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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Speaking about Stillbirth and Why It's Important

We're still a long way from 200 post recommendations to match the number I've given you this year through the Friday Blog Roundup. Don't forget to leave your comments there on your favourite posts from this year and read the rest of the list.

I posted something similar last Thursday at BlogHer, but wanted to repost here in case you don't have an account at that site and want to leave your thoughts.

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 (my mentor!) 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.


Paz said...

I am not a blogger, just a commenter, but I guess everyone knows that if you put yourself out there, there are risks. Period.

The callous and cruel comments on that article were quite disturbing. And not to diminish how disgusting they, and other mean spirited comments, are, but it recalls for me the awfulness that can be seen by drivers who, bolstered by the anonymity, are rude, dangerous and mean.

battynurse said...

I never cease to be amazed at the cruelty and lack of compassion that humans often seem to have for others.
I haven't had to many negative comments on my blog. The one I did get made me feel very bad and like I wanted to explain myself and my comment which was misunderstood. Of course when it's anonymous, you can't do that. It took me months before I was able to let it go and delete that comment from my inbox.

Flying Monkeys said...

What happened in their lives that made them deficient in empathy and sympathy? I imagine it had to be something big.
I don't know what to say on those posts. I've read several, more recently and there really aren't any words express my sorrow for them. I'm sorry for your loss seems so inefficient? ineffective?

Trish said...

I'm actually stunned speechless.
I have nothing, no reasoning, no excuses that I can possibly understand for people to be so cruel.

Anonymous said...

I am speachless...the one comparing abortion with still birth must be seriously retarded. Thankfully I never had to deal with such type of comments on my blog and I wouldn't really know what to do!

Rebecca said...

Having lived through my dad's suicide I feel like I have a lot of insight into insensitive comments. I've heard them all. Do not say a word until you have walked in my shoes is all I can say

Tash said...

I read this article and the comments when it initially came out. The same thing happened to Bon at Crib Chronicles -- I have all the links in my latest GITW post -- her story got picked up by the paper, they opened the comments, and the ugly ensued.

Frankly, I think this has a lot to do with newspapers opening commenting in an effort to gain/keep readership. People now think they're experts on fucking everything from middle east military policy to stillbirth. They have nothing better to do, and I think a lot of people are just made uncomfortable by what they read in the paper and all they can do to make themselves feel better at the end of it is lash out.

Bea said...

I realised at some stage that I have a mental picture of the types of people who leave the types of comments you've just transcribed. I can't describe their exact features because the mental image isn't that detailed. But I do know this: they are all under 20.

It almost made me laugh. I realised I associate that type of "mean-spiritedness" with people who are about as mature as high-schoolers. That made me pity the ones who weren't actually high-schoolers anymore. And also the actual high-schoolers, who must make up some of that number, because high school is hard and I wouldn't want to be that age (again) either.

They still get me angry if I'm in a bad mood. But it's sort of your-really-strict-and-involved-English-teacher-when-you're-not-applying-yourself angry, with a touch of despair at what goes on in the minds of Kids These Days, a grain of hope that they'll grow out of it in a few years, and a little sadness thinking about what it might take to make them.


Anonymous said...

I definitely want readers, but not TOO many readers, because too many readers would garner these types of comments, I fear. This type of "advice," this type of "wisdom." I don't know how to handle it. I don't know what I would do.

Anonymous said...

Let them pray that they never have to go through the death of a child nore to recieve them sort of comments themselves. What goes around, comes around.

MrsSpock said...

I've always been very supportive of breastfeeding, natural birth, and even homebirth, though that wasn't a choice I made for myself. After my son stopped moving, the induction failed, and I endured terrible resistant thrush and vasospasms that led me to stop breastfeeding, I was vilified by several natural birth/homebirth blogs. (My baby deserved to die, I was a fool who was suckered into an OB's evil schemes, if I had dies during the c-section, they would laugh.)

