A much-needed Novel with Stillbirth as its Central Theme…
EHFAR is quite simply a triumph. For too many years the UK’s mainstream publishing world has shied away from any kind of story with a stillbirth narrative. I know this first hand through my own encounters and experiences. So Kudos to Orenda Books for being the change. And kudos to Katie Allen for penning this absolutely exquisite novel.
I understand that I am one of the first stillbirth parents to read the story – and I am deeply honoured.
This is a clever and multifaceted book. Because grief is not one-dimensional. It doesn’t follow a set pattern. It is not one-size-fits-all.
Particularly this very unique kind of baby loss.
It is a tale of loss, yes; it is deeply moving, too. You will, at times, need tissues. But it is also a book of hope and ambition and making sense of the world, a tale of acting spontaneously, living in the moment and throwing caution to the wind. The cast of characters is so 3D you could touch them.
It is witty. Wonderfully and acceptably so. At times there was something Danny Wallace-meets-Bridget Jones about the funny bits. In fact, the story (brilliantly told in email form) calls for this specific brand of dry humour. This is what makes the poignant bits sharper. It makes the heartbreaking bits hit home harder. It makes everything flow. Therein lies the beauty.
Through Rachel’s story, the author articulates so many little things that I’ve never even spoken about with my circle of baby loss mums. Maybe I always assumed them inconsequential, something to quietly grin and bare? Now I know that they weren’t. Now I know I was not alone. Somehow, this has enabled me to de-ice my own deeply buried thoughts and experiences over the past few days as I’ve immersed myself in the narrative.
The people list is one example…
And this line will stay with me:
“Every day they stayed silent, they made you feel smaller.”
I also felt sorry for a lot of people after my baby died. I didn’t realise that until Rachel Summers, EHFAR’s MC pointed it out to me:
I felt sorry for the midwife who told me my baby had no heartbeat, I felt sorry for the two midwives who saw me through the twenty-one hour labour. One of them ‘hoped she wouldn’t see me again’ after she’d gone home for her supper and her sleep and returned the next day after breakfast. Unfortunately, I let her down. We were still very much there.
I felt horrendously sorry for her. It was the first stillbirth she had encountered. There was no adequate training eleven years ago, as there is now via charities such as SANDS. There was no bereavement suite. You gave birth next door to screaming, healthy babies and jubilant parents. You tried to numb the pain of your turmoil.
I felt the weight of all of these strangers’ grief more than my own in the early days.
I felt sorry for the vicar. She called us when we were in Blockbusters picking out a DVD. We couldn’t decide between Mamma Mia and something else. The vicar wanted us to decide on psalms and readings. Right there in the middle of Blockbusters. I felt sorry for her timing.
I felt even more sorry for her when she mistakenly referred to our daughter as Sophie. Twice. During the burial.
“She’s called April,” my mum corrected her over and over.
I felt so embarrassed for her. Maybe it was her first stillbirth burial? Maybe it was her first baby burial? I felt her pain as sharply as the frostbitten January ground beneath my feet as we gathered around the tiny hole and I held my tiny posy of pastel roses in readiness to scatter them on top of the miniature white coffin.
I felt sorry for a lot of people, but I didn’t feel sorry for those who remained silent, for those who’d let their unspoken words hang in the air, gathering mould and dust. A clumsy word showed thought; a heart-in-the-right-place sentence, no matter how poorly it had been strung together, was somebody making the effort to reach out at least. Even if it symbolised that family member or friend or acquaintance had now brushed my baby’s existence neatly under the carpet, never to bring her up in conversation again.
I never shared this frustration with anyone.
And oh, yes, I made lists of said silent people – mental ones, I deleted them from Facebook where they’d surely seen my status update, I deleted them from eye contact, I deleted them from address books. If they could pretend my baby didn’t exist, I could pretend they were nothing more than a figment of my imagination too.
Katie Allen’s writing has brought all of this to the surface (and much, much more) these past few days. In a healing way. In a cathartic way. This was yet another subconscious layer that needed to be brought to the fore more than a decade on. Now I can face it, accept it and learn to be okay with it.
And that’s what we do when we share our stillbirth stories, isn’t it? We give others permission to share theirs. We transmute the energy. We inspire. The words reach out far beyond the page.
This novel may not be Katie’s exact story but it is loosely based on it, and it is one epic tale. I cannot recommend it highly enough. May it foster much-needed understanding so that society supports and nurtures all parents who will sadly continue to know this tragedy in the future.
A huge thank you to Katie and her publisher, Orenda Books for the ARC.