Presumptuously hopeful

Presumptuously hopeful

I bear the weight of each new loss while they dare to continue to draw hope (for me!) from what happens to the average woman. Perhaps I could hear the compassion in their hope if they were willing to acknowledge my interlaced fear. Right now my own hope is too desperate, too fragile. I reluctantly allow some slivers of it in, but these moments feel intensely private.

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Community Voices: Grief is...

Today we are honored to present the writing of two more Glow readers.

Anne is a dancer, teacher, writer and non-profit arts administrator. Anne and her wife Burning Eye's first child Joseph was stillborn at 35 weeks in December, 2012. Some of her poetry is being published in the upcoming anthology "To Linger on Hot Coals" edited by Stephanie Page Cole and Catherine Bayly.




My poet’s brain never had much use for numbers and formulas—

preferring the symbolism, the metaphor,

of mass, gravity, planetary orbits, chemistry, heredity,

the tiny organs in that poor frog.


But now, in the aftermath of your short life,

I turn to science for solace, trying to find sense and reason,

or make it. 

I write poems about logic, Newton’s laws, math—

the equation never adds up. 

Still, I can’t stop measuring, comparing, weighing—

searching for meaning among misremembered facts,

proving your life with whatever symbols I can find.



Today, the days of your life rest delicately on one side of the scale,

balanced perfectly by the days of your absence. 

Tomorrow, the scale will start to tilt,

listing as the days keep piling up. 

You will always be more gone than here from now on, forever.


But maybe that perfectly balanced scale is an illusion,

an incomplete equation.


Surely, the scale tipped toward loss long ago—

as heavy as these days have been.


Or maybe your realness, the weight of you in our hearts,

still outweighs the loss of you—

the nothing that can never balance your substance.



This next piece is by Carolyn. Carolyn blogs at She writes: Lost my first baby to a miscarriage at 17 weeks. I find solace, as I've always done, in writing, art, and thick, wordy books. Finding hope, now, but still burdened often by my loss.


I dig my toes into the rocky incline. Looking down, I can see clouds hovering underneath me. I am high enough that the place where I began isn’t visible, grey and swirling storm. Up here, as I pull myself further, the sun shines upon my shoulders. The sky is a brilliant blue, hopeful, vibrant. I keep climbing, distancing myself from the stormy ground. I don’t know what the plateau above looks like, but I long for flat ground and stable footing. I reach up and grasp at a root emerging from the rock.

It snaps.

Suddenly, I am scrambling, rocks and dirt begin to funnel down around me, I slide, scraping my skin, dust grinding into my wounds. I am falling, slipping down this slope, wind howls in my ears and I plummet below the cloud cover, into the cold, torrential rain 

I came home from work today on shaky legs. I had a sense of panic. I was on edge. Everything seemed too bright, too real, too harsh. My eyes couldn’t adjust. I squirmed uncomfortably, I felt restless.

I caved. And I cried. 

It’s been months since I’ve broken like this. I can hardly recall the last time I sobbed under the weight of the world. I buckled in the grass, hot tears on my face. I pressed my head to the earth and wept.

I clutched at my firefly necklace and I begged God not to take anything more from me.

I composed myself, wandered inside and climbed into my bed.

I slept, shutting out my mind, retreating into a world of quiet.

I find myself halfway down that steep incline, wedged into the rock, covered in blood and gravel. I manage to crawl up onto my knees, rocks and grit piercing my wounded skin. My head reels, my vision weaves, distorted. I breathe deeply as the pouring rain pounds my soul. I breathe in this storm until my mind clears, my heart slows, I regain balance. I pull myself up to my feet, digging my hands into the dirt above. Slivers of blue sky are revealed to me, far above this tempest.

I reach up and begin the climb again.


These are the last two Community Voices posts for this round. We want to know what's on your mind, readers. We want to hear your voices. What questions are you asking yourself in the wake of your loss(es)? What questions are you asking of others?


I've thought about writing some version of this post many-many times over the years. The post where I'd let go and let fly about just how much I dislike-- scratch that-- how much I hate positive thinking. Because oh yes, I do. In my imaginary post, I'd rage on about how insidious the movement is, essentially blaming those who end up in unhappy circumstances for their own fate. Negative emotions, the story goes, cause bad things to happen. Staying positive, usually with the help of some set of specified exercises, will bring you all the good things you need. Money, health, everything. Bulltshit! A pile of crap. A big, stinking pile of crap.

