Glow is about to be 8 years old this April. Most of us haven’t been around that long—we stumble upon this cabin in the woods and stay for a while, until we have found something we need, and then we head back out into the world again. Some come with much to say. Others come and sit mutely by our fire. Years, months, a few days. Thus is the nature of need for this particular space in our grief.
We medusas have been having lots of conversations behind the scenes here about the continued value of Glow in the Woods. Readership is down. Our forums are quiet, and comments to posts on our main page fewer. It’s been trending this way for years. Even as I was taking over as editor a couple of years ago, others were wondering if the long-form blog was dead.
And yet, we are still here. We are still drawn to this place, for all our different reasons. Why? What is it that we have here that continues to appeal to the newly babylost? Why does any of us stick around? What is it we find here, that we haven’t found elsewhere, that soothes our grief?
And, ultimately, what is the future of Glow in the Woods?
Over the next few weeks leading up to Glow’s 8th anniversary, we will be hosting a series of conversations here at the kitchen table. Each week we will reflect on a different aspect of this community: How did we get here? What else is out there that gives us support? What is it about Glow that fills a particular need in our lives? What is it like to write for Glow? What do we hope for Glow's future, and what do readers hope for?
We invite you, readers, to pull up a chair and join us. (Please be reminded of our comment policy.) Let us know you’re out there, and help us find our way forward. —Burning Eye
To start off, this week we will share with you how we came to Glow, and what about this particular community drew us in.
Gretchen: When my first son, B.W., died in October 2006, Glow did not exist. All I seemed to be able to find online were non-profit organizations where I could access electronic support pamphlets and a couple of discussion forums where grieving parents identified themselves with avatars of cartoon bears or angelic babies, and beneath them, real-time counters of how long it'd been since their child(ren) had died. Blogs were not easy to find. Nothing at the time fit exactly right for me, but I was desperate to connect, to share my grief with those who could understand. My local support group met only once per month, which might as well have been an eternity in my newly bereaved state. Finally, a couple of years into my grief, I happened upon Glow and was immediately taken with the writing on the homepage. I think it took me a few months of reading to decide to participate at all, in the comments or the discussion boards. I suppose I was in a place where I needed to digest, to simply breathe it all in... and maybe I was awestruck that there could be such literary beauty in such devastating loss(es). For me, at the time, that was very new, very different from the subtle messaging I got in real life that my/our story and experience was too ugly to be seen or heard.
I thought I was done seeking out grief/babyloss blogs and support, online, maybe 4-5 years after B.W. died. By then, I had made real, meaningful connections and had grown a support system I hoped could carry me through a whole lifetime of grieving my son. I wanted to spend more time living life and less time communing with the online babyloss community. Sadly, I found I needed Glow again when Zachary died in January 2014. Good thing (?): I knew exactly where to go.
Jo-Anne: I wandered into these woods one evening in September 2013. It was just under 2 months after my daughter Zia was stillborn on 16 July 2013. I remember sitting at my dining room table feeling completely helpless and utterly lost. I felt outright alone. I Google searched “stillbirth support in South Africa”. Not much came up so I retyped “Stillbirth forums and online support” and through an article written by another babyloss mother, I came across Glow. She wrote so honestly about her own loss and yet it was as if she was me. I resonated with every word.
That night I visited Glow in the Woods amongst a few other forums and sites she mentioned in her article. From the first time I logged on and introduced myself here, I felt welcome. I started reading the stories of the many losses and I just couldn’t believe that there were so many stories and so much support from other people in similar situations. It was so heart wrenching to know that there were so many but so heart warming to know there was a place we could all go to.
I knew there was something special about this particular site and so I continued to visit throughout these 2 and half years. Maybe it was the fact that there was always someone around to listen when I needed it most, maybe it was the warmness and gentle understanding I felt, maybe it was simply the fact that I was truly not alone anymore, that the hurt and anguish I felt, as sad as it was to initially accept, was felt elsewhere and was real, was recognised as real, that no-one made me feel like I had to move on, like I had to leave my child behind.
