Elizabeth Heineman: Mourning a Stillbirth

A stillborn birth is a loss and trauma that’s relatively rare, which can make getting support a little more challenging. In this episode of The Open to Hope show, Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley discuss still births with Elizabeth Heineman, who lost her son Thor in a still birth. This loss prompted journaling and eventually the publication of a book, Ghostbelly. It was a planned pregnancy, and Heineman had an older child (16) with a previous partner who was a woman.

Now in a new relationship with a man who didn’t have any children, but wanted them, Heineman and her partner Glen decide to “give it a try.” Thor was born full-term via a mid-wife aided delivery at-home birth. As a low risk pregnancy, and with a midwife with several years of experience, Heineman felt confident in having an out of hospital birth. At first, Thor appeared healthy during the birthing process, but a sudden loss of oxygen resulted in a still birth.

A One of a Kind Loss

She recalls the experience as crushing. Although Thor was rushed to the hospital, it was too late. During the process, Heineman herself was safe. You start second guessing yourself, wondering if things would have been different if it hadn’t been a home birth. “People often think of this as a black and white issue,” but there’s a huge range in hospital vs. home birth. “What exactly happened in this case?” she asks. You can never really know for certain.

“Many people do make a lot of assumptions,” she says. The majority of her friends and family were worried about the tragedy and sadness of if all. However, there are certainly instances where people may question the mother’s choices, which can delay the healing process.

Elizabeth Heineman

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Elizabeth Heineman is the mother of one stillborn and two surviving children. Her memoir of her stillbirth, Ghostbelly, appeared with Feminist Press in 2014. She is a professor at the University of Iowa, where she specializes in European history, gender and sexuality studies, and the history of human rights. She lives in Iowa City.

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