Monday, January 28, 2013

Born In Silence

This video was made by gapps - the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity & Stillbirth. Their website is here and their fb page is here.

Please watch, please share.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Magic

I started reading Shadow Child by Beth Powning. At the beginning she writes that their stillborn son went from one mystery to another. That's how I feel about Toren. He went from the secret world inside my body, straight to the great mystery of death.  I remember the first time I realized he wasn't physically here anymore. We had just returned from the hospital and I was trying to squeeze through a narrow space and I suddenly realized I didn't need to turn to accommodate him in my belly. He was just....gone.

His big sister is also a mystery to me. I'm in awe of her. How is it that she is here and he is not? What's her secret? What is the magic? As she grows and becomes more able to do things, wanting more to explore independence from me, it becomes more and more of a contrast with him. He remains still and quiet, forever a newborn baby. His magic is hidden.

I was chatting with a bereaved grandmother last week and we were thinking of her grand daughter who was stillborn almost two years ago. She was watching my daughter's little antics and I could see that she, too, was wondering about the magic. Little kids are so fiercely, relentlessly alive. They need everything nownownow if not sooner, and with gusto. Our daughter's magic is all around us. She shouts it, laughs it, twirls it, cries it, temper tantrums it, dances it. Where ever I go in our apartment, there is evidence of her magic. Toys (half of them dolls), stray cheerios, bits of paper (she's into cutting with scissors right now), little clothes, blueberry stains, deflated balloons in seemingly every room. I could, and sometimes do, spend many hours tidying up. He would have been the same. But his magic remains where it has always been - inside me.  Inside all of us. The only way we can experience it is in all the ways he has changed us.

There are toys (mostly cars & trucks), bits of paper and blueberry stains in every room of my mind and heart. And I have no urge to tidy them up.


Friday, January 25, 2013

It Was Beautiful by Sol Diana

A courageous young man creates a beautiful tribute to his beloved baby cousin, born still last March.

It gives me hope to see young people doing what so many adults cannot - speaking the names of babies gone too soon and recognizing their place in our hearts and in our families.




Yoga

I started going to yoga again recently. I've been to four classes now after not having been for several years. Last year I was worried that it would be too emotional, that I would break down in class. Some of the parents in my support network have talked about finding a teacher to run a "grief yoga" class. So far the teachers I've had have been fine but I know that other grieving parents have experienced unfortunate comments by instructors in yoga class. How can these teachers know they have a student in class who has experienced death and birth in the same moment and that they need to be mindful of that? How can they know there is terrible wisdom in the room that they cannot possibly understand? A grief yoga teacher would need sensitivity training, and would also need to understand that if someone breaks down in class, nothing needs to be done about it. Don't interfere, don't stop them, just let them experience what they need to. And maybe don't call the last pose "corpse pose".

 I've been surprised that yoga hasn't been emotional for me (so far). Often there's talk about forgiving yourself, respecting yourself, not judging yourself, listening to and trusting your body, etc. Gentle words. For me, it's often the kind and compassionate comments that can get the tears flowing. Maybe I've just had mean teachers! No, they've so far been professional for the most part and not too new-agey.

At the beginning of today's class, the instructor asked during the first pose, "If this was the only pose you did for the whole class, would you be ok with that?" I thought, yup, fine by me. It was an easy pose! If I'm honest. Then she said, "It's important to be fully present..." Yup, got that one. "...and to be happy with where ever you are at in this moment." ...umm...NO. It's important to be authentic. If your true feeling is happiness, great. Lucky you. If not, well, fine. It's maybe not great, but it is real. There have been these kinds of little moments throughout the various classes that just jump out at me.

I've noticed a couple of differences in my practice from years before. One is that I don't seem to have as much trouble relaxing as I used to. When the instructor reminds us to unclench our teeth or relax our faces, I've been surprised to discover I'm already there. I'm less fidgety too. Also I used to find the classes a little long but now we get to the end and I discover I haven't spent any time wondering how much longer 'til we're done. What does this mean? Who knows. Doesn't matter. They are just observations.

During the rest of today's class, the instructor focused on postures and breathing which I like. She was not philosophical like some of the others. But then suddenly at one point, out of nowhere, she said, "Sometimes you have to go to those dark places." I had my eyes closed and it sounded like she was crouched right beside me saying this into my ear. I quickly opened my eyes but she was across the room, back to talking about the details of posture. Did I imagine that? Who knows. Doesn't matter.

