Monday, December 30, 2013

Would You Like A Two-Year-Old?

Today at Starbucks someone asked us if we would like to take their child. 

"Would you like a two-year-old? I can't get her to put on her coat!"

"We would love one." 

How is she to know our little boy will be 2 in a week and that we can't get him to put his coat on either. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Love Muffins

This morning I channeled some grief anger into apple cheddar muffins. The anger is because of grief and the grief is because of love. Love muffins. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

2nd Christmas Without Him

This is a post I wrote for the Still Life Canada blog.

This is our 2nd Christmas season without Toren. Because he was born in early January, this season is always tied in with his death and his birth. Last year at this time, we were busy preparing his memorial service, which was held on his first birthday. This year it’s been a bit difficult to figure out what we want to do, how we want to spend the day. Take a trip somewhere, or have friends over for cake? We’ve been asked if we “celebrate” his birthday. The truth is that celebration is still hard for me. I think of it as “marking” his birthday. Maybe one day it will feel like a celebration of his important life. Every child deserves to be celebrated. Right now, the grief is still so fresh almost 2 years on. I can’t really believe it’s been almost 2 years since he died, that we have lived like this for almost 2 years. I still feel the shock of that.

I will say that this year, the holiday season has been easier though I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe “easier” is not quite the right word. Different. I feel more able to participate in things. The grief can still take my breath away, but maybe I have learned better how to function through it. Or maybe I’ve learned to not try to function through it at all, but to just be still. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect and adjusted my expectations – subconsciously – remembering how it felt last year. Whatever the reason, or reasons, I feel grateful for it.

This year I have taken the expression “season of giving” much more to heart. Acts of kindness, donations, connecting with those who are having a tough time. Mindfulness. I do this for him, for myself, for others and especially for our living child, Toren’s sister, who is 5 now. I want her to understand that though this is a celebratory time of year, it can also be particularly difficult for some people. We miss Toren every single day, not just at special occasions, but the festiveness of the season is a harsh contrast to face. I want her to understand that not everyone is feeling merry, not every child gets presents and indeed, not everyone celebrates “Christmas”, either religiously or culturally. I want her to have a rich and honest context for her experiences, for her own benefit and for the benefit of others. At this time of year, we can dress up and go see the Nutcracker ballet, admire the beautiful costumes, enjoy the music and have a hot chocolate at intermission. We can also donate food to the food bank and talk about families who need it and the volunteers doing the work. There are many truths in the world, and sometimes they are jumbled on top of each other, joy and sadness, and sometimes it gets confusing and that’s ok. There is room for all of it.

We want to have a happy holiday season but we can’t fake it. We can’t put the holidays into a lovely glass snow globe and shut out the the rest of the world. We can’t ignore the fact that we’re sad that Toren is not here to open presents, marvel at Christmas lights, taste his first candy cane, hear the music of the season. This is not being “negative”, as bereaved parents are sometimes accused of being. We feel this sadness because we love him. There’s nothing negative about that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cracks in the Pavement

...shaped like a hummingbird! Don't ask me how I spotted it.

There's a time to look to the skies, and a time to keep your head down. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


There is a program at our daughter's school the aim of which is to promote empathy. Parents are invited to bring an infant into the classroom so that the students can observe the baby, consider the baby's feelings, and help children "identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others". The baby is brought in once a month throughout the school year. Obviously when I read about this program just before our daughter started kindergarten, I felt anxious. It sounds like a good program for families who are not having to cope with the death of a baby. How would she feel learning all about a new baby when ours had died? Would there be any empathy in the classroom for her  feelings? It's not that we avoid babies (we can't), I'm just used to being there to support her. That is my priority - supporting her in her grief. 

One of the reasons I'm unsure about this program is that it was enthusiastically promoted to us only moments after we said that our baby died. No condolences were offered. This all happened while our daughter was present. To me, this is one of the biggest ways children learn empathy - by seeing it modeled by the adults in their every day lives and in those moments when it would have the greatest impact. If the people implementing this program cannot even offer condolences and take the opportunity to say to a child who will be participating in their program, "I'm sorry your brother died.", I have some serious  doubts.

