Tag Archives: Stillbirth

Day 15: Honouring Our Losses

Today at 7:00 pm parents around the world will light a candle in memory of the babies they’ve lost. It’s called the International Wave of Light. I’ll be lighting 2 candles for our sons Noah and Simon.

pregnancy lossPregnancy and Infant Loss Day may seem like yet another awareness campaign in an endless round of causes and crusades. Unless you’ve held a tiny little piece of your heart in your hands, or in your body, as you say good bye. It’s a devastating loss made all the worse by the worlds eagerness to sweep past it as quickly as possible. To us, a day like this is validation, comfort, permission to grieve years later and never, ever, get over it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating eternal wallowing and pain. But healing comes when we absorb our losses and walk alongside grief in all its seasons. The death of a child is not something that you get over.

The death of a child before or shortly after they’re born is often seen as different on the scale of sorrow. Their lives and our grief somehow meaning less. In my experience time is no measure of parental love and attachment; the impact is different for every person regardless of gestational age. I’ve seen extremely early miscarriages which are gut wrenching and late term still births handled with aplomb.

I’ve stopped trying to measure what grief anyone is entitled to. A loss is a loss. Only you will ever plumb the depths of your own losses. Grief is by its very nature a lonely journey.

Yet, this is a common experience. One that 1 in 4 experience. A few weeks ago the waitress at Denny’s let it slip that one of the three children she mentioned had died, and looked embarrassed, bracing herself for a socially awkward moment… I teared up, touched that she would keep her in the count. Yesterday I learned a friend had lost another baby, and I honestly searched for something meaningful to say, left only with a simple ‘I’m sorry.’ Scarcely a month goes by when I’m not aware of another loss and left grasping for some sort of help to give.

Maybe it is enough that we are not alone. Neither in our grief, nor in our desire to honour our children. They are precious. They are missed. They are always in our hearts.

So please, light a candle tonight at 7 pm.

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Simon

Grief is like a snowflake.
An ugly, muddy snowflake.
Each one nightmarishly unique.
No grief like another.

Snowfall brings a blanket of fresh beauty,
grief coats the world in sadness.
Everyone and everything around you,
dusted with your sticky sorrow.
It seems to soak beneath your skin,
right into your soul.

Even as I write this it seems garish and melodramatic, embarrassingly over the top. But that was how I felt 10 years ago today, when my baby was born.

On April Fool’s Day that year I call Glen at work and play an elaborate “I think I’m pregnant” trick on him. With a 2 year-old and a not quite 8-month-old at home, it seems like a good laugh. He wasn’t amused. But I laugh my butt off at the sheer panic in his voice.

Well the joke is on me. Exactly one month later on May 1st I call him at work again and say, “It’s not April Fool’s today. This is not a joke.”

We have been hoping to have more children. We were also hoping to have a little more space in between. I am breastfeeding and we have taken some steps to avoid this, but apparently we’ve been overruled by a larger force (or our cheapness in the b.c. department).

I am, and have always been, a baby-crazy kind of woman. But my first reaction is… exhaustion. I am too tired to be shocked. I’m sure this baby is why I am already so VERY tired.

Over the next few months I don’t feel much better, but I am beginning to look forward to my newest addition. At only 15 weeks I feel him move for the first time. Fourth pregnancy in 4 years means I’m a Rock Star at discerning those little bumps and wiggles. Suddenly I am talking to him and getting my girls to do the same. We start making plans and settle on names – Abigail for a girl, Simon for a boy. Now it’s real.

My friend Shannon is staying with me for the weekend when my 20 week ultrasound comes up. I leave my girls with her for the afternoon and meet Glen at the lab. I try to think of it as a date. I hate this part.

After losing our first child, Noah, we find these kind of tests nerve-wracking. The first few with my oldest daughter were a vale of tears and the absolute certainty that something must be wrong. The next baby was easier. And this one, is only a flicker of concern.

Of course, I have to pee. Which makes me feel nervous. Which makes me feel like I need to pee. It’s a terrible cycle. I chalk my unsettled feelings up to that.

