of the pregnancy and of motherhood reimagined,” she said. “A lot of these narratives around child loss end with the birth of a new child, and I felt like it was important to end with something that still celebrated my first daughter’s life and remembered her.”
Pictured: Leah Mele-Bazaz with her husband, Gautam, and second daughter, Ashanti at one year old. Photographed by Kristann Marita.
Laila: Held for a Moment is now available.