My choice was to counter illogical arguments with reason. I addressed them directly. They never responded to me. Those way out there cruel comments tend to be riddled with logic errors- though I admit not every one is a Mrs Spock who enjoys pointing them out :)

Fat Chick said...

Anonymity brings out cruelty, as you said. I don't understand this. And it isn't just in the case of one person's account of their suffering and loss. Have you ever read the comments on fat-related posts, especially in main stream media blogs? Oh my goodness. It is vitriol, terrible.

I think it has more to do with the fact that, in many ways, American society values dominance. People have this need to feel superior, and some - not all, of course - do so by raging and being hateful towards others, regardless of the situation. I don't understand it, but I have traveled enough to know that people aren't like this everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if I want to raise my future children in such a hateful country, one that doesn't value empathy.

Parenthood For Me said...

Those comments amaze me. How could someone not understand the depths of pain this man feels and all those that lose a child. It is sickening how ignorant people can be. I have not yet received a rude comment. Not sure why. I do not know how I would handle it. I guess we will see b/c no one is immune.

Bluebird said...

Oh my. I would typically click over to read the article and comments to which your post refers - but I just don't think that would be healthy in this case. It's mind boggling.

I've never understood people who make personal attacks, period. I'm experiencing that now in a work situation - an adversary and I are obviously on different sides of a debate, and he goes so far as to redicule and name call me. It's the first time that's happened in my career and I was (initially) so shook up I didn't knowp what to do. It startled me. I can't imagine if I was so attacked about something that was deeply personal to me. Horrible.

Kristin said...

IF a comment is just thoughtless and off base, I ignore it. If it is purposely cruel, I would delete it. And, if it really eats at me, I post about it.

Lavender Luz said...

People with a lack of compassion must be very young souls.

I try not to judge them for being judgmental, but when they lash out at me, it is very hard. I want to lash back.

And, like what you wisely said once, when people start shouting at you (or hurting or lashing out) you no longer listen.

Let's decide what that word should be (widow/orphan/?). I can't even think of anything. Has Glow in the Woods tackled this?

sassy said...

I read this article as well, and the comments, and was appaled. What a wonderthing this man did by sharing his story and putting himself out there. Frankly, I do not understand at all where the cruel comments come from. It is really sad not only that people can have such narrow minds but that they can be drriven to say such things in the face of another's loss and pain.

I've been really lucky with my own blogging. I don't think I've ever had (not yet at least) cruel comments. Oh, once someone told me that I was basically a trite barrel full of clich├ęs, but honestly I laughed it off. As far as infertility, the hubs and I are 'out', so most of the cruel comments we have received have been people we know in real life. And that hurts unbelievably.

I don't know how to react, I try to stop them in their tracks, but it is so very painful hearing some opinions.

Megan said...

I don't allow anonymous comments on my blog after I received a few anonymous comments that I didn't like. I didn't mind their opinions as much as my inability to know the person and possibly put their comments into context.

Some people seem to think that if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all.....unless you can say it anonymously.

Michelle said...

Those comments break my heart. I just do not understand the mentality it takes to write such cruel comments. Even if I disagreed with someone I could never do such a thing.

I have not ever really received negative comments (knock on wood)on my blog thank God. But I have received them to my face IRL. Those hurt. Sometimes I can see them for what they are...someone who is angry and bitter and has nothing else better to do but tear people down. Other times it hurts like hell!!!

Natalie said...

I've come to expect things like that on news sites.... our local news website is absolutely abhorrent in terms of comments. I really think that a lot of them come from immature people who don't even necessarily believe what they're saying, but they write rude, mean things just for "fun." (Which makes me even angrier, in some ways.)

But in this case a lot of the comments are things that we loss parents do hear in some form or another. The thoughts are definitely out there.... always from the people who have no frame of reference, no similar situation in their own life. Like a previous commentor said, it is in a way about superiority. "Well I would certainly never act like that!" They think they are above it. But I know better.