I forgot that in Vancouver, they often chant 'om' at the beginning or the end of class. Sometimes both. They didn't do this in Calgary when we lived there. I find I don't like saying the om, I'd rather just listen because it's such a compelling sound with the different voices mixing together. Very peaceful.

...I still think kickboxing classes would be a good idea.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Walls

If you have trouble being with a grieving parent
If you feel the need to paste on a smile when talking to a grieving parent
If you question someone else's grief
If you doubt someone else's grief
If you can't understand it and can't even acknowledge it
If you find yourself wishing they would just stop, shut up, stop grieving so publicly, get over it, stop being a drama queen
If you support them publicly but disavow them privately
If someone else's child dies but you need a break
If you find yourself bulldozing your way through life trying to prove to everyone how happy you are

Think about why that might be.

The death of a child has a way of forcing parents into a no-bullshit zone.
This affects not only the grievers, but the people around them. It can stir up issues we thought we had firmly under control.
We do things when we're ready. This is not about forcing anyone to face anything they're not ready to. But dealing with a grieving parent may make you as ready as you're ever going to get.
This could be an opportunity to start to face some of your own unresolved issues in your life
An opportunity for growth.

Let yourself be transformed by someone's life, someone you were looking forward to meeting, who would have become part of your life, part of your kids' life if you have them, someone you would have given your love to, someone who was forcibly and unexpectedly taken from the picture. Someone who would have made your life better.

Tap into your grief about that loss, and other losses in your life, and let your heart be cracked open.

A parent who has lost a child, in their grief, they are right where they need to be.
If you can't meet them there, for short periods of time, think about why that is. What is it about your life that makes you unable to meet them where they're at. This is not about forcing you to take down your coping walls. But sometimes this is what happens when someone you were prepared to love, maybe even loved already, dies. It chips away at what we thought were pretty good coping mechanisms. Those mechanisms might stand while things are stable, but when things become not ok, they're not sustainable. This is a suggestion to consider finding a way to remove a few bricks from those coping walls. Get a better view, a different perspective. Stop hiding from reality.

Grieving parents are told to be strong, be brave. They do this daily. What about you? Can you "be strong" in the face of their grief? Can you find a way to be brave? Strength and courage do not mean putting up walls. It means bearing witness to someone else's experience without fighting against it. And trusting you will be ok if you do.

Vancouver from Cypress Mountain early this morning


Jack

Today is one year for a family we met because of Toren. Thinking of them today and their sweet baby boy, Jack.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Good Works

On Thursday we finally delivered the shoes we collected at the Awareness Walk in October. One of the mothers in our group had been corresponding with a woman at a local women's and children's shelter and arranged for us to drop off the shoes. When we arrived, the person we were supposed to meet was busy somewhere in the building so another woman met us and listened to our story - what we were delivering and who we were representing. She was very kind and expressed gratitude on behalf of the population they serve. I don't know if she realized that the three of us had had stillborn babies. I couldn't figure out how to work it into the conversation, can you believe that? Then she casually mentioned that her own daughter had died at age 17. Casually but not. We were completely floored. We asked her daughter's name and she talked about how people sometimes found it difficult to talk to her because she is a bereaved mother. This is something I remember first learning about at the MISS Foundation Conference - the common experience of managing how other people treat you because your child died, no matter at what age.

A big thank you to all our supporters who donated shoes in memory of a baby. If you didn't get a chance to see the lovely video put together by baby Scarlett's uncle, check it out here.

As we were leaving the shelter, a message came in from a local hospital. One of our families had put together a memory box to be given to another family experiencing a stillbirth. The beautifully decorated box contained a couple of books on stillbirth, a disposable camera, a candle, a journal, some wildflower seeds, powdered clay for hand and foot molds, and a blanket and hat knitted by bereaved grandmother, as well as some other items. It also contained a personal letter from the bereaved parents. The hospital let us know that the box had been given to another family and that the family very much appreciated it and that it is helping them in their grief. The family in turn wants to put together a memory box for the next family. It's an incredible feeling to be part of a chain of compassion at the first link. It must also have been a powerful gesture for the care providers to experience. I look forward to hearing both sides of those stories one day.



