GHOSTBELLY by Elizabeth Heineman


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A wrenching account of how the author gave birth to a stillborn baby and coped with the loss of her child.

Heineman (History and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies/Univ. of Iowa; Before Porn Was Legal: The Erotica Empire of Beate Uhse, 2011, etc.) was approaching her mid-40s when she and her partner decided to try for a baby. Conception happened relatively quickly, though, and the pregnancy was easy. Against medical advice to the contrary, she decided to have her baby at home with only a midwife in attendance. Heineman knew an out-of-hospital delivery was risky and that her advanced maternal age made her vulnerable to problems during pregnancy as well as childbirth. But she was also unwilling to have her baby in an impersonal hospital setting. Heineman remained optimistic even after her pregnancy stretched beyond 40 weeks: Her health was excellent, her baby was in good condition, and Deirdre, her midwife, had been practicing midwifery more than 20 years “with no bad outcomes.” Just as she was about to give birth, an unexpected placental abruption occurred, and the child, a boy she had nicknamed Thor, was born dead. Heineman found that little support existed to help grieving parents of stillborn children make sense of their losses. She also discovered the grim truth that, in a society afraid to acknowledge the reality of death, the proper place of corpses was not among loved ones but “away from the living.” With tenderness and lucidity, Heineman writes about the bonding rituals she and her partner developed around Thor’s body, which a sympathetic funeral director allowed them to keep before interment. These descriptions are disturbing yet refreshing for their honesty. However, some readers may find the author’s protracted post-mortem of both her decision to give birth at home and its consequences overdone and obsessive.

At times self-indulgent but provocative.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55861-844-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Feminist Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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