Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween

Well, there's no shortage of blog posts out there about Halloween and grief. Just google some version of that and you will see bereaved people coming out of the woodwork to express how difficult it is walking around at this time of year when the dominant culture is so entertained by body parts and blood and tombstones and death.  

We were at a community centre last weekend for our daughter's roller derby practice and it took a while for me to notice that on the windows, along with the paintings of bats and spider webs, there were red handprints. I blurted out to Pete, probably too loudly, "It's like a fucking maternity ward in here." So I will write a letter asking them to consider removing them. Do I tell my story or do I simply ask them to be less gory, which is not as effective and makes me look like a fragile mom who just needs to toughen up and lighten up and shut up? I guess some people would call it playing the bereaved mother card. It's also his story and I feel protective of it, more so now than when he first died. And why should I have to get people's attention in the most shocking way, why do we so often have to scream to be heard, rather than being able to just say, hey, consider how this hurts people who have death in their families. Even in non-bereaved families, I suspect children learn to silence how disturbed they actually are by all these morbid displays and the long-term impact of that exposure and lack of support for it. This is sometimes called "resilience" but I think it's actually an enormous problem. Turning death into a big cultural joke perpetuates our collective extreme fear of and unhealthy relationship with death that has real and destructive consequences in people's lives. I know it has in mine, and it manifest itself at the worst possible moment, when I needed to see and be with and learn to love my baby. But that part does not need to go into a letter to a community centre.

I get that different people find different things "disturbing". But so many business and private residences put up decorations that I really don't think having city-owned sites be gore-free zones is going to negatively impact anyone. I'm pretty sure no one has ever been traumatized by a lack of Hallowe'en decorations.

I think I would be more ok with the whole Halloween premise if I felt that people were also doing some of the work. The grief work. The work of being human. That we were all genuinely honouring what is special about life - that it ends - before jumping straight to a supposed celebration of life. This year I'm again planning to attend All Souls Night events at the cemetery, some of it in the hall where we had his memorial service. Last year I let the rain stop me but this year I really need to get back to honouring him (regardless of weather!), of finding ways to be close to his memory again. Year six has been hard. Getting further from the time he was born has actually been harder on me, not easier. And a celebration of his life remains impossible for me. It was just so short and so brutal and I live every day with the after effects. It would be so much easier if I could just celebrate but I can't, and I can't fake it without some cost to my well-being, so. Honouring.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

[ ]

He suffered. I know this. My OB told me "it would have been quick" but I know this cannot be true. You shouldn't lie to your patients, even if you think you are doing them a kindness. He was alone, he was scared, he suffered. I know this.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Figures

This week we were at a thrift store and I noticed this figurine


This is a scene which did not happen for us, with him either alive or dead. There is so much I could write about both those scenarios. 

A voice in my head says why don't I just see it as us with our daughter, a scene which did happen with her very much alive. But for me, it's just not. I don't need carved wooden representations of her because she is here with us. With her, I have the real thing every day.

The man and the woman are looking at the baby with love. Whether with smiles, laughter, anguish, or grief. I know that the love is what matters.

I bought the figurine and it sits with his ashes. I find it very difficult to look at but that doesn't mean I don't want it there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Worthy

Yesterday I read an article about a hospital that trains its nurses on stillbirth. It sounded quite good because it was led by a bereaved mother. It was a difficult read because it reminded me of all the things that didn't happen after he was born, and all the things that remain a mystery to me. Other people cared for him, not his parents. This has remained a huge issue for me. I tried connecting with people at the hospital to find out more of his story but eventually I had to give up. The responses ranged from none, to aggressively defensive. I didn't have it in me to continue. When you're carrying hard things, sometimes you have to choose what to drop for self-preservation.

In the article, one nurse said she always puts diapers on stillborn babies (she called them "my stillborn babies", kinda ugh but ok fine, her heart is in the right place). She said it gives the babies "structure" if their bodies are fragile. All good. These are the unfortunate practicalities of handling dead bodies. But then she was quoted as saying, "I always like to tell parents how it will keep baby warm." I am kind of very creeped out by this. I've met people like this who patronize me as a bereaved parent. It comes across as so condescending and in this case it's also deceitful. Stillborn babies do not need to be kept warm. They need to be kept cool. There is no need to deceive parents about this. There is no need to say anything. Putting a diaper on a stillborn baby sends a profound message to newly grieving parents - that their baby is worthy of loving care, the same as any newborn baby. One of the things the article talks about is modeling. One of the best ways for healthcare staff to help parents reconnect with their baby after the trauma of stillbirth is to model holding and cuddling and caring for that baby. For the parents to see the nurses caring for their baby, or better yet to be able to do it themselves, is so important.

Did someone put a diaper on Toren? I might never know. I had some with me in my hospital suitcase. I had packed a few different sizes because with our daughter, we had only brought one size and she ended up being huge. Almost 10 lbs! The diapers we had brought wouldn't fit her. So this time I was prepared (for that anyway).

Saying all that, it's a really good article and should be widely shared. You can find it here: Why photos of stillborn babies matter.


I went on a bit of a twitter rant about it as I was reading it because it was really evoking some complicated feelings in me. I'm preserving it here, mostly for myself, but you can check it out if you want.

I do worry that all this focus on good bereavement services takes something away from the important work of preventing stillbirths in the first place. But that's for another time.

Proof

When I was pregnant with him I was taking piano lessons. I had always wanted them since I was a kid and was lucky enough to be able to do them at this point. I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to continue after he was born but I was hopeful that after getting settled into a routine with him I would be able to continue. After he was born, I never went back. Not for myself anyway.

Yesterday I was clearing out old books and I found my old piano notebook where my teacher would write my homework for the following lesson. I hadn't looked at it for over 5 years. Here was the last entry:


Sometimes I get incredibly sad when I get proof from the world that he is being forgotten. People say things to me that make me think (but almost never say), "Have you really forgotten I had a baby who died??" Because if they had remembered, they couldn't possibly say these thoughtless things to me.

I don't need proof that he lived. I carried him and delivered him and have his ashes. But still, when I get it, it's a wondrous thing. It's also a difficult thing. I think the biggest shock in this moment was seeing that exclamation point at the end. His death, and the circumstances of his birth, have almost completely taken over most of my memories of my pregnancy, which in addition was a difficult one. And I've been stuck with this secret, dreadful feeling that I was unhappy because of him. That maybe, deep down, I didn't actually want him. In time I've come to accept that I was in fact suffering physical effects from pregnancy which made me unhappy, and that I really was looking forward to meeting him and starting our lives with him. Here, in a notebook that only two people were ever going to see, was proof that I was excited. Written in an unguarded moment - an expression of love.