Friday, January 18, 2013

Quality Time Waiting For The Train

Earlier in the week I was taking the train downtown with my daughter and a friendly young woman on the platform started chatting to us. She said to my daughter, "One day you will be as tall as me!" Daughter was thrilled with this idea! The woman herself was quite tall. I told her Peter is 6'4 and she said her dad is 6'7! I asked if he is Dutch and she said yes. Pete's dad is also Dutch. Then she said, "I've been told that if I want to meet a tall man, I should go to Holland. But I've also heard that tall people don't live as long because their organs have to work harder and get worn out more quickly."

First off, let's ignore the fact that this attractive, tall, blonde, friendly woman is single (what is with this town?).And I'm not sure about that organ thing. But I said, "Well....maybe it's about quality, not quantity."

She looked at me for a few seconds, then said, "Yes, that's true. I'll go with that, that works for me." And we all boarded the train.

Maybe she will finally book that trip to Holland...


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Push

Change is not fun. It's difficult. But then you emerge. How long does this take? Who knows. I don't know (yet) if it gets easier or if you emerge as a "better" person. But you are different.

Toren changed not only our lives. He changed the lives of our friends and family, whether they realize it or not, whether they can acknowledge it or not. He lived and he died, and when you do that, you impact the people who care about you. That means those friends and family are going through a change now too.  It's not fun. It's not easy. It's confusing and painful. It can feel like those relationships are fracturing, rather than transforming. Some won't survive but the ones that do will be different. Some have to find a way to work because of circumstance. Easier or better, I don't know. But definitely different.

Nobody wants to be pushed to change. We do things when we're ready. But I didn't have a choice. I was pushed. When he died I was pushed out of the life I knew. I wasn't ready. I'm still not. But it's happening whether I want it to or not. And now I'm pushing other people. I don't want to but I don't have a choice. I'm not doing it for any other reason than that. And they are pushing back. I would too. I understand this. And I hate it. I need to protect myself. But I don't want to protect myself from change. That would be much harder. And totally pointless.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shut Up

There are people who want me to shut up. They send me their silent messages - DO NOT mention that baby. DON'T YOU DARE bring that baby to dinner. I am NOT answering emails about THAT BABY. I will silence you with my contempt, my judgement, my anger, my fear, my ignorance.

It makes me feel like I'm crazy. But I won't shut up. I won't contribute to the stigma and the ignorance. I can't. I have to say it out loud. For my daughter and for my son. I'm not doing it to hurt anyone. I'm doing it because I HAVE to.

It's unbelievable the shit I have to deal with because my baby died. Something happened to me that wasn't my fault, and I feel like I continue to be punished for it.

Please, babyloss families, keep saying it out loud. Try not to be afraid. Claim your child. You are not alone.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Playground

Never noticed these mosaics before. They're in the fountain at one of our local playgrounds.



Doctor In Training

This morning we went for our flu shots. Normally we do this in November but with everything going on, I totally forgot. Then I read how flu season was hitting hard and early. When we go see our GP, our daughter usually brings her little toy doctor kit. While we were waiting for the elevator, she was jimmer jammering away and I heard her say, "I'm the kind of doctor who also takes care of people when their baby dies. I made this for them." And she held up a little bag with a ribbon and colourful beads she had put inside. "When their baby dies I will give them this to help them remember their baby."


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Close To Him

On the morning of Toren's memorial service, I received a lovely email from someone with the following wish: "I hope that today you feel close to Toren". It was perfect timing because there had been a lot of logistics to figure out and general anxiety about the day to cope with. Distractions. I also continued to have doubts that we should even be doing this. I know of another family whose baby died shortly before birth who were told that someone had asked, "Why did they have a funeral?" It's very easy for me to access that place of self-doubt in my mind. Other people's ignorance can send me there. I kept thinking, No one wants us to do this, not really. A year on, no one wants to be reminded of this poor baby who died so tragically. If people are questioning a funeral a week after a baby dies, what must they think of a year after??

To be reminded by another grieving mother that feeling close to my son is important is incredibly powerful. It shifted my thinking as soon as I read it. The reality of losing Toren is that it's the sad things that make me feel close to him. I have never thought of his memorial service as a "celebration". I don't mind other people doing it; I just can't. I think of it as his funeral and feel all the associations that go along with that. I'm sure nobody wants this for me. I'm sure people would rather I "focus on the positive". It would be nice if I could buy a bouquet of flowers every week to represent him and then I could look at something beautiful while I think of him. Nice idea. But the truth is that often it's regularly driving by the crash site or the hospital or where ever tragedy may have occurred that makes parents feel close to their children who have died. After Toren was born, I would walk by the hospital whenever I could . Whenever I had to go downtown from where we live, I would make sure to take a route that would take me past the hospital.  At first I didn't even really realize I was doing it. I still do this actually, but now it's deliberate. He didn't die there, he was only born there. But that is one place which triggers memories for me. They're not happy memories. It often triggers tears as well. But then I get that feeling. The feeling of him.