For now, we have the dates emailed to us so that our daughter does not go in on those days. Last week I made a mistake and sent her in on a day of the "empathy" program without realizing it and this was the activity the kids did:

A diaper bag. Of course this was hard for me to see. But this is not about me. She said she enjoyed the activity and that's fine. I just wonder how the adults present could let her do this activity without sparing a single thought for what might be going through her mind, what she might be feeling. Did it even occur to them that this might be a sensitive activity for a child whose baby brother died? Nothing was said to us. I'm not worried about her feeling sad. That is unavoidable. My concern is that she feels alone and unsupported. Sometimes we don't feel more alone than when we're in a room full of people not acknowledging our truth. That is a terrible feeling and in my mind, causes more problems than feeling sad about something sad and having it acknowledged and supported. 

When I say "concern", what I really mean is fierce, gut-wrenching anger and sadness for what she is going through at such a young age, and how she will carry this burden her whole life. Just to be clear.

After I calmed down from all these complicated feelings, I suggested to her that on the next "empathy" day, we could go through the memory boxes I put together for the hospital (and still haven't delivered - this is proving harder than expected), and she could draw and cut out those items. She loved that idea and said, "We can do our own empathy program!" So now I'm inspired to do babyloss activities with her on those days. 

Yesterday we worked on this:

The items she drew are, from left to right, a candle, a knitted hat and blanket, a (disposable) camera and a journal. Later she added a drawing of a teddy bear. We talked about each of the items and how it might help someone whose baby has died. I'm hoping we can share this activity with some of our babyloss friends who are also raising bereaved siblings or cousins. The box is made of paper and was given to me by my dear friend Theresa, an amazingly empathetic person (and crafty too!). 

I wish my daughter could only learn about empathy from happy experiences. But she can't. Not anymore. 

Maybe some day the empathy program at her school will include a component where people can come into the classroom and talk about someone they love who has died, and help children learn about empathy in another context. Maybe the school will participate in other events such as Children's Grief Awareness Day. Maybe they'll stop spewing mindless platitudes like "Thinking positive means letting go" over the loudspeaker during morning announcements. For now, we are opting out of the empathy program out of respect for her feelings – not to “protect” her, because that is neither necessary nor desired, but because we believe that we are the best people to guide her in emotional literacy when it comes to grief, particularly the grief associated with stillbirth. 

I know I could be accused of putting my grief on her. But I reject that. She is her own person with her own feelings, which she is learning to identify and manage.  

In the 23 months since Toren was stillborn, we have learned so much. Both our children have been our teachers in this. When someone you love dies, your relationship with that person does not end. It takes on a different form. It is a painful, painful transformation. Our relationship with Toren has continued to change and grow. It's obvious to us that this is happening for our daughter too. It's important to us as parents to nurture that sibling relationship.

We live in a culture that does not seem to understand the simple concept that we grieve because we love. And children's grief is, I think, even more hidden than the grief of adults. On the same day we told our daughter our new baby was coming home, we had to tell her that he had died. It was the second hardest thing I've ever had to do. I know how that moment changed my life. I don't know all the ways it changed hers, but I know that it did. I truly believe that those who deny that children grieve (and especially grieve someone they supposedly "never met") are foolish and harmful, to put it mildly. On the surface, she seems like a joyful person, and she is. But it would be a mistake to assume that she does not grieve her brother in her own way, and will do so her whole life. All these things add to the challenge of raising a bereaved sibling. Life, grief and death, these things are complicated enough for an adult to try to understand. It's our job to gently guide her through that. We hope we are teaching her empathy, among other things, and surrounding ourselves with people who are also able to teach her, mostly by being empathetic themselves.

Check out what researcher Brené Brown has to say about the power of empathy, with some lovely animation by the RSA. I note that the example she uses is not a happy one, such as a living baby, but something sad that someone is going through. We watched it with our daughter, she loves it. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Toren's Tree 2013

We decorated Toren's tree today. We were commenting how the tree has changed from last year. We have seen the tree several times over the year but this was the first time since last year that we have handled it, looked at it closely, tended to it. It continues to grow and change. It felt good to know the tree better, to see the changes.

I like developing these traditions around him. I like having these deliberate ways of maintaining our connection to him. That connection can never be broken, however much anyone tries. I just don't want it to ever be hidden.

