Lorraine Ash, 46, author of Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, has been a full-time journalist since 1982, the year she earned her master’s degree at Fordham University in the Bronx.
A native New Jerseyan, she began her newspaper career in her home state and has remained there, currently writing for the Daily Record in Parsippany, New Jersey. Her feature articles and series, particularly on women’s issues as well as physical and mental health, have won national, state, and regional awards and appeared in daily newspapers across the country.
Lorraine, a member of The International Women’s Writing Guild, also has explored other writing genres. A published essayist and playwright, she has written on topics that range from the historicala close look at the lives and characters of some American presidents, to the personal identity and intimacy.
Writers often find the stories that are truly theirs to tell in the midst of suffering and struggle, she said. Certainly it was that way for me after the stillbirth of my daughter, Victoria. My pen helped me change my view of life, justice, God and myself. The act of writing brings meaning.
As a workshop leader, she helps others shape the raw stuff of their livesexperiences, emotions and thoughtsinto compelling prose that transforms, moves and inspires.
Pain is not just to be felt, she said. It can be used to better the world, and literature is a perfect way for the transmutation to take place. There is great healing in telling our stories well and listening to those of others.
As a peer grief contact, Lorraine works one-on-one with stillbirth mothers. She also is an advisor to the Public Awareness Committee of the International Stillbirth Alliance.
Lorraine lives in Allendale, New Jersey, with her husband, Bill, a jazz trumpeter. Her passions include Hindu philosophy, bookstores and libraries, good food, fitness, and the state of Maine. Currently she is working on a book about holistic healing.
On June 1, 1999, Lorraine Ash expected to experience the best day of her life. It was the day her daughter, Victoria Helen, was to be born. This was a daughter who had been conceived on the first try and the pregnancy was flawless. Little Victoria’s arrival seemed destined.
Instead of jubilance, though, Lorraine felt the most searing anguish of her life. Her precious daughter’s heart had stopped beating and no one in the hospital — not even on the biggest, fanciest machine — could find it. Victoria had vanished. Why? Under what God’s watch could such a thing happen? What did this mean?
After a C-section, the symptomless, silent Group B Strep infection that claimed Victoria’s life then threatened Lorraine’s life. There she was in a great university hospital at the end of the 20th century fighting the childbirth fever most people associate with historical novels. For 15 days, her fever spiked to 103 and then dropped until, finally, her doctor isolated the infection and eradicated it. Lorraine knew she would live, but into what life was she delivered? Certainly not the one she knew before and during the pregnancy.
She lived in the heart of her anguish and her grief and her love, all of which spilled from her pen onto the page. Lorraine needed to pick up the shattered pieces of her life and work with them. Her relationships changed. Weak ones fell away, strong ones grew stronger, new ones grew in the changed emotional landscape of her soul. Her window on the world changed and, as she saw with different eyes, do did her view of the cosmos and her place in it. To her surprise and relief, she found she had not lost her faith in God but had instead changed her concept of God.
At the time of the stillbirth of Victoria, Lorraine had been a journalist for 18 years. She also was a published playwright and essayist and had written hundreds of stories about other people’s lives. Here, though, was her story. Instinctively, she started writing her way through grief and into a new identity, becoming a woman capable of enjoying a spiritual relationship with her daughter. On her journey Lorraine searched for a full-blown narrative account of a stillbirth mother’s travels through her experience. She wanted to know so badly that someone else had been on the terrain and made it through. But she could not find the book she needed, though she did discover that in the United States today 71 mothers a day go through what she endured. Stillbirth was no anomaly from the history books.
Lorraine’s own writings went on to become the book she could not find–Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, published in 2004. In the past three years the book has winged its way into the hearts of thousands of stillbirth parents across the globe. Many correspond with Lorraine and even stay in close touch as they proceed into the next phases of their lives, some with subsequent babies, some not. Today Lorraine feels Life Touches Life is enough to have made this lifetime worthwhile for her. It fills a void. It calls back to the stillbirth parents of another generation that they are alone. It offers solace and perspective. It sounds the call for the medical community and the United States Congress to deem stillbirth a significant family issue worthy of attention and money and research.
Life Touches Life is the way Victoria Helen exists in this plane of existence. Through it, this angelic baby and her mother continue to live together and make a difference. Their message is clear and runs counter to the cultural wisdom of the day that a stillbirth is something to be forgotten, to put behind us. No. Stillbirth is a huge human experience with a valuable human legacy all its own and it is a legacy that needs and deserves to be honored and addressed.
Today, Lorraine teaches Wisdom of Words: Writing to Heal the Spirit, a workshop she created and continues to develop to help bereaved parents articulate their own pain and triumphs on the page. They write to discover the lights of insight contained within their experiences. The workshop features multi-layered healing exercises and drives home the point that suffering and struggle are not derailments of the lives we were supposed to live. Not at all. They are our fates and by writing through them we can even learn to love them and use them to make the world better.
Suffering and struggle are opportunities for each of us to find our highest selves — the most satisfying and blissful thing any of us can do.
Lorraine lives in Allendale, New Jersey, with her husband, Bill, a jazz trumpeter.