Sometimes I simply appreciated the conversations with fellow loss parents, the sharing of experiences, the kindness and empathy. At other times, I simply believe I kept coming back because my Zia had a place in this world, I could post something and not use her name, but someone would comment with her name in it. I feel so fortunate to have come across this kind of community when I did.
Burning Eye: Glow was recommended to us by a friend of my sister, but I wasn't into reading anyone else's stories of loss for a few months after Joseph died. It was just too much. So I avoided it. My wife did most of the online exploring for the both of us. And then, when I started recognizing that my own grief writing and art needed to connect with others' expressions of grief, I was drawn to Glow by what I saw as the incredible courage and honesty of the writing on Glow's front page. The Glow writers were like gods to me. I admired so much how public and open they were about their grief. (When Joseph first died, I'd thought we would be expected to forget him immediately and replace him with another baby and pretend none of it had ever happened.) I started corresponding privately with Angie, the previous editor, and she invited me to submit some of my writing to Glow. I immediately felt like I'd found a home for my grief.
Through Glow's forums, I was able to connect with a much larger community of babylost parents, including other lesbian parents (because, of course, we are always looking for others most like us), and to live and share my grief in a raw, unapologetic way. There isn't any sugar-coating here. And, like Gretchen said, there wasn't any off-putting angel-talk. When I got pregnant again, the forum's pregancy thread was a life-saver through that incredibly anxious time.
Justin: I can’t remember the first time I found my way to Glow, although I am sure it wasn’t long after returning home from the hospital without Lydia. Both my wife and I spent nearly all of these early days searching out resources. My wife led the way as she called several counselors and interviewed them on their credentials of baby loss, tracked down the local support groups and told our story to family, friends and the world on her blog. I tried to keep up, Googling whatever phrases I could think of, sifting through the results for something – anything – that made sense. Although, I had no real understanding of what I was hoping to find hidden among the search results, I can say now that in one way or another all of this effort was an attempt to answer the question every newly bereaved parents have: How am I supposed to live without my child? Online, strangers responded on my wife’s blog, sharing emails and links to a new blog or article. We would click and read, click and read - sharing the bits of hope and the inevitable tearful stabs of our new reality we never thought were possible, cycling between the spiraling agony that accommodates this fiercely raw grief, the emotions that arrived unannounced and with such intensity only to wane and leave you empty inside.
I returned to work only a few weeks later and, of course, felt still very much isolated. At home, I would barely leave the house for fear of being questioned by a neighbor, caught in a painful place of bursting to share, but lacking the courage or the simple understanding of how to share – where do I start? Back at work, I was forced to walk now seemingly unfamiliar halls, berated with the hollow greetings from others. With the exception of a very few, no one seemed to care about the story of how my world came crashing down. Most of my time was spent visiting my growing list of bookmarks while avoiding the either awkward or dismissive conversation with coworkers. Behind closed doors, I would devour the stories of those willing to share their journey with grief. I would page down through their recommended reading and often find a link and my way to Glow. What I found here was a community of parents that shared the same heartbreaking questions, a community willing to bear witness to the raw frustration, anger, and desperation of grief, a community that openly shared the small pieces of beauty that can come with life after loss, and a community that gave me permission to mourn – in absolute terms and without shame. Like Burning Eye, I admire the community here at Glow that embraces their grief so openly and honestly.
Mrittika: On July 19, 2013, Som, Aahir, Raahi and I flew from Chicago to Philadelphia, en route to Princeton, where Som would start a job out of grad school, and I would continue to work on my PhD long distance while taking care of little Raahi at home, and slightly bigger Aahir, who would start a new daycare that fall. That was the plan. Four days later, on July 23, 2013, Raahi died in her sleep. In a hotel suite, in a new town, in a new state. She would turn three months old two days later, the day she was laid to rest by her father, accompanied by two distant acquaintances.
