The unwanted gold

photo by  Jessica Neuwerth

Last week, Elaina wrote about navigating the minefield of women’s disappointment with their birth experiences—their normal, uneventful, occasionally painful and/or undignified and/or uncontrolled, mayhem-like, but otherwise fruitful birth experiences.

I tried, once. I failed.

A distant acquaintance pooped in front of twenty masked strangers. She had hoped not to. She received a c-section / drugs / a cut / an insensitive doctor. She had hoped not to. Her best friend had an orgasm when she gave birth! Her other best friend had refused all treatment, gone solo! She had seen a coyote the day before. It was an omen. She squatted in a field in Northern Washington, munching a carrot. Pop! Baby.

This distant acquaintance went home safe. Baby went home safe. All was well. But what story to tell? What orgasm? What carrot?

“I was raped!” she wailed on her natural birth message board. “By the patriarchy!”

Oh for crying out loud. My fingers hesitated over the keyboard as a chorus of doulas-in-training rushed to her virtual side.

How dare they
We are so angry for you
They ripped you
They tore you apart
Your precious yoni
How dare they

Oh for crying out loud. I didn’t say it. Not quite. But I said enough, and not gently enough. She snapped back.

You’re just bitter because your baby died
And so you negate my doctor-rape

This was a puzzle.

You’re just bitter

Yes. Bitterly enraged, bitterly wrecked. I held a baby while he died. My baby. I looked at him all over, bashed up and battered, his body twisted with exhaustion and intervention. His six weeks of life were six weeks of suffering. There was love, too, and there were quiet moments. But the pain he endured… the surgeries, the trauma. You wouldn’t be bitter, having witnessed that? What would you be, then? I wonder that still. What would you be? Better at this loss than I am? Better in this nightmare? You think so?

It was her ‘just’ that reduced me. This is how she said what she meant to say: All you are is bitter. Particularly: Your bitterness makes you unable to have compassion for me, which was both deeply ironic and deeply true.

I didn’t respond. There was no point.

If she could feel a fraction of actual loss, she would shatter like a rock thrown through glass. The thought of it made me laugh. The thought of it made me strong. She was tone deaf, privileged and profoundly unaware of her hypocrisy.

Then I wondered: how might I be tone deaf? Privileged? Profoundly unaware and hypocritical?

I wondered, at least. She did not.


They call it Pain Olympics. Don’t play it, wise people say. There’s no point.

For a long time, I couldn’t help it. I kept it to myself, mostly, but Pain Olympics had become a reflex beyond my control. I didn’t want that gold medal. But I’d be damned if someone else would try and claim it.


Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but only subjective value depending on our perception. The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths—that truth is always relative to one’s experience.

What is the truth, Wikipedia? Hers, or mine? Does it matter? Can either of us ever be satisfied? We are both as much perpetrators as we are victims. It's what we do to each other. A long-ago relative was a heartless and abusive jerk to me after Liam died, suggesting to me that my baby's death was no big deal. My distant acquaintance might say I was a heartless and abusive jerk to her, since I suggested that her son's imperfect but successful delivery was no big deal.

Some have it worse than others, but someone's got it worse than you. Consider a twist, as it relates to us:

Relativism is the concept that pain has no absolute truth or validity within itself, but only has subjective value depending on our perception. The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there is no thing as absolute truth in pain—because truth is always relative to one’s experience.

We bumble along. That’s all you can do. Others can only understand what they can understand. They will never give up territory to you, me, or anyone else whose existence may require a perspective adjustment. Many will diminish you purely to avoid that perspective adjustment, in order to maintain their own narrative. All they know is what they have seen with their own eyes—and that's all they want to know. She had never seen a dead baby, let alone her own.

Some gulfs can’t be crossed.


I wondered if I’ve written this post in its entirety before, if I’m retreading the same ground. I’m sure I have. I wrote this and thought hmmm. crap.

I queried ‘bitter’ into Glow’s search field.

What I found was our own chorus. I scrolled and scrolled. There was bittersweetness, repeatedly. That and bitter resentment; salty bitterness; pure bitterness; bitter offense; the bitterness of sage tea and the bittersweet sigh of relief; bitter tears; bitter laughter; bitter cocoon; beastly bitterness; bitter cold; bitter release; bitter blood and toil.

It sang in the main page posts and in the discussion boards too, all preceded by my: our bitterness, owned.

I never found whatever I wrote before. It’s in here somewhere, I know, because that word has called to me as much as 'queer' and 'bitch' has called to others. With a Fuck yeah.


What might you reclaim of what would otherwise be used to make you feel shame in grief? How might your sense of self change if you reclaimed it? How might what you think is your weakness turn out to be your pride, your strength?





Author, photographer, founder of Glow. Mother of three boys, one of whom died at six weeks old nine years ago. Nine years ago, I was someone else. Love and sorcery and poetry and terrible luck and wonderful luck.