I don't know if this will change over time. Maybe someday beautiful things will give me that feeling. Honestly, I can't really picture it. But this is what works for me now so I'm going with it. Beautiful things like hummingbirds and the ocean and my daughter can make me think of him, but it's the sad things that truly give me the feeling that he is with me.

I worry about the future. I worry that, as we move forward in time, it will get harder to feel close to him. Of course I can never forget him, any more than I could forget my living daughter. When someone dies, our relationship with that person doesn't end. It continues, and we draw on our memories to help us feel close to the person. Obviously, this is difficult when the memories are so few.

Since Sunday, I have been in a bit of a daze. I feel the depression more. Our friend Jonathan who played so beautifully at the service went back to Toronto today. It's the end of the marking of the first year. Planning Toren's funeral stirred up many of the emotions from when he was first born - sadness, shock, anger, fear, mistrust, feelings of failure, uncertainty.

I'm right where I need to be.



Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Guest Blog - Toren's Dad

Below is the speech I gave at Toren's one-year memorial last Sunday.

"Normally, at the end of a loved one’s life, despite our sadness there are certain things we can fall back on to offer us a measure of peace. Maybe a funny or touching story about the deceased, or some words of their imparted wisdom, or, if we are fortunate, the small consolation that their life was a full one, with a list of milestones reached and goals realized. In short, a way to celebrate a life lived. Today, however, one year to the day that my son Toren was born, I am unable to temper my grief with any of these comforts. The simple truth is that Toren and I have no shared experience, and these common consolations are therefore not available to me. Instead I find myself left only with sadness, confusion, anger, and an ever-present aching sense of loss. I am therefore not ready or able to talk today about Celebration.

What I am able to talk about today is Acknowledgment. The recognition that Toren’s life mattered and continues to matter. I don’t see his death as the end of a story but in fact the beginning of one that is now integrated into mine, and will be for the rest of my life. We often stress our adult roles as teachers and guides, but our children, living or dead, in turn teach and guide us. I am proud to say that Toren has taught me much through the first year since his birth, and that he will continue to do so in the years to come, as our relationship grows, evolves, and matures.

And how do we acknowledge someone that we have never met? We do it through ritual, such as our gathering today. We do it by sharing how they have affected us and those around us. We do it by observing their birthdays and anniversaries. We do it by including them in the definition of our families. We do it by donating our time, energy or money to a worthy cause. We do it by making memories to fill in the gaps that have been left by their absence. And, most simply and most powerfully, we do it by speaking their names.  

Acknowledgement is so important. It validates the feelings of grieving parents, who remain parents to the child who is absent. It makes us feel part of a broader community. It helps bring us out of the isolation we feel. In time, it may help us to make meaning out of our loss. For being here today, for your support over this first year, and for helping us acknowledge Toren, I thank you.

I would also like to extend a special thank-you to the other baby-loss parents that have been such a large part of our lives this year. Toren's Mom and I often say that you have been the best friends that we wish we had never met. Your support has been invaluable to us, I am exceptionally grateful for it and at the same time I am deeply grieved that it has come from such a shared experience. Thank-you all."

Dream - One Year + Two Days

I had a weird dream last night. I guess "weird dream" is sort of redundant. I was driving around and had a baby strapped in an infant car seat in the car but the baby had died. We brought him to a house and the people there started caring for him but I didn't tell them he had died and they didn't realize it. Finally I went into the room to tell them and I saw that the baby was moving around and breathing. I was so happy, I thought - I was wrong, I made a mistake, he's alive! I went close to him and started snuggling and kissing him (I wasn't sure if I should do this) and he turned to me and said, "What's your name?" And for a split second I thought about saying "Andrea" but I said, "Mama!" 

Monday, January 07, 2013

Memorial Service

It was a beautiful service. Everything went smoothly. No major disasters. No fire emergencies from all the candles and the caterers showed up on time with a nice lunch. The technology worked (mostly). We had so much help that day and in the days leading up to it. So grateful to everybody for making it such a lovely day.