It's All Right To Cry

From the wonderful folks at Sesame Street, this is a good video with an important message for children - it's all right to cry. My daughter and I both got tearful watching it! It's also an important message for adults - it's all right to cry.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Smile Or Die

Before Toren died, I didn't believe in the power of positive thinking. It wasn't anywhere on my radar. Since his death, I find it totally offensive. If our thoughts really could affect the physical world, he would be alive. All the parents who were excitedly waiting for their babies to be born would be taking care of them, raising them, holding them, instead of living with the grief and stigma associated with stillbirth.

I saw this video and I love the way it exposes the cruelty and destructiveness of the idea that "thinking positive" is some kind of sane and logical life strategy. The art is cool too. It's by the RSA, their website is here, and the speaker is Barbara Ehrenreich. 

Friday, November 29, 2013


Children often lead the way in grief. They don't know they're doing it, and it's not their job, but it's just what seems to happen. This morning my daughter who is 5 drew this:

To me it represents one of the messages we have been trying to send to other bereaved families through Still Life Canada: you are not alone. I've been lucky in one respect since Toren died - I have never really felt alone. A dear friend who had a stillborn son a few years ago was my first support system. She offered love and support pretty much from day one and has continued to do so ever since. I also started attending a support group last year and met "the best friends that we wish we had never met", as Peter said at Toren's memorial service. I feel these are friends for life. I also became aware of organizations doing important work for bereaved families around the world - MISS Foundation, Sands NZ and others. Then I met the founding families of Still Life Canada last summer and together, with more and more families, we are building a community of support here in Canada which otherwise does not seem to be there. Having this strong support system makes me feel like I could face anything, survive anything. Maybe even thrive one day. For this I am grateful. 

If you can reach out to someone today who might be feeling alone, please do so. 

Friday, November 22, 2013


We were driving past a playground today and my daughter wanted to stop and play there. I drove around and around the neighbourhood looking for parking but I couldn't find anything. Just before giving up and going home we found a spot. It had 35 minutes on the meter. It was perfect as we only had half an hour to play before we had to get home for piano lesson. When we got to the playground she immediately started climbing up and for no reason whatsoever I looked down. And saw this:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Netflix Docs

I've been watching quite a few documentaries on Netflix and have been moved by some of the incredible hardships people have to endure. These stories, as told in this type of format, always 'end' in redemption and healing, which I cannot relate to, especially recently when things just seem to be getting harder. But the stories also don't minimize the cost of these transformations to the people whose stories are being told. That part I can relate to. The endings do not take away from the depth of feeling the stories have reached in me, nor the compassion they have evoked. And of course, we know they're not really "endings". In many cases, it is just the beginning.

Buck - Buck Brannaman was the inspiration for the Robert Redford film The Horse Whisperer, which I have not seen. What he endured as a child is heart-breaking, and what and who he became as an adult is humbling and inspiring. Having had almost no experience with horses, I'm kind of afraid of them, and it was nice to learn about their gentle natures when they are treated with respect. I'm hoping to go horseback riding someday with my dear friend Jess, an experienced horsewoman - and a bereaved mother and sister.

Becoming Chaz - Chaz Bono tells his story of embracing his true identity with charm and honesty. I particularly liked the segment which shows him supporting young people and their families grappling with the same issues. His courage in being so open about his own story is a great model for someone like me. So often I just want to shut up and hide away but it wouldn't do anyone any good, least of all me.

Poster Girl - Robynn Murray is a young woman who battles Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since returning from Iraq. She finds solace and healing through art and poetry, and through telling her story. To be a war veteran and speak out against war - in America - that has got to be tough. Talk about courage.

Crime After Crime - The often-frustrating story of Deborah Peagler who was convicted of killing her shockingly abusive boyfriend and languished in prison until a pair of lawyers decided to take on her case. The self-serving people in power are particularly disgusting in this story. And the statistics on abused women in prison is so disheartening. It's hard to grasp how unbelievably long this poor woman suffered in prison, and how crucial timing becomes towards the end of the film.

Serving Life - Powerful story of prison inmates who volunteer in the prison's hospice. The insight these men provide about their own stories is astounding. By the way, I forgot to say, have tissues handy for all these films! I'm sure you know this about me by now - I'm just always trying to make you cry.

Sons of Perdition - The focus of this film is on a group of young people's escape from an abusive polygamous Mormon community. As a parent, especially a bereaved parent, it is hard to watch anything connected to child abuse, but the focus is more on their lives once they leave. I feel so sad for the children in that situation and hopeful for the ones who are able to get away. It was particularly shocking to learn that they get no formal education and don't know basic facts like the capital of America or who Bill Clinton is. The main subjects of the film are young men but we do see some of the young women who escape and by everyone's account, what the girls in those communities have to endure is much worse than what the boys do. How can this be allowed to go on?

