Monday, February 24, 2014


I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth ("Lisa") Heineman the summer of 2010, when we both attended Hope Edelman's memoir writing class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Lisa is a professor at the University of Iowa, and an incredible writer as well as a learned scholar in the areas of gender, women's and sexuality studies. She shared her story with our writing group: the devastating loss of her stillborn son, and subsequent healing from the experience.

It is my bias that what makes many memoirs hard to read, is the lack of healing, the lack of transformation, the lack of insight and growth. Lisa's book, Ghostbelly, does not suffer from that, her process is complete and all on the page. Ghostbelly is Lisa's story of her home birth that ends tragically. How Lisa and her partner, Glenn, actively grieve their profound loss, is what made this book gripping. Lisa and Glenn make arrangements with the mortician, to bring their son, Thor, home for overnight stays, before he is buried. This may sound morbid and hard to read. I will admit that this book pushed me out of my comfort zone in many regards, but that is also one of the many things I loved most about it.

Lisa is refreshingly open about her non-traditional, "unorthodox" life. I, having a very traditional life and playing very traditional roles, appreciated being more intimately connected to someone so different from me, yet with all the most important things in common.

There is something going on in my community of friends and fellow parishioners - we're in a dying season. It feels as though not a week goes by that death does not touch someone I know. Lisa's memoir was helpful in that regard - helpful to to be reminded just how personal grief is, how deep, how differently it can be felt and experienced, processed and transformed. I have more compassion having read the book, for the vastness of grief.

To be able to write such a beautiful and personal account of something so horrific, is a trick not many writers can pull off. Lisa Heineman does.

*Ghostbelly is available through the publisher, The Feminist Press, as well as other places. 

Advance Praise for GHOSTBELLY: 

 “Ghostbelly is by far the most beautifully written and intimate account of something a lot of us have 

gone through, which is the death of an unborn child. It's an incredible and moving book, and I'm so 

thankful for it.” 

—Jane Pratt, founding editor of xoJane and Sassy 

“Ghostbelly illuminates the complex emotional landscape of stillbirth—putting into frank and poetic 
words the unspeakable experience of simultaneously grieving and mothering a baby who has died. 
Groundbreaking for its exploration of the unexpected benefits of reclaiming traditional rituals around 
birth and death, Ghostbelly brilliantly demonstrates the value in determining what holds meaning 
for you, and then unapologetically going for it, no matter what others might think.”  
—Deborah L. Davis, author of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your 

Ghostbelly contains some of the most powerful and heart-wrenching sentences about mourning the loss 
of a baby I have ever read.  —Perry-Lynn Moffitt, author of A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss 

“This is a book about birth and death seen with a smart, sensitive, well-trained eye.” —Barbara Katz 
Rothman, author of In Labor and Laboring On 

“Lisa Heineman's Ghostbelly is a poignant, haunting work. Lisa does not ask for permission, and in her 
unapologetic honesty—that sometimes becomes audacity—we find courage and freedom.” —Jen 
Silverman, playwright and winner of 2013 Yale Drama Series 

ELIZABETH HEINEMAN is a professor of history and of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies at the 
University of Iowa. Her other books include Before Porn was Legal, Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, and 
What Difference Does a Husband Make? She lives in Iowa City, Iowa. 


kario said...

I fear I will have to steel myself before reading this book, but read it I will because you have never steered me wrong.


Elizabeth said...

The title of this book is amazing, and I can't say that I "look forward" to reading it, but it does sound intriguing and beautiful. I really appreciate what you said about grief and death, too -- how personal and shocking it is when someone close to us or who has touched our community dies. Thank you for those words -- they comforted me. said...

The title is haunting. I love when books up us up to looking at things from a different point of view. I'm sorry for her loss.