Speaking about Stillbirth and Why It's Important

BlogHer Original Post

Washington Post columnist, Alan Goldenbach, wrote a moving piece this week in the newspaper about the death of his son in-utero and society's inability to discuss stillbirth and neonatal death. What wasn't quite so moving were some of the comments that came as a response to the article. The believed anonymity of the Internet brings out cruelty.

It isn't anything the average person experiencing a loss hasn't heard before:

"Oh, for pete's sake, people. I'm a mother, so I understand how crushed you all must be if you have lost a fetus or child. Nobody should have to go through it, but surely you realize it is a fact of life that people die at every stage of development and life from causes that are nobody's fault."

"So how many more babies will you harm by making pregnant women terrified about the freak chance of stillbirth?"

"Hmmm. Maybe we don't discuss or make a big deal out of this since the pro abortion crowd has devalued fetal life. Why cry when you think it is only a bunch of cells so easily aborted at the decision of the mother? Either is is valued and we show care and concern following these spontaneous abortions, or we treat them no differently than the millions of elective abortions women have yearly. Mr. Goldenbach, I wonder if you are pro-choice?"

"Form your no-cost support groups and seek the emotional support you may need from family, friends and similarly situated strangers if you must. But let's please leave it at that, OK? Our planet has 7 billion selfish dolts running around on it already, with projections for 9 billion by mid-century. So when Mother Nature occasionally decides to cull or limit our human herd, it's best that we not overanalyze her judgment or resist it to any great degree. Instead, let's learn to embrace Nature's judgment and properly resolve that, when our number is up, we go quickly and courageously for the good of the whole."

"Save the drama for your mama."

"I hate self-indulgent first person pieces like this that have come to define the health section."

And right when your head, as well as your heart, is ready to explode; finally, a voice of reason: "I never cease to be amazed at how unbelievably mean-spirited some people can be in the face of another human being's terrible grief."

While the article is fascinating, not only giving insight into the aftermath of death, but asking important questions about our health care system, the comment section struck me deeply. Are we this cruel in the face of another person's grief because we have a terrible time speaking about and understanding loss?

Jay Neugeboren wrote in "The Orphan's Tale", "A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But...there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that's how awful the loss is!" and it is true, we have no word for the grieving parent to convey their situation. They are not childless; their children simply aren't here anymore.

The article points out the strangest fact of all--that even doctors do not want to talk about stillbirth with their patients. One admits: "Pregnancy is a happy time...Nobody wants to hear anything about something bad, much less death."

Except that we do often speak about tangentially about death in regards to pregnancy and babyhood. We are educated about preventing SIDS, which, as the author points out, means speaking about death. We are well-versed in diagnostic tests which are looking for fatal medical conditions in-utero. And yet, even though we are well aware that death exists in regards to babies, we never discuss this aloud until we are faced with the situation.

Which returns to the original question: do we speak this way to each other because we believe that it is justifiable or do we speak this way to each other as a way of lashing out against something that terrifies us--death.

Creative Chaos asked this question recently on her blog when she saw a comment that offended her:

Have you ever been offended by a comment? Did you handle it more gracefully than I just did? I did resist the urge to lambast said 'unammed commenter' on the other blog because ignorance is a form of disability. Maybe he/she didn't realize how crappy their comment was. Maybe they didn't read my comment at all so he/she had no idea. Maybe when I calm down I can educate him/her- I doubt it though. I suppose in the end I'll just have to hope that the person has a change of heart someday- and that it's NOT caused by needing the kinds of interventions for a loved one they were just dissing.

And so I turn the question over to you. When you place your heart in the post and do so to bring understanding into the world, how do you react when the thoughtless or cruel comments come? Because they often do with large, emotional issues.

Perhaps the answer is to speak about it more so that we better understand the emotions and speak with more circumspection when faced with an article of this nature. Required reading includes:

Mrs. Spit Spouts Off: her son, Gabriel, was born prematurely due to severe pre-eclampsia and lived for 30 minutes.

The Shifty Shadow: her daughter, Maya, lived five days due to unbalanced translocation.

Relaxing Doesn't Make Babies: after conceiving her son, Devin, via IVF, she lost him to stillbirth at 36 weeks.

Our Own Creation: her twins, Lennox and Zoë, were born prematurely and died weeks apart.

Makes You Stronger
: her son, William, died in-utero at 26 weeks.

Inanna's Journey: a doula and birth photographer, her son, William, died in-utero at 39 weeks.

Melissa is the author of the infertility and pregnancy loss blog, Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. She keeps a categorized blogroll of 1800 infertility blogs and writes the daily Lost and Found and Connections Abound, a news source for the infertility blogosphere. Her infertility book, Navigating the Land of If, is currently on bookshelves (May, 2009). She is the keeper of the IComLeavWe (International Comment Leaving Week) list which is currently open for July.

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