Sundress Reads: A Review of Notes For Mid-Birth

Karolina Zapal’s book Notes for Mid-Birth, available from Inside the Castle, is an incredibly insightful read. Following the promise of the title, the writing is in a very in-between place. It’s neither prose nor poetry, neither essay nor story. It’s a blend of both bringing a fresh, unique tone to a subject that’s been debated a hundred other ways.

The book is mainly about the abortion restrictions in Poland and their evolution. In it, Zapal explores the factual basis for the controversy and tells us what it’s like to inhabit the female body, to have people speak for it, to have to apologize (or expologize, as she calls it) for your own thoughts. She begins with a timeline of the laws, the amendments, the results, and the push back.

Zapal then goes on to examine the issue from dozens of different angles. The way she does so is incredibly familiar, and yet original. She pokes it from all sides, comes at it with different lenses. It’s something we can all relate to: a thought process that sees the holes in a theory and searches for an explanation to fill them, one that plays devil’s advocate for itself and wrestles with understanding both sides, one that must acknowledge it’s own information gaps and come to terms with the fact that there’s no way to know everything. All of these themes show up again and again in the series of essay-stories in Notes for Mid-Birth.

Zapal’s writing also has a very poetic way of associating words. Sentences don’t always flow like you think they’re going to. She pulls you in different directions. She makes connections between words and their different meanings, drawing on the Polish language to link and to separate ideas. Especially in the case of the section titled “Czern,” in which she makes some fascinating associations between colors and meaning, especially when she relates it to the meaning of the Black Protests in Poland. Her prose is incredibly vivid: though it’s not all narrative—it even does such experimental things as diverting to a list of Reddit comments—she invites you to see through her eyes, to understand her experiences, and to see that despite everything, there is no one way to think or feel about anything. We are allowed to grow and change our minds, we can have opposing thoughts that we believe in equal measure.

Though Notes for Mid-Birth has a core goal—to investigate Poland’s life-vs-choice legislation—it is not one note. Each section of the book takes a different direction to the same point. Zapal incorporates experience, research, other writers’ musings, to make a well-rounded, well-spoken, and well-written book.


Bayleigh Kasper is a senior creative writing major at the University of Evansville. She dreams of owning a tiny home in Colorado where she can adopt cats, make music, write, and eat very judge-worth amounts of chocolate without actually being judged.


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