Mario's Story - Mario Rocha was 16 when he was accused of murder after a shooting occurred at a party he was at when he was in high school. During his time in prison he discovered an aptitude and a love of writing. The determination of his lawyers and supporters is inspiring.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Twenty-Two Months

Twenty-two months ago today, he was born. It takes more effort for me to light a candle than it would have to change a diaper, soothe a temper tantrum or wake up early after a sleep-deprived night.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Holding Baby

Because of my regret at not seeing or holding Toren after he was born - a story I have yet to tell on here - I have become very interested in this topic. During the Still Life Canada conference, Dr Joanne Cacciatore spoke a bit about her experiences bringing parents and babies back together after the cruel shock of stillbirth severs that attachment. It was fascinating to hear snippets of how she performs this incredibly important service. I also had the chance to ask her my own questions about it as I work my way towards being at peace with how it all went down the day he was born. I'm angry that I have to work at this at all, but I accept the anger as a tool on the journey, a tool which I am hopeful I will one day feel able to put down for longer and longer periods of time.

One thing I have been struggling with is discovering that someone at our hospital may be using our family's story as an example of parents who "did not want to hold their baby". This is beyond infuriating. I am considering writing a letter to the hospital to tell our family's story, to plant the seed that just because parents didn't hold their baby, it doesn't mean it was a "choice". Hopefully this would stop people from using our family as some kind of success story when in fact our experience is an example of dismal systemic failure. It makes a mockery of my intense regret and doesn't do anybody any favours, not bereaved patients, not the people who care for them.

The conference was not a training session. It was about exchanging information and collecting stories.I personally know one family that Dr Jo has helped reconnect with their baby and have been privileged to hear from them how it all happened. It's a beautiful story and brings me to tears, even now. Sad, you better believe it, and also beautiful.

At the conference, it was so good to hear other parents' narratives of the time they spent with their babies. I always enjoy hearing that part of the story despite my own story being cut off so harshly. I always secretly think "Whew! They did it." They were able to have that time with their baby. They were able to actively parent their child - yes in the worst possible way, but better than not at all. That time together is never enough and it in no way replaces bringing your living baby home and raising them into adulthood. But at least they have not been lumbered with unnecessary regret on that particular score. There is plenty to regret when you're grieving a child. There's no shortage of material there. Feeling like you abandoned your child doesn't have to be one of them. At least, that is what my feelings have been. I don't want to "remember him as he probably was". I want to have seen him, to have held him, to have been the best mother I could have been under the circumstances. It just doesn't make you feel like the world's most amazing parent, even when you know rationally that it was from a combination of shock and a lack of support.

Working on it. Working on all of it.

I have been privileged to hear parents (and more rarely, family members) describe what it was like to see their baby for the first time, how shocked and frightened they were at first, and then a natural progression towards being in awe of their child, feeling the intense love, seeing his or her beauty, maybe even being able to pick out features from either parent, the same nose, that wonky big toe, the long fingers, the shape of the mouth. Because I didn't see or hold Toren, I feel that I am somewhat stuck in the shocked and frightened stage when it comes to my memories of him.

We are holding him now, every day, and we always will. We don't have to "keep his memory alive", it just is alive. It's not even an effort. The grief is an effort, but not his place in our lives. He's as much a part of me, of my life, of my every day, as my living daughter. When she's not with me, when she's at school or out with her daddy, she's as ever-present as if she were in my arms. It's no different with him. I know that sounds nutty, but there it is.

We talk about the silence. There's a wonderful video, made by GAPPS, called Born In Silence. It has had over 100 000 hits since it was made, and deservedly so. In 5 minutes, it captures so much of the reality of having a stillborn baby, both the immediate aftermath and the long-term impact on the family of that child's life. Toren was born in silence. He didn't cry. But he was also born into silence - the almost complete silence of the room. Every baby born, whether alive or dead, is a sweet precious baby. It would have been nice to hear that, instead of just the sound of my own crying.

To be clear, I do not blame any individual. The system is whacked out for everybody involved. That's the short version. But the truth is that health providers do have the ability to set newly bereaved families gently on their grief path, or shove them face first into the dirt.