I did not know anyone in my physical life around me, except my husband and my son. We were dislocated, living out of suitcases in a hotel, and I did not know the town. When the people who took care of us in the first few days left (they were all from out of town), and Som went back to work, I sat up one day and turned my computer on. I searched literally like a thunderstruck, blinded woman, stumbling online, groping my way through a dense and dark forest, with nothing in real life to hold on to. The computer was literally my only refuge.
I Googled "loss of baby" (I did not know there is a term called babyloss... who knows that!) "death of baby" and whatever came to my fingers. I mostly found support groups and articles. The forums I found were mostly not "my type," if anything is ever your type when it comes to grief. But I just could not post on a forum where the last post read, "My baby died. It sucks." And that's what astounds me. How even in that visceral, raw, muddled time, when I did not know who I was, and amidst such strandedness in real life, my literary self still was important to me. It tells me why I came to Glow, why I stayed, and why I write on Glow.
I too found Glow like Jo-Anne, through another online article by a babyloss mom. At the bottom there was a link to Glow. This was about a month after Raahi's death, in the end of August. Now that I think back, the name first struck me, the literariness of it. I clicked the link.
I read for a few weeks, clinging onto the words of loss, and marveling at the beauty of those words. It was my lifeline when I did not know I wanted to live, but I had to. I was struck and comforted by the incredible honesty of the people who wrote on the forums, and the kindness with which people responded. I felt that I belonged, my grief belonged, my love was real, validated by others who feel the love and sadness too. I did not exactly know what it was that made such connections possible, nor did I really care to "understand." Back then, I just went walking in and in, and in. And one day, I found the fire, and sat down by it, clicking "create post," telling my daughter's story, and joining the conversation.
For two and a half years, Glow has been a parallel universe for me, a world that is more real than the real world around me, a place where I feel I am truly alive, this is my life, and this is the way to live it. Where there is no pretense, no make-believe, no toning down for others' comfort. I have come here as a reader, as a writer, as someone who sighs as new names join, and smiles as old names pop up less and less. But most of all, I am here still in moments of my deepest despair, when all I need is a refuge. I am so honored to be among such selfless people, such kind listeners, such amazing writers.
Just to imagine now, two and a half years later, that it all started with a doubtful click. As it did, and does still, for most of us.
Julia: I am actually the only one of the original group of writers still writing for Glow. My son A (his actual first initial - I don't use his full name because of how rare it is) died and was stillborn at the end of January of 2007. As Gretchen said, there wasn't a good place to go to talk about it then. Our real-life friends were supportive. But because most of them, thankfully, don't know what this is like, there was only so much they could do or say. Years before, and on and off since then, I'd read infertility bloggers, rather a few of whom were smart, sassy, brutally honest, and oh, yeah - beautiful writers. I knew that some of them had had babies who didn't make it, and so that was where I went - to their blogs, then to a wider circle of blogs, slowly starting to comment and, eventually, starting my own blog. There seemed to be a cohort of us, babylost parents starting blogs just then. That's mostly how I got through the first year - writing my own blog, commenting on the others, chatting online, meeting in person, even going on roadtrips to visit the others.
When Kate (the founder and the original editor of the site) talked to me about starting the place, I was just over a year out from A's death and birth, and I knew everyone in the first writer cohort. It was tender, this coming together to form a space for ourselves and for the others who we knew were out there. Looking back on it from here, it is remarkable that we thought we could do it, and even more remarkable that we did. We added the blog roll, then the forums. We experimented with different kinds of pieces (that's how kitchen table was born, among other things). We vibrated with raw pain and stubbornly held on - to each other, to our words, to our love.
And now, nearly eight years later, I am the only one of that bunch who is still here. Over the years, there were stretches when I didn't write at all, and some when I'd contribute sporadically. And these many years on, I am still here, still finding myself caught off guard or pushed off balance by the never- and ever-changing truth - I had a son and he died. And I love him. Always.
Readers, how did you find Glow in the Woods? Why are you here?