And I do think it is very immature. People talking about the "rare" circumstance of stillbirth is obviously very immature and uninformed. People WANT to believe that it's rare and you shouldn't frighten people unnecessarily. What they don't understand is that it's not rare, and it's not unnecessary. Stillbirth occur in one out of every 150-200 births. That isn't rare. And there are things that pregnant women can do, like kick counts, that can help prevent it. Being aware and prepared is NOT the same thing as being terrified and paranoid. Many people don't understand that. We do a lot of things for our children to prevent their deaths. Car seats, back sleeping, baby gates... and no one says, "Well we shouldn't do that because we don't want to think about the possibility that they could die if we don't."

Almost all of the comments I hear are from people who truly don't think the numbers are true... who don't believe that stillbirth happens for no good reason, random and unexpected. I envy them their naivete, sometimes. And I hope they never have reason to KNOW otherwise. But I hope they come to understand.

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Anonymous said...

Omg!! Some of those comments made me want to throw up!

People like that deserve no place in my life. THAT is how I deal with it. Delete.

Cara said...

Obviously my blood boiled as I read the comments after the article, and the only thing that kept me from leaving an equally inappropriate retort in that section was respect for the author who put his story and feelings out there.

I guess the 'people fear what they don't understand' generalization applies here, and unfortunately - without wishing a life changing experience on them, they will never understand. Perhaps it is better that way.

Julie said...

Just a tangential comment. During my two complicated pregnancies, only once was stillbirth explicitly mentioned, and that only in response to a very direct question I'd asked. How strange, especially when one condition I had — gestation diabetes — is directly linked to stillbirth, but can be managed to reduce the risk significantly.

No doctor ever offered the very blunt advice, "Take care of yourself or your baby might die." When I did ask the long chain of questions that eventually led to that answer, the words jarred me enough to frighten me into extremely rigid compliance. Maybe it's not such a bad thing for doctors to scare us after all.

A&T said...

I am a blogger and have put myself out there by choice to help others, inform, be a virtual shoulder, and just to document my life so that my sons can see how I evolved as a mom and be proud.

I'm also a woman who is infertile and has had a tremendous amount of loss.

I believe there is a dichotomy in most every person... I have learned from one online community that people you "think" you know... whether IRL or online, can be very duplicitous and driven by jealousy and insecurity.

I think the 'net being like the "wild west" gives people license to say the cruelest things, that they would never say to a human being standing in front of them.

I also tend to think that, those people who are judging infertility and loss... have not experience it and from their standpoint, they take their fertility and their lack of loss for granted.

That's my take, but I will continue on, writing my way through life. The muse has been in me since I was concieved and my heart has been poetic since before I could even write.. Why deny myself the privilege of expression for the few who are randomly vicious and cruel?

Anonymous said...

I usually skip reading the comments sections of articles because they are typically filled with so much hateful bile that I can't stand it.

It makes me sad and makes me wonder who they are. Are tey people I know who choose not to be so... honest about their feelings when face to face?

G$ said...

I have been a member of the internet community since before it was "cool and easy" - and the one thing I haven noticed over the years as it has morphed... When people can post anonymously, the things that society wouldn't accept during an in person exchange come pouring out. I still don't understand it.

But I worry about it, because these are still person to person exchanges, with real life issues. It's the little evil voice in the back of your head that sometimes speaks up and you think "OMG I can't believe I just had that thought" coming out of the thought into the world. Polluting the world. Making it so many people are now beginning to believe saying those awful things are in their right and it's exciting to get people worked up.

Even if, confronted with the author in a face to face conversation, they really don't believe what they typed out. Their mothers taught them better. What happens in future generations when their teachings came from those cruel little trolls?

Kansas said...

The ignorance of people never ceases to amaze me.
The one about abortions was so out of line.
All of them are totally unacceptable. It's one thing to have an opinion, but it's quite another to be a jack ass about it.

Kansas said...

Also, I love Jay Neugeboren's comments. Very insightful and thought provoking. I'd never thought of that.