If you know someone who regrets not holding their baby, please share this and let them know they're not alone.

If you are interested in this topic, this short, easy-to-read document is a good place to start - Caring for Families Experiencing Stillbirth: A unified position statement on contact with the baby. An international collaboration.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


There's a lot of chatter around "acceptance" for babyloss parents. It's one of those words that thoughtlessly gets tossed around. Indeed, acceptance is one of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' famous yet much-misunderstood Stages of Dying. I pretty much accepted that Toren had died from the moment we were told there was no heartbeat. Even before we were told. The nurse was moving the monitor around and said "I'm just trying to figure out what position this baby is in..." and I knew. But here's what I think of the idea of acceptance - it is leveled at the wrong people. I wish the world outside of the babyloss community could accept what I am saying about my experience as Toren's mother. Don't fight it. Just accept it. He's my baby, my child, my son, and I will always be sad that he died. I will never be ok with it. Just accept it. I wish the world would accept that he is a member of our family and that that will never change. Stop resisting me on this, it just makes things worse.

I've been thinking about when my grandmother died. My Nana. She was 92. She didn't cease being a person when she died. She didn't stop being my Nana. No one said to me, "I guess you weren't meant to be a grand-daughter." No one said her life wasn't meant to be. No one even remotely implied that I should try to forget her. My GP didn't say, "It would be best for your daughter if you moved on and had another grandmother." And when she died, no one said they couldn't find her heartbeat. She was simply allowed to have died. And she's been allowed to maintain her place in the family ever since.

At school the other week, one of the other parents asked me if my daughter has any siblings. I said, "Yes she has a baby brother who died." I showed her his photo on my phone. I am Quick Draw McGraw with that thing. She was compassionate, offered her condolences, then after a few breaths asked "How old was he?" Not, "What's his name?" There may be many innocent reasons why she asked this, but my griefbrain translates this as: "How sad do I need to be about this?" Just accept that it is sad. It won't kill you. It didn't kill me (not literally) so you will be fine.

When friends are looking for ways to support bereaved parents, one of the biggest things they can do is to accept. Accept that child as a person. Accept that child as a member of the community who has died and everything that entails. Accept that that child has his or her place in the family and that can never be altered. Accept what the parents are saying about their experience. All of it, not just the nicey-nicey easy to digest I'm-so-transformed-by-my-child's-life stuff. The crappy stuff too. Feel free to extend that to anyone going through anything difficult. It is their experience, accept what they are telling you about it. Accept your own sadness about it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


My daughter asked me what a ghost is. I told her, "When people talk about ghosts, they are really talking about memories." She didn't say anything. Just kept looking at me. So I told her that people make ghosts out to be scary, or funny, because sometimes, memories are hard, or sad, like when our baby died, and people don't want to remember them. But we need to remember. We need to hold on to the people we love who have died, even though it's sad. She seemed ok with that.

Last night we attended a beautiful event for All Souls Night at our cemetery. We lit a candle and burned some incense for Toren, wrote his name on a shrine, and decorated candles. There was music and singing, torches and lanterns everywhere. It was a  refreshing change from the usual Halloween fare which positions death and dead people as frightening or a source of laughs. I'm glad she's getting a balance between the usual fun for little kids, and having an opportunity to honour those who have died, remember their place in our lives, and treat their memory with reverence and respect.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The fog here recently reminds me of those early days of grief when I couldn't see, or think, clearly. I have heard many bereaved parents talk of a "fog" when their baby first dies. I suppose it's some sort of protective mechanism, not allowing us to see too far ahead, to see too clearly. I think if I could have seen further on, to understand better what a burden the loss of our boy would mean, it probably wouldn't have helped me.

I still in many ways feel to be in the "early days of grief".  I haven't been taken back to those same feelings - thank goodness for that - just thoughts of those days.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Knowing Him

Friends sometimes tell me they're sad that they didn't get a chance to get to know Toren. For a long time I've felt the same, but now my perspective on this has started to shift. Not know him? Not so sure about that anymore. It's so amazing that friends are expressing to me their desire to know him. Normally, we don't really want to "know" someone. We say, "Where do you work?", not "What experiences have you had in your life that have marked you and changed you and forced you to transform, however reluctantly, and make you feel a weird mixture of gratitude and resentment?" Anytime someone asks a bereaved parent about their child, that is someone who is not afraid of knowing. Knowing someone or something on a deeper level. I remain in awe of that.