Mostly, we are looking forward to finding out the sex of the baby. I’ve heard that they won’t actually tell you, here in the Lower Mainland, that you have to wait and find out the results from your doctor. But I’m dying to find out. It’s important to me, to call my baby by name. It makes it easier to look forward to him coming, to feel confident that we’ll actually bring him home. It’s not something other moms might worry about, but after Noah, it’s an issue for me.

I sit in the waiting room and obsess about this. Will they tell us? Won’t they? What if I cry? What if I tell them the whole sad story? Also, I have to pee more than anyone has ever had to pee. Think dry thoughts.

We get situated in a dark closet-like room and I run through my customary spiel. I know she can’t give us any information, that she needs to take measurements and talk to the radiologist, and won’t show us the screen until later, but we’ve had such a terrible loss and need immediate reassurance – please let us know that the baby is alive, right away. That’s all we need.

She smiles at us and pats my hand reassuringly.

The next part is familiar. Cold jelly, the smooth glide of the wand, mildly uncomfortable pushing against my bladder… but it’s quiet in here. So quiet. She’s not smiling anymore. I crane my neck to look at the screen, but it’s turned away. And she’s so quiet.

She pops out of the room, telling us she just needs to talk to the radiologist about something. Glen looks stricken. I feel something growing deep inside me. A dark, chilling dread. I know this feeling.

The radiologist comes back in with our tech girl. He looks like a kind man. He looks sad. He pushes the wand around on my belly a few times, then slowly puts it down. He puts a hand on my arm and looks me in the eye.

“I’m so sorry.”

I have no words that are adequate to describe the next part. I know we cried together. My belly sticky with jelly, huddled on a paper sheet in a dark closet, we held on to each other until the numbness set in. I’m pretty sure we called Shannon, and our parents, and some friends from church. We called our obstetrician and made our way to the hospital. It was a surreal blur.

We were officially 20 weeks and 1 day. I’ve never been so thankful for the passage of a few days. It meant the difference between delivering our child in the ER and having labour induced in the maternity ward. It’s the difference between stillborn and miscarriage. It’s semantics. I would have grieved no less 2 days before. I would have needed no less support then either. But I was glad for every sliver of validation, no matter how meaningless.

It sounds cruel to send a couple to the maternity ward, with its cheerful staff and ebullient new parents and cries of healthy newborns ringing in the air. But this wasn’t my first stillbirth. I knew now that as much as the juxtaposition might sting, it speaks to the realness, the depth of our loss. I couldn’t bear for the rest of the world to downplay or minimize or try to alleviate the horror of it. I needed them to feel it with me.

I gave birth that night to an exquisitely tiny baby boy. I held my breath and hoped, that maybe it was all some terrible mistake. I built an elaborate fantasy where he not only cried, but miraculously survived being born so early. I never believed it, but I wanted to so desperately.

It’s not all nightmare. There are moments of peace. Moments when God speaks to a heart ripped open with despair. Moments when we felt loved. Moments when we felt joy and wonder at this tiny, perfectly formed little boy. He fit into the palm of my hand. His feet were the smallest I’d ever seen. Each little hand the width of my finger. He was beautiful.

The hospital staff made a plaster cast of Simon's hand and foot. It's one of my most precious possessions.

The hospital staff made a plaster cast of Simon’s hand and foot. It’s one of my most precious possessions.

We named him Simon Matthew, after Glen’s brother. We held him and sang to him and said goodbye. We knew all the things we were supposed to do this time. We didn’t even read the pile of cheaply printed brochures they had given us. We took pictures. We made memories. We arranged to have him cremated and buried his ashes under the waterfall in the woods near our home. We had a small memorial service and sang “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” through our tears. Although we’d only lived here a few months, we leaned into the care of our new friends and neighbours. We did everything right.

I thought I’d be good at this by now. Having blundered my way through the grieving process before. Having mentored many others along the same path. Having read everything I could on the subject. I thought I’d be an expert.

But there’s no such thing. Each grief is entirely unique. This one knocked me on my ass. I’ve never completely recovered.

