on the bookshelf

I have one shelf in my library with the books about bulging bellies and chunky babies. Witchy books of herbs for pregnancy and the childbearing years. Academic books about development. Unopened books about sleep training. Bought books about gentleness and discipline. Enlightened books about mindful parenting. Bestseller books about what to freak out about when expecting.

When I came home from birthing my stillborn daughter, my only interest in that shelf and those books was the index and the glossary. Every pregnancy book I opened, I searched the back first, fingers holding the pages of the index that read “Stillbirth,” “Death,” “Grief.” Though I now intimately knew what stillbirth was and what exactly happens medically after your child dies in you, I searched for some nugget of understanding about why Lucy died--the physical and the metaphysical reasons. I dug those meager pages for a prescription for survival. I didn’t want to learn how to deal with my heartburn anymore. I wanted to learn how to deal with my heartbreak. The only question I now had about parenting was “How do I move forward?”

Most of those books start their loss sections with the same obvious sentiment, "Every parent's worst nightmare..." And it was all so pat, so obvious, to someone who has suffered a stillbirth. “Make sure the mother holds the baby. Make sure to take pictures. Make sure to grieve.”

Don’t worry I won’t forget to grieve.

When I realized that every loss from miscarriage to stillbirth to SIDS was wrapped up in a glib two-page section, I started collecting my own books. I have a new shelf now. It started after those pregnancy books failed to offer any solace. And it is no exaggeration that each book on that hulking shelf has given me something. I read a book about how other cultures deal with the death of a child, Sookie Miller’s Finding Hope When a Child Dies, which opened up the universal experience and exposed me to babyloss rituals from around the world. I bought children’s books, like Something Happened, that talked specifically about pregnancy loss and losing a sibling so that I could help explain to my daughter why we were so impossibly sad. Reading Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination made me feel like I walked into my best friend’s home. She made a cup of tea, wrapped me in a quilt and shared my own story, only with more humor, insight and love than I could possibly muster at the time. It was the first time I felt understood intimately by another person. I have spiritual books, like When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön, that gave me Buddhist teachings on fear and loss. It was a book I bought during my grandfather’s death that I rediscovered after my daughter’s. There are books about surviving pregnancy loss, like Empty Cradle, Broken Heart by Deborah Davis, that gave me some reassurance that these feelings were not eternal, that I would find some place of calm eventually. I have collections of poetry about grief and death, like In the Midst of Winter, which were gifts from friends that simply said by dint of their existence, “You are understood.” I eventually added to my collection a book about pregnancy after loss called unsurprisingly, Pregnancy After Loss by Carol Lanham. That shelf held me together some days, reminding me of the universality of my experience. Simply seeing the book titles together in a row, I was reminded that I was not alone.

Some days, honestly, that was enough.


Jessica, librarian and author of Dear Gus, pulled together an incredible collection of books about grief and loss in Glow in the Woods new section, On the Bookshelf. Please visit for a spell, let her know what you think and what books you found helpful in your grief. She will be expanding and adding to this section. We are so appreciative of her insight and librarian superpowers to expand our resources.

Did you turn to books after your loss? What kinds of book were you looking for? What books did you find that resonated with you? What books have been helpful to you in your grief?