It does annoy me that I have to use stereotypical notions of what a baby boy is because I don't know what it's like to have a living child who is a boy. I gravitate towards toy trains, cars, superheroes, the colour blue. When I walk past a construction site (pretty easy to do in Vancouver), I think to myself, he would have been interested in that. Now he would be 21 months old. Would he be following his big sister around or doing his own thing? Would he be playing with the other little boys in our social group? I think he and his sister would have gotten along like a house afire. In support group someone said to be careful not to idealize your dead baby, and I guess by extension, the sibling relationship. Screw it, I'm doing it, it's all I've got. They would have adored each other from the get-go.

Our daughter loves her creative ballet class. She is also becoming more physical on the playground than she was when she was smaller, with more adventurous climbing and more feats of derring-do. This summer she started barreling ahead with writing and learning French. These aspects of her life interest me greatly of course, anyone can know them quite easily, but on a deeper level, I'm fascinated by who she connects with, how she makes decisions, what catches her attention, what she asks us about, what she finds the height of hilarity, how she interprets things, how she reacts and responds to events around her. I love watching her in ballet class, less as an "activity" and more as a way of expressing her Self.

I'm starting to do the same with him - moving away from thinking about whether he would have become an engineer or a musician or a counselor, whether he would have had blue eyes like his daddy and his sister or brown eyes like me, if he would have become a reader like the rest of the family. I'm moving more towards thinking about whether he would have been compassionate, kind, open-hearted and giving. All the things that have become more important to us as a family since he was born.

Yesterday she wrote his name and said, "I think he would probably have liked ice cream."

Not know him? If you have sat with our family, in both joy and grief, you know us. Maybe not completely - that's probably not possible for anyone - but a lot of the important stuff. And if you know these things about us, you know him.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shining A Light

Last night we met with friends from our support network to watch BC Place glow purple and blue to raise awareness of infant loss. Last year on this day we stayed home and lit our candles for the Global Wave of Light, people around the world shining a light on their babies' hidden lives. This year it was nice to get out and gather with a group, to stand together, each with our own candle, while a huge symbol of support from the community glowed in the distance. Pretty amazing.

This can be such a lonely path to walk. There is so much to manage on one's own, so much that is hidden, so much that is hard to describe and hard to share. Last night, for a few hours, we didn't have to do it alone.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What I Gave Birth To

A different perspective on parenting.

Compassion for people who have terrible things happen to them, then feel bad about feeling bad about it.

A clearer view of friendship.


A surprising appreciation of grief. (Hate it too.)

Dormant anger.

A greater interest in death, which I no longer think of as "morbid".

An alternative understanding of strength.

Impatience with people who think the best way to deal with difficult experiences & emotions is to suppress them.


The revelation that learning other people's stories, no matter how hard or sad, does not take anything away from me but rather, enriches my life.

Disgust of phony, pasted-on smiles.

Mistrust of those who think the ultimate goal in life is "happiness" at all costs, rather than acknowledging one's true feelings and trying to live as authentically as possible.

Sincere gratitude for the good things in my life.

The need to examine the difficult things that have happened in my life, rather than continue to suppress them and put up unhealthy coping walls.

Greater awareness of my own vulnerability. And everyone else's.

A commitment to be guided by my own story and my own experiences to combat the forces of self-doubt.

A stronger desire to help others.

My voice.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Happy Face Sad Face

Today I brought my daughter with me to pick up some supplies for this year's Awareness Walk. At the dollar store she wanted a balloon and decided on a happy face balloon since the rest were birthday balloons. Afterwards we went to meet a babyloss mama and her new baby at a café. There were lots of babies there, and most of them seemed to be boys. A little boy about Toren's age came up to play with the balloon but she didn't want him to. I don't push her on this. I asked her about it, she didn't say much so that was fine. She deserves as much respect as anyone else. The little boy's mother didn't seem too happy about this but I just couldn't care.

On the car ride home, she suddenly said "We should get a balloon with a happy face and a baby on one side, and a sad face and a baby on the other side."


There's a toy I put with his things that she keeps taking down to play with. She takes it down and plays with it for a few minutes, then I put it back. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It's starting to...annoy me. The nutty thing is, it's her  toy from when she was little.

I am still having to deal with toy conflicts between these two kids! Who knew.