And it stinks worse every time you try to poke a stick at it to see whether it really is a pile of solid crap, or whether maybe there's some substance mixed in or buried underneath. Because really, from where I sit, to tell people struggling with cancer and the effects of cancer treatments, or people in tough economic circumstances, or people-- let's just say, entirely hypothetically-- grieving their dead child that they "have to stay positive," to have the gall to tell people how they should deal with their own physical and mental anguish, well, one must be high. Perhaps on the noxious vapors from that giant pile of crap. Have to? You don't say! Because what? Puking ones guts out is supposed to be fun? Or enlightening? Or because worrying about making rent or having enough to feed one's family is just silly? Or because continuing to grieve is what? Preventing us from "moving forward"? Oh, I see-- because if you don't, you might succumb to the disease, make your economic matters worse, or not get to have another child (because remember-- children, much like purses, are fungible). Only if you stay positive will you recover, improve your money situation, or bring home that bundle of joy. Bullshit! And also? Insidious and just plain mean. 

And, unfortunately, all too common. It wears many hats, sometimes technicolor bright, making it impossible to miss what it's all about. "I ate right and exercised all through my pregnancy" it proclaims loudly on the playground, "I only gained 20 pounds, and labor was this transcendent experience, and he is just the healthiest baby I've ever known!" And sometimes it's a lot more subtle, whispering doubts into our fragile souls-- "maybe he died because I didn't want him enough," "maybe it's because I ate sushi," or "maybe I was so worried about having to take time off from work that I caused this to happen." No, no you didn't. (You know you didn't, right? Our thoughts don't make things happen. Not good things, and not bad things. You didn't cause this.)

So you know what? I hate positive thinking. Not only for what it does to the vulnerable people directly, but also for what it does to the social fabric that surrounds them (us). For some mind-bending examples of finding oneself in an environment where such thinking is normalized and even promoted you really can't beat Barbara Ehrenreich's 2009 book Bright-sided. The book was prompted by and starts with Ehrenreich's own experience of getting breast cancer and suddenly finding herself in the "pink ribbon culture," where there really isn't a word for a woman who never made it to "survivor" or has fallen off that wagon, so to speak, where "[w]hat does not destroy you.... makes you a spunkier, more evolved sort of a person." and where the book titles such as The Gift of Cancer: A Call to Awakening do not raise an eyebrow.  And what if you don't want to sing an ode to breast cancer, either because you see it as a disease that took a significant physical and psychological toll, or because you yourself are not and will not be a "survivor"? Well, then, you're doing it wrong.

Bright-sided came out when I was barely two years out from A's death and somewhat acutely sensitive to the positive thinking bullshit that kept popping up all around me. So I cheered the masterful takedowns of the individual piles of crappola, starting with the world of breast cancer and going wider and deeper. I found the history lesson on the roots of positive thinking in America to be fascinating. I found tracing of the role of positive thinking in bringing about the financial crash of 2008 fascinating too-- in a way that watching a slow-motion replay of a test car crashes is fascinating (except, of course, it wasn't dummies being crumpled by the financial crash). The chapter I thought at the time was the weakest in the book was the one on positive psychology.

I went back this week to re-read that chapter (and re-skim the rest of the book). This time it seemed less removed from the rest of the book, less like it was picking on an individual human with somewhat obvious character flaws, that person being the then-President of the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman. This time the chapter seemed downright prescient, much like that kid who pointed out the fairly profound lack of layers that a certain monarch was employing in his wardrobe. Prescient of what, say you, and why reread the chapter? Glad you asked.

Recently a friend pointed me to an article (which contained a link to another article on the same subject, this one much shorter) about a recent takedown by an unlikely band of takers-of-no-shit of something of a centerpiece of the discipline of positive psychology, advancing which Martin Seligman has made the defining mission of his tenure as the President of APA. What takers-of-no-shit took down was a seemingly super-important paper, published in 2005 and since referenced over 350 times, including in popular psychology books by one of the paper's authors, Barbara Fredrickson, a star of positive psychology if there ever was one, and by Seligman himself. The paper, see, claimed to have found a ratio of positive to negative statements or emotions that separates "flourishing" people and groups from "languishing" ones. The ratio was supposed to be, I shit you not, a straight up exact number. 2.91013:1.

