‘What God Is Honored Here?’ breaks ground on vital topic

Photo by Kristine Heykants Authors Kao Kalia Yang (l) and Shannon Gibney

“What God Is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color” (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95) is an arresting anthology of tragically traumatic recollections. Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang, co-editors and contributors, accomplished authors themselves, have culled what noted author Kiese Laymon calls “the most important book I’ve read about parenting, loss, and imagination. It’s also the most frightening book in my world.”

To be sure, this is no academic study, but an impassioned, powerfully articulated testament to the catastrophic, ongoing crisis as these writers’ realities have been systemically obscured. The disproportionate rate at which they have lost children to discrimination is widespread in the medical industry as it is in the rest of society.   

Yang recalled, “Shannon and I knew the experiences we had gone through were national in scope. We tapped into our networks across communities of color and within the Native community to spread the call as far we could. We got a wonderful collection from the sweep of the country.”

She added, “[This collection] is the first of its kind. The readers will experience, for the very first time through the words of these women, their realities, their truths. We hope there will be more funding for research, more Native women and those of color having a voice in their health care.” 

Yang makes no bones about attributing the ongoing plight to institutionalized discrimination. “[These] women experience a lot more trauma in terms of crimes committed against them because of everyday, casual racism.” This, she said, is one more crime society condones.

Why exclude white women? Gibney explained, “We’ve [received] push-back from white people. ‘Don’t our experiences matter, too?’ We don’t feel it’s an exclusion, but a focus. There was a need to reflect and be supportive of marginalized females.”

The editors relay in the introduction, “[All] we could find by grieving mothers was written by white women and often reflected only their experiences…Where are the pregnancies like ours?  Where were the babies like ours?”

Yang summed up, “All people can benefit from reading this book. Because miscarriage and infant loss are so common.”

Gibney went on to speak about those on whom “What God Is Honored Here?” focuses. “The responses come in different forms. We’ve had book launch events and some people are really ready to connect with other women around this. Some simply want to grieve in private. 

“At talk-backs, people tell powerful stories. Like ‘I thought I was completely alone and realize that’s not the case at all.’ Our hope is [to] create—for women who’ve gone through this, for families—more space for these stories to exist, to be seen, be validated, explored. We’re trying to create community.”

Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press

Taiyon J. Coleman’s “Tilted Uterus: When Jesus Is Your Baby Daddy” flows like a short story, fluid and image-rich. What inexorably compels is that this fascinating narrative is, after all, not fiction at all but her life. 

What saddens is, as cruel a blow as miscarrying must be, it can unnecessarily be crueler still.  “Going to the doctor,” she wrote, “was never an enjoyable or comfortable experience for me as a woman of color, and the one moment when I really needed one, it felt like I didn’t have one, because the OB-GYN seemed to be just going through the motions. The OB-GYN made me feel like he didn’t care about me.”

Coleman reflected, “The call for submissions was asking [us] to write about something difficult. Sometimes you think, ‘Is that something I want to share? Also, is that a space I want to go back into?  Do I want to go where I have to go emotionally to write about it?’ But, I trust the work of Shannon and Kao. Also, I thought the story could speak to other women of color.”

”A Dream Deferred” is Marcie Rendon’s matter-of-fact recounting of time after time enduring torturously dashed hope of seeing the life in her make its way into the world. 

A passage reads, “The last ectopic pregnancy sent me into physical shock. My blood pressure dropped. I was on the verge of dying at home before the ambulance arrived and wrapped me like a tin-foiled hotdog at the state fair. I learned later it was a blanket to help my body handle the shock it was going through.”

“When you’re going through hell,” Rendon quipped, “keep going. Native women are resilient. We thrive. Grief is our middle name. It is ours. And, it doesn’t have to own us or consume us. It can be the pulse that moves us on to other life visions if we take the time to let our souls heal.”

As no one here attributes anything to Immaculate Conception, men might reflect on their part in what women endure and let it sink in. It’s an invaluable opportunity to be seriously enlightened. Yang recalled, “My husband walked through it with me. At the same time, after the loss, he wasn’t the one with a baby moving inside. The one whose breasts started leaking milk. There was a great deal I had to tell him for him to understand.”

Rendon said there’s a gift here for men. “[Native] teachings tell us that our children choose us before they are born. They don’t only choose their mother, they also choose their father. All these stories can teach all men the sacredness of the life force that humans carry within themselves. Because the woman carries the child, and in these stories, it is her body that loses the child, it doesn’t mean that the loss is only hers.

“[It] can be the pulse that moves men to understand and love more deeply their children and their children’s mother, if they…let themselves acknowledge the loss.”

Ultimately, “What God Is Honored Here?” breaks vital ground on a heretofore hidden, grievously neglected subject.

Find “What God Is Honored Here?” book events below. All of the events are free and do not require registration except where noted.

7 pm, Nov. 7, SubText Books,6 W. 5th St., St. Paul

7 pm, Nov. 12, ModernWell, 2909 S. Wayzata Blvd., Mpls.

Readers include: Taiyon J. Coleman, Shannon Gibney, Sarah Agaton Howes, and Kao Kalia Yang. Free with registration @ bit.ly/modernwellauthortalk

7 pm, Nov. 18, Next Chapter Booksellers, 38 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul

5:30 pm, Dec. 12, WindingTrails Bookstore, 2230 Carter Ave Suite 8, St. Paul