Simon,

Today is your 10th birthday. Our family visited your waterfall. I asked God to give you a hug for me. Whatever heaven is like, existence outside of time and all those questions, I believe he does things like that. I believe you’re there with your brother and your Great Grandparents and my Auntie Omi. I believe I’ll see you again and hold you and be your Mom the way I’ve always wanted. I miss you. I’ll never stop missing you. But I’m glad you came along and surprised us all the same.

I love you. Happy Birthday.

Mom


I Carry You Inside Me

I’ve sat down to try to write this story many times and it was just too hard to go there again. But today is his birthday, so I gave it another shot.June 3 008

For six months I carried your life inside me.

The year felt new in the most profound way that January. I waffled between dramatic excitement and disconcerted illness. I remember thinking, “How scary this must be for teenage moms… pregnancy feels like the plague.” I leaned heavily on that fierce desire for parenthood to get me through. You were so wanted.

We wrapped up one blue bootie and one pink, and sent them out to each of our parents. First child. First grandchild. First great-grandchild. You were already adored.

I wore denim overalls to the Victoria Day picnic, all the rage in maternity fashion in those days. But I felt beautiful, like the lyrics to “Natural Woman” suddenly made sense. Your Dad had more swagger in his step too, so I wasn’t the only one feeling the difference. You made us feel complete.

I felt something new that night. Something uncomfortable. Something alarming and outside the parameters of Baby Centre e-mails and our dog-eared copy of “What to Expect.” Although he looked right at me, I could HEAR the resident OB’s eyes rolling. He confidently diagnosed it as “bad Chinese food” and all but patted me on the head. After all, we were very young first-time parents, and the pain wasn’t even in the right place. He brushed off my past kidney problems and mollified us with a quick doppler exam. The steady wickety-wick of your heartbeat was beautiful. Nothing else mattered as long as you were okay. You were already the centre of our universe.

I’m not sure how we spent the next week. Most likely, packing up our little basement suite. Napping at my desk during lunch breaks. Planning furniture and paint colours and nursery themes with all the gravity of a proud new homeowner. Classic Beatrix Potter was in the lead.

When the nightmare hit, we were completely off guard. There was blood and pain and horrified looks on the faces of the nurses. There was good news – just a kidney problem. There was bad news – no one really understands what’s going on. The days and nights in the hospital should have been scary, but they weren’t really. I wielded my faith like a shield. I prayed with complete certainty. I basked in the prayers of others. You would be fine; there was no other option.

I had absolute confidence that this would one day be an interesting footnote in your baby book. I watched you suck your thumb on the hazy lights of the ultra-sound machine. I relished every kick and nudge.

My heart stopped when yours did. You were gone.

Sure, that traitorous muscle kept pumping blood through my veins like nothing was wrong, but my world, everything that made sense and held life together, simply ceased to be when the doppler fell silent. I can’t remember if I cried during the solemn scuffle of nurses and doctors and sad speeches and condolences. I know I waited for someone to say it was a mistake. I know I held your Dad’s hand. I know time passed for everyone else in that room but us. You really were gone.

For one week I carried your death inside me.

That time is mercifully clouded. Too broken to pray in words. Too hurt to care about my body. Too numb to feel alarmed about my kidney surgery. Too drugged to remember the ICU or the days that followed. Your Dad was so scared. Your Grandmas stayed and held us together.

They gave us pamphlets and advice and sent chaplains to talk to us. One was terrible. She said all the wrong things and made everything worse (Grandma Barb almost overcame her pacifist leanings when it came to this one… sending her away). The other woman was a Godsend. She was gentle and sad and understood how important you were.

It seemed strange and unnatural, to think of holding your tiny body and saying goodbye. But they were right. It was important. It was necessary. It was a gift. We counted your little fingers and your little toes and dressed you in the tiny premie clothing that was still much too large. Not every parent gets to hold their babies to say goodbye. You were beautiful.

For 14 years I have carried your life, and your death, inside me. They are sadly intertwined for me, the love and the loss, but I would not trade one to purge the other. I carry you with me, because the alternative is unthinkable.

There’s a little place in this mother-heart that is yours alone… where grief has softened, but remains… where maternal instinct lingers, unspent… where dreams are born of who you would-have-been, and who you-are-right-now, and what it will be like to hold you someday.