Sunday, October 06, 2013


Today I was sorting through photos and I was looking through a folder named Miscellaneous. These are photos I take that are not photos of our daughter, of holidays, of anything specific. Just things that caught my eye at the time. I realized that many of those photos were inspired by Toren. If he had not died (and lived), it wouldn't have occurred to me to take them. I would just be taking photos of him, doing his little boy things, his 21-month-old toddling things. And suddenly it seemed utterly foolish that those photos were in a folder labeled Miscellaneous. There was nothing miscellaneous about them.

"mis-cel-la-neous \ˌmi-sə-ˈlā-nē-əs, -nyəs\ adj: including many things of different kinds"

Those photos are not about "many things of different kinds", only one thing - love. I take those photos because of my new grief-sight, and I grieve because I love. So I moved them into the folder named Toren.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Conditional Love

In the Kindergarten post, I wrote about how confusing it would be for our daughter if she was sometimes a big sister and sometimes an only child. It's totally normal for parents of stillborn babies to have to think about whether to mention their babies in social situations. If I didn't have her, I would probably do that. I would pick and choose when to mention Toren and when to keep him private to avoid discomfort, my own and other people's. I cannot judge bereaved parents for making those choices. In grief, we do things if and when we're ready. Here's how it works for me 20 months on, as the parent of a bereaved sibling - being the mother of a stillborn baby is uncomfortable no matter what. No matter what I decide to do or say, it will be uncomfortable for me. If I mention him, it could also be uncomfortable for the other person. I haven't figured out a way around this. And really - tough talk here - this is what I signed up for when I decided to have children. Hard, hard work. Just because I didn't know exactly what I was signing up for, does not absolve me of my responsibilities.

But there's a bigger reason why I continue to incorporate him so much in our lives, to not keep him a secret. I think about what our daughter would learn about love if I didn't, especially parental love.

What would she learn about love if one day, I were to pack up all his things, put everything away, his photos, the memory boxes, the hummingbirds, the candles, stop talking about him, stop including him in our family, and say enough with this grief shit, this "wallowing", this "self-pity". What will she learn about parental love then? That you can put it away. That sometimes love is just not possible. Sometimes it's "too hard". It ends. And if those things are true for her baby brother, could they be true for her too? Could we put our love for her away one day? Could we decide it's too hard, too uncomfortable? Are some children just unlovable? He died, and so many of the people who were excited about his arrival, who were looking forward to seeing him, who cared about our family, who already loved him, just disappeared. They abandoned us and they abandoned him. They put their love away. I don't want her growing up thinking there's something she could do that would make us abandon her. If we put him away, she would learn that parental love is conditional.

There is a pervasive message out there that we're supposed to forget the people we love who have died. Let them go. Forget. Move on. Here's what I think - we're supposed to hold on to those people like crazy. Hold on tight and never let go. Keep them close. Not let them ever truly die. The people who abandoned our family, abandoned Toren just because he died, I sometimes wonder why they did this. Less and less now but I still think about it. I wonder if they did this because they learned along the way that love is conditional. They were abandoned, they were not supported when something difficult happened to them. Do I want Toren's sister to become like that? No fucking way.

Being a parent is hard. There's just no way around it. Right now, we are the main people in our daughter's head and in her heart. We want her to be completely secure in the idea that we will love her no matter what. There's nothing she or anyone can do that can stop that. We will never abandon her or forget her or treat her like she's a shameful secret or let her go or move on from her. Even if she dies before us. This is not what we do to those we love. We hang on tightly and we never let go.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kindergarten II

Self-portrait our daughter drew this afternoon. She said the heart bubbles above her head with 'A' and 'P' are "Me thinking about mommy and daddy while I'm at school."



It's been a challenging few weeks with Toren's sister starting kindergarten. It seems like nothing we do now is straightforward, but this is a whole new level of so-not-straightforward-ness. I feel like I've already become a "problem parent". Last week at our school interview, the teacher asked our daughter if she has any siblings. It was very hard for us to watch her go silent and shake her head, no. That is her choice and that's fine. But as her parents, we had to find a way to introduce Toren and help the teacher understand what that means for our family and for starting kindergarten. Teachers do not get grief training. Hardly anybody does. And from what I can tell, children's grief is either minimized or dismissed altogether. We are our daughter's main guides along the grief path, however imperfect that may seem to us, but we can't be at kindergarten with her. We need more people on our team for this, and our only choice in this scenario is to educate the teacher. Sometimes, education means advocacy. I hate it. It's so uncomfortable (that's the mild word for it). This responsibility, education and advocacy for our daughter's well-being, is something I feel we neglected when she was at daycare because I didn't fully realize how treacherous the stigma of stillbirth can be.