You know what that ratio and the whole bloody cottage industry that grew up around it turned out to be? If you guessed crap-encrusted filet of crap with crap demi-glaze and some whipped crap on the side, you are absolutely correct. It was fake. A stopped clock derived from fudged messing around with equations of certain aspects of fluid mechanics. The paper that took it down was called in the original manuscript "The Complex Dynamics of an Intellectual Imposture." Sadly, the authors changed it to "The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking" before publication to step on less academic toes.

The person who first smelled the crap, and who was able to claw his way through enough complicated math to determine that the number was fake, is my new personal hero, Nick Brown, a then-50 year old master's student of the University of East London where he was studying, wait for it-- applied positive psychology. Yeah, he was paying money to study this stuff. And he is not the only one. Martin Seligman runs a one year program at UPenn that costs nearly nothing to attend, chump change really, a mere 45 grand. Yup, for one year. He is also at the heart of a project with the Army that is running United States taxpayers a cool $125 million plus, though it seems to have done nothing to reduce PTSD-- a prominent goal of the thing.

It bothers me to no end when science and math are misused. It undermines public confidence in the whole enterprise, making it harder for good research to be taken seriously. I've talked to my students many times about examples of bad research or bad reporting of research (or both at the same time). And more often than not I find that as I talk about these things my voice starts to shake. It's not nerves-- it's indignation. I guess I am still enough of a science idealist to think that doing research the right way really-really matters. And in this particular case, holy crap does this burn me! This is not a victimless little fudge, a small shading of data to advance one's career. This has real consequences for real people-- it spreads the reach of mandatorily bright-sided environment, making it more likely that more people will be told by some positive psychology devotee somewhere that they need to adjust their attitudes. You know, find 2.9103 positive emotions to counterweigh the bummer of their kid still being dead. And isn't that the kind of advice we all need more of in our lives?


This is my opinion. What's yours? Tell us, please.

Oh, and by the way, the articles I linked above are well worth the read. Enjoy!

The midwife wonder'd and the women cried...

Good Afternoon.

My name is Jess and I'm here to talk to you today about my experience of Stillbirth.

Before I begin, can I ask you all to stand up. Please stay standing if you have given birth, or witnessed the birth of your own child... Thank you... OK, now stay standing if you've given birth more than once? More than twice? May I ask how many children you have? How old are they? Wow! You have three children and you're studying full time to be a midwife! You're incredible!

OK, can you all stand up again. Stay standing if, as a Student Midwife, you've delivered more than 10 babies. More than 20? More than 30? WOW! How many have you delivered? 40-ish?! 44??!! How about you? About 40 too? Amazing! OK, please sit down.

I ask you these questions because I want you to understand where I fit in to all of this. I am not an expert on birth. I have been present at three births, and at all three I was the one doing the pushing. Of those three babies, one of them was stillborn. I am not an expert on stillbirth either. I don't know any statistics. I can't make professional recommendations. I don't have any official resources for you. What I represent is an opportunity... I stand here as a woman who has given birth to a dead baby and I am going to tell you my story, and her story, and then you can ask me questions. You can ask me anything, really and truly you can ask me anything. I promise - hey, listen! I'm brave! I can say vagina and everything! 

OK with that let's begin. On 15th May 2008 I gave birth to my second daughter, Iris. She died during early labour the previous day...

Photo by kevinwchu

The secret places of my heart are often visited by strangers.

I write them out in my best words and awkwardly proffer them to people from Missouri and Norfolk and South Australia.

I say them aloud. I turn my womb inside-out and speak its fleshiness.

Mutter, mutter. I conjure her. I create her. She appears, shimmering, then vanishes again into silence. 

She is an agreement between me and you.

She existed, didn't she?

Yes, yes, that's right, she did.

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.

I defy Noel Coward.

She shall have a stage. She shall have the biggest platform I can find for her. 

All babies are teachers, but the dead ones have the best lessons.

Have you ever shared your story with a group of strangers, like the student midwives I spoke to last Friday? How was the experience for you? What do wish you they knew about delivering a baby that has died, or is likely to die? Do you have an answer to the question I've asked before, and I asked of them again: Is it possible to have a good birth, when the outcome is a dead baby?