“Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative” is my way of grappling with the discomfort I felt when I found out that my collection of essays, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, would come out in paperback this summer. I realized that, along with excitement and gratitude, I felt a startling dismay. I set three goals in writing and publishing my digital essay: first to work through my own ambivalence and to puzzle through why I found the story I had worked so hard to get into print troubling now; second to give voice to the way that grief and narrative changes over time; and third (probably the least important) to use a different platform to help publicize my collection and reach new readers.
I began by writing some reflective vignettes. They came out in whatever form they wanted to. When I reached the end of one, I would just hit enter a couple of times and start something else. Of course, I can do that ad nauseam (and judging by the number of people who visited my essay on [Medium] only to flee when they saw an estimated reading time of 14 minutes, perhaps my final version is still too long!). But when I had a few thousand words, I stopped and starting trying to find the threads to weave together into a coherent whole.
I took the essay through four distinct drafts. Several chunks from my earliest drafting did end up in the final version. The hardest part was deciding how to navigate the disjointedness of writing about writing about loss. I wanted my readers to experience some discomfort, but I didn’t want it to be so much that they were completely thrown off.
Then the question arose of platform. I put the entire essay draft up on a wordpress site I created for general book promotion. But it didn’t work there, and visually it was too long of an unbroken stream of text. My peer group suggested putting it on its own site and then just linking as needed.
Finally, I ended up publishing the essay on Medium because I loved the simple, clean aesthetics of the site, and I also wanted the ability to add it to various collections on the site.
Affordances and Constraints:
Writing my essay online and on Medium specifically offered the ability to link, to promote my work in a community, and to revisit and revise it later. I like the way the whole essay looks and reads. It’s like a beautiful, very pared-down magazine.
Interesting constraints came up when I tried to embed links in the essay. Medium’s simplicity does come at a cost; it was not possible, as it is in WordPress, to set links to open in a new tab or new page. So anytime a reader clicked on a link, it would take him or her away from my essay. I ultimately decided, rather than risking the loss of readers, I would place asterisks and then have a “links” section at the bottom of the piece.