June 3 015Each year I remember you. Each year I pull out your little treasures and your sympathy cards and your tiny blue sweater and celebrate the most unusual birthday. Another year without you.

But also, another year closer to seeing you again.

My belief in an afterlife is no longer academic.

Not since you slipped there ahead of me.

So here’s to you, my firstborn…

Happy Birthday Noah William!

You are loved!


To the Other Mothers on Mother’s Day

May 2013 061 The week before Mother’s Day and the holiday is officially on. A large display of sappy, overpriced cards in the mall. A coupon in the mail for extravagant flower arrangements. And a messy painting project underway on our back deck, as we corral the littles into creating one-of-a-kind cards for the many moms in our life.

One more made up holiday to fill our life with saccharine rituals and construction paper crafts. It’s a lot of effort (and often expense) in our already busy lives. But it’s all worth it, because Mom doesn’t get to be the star of the show most days.

Most days it’s about everyone, and everything, else. Most days no one says thank you, because no one even notices all the little things that keep life moving. Most days it’s a grind, nothing glamorous or exciting or worth posting in a Facebook status (not that we don’t post it anyway). And most days, we do these selfless, thankless, menial tasks quite happily, because mother-love is the most practical love of all.

So you bet we treasure our gluey crafts and roses-are-red-and-so-is-your-hair poems. We eat Cajun-style toast and undercooked eggs off our laps in bed. And we grab our pink carnation on the way out of church like it’s a badge of honour.

We take our turn in the seat of honour for a change, and it feels good.

But not all mothers are celebrating with us. For a hundred different reasons, there are those who feel the pinch of this holiday. The celebration is like salt in a wound, and every sugary sweet second of it burns.

I remember that.

My first Mother’s Day after giving birth, I went home to an empty house. I was a Mom without a child. And I wondered if it still counted. If, on this day, I counted.

I hadn’t changed any diapers. I hadn’t soothed fussy cries. I hadn’t agonized over cloth or disposable diapers. I hadn’t taken 1,000 pictures of the exact same pose, because it looked like he just “might” be smiling.

I had changed my plans. I had cried myself to sleep. I had agonized over cremation or burial. I had taken pictures of the tree we buried our son under, because I wanted to watch it grow over the years.

That year there were two families in our church who had new babies. That Mother’s Day, our church family called both myself and my friend Cheryl up to the front and gave us each a keepsake in honour of our children. They made sure we knew it counted. That we counted.

This Mother’s Day I wonder how many other women are asking that same kind of question. Is Mother’s Day for me too?

For the women with empty arms. For the women who are waiting, longing, and hoping to be called “Mom.” For the women who did not give birth or sign adoption papers, but pour themselves into the children around them. For the women haunted by a twisted version of motherhood. For the women filled with regrets. For the women who are grieving and hurting and just trying to survive.

I think it is. Maybe especially so. It’s impossible to understand the gift of Motherhood without acknowledging the pain and the struggle. As a child is born, so is a mother. In pain. In giving. In supreme effort.

Not all mothers are born in the labour and delivery ward. Some are born during a long wait, intrusive home studies, and stacks of paperwork. Some do not hold their children in their arms, but in their hearts, with a love that is not diminished by the loss. Some give birth, then give again so their child can have a better life with a grateful family. Some suffer the long wait, wondering when their turn will come, going to extraordinary lengths for their children-to-be. Some instead wear the title “Auntie” or “teacher” or “nanny” or “friend” but give unconditional love, and time, and energy, beyond normal boundaries.

All mothering is done in the same way. In pain. In giving. In supreme effort.

All women who are in the labour pains of being or becoming mothers represent us well. Mother’s Day may not be a Happy one for you, but it still counts. You still count.

So here’s some cheesy affirmation and bad poetry, just for you:

May 2013 064

So here’s me, so grateful for all my children this Mother’s Day: the ones here with me and the ones in heaven. Also for the other mothers in our life, the foster-mother and birth-mother and birth-grandmothers, who’ve given us so much, at such a high price.


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