I’ve always been an avid reader. After my daughter was stillborn, though, I couldn’t read. It took a long time to pick up a book or get online and read about babyloss. A friend of mine, a fellow bookworm, checked out all the books about stillbirth she could find. She encouraged me to read them, but I just couldn’t. “I can barely deal with my own reality,” I told her. “I can’t bring myself to read about someone else’s tragedy.”
After a few months, though, the initial shock and tsunami of outside support and sympathy ebbed. When that happened, it was the writing of other babyloss parents that saved me. Reading their stories brought me comfort, normalized my experience, and helped me feel less alone. Here are the books, websites, and articles that helped me the most.
Since I wouldn’t go online, my friend discovered this website and blog for babyloss parents. She read pieces out loud to me over the phone. The first one she shared was called “the smallest jar” by then-writer-and-editor, Angie. Written as an internal response to the question, “how did you bounce back after your stillbirth?” Angie’s piece expressed so exquisitely what I felt every time someone came to visit me or commented on how well I seemed to be doing.
“She fits into the smallest jar I have ever seen, Uncle. One that only three years ago I would have wondered aloud what possible use it could have.”[…] I don’t know if you ever bounce back from holding a baby one day and then fitting her into the smallest jar the next.”
From “the smallest jar” by Angie
I read Angie’s piece at Zoë’s memorial, and keep a copy of it in her scrapbook. It still touches me at a deep level. My first piece of writing was later published as a guest post on Glow.
Just a few days before her due date, writer Elizabeth McCracken found out that her son Pudding’s heart had stopped beating. Living in France at the time, McCracken delivered her son still, just as I had my own daughter. McCracken’s was one of the first books about stillbirth I read that dealt with the loss of a child at full-term. Her memoir about Pudding’s life and death is a perfect melding of sadness and humor. It echoes exactly all of the tragically real and darkly humorous moments in a bereaved parent’s life after loss.
A few months after Zoë died, I visited friends in my former college-town. We hit all our favorite used bookstores and coffee shops. I wasn’t looking for books about stillbirth or grief. But my eyes drew me to Judith Van Praag’s little volume hidden in a section about writing and creativity. Thumbing through the pages, I felt somehow I was meant to find her book. Judith was from Amsterdam, and her daughter’s stillbirth had taken place there, but she was now located in Seattle, my hometown.
Van Praag chronicles her grief as she learns its language. “The language of grief starts by saying the name of the lost one out loud” (Van Praag, 6). She writes about how art and creativity helped her grieve and heal, and in so doing, assured me that my own writing would do the same.
This collection of essays by mothers, fathers, grandparents and others affected by stillbirth is one of the best I’ve read. As my friend who read it before me said, “I don’t know how you will ever get through this book, but I hope you do because it’s amazing.”
Other Books About Stillbirth
You might notice I didn’t list any works of fiction. Honestly, that’s because it’s mostly memoirs that I’ve found helpful. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and in particular the book, Dragonfly in Amber. For those familiar with the series, you know that the main characters, Claire and Jamie’s, first-born daughter, Faith, is stillborn in this book (Season 2 of the TV series). It’s definitely not something you want to watch until you are further along in your grief, or it could be quite triggering.
Our own Still Standing writer, Christy Wopat’s book, Almost A Mother, was just released last month. A loving tribute to her twins, Sophie and Aiden, Christy’s book is real, honest and relatable. I wish I’d had a copy in my first year after loss.
What books, poems, or other pieces of writing have you found healing or relatable after loss?