I don't know exactly how many people were there - maybe between 50 and 60. At the last minute we asked our friend Jess who had offered to be our hostess to ask everyone to stand up as we entered the hall. You feel a bit funny asking your friends to stand for you, but we were walking in with his ashes and it just felt like the right thing to do. As we walked in and saw everyone standing silently, literally standing in solidarity for us and for him, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I was so incredibly moved and uplifted. Seeing everyone standing for him is what got me to the front of the hall.

We had a table set up at the front with his photos and memory box and I placed his ashes on the table and Peter lit a candle. The night before I had bought a small stuffed bear which our daughter brought in and placed with his ashes. I did not think that a year after his death I would be buying him a stuffed toy, but I had been thinking about it all year. We had never bought him anything and it had always bothered me. 

The service started with a slideshow which Peter & I had been working on for weeks. It was frustrating at first because we have so few pictures. But we did have something amazing we could share - his 3D ultrasound video which we had done when I was 30 weeks pregnant. When Toren died I assumed I could never watch it. But over time, I felt able to watch it. I wanted to see him. It's pretty impressive technology. Peter took out the best clips and put them in the slideshow, and we're just so happy that our friends got to see him, to see what he looked like and to see him alive and moving. In a few of the clips you can see him opening and closing his mouth and at one point it looks like he opens one of his eyes.

After the slideshow came the poems which I had asked three babyloss mothers to read. It was a lot to ask of them and I'm so glad they felt able to do it. My mom could not attend but requested a psalm which another good friend read on her behalf. Then our friend Jonathan who had flown in from Toronto played a beautiful song, one of his own compositions, Lost in the Crowd.

At this point Peter & I got up to light a candle and invited all the babyloss parents present to light one for their children who had died. It was such an important part of the service for us because it was a group of friends that we had only met because of Toren. They have been such a vital support to us over the year and are a big part of his story, as we are of theirs. It was impossible for us not to acknowledge them on this day. When they all rose to take their place in line to light a candle, an incredible wave of sadness washed over me. But also love, for them and for their families. I know how hard it can be to get up and light a candle for your child. The tears I cried in that moment were for them and their babies, not for Toren.

Afterwards Jonathan played another song, Private Universe by Crowded House. I've always loved that song and this year it took on a new meaning for me. Then Peter gave a speech. I'm so proud of him that he got up there to share his thoughts and feelings as Toren's Daddy. And then came one of my favourite parts of the whole day - my brother's video of him playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It's such a beautiful rendition of that song and I'm so grateful to him for doing that.

Once everything at the hall was tidied up, a small group of us visited the infants area of the cemetery and laid flowers along the dry riverbed where stillborn babies' names are inscribed on stones. I had brought the last of the milk I had pumped and sent it back to the earth, flowing among the flowers and the stones.

There is so much more to write about that day. We had Toren's tree there and someone told me that after the service, all the kids rushed the tree! So sweet. I'm sure there's so much I missed that hopefully were captured in people's photos, and also their own stories about the day. My brain is on overload and is shutting down.  I will post some photos and the poems and songs, hopefully soon. Peter has told me he'd like to post his speech here as well. 

I don't know how to thank all the friends who helped us set up and tear down and who provided support throughout. Also a big thank you for the friends who were able to be there and to those who were with us in their hearts. I am overflowing with tears and gratitude.



Sunday, January 06, 2013

On Joy and Sorrow


Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,

 needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
  - Kahlil Gibran



Friday, January 04, 2013

This Day

On this day last year, he may have died. They are unable to be more specific than that he died one or two days before he was born. I feel sure I felt him move the night before he was born, but my doctor says no, that is unlikely.

At the hospital they asked - When did you last feel him move? Of course they need to ask that.

When we told people he had died, they asked - When did you last feel him move? It was like being repeatedly slapped in the face. And judged. And blamed.

At first I thought - at least he died peacefully. Consider a perfect newborn baby, ready to live outside his mother's body. Now cut off his access to oxygen. Is that peaceful? NO. If it happened to you - perfectly healthy, suddenly no oxygen - would you consider that a peaceful way to die? Or would you be frightened? confused? frantically trying to LIVE?

At first I thought - at least he was with me when he died. Maybe he heard my voice while he was dying. For sure he heard my heartbeat. But my voice was not helping. No soothing words because I did not know he was struggling, dying. My heartbeat was not helping. Just the steady rhythm until he heard it no more.

At first I thought - at least he was comfortable when he died. But amniotic fluid is not mommy & daddy's arms.

I'm sorry, baby. I'm so, so sorry. We didn't know. How could we not know? But we didn't.