Yesterday while waiting to pick her up, one of the parents asked me if our daughter has any siblings. I responded, "Yes, she has a baby brother but he died." I could see he didn't understand at first, and then the shock and the discomfort started setting in. Do I like shocking people and making them uncomfortable? Definitely not. It will be a miracle if that parent ever initiates another conversation with me again. Is there any way around this? Sure - I could lie. I could say, "No she's an only child." Who cares? As long as we know, right? I could keep him private, so that I don't "bother" anyone with our family's problems. As a bonus, no one can do or say anything against him, no one can minimize the force of his life and thereby cause me and my family pain.


On the practical side, there's his sister. At home, she is a big sister. Where she feels safe, she includes him. She talks about him. She makes art for him. We go to events because of him. Half the people we know and spend time with now have at least one deceased baby in their family. It would be pretty confusing for her if we sometimes included him and sometimes didn't. And it sounds disorienting and exhausting to go back and forth between being a big sister and being an only child. How is she supposed to establish her identity in her own mind with this kind of yo-yoing?

We don't have to tell every new person we meet that our baby died, and in fact we don't. Not even close. But if someone asks directly, how can I lie? I worry about kids teasing her, telling her she's not really a big sister, she doesn't really have a baby brother (the way some bereaved parents are told they didn't really have a baby). Or worse. I picture an adult, maybe another parent, hearing her say baby brother is dead and telling her she shouldn't say things like that. If we keep him private, and teach her to keep him private, there's no risk she will be teased or hear those comments. But then there's a bigger problem  - she will learn (and live) the insidious message that he is a shameful secret.

She is not yet old enough to advocate for herself. We need the teachers, the other parents, our community, to help her with this. To help our family. I think anyone can learn  to be able to say: "Oh yes, she does have a brother, but sadly, he died."

Is this ever going to be comfortable for anyone? It's impossible to see how. The furthest I can get to is to work on the idea of getting comfortable with the discomfort. It's only been 20 months since he was born and I am nowhere near "accepting" his death. It's not any kind of goal actually. As Liz Lemon would say, it's not even a thing. I sometimes make the mistake of looking ahead to the beginning of each new school year, each new teacher, all those new parents and I just want to hide under my bed. Then I remember that I only need to face today. When I pick her up later today at school, someone might ask me about siblings. I will go through the story again. No one's going to drop dead, we will all survive the conversation. Hopefully the parents will talk to each other, they will share our story, they will "warn" each other if that's what they feel they need to do. And maybe one day, someone will share their own story with me, not necessarily of babyloss but of something difficult in their own life. Maybe I will make a new friend. Someone who doesn't see me as a problem, and doesn't add to mine.

I've noticed that sometimes, when I tell Toren's story, difficult things happen, yes, but amazing things happen too.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Piano Lessons

Toren's sister had her first ever piano lesson last week. The last time I was in that tiny room, I was the student, and Toren was with me. I had my last lesson a few weeks before he was born. I haven't played much piano since that time, but I am starting to play again, little by little. Being back in that room makes me sad, but I like it too because it reconnects me to that time, to the time before he died, to the time when he was here with us. I'm glad he had music in his life. I'm grateful to feel able to play again. But there will always be sadness and longing to go along with the present happiness and fun of watching her learn to play piano and develop an appreciation of music.

Grief, mystery, magic, music, love. It's a small room, but there's space for all of it.

Discovering the mystery & the magic of the piano

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Garden, Market, Cemetery

Yesterday we had a good day with a mix of activities. First we visited a community garden which I hope to write more about for Still Life Canada's blog soon, then we went to one of the local farmer's markets which I always love doing and seeing what's in season, and then we stopped by Mountain View cemetery to check on the memory seeds we planted for Toren. It was really dry here in Vancouver this summer and I think maybe the seeds didn't get enough water. There were a few little sprouts poking through. I wish I had thought of it, I would have visited more often and watered them.  I got some nice photos of the day:

Yarn hearts at Tupper greenway, a garden inspired by the death of a young man