Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hugs

You don't have to do this alone. Whenever it gets too much, just pick up the phone and call me.

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These cookies are filled with more love than sugar.

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Our kids understand that Toren was our little friend and is your daughter's baby brother.

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[Receiving the email that he died] No! I wish this didn't happen!!

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Send me the website of your favourite restaurant and I will order dinner for you and have it delivered. [And she did.]

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Thank you for sending his picture, he's beautiful!

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We are thinking of you.

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Love his name!

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We've asked friends to donate in Toren's name rather than bring birthday presents.

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We are here for you. [And they have been.]

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We will be honoured to attend Toren's memorial.

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I think of you and your family often.

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[After his memorial] I hope this helps you to remember.

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We can't make the service but we will be thinking of you on that day.

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How are you doing? [And they weren't afraid of hearing the answer.]

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Can you please send me Toren's photo?

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Thinking of you this Christmas.
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You are entitled to your feelings.

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Slaps

Six months ago? Oh, you must be getting over it by now.

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It's nature's way.

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See? It just goes to show you - everyone has problems.

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Oh well, next one.

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[Responding to email about our miscarriage] We had a miscarriage after our first child but then we had our son and now we can't imagine our lives any differently.

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[Seeing his photo] Oh....he was an actual newborn baby....

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Everything happens for a reason.

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But...it's been over a year now!

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If it was me, I would just want to get pregnant again.

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You will heal.

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Be strong.

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As a mother [of two living children], I understand some of what you are going through.

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You look great!

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Do you still cry about it?

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I went to an obstetrics conference a few weeks ago. There wasn't a single session on umbilical cords. Nobody's studying it.

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You sound much better than you did the last time I talked to you.

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I'm at peace with Toren's death.

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I know what you are going through because one of our children almost died when he was a baby.

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Lightning doesn't strike twice.

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Ah well, you gotta laugh or you'll just cry, right?

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It feels like a long time ago now.

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[On donating his milk] Every child has a specific purpose in life.

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Children who grow up without siblings end up being spoiled.

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Happy Birthday! Hope this year turns out to be a great one for you!

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Andrea, a word of advice - going to a support group and talking about this in front of a group of strangers might not be a comfortable thing for Peter to do.

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[Sending photo of their two living children] All those sleepless nights were worth it.

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Listen Andrea, everybody has problems....not like yours but....just live your life and try to be happy.

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Patient not tearful.


Patient coping very well.


Patient does not want to see baby.

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[Silence]

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Memory Box

We had a nice time in Tofino when we went between Christmas and New Year. It was our first time going. I was worried about the long drive, and that winding, treacherous road, especially once it gets dark. As it turned out, another couple we know from the support network was going there that weekend so we were able to spend some time together. I thought, This is the way to go on holiday - bring your support group with you!

The main purpose of our trip was to pick up a memory box that I had ordered from an art gallery. There is an artist who collects driftwood along the coast and turns them into beautiful wooden boxes. I had been communicating with the gallery owner for months before I finally told her what the box was for and she sent me a lovely email saying it was important to her to find just the right box for us. It had been weighing heavily on me, the idea of getting a box for him. It was another one of those things where I thought, Why do we have to do these things?? This is not a normal parenting activity  Then it turns out to be right. When we got home from the trip, I put the box on the table and I remember laughing because I thought it looked like a little casket. Which is not funny.

I read my medical notes over the holidays and someone had written that they sent us home with a "memento box". This must be some definition of box I'm not familiar with, where box means plastic ziplock bag. It contained Toren's footprints and handprints, his birth card, a clip of his hair, my hospital bracelet. Grateful for those items but why would someone write that in my notes? Not ok. When we first got home from the hospital, I put his things away.  I knew I didn't want to throw them away, but I didn't want to see them either. I wanted to forget the whole thing had happened. That seems crazy to me now. But I was terrified of the grief so I tried to stop it. It took about five months for that little plan to fall apart. Eventually I took his mementoes out and started searching online for memory boxes and decided on the ones I found at an art gallery in Tofino called Reflecting Spirit Gallery. We got to meet the gallery owner when we picked it up and she gave us an angel ornament for Toren which we keep in the box. So grateful to her for her kindness to our family.

At first I thought I would just be putting his hospital items in there, but over time, I've accumulated more things. Every once in a while, some small thing will make me think of him and in it goes. Yep, if you do the math, we're going to need a bigger box one day! There is a onesie in there that says "I ♥ Mommy" which was given to him by my mom. I read a quote recently about how death cannot stop a relationship with someone you love. It transforms into something different. I have heard of parents being told their dead children are "in the past" but this is so not true (and terribly cruel to say to a parent). I had been worried the memory box would become like a museum piece that I would just dust every once in a while so it's been surprising how much use it gets. We received things from friends around the time of his first birthday, little things that they wanted to share that were inspired by Toren. And our daughter likes to deposit flower petals into it whenever she can get her graspy little hands on them. The other day she was running around wearing a fire chief hat and when she was done, she plopped it on Toren's bear which sits in his box.

"Memory" box doesn't seem like the right word anymore because it's so much in the present, in the here and now. Maybe just Toren's box.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Making Space

I was reading the blog of a woman whose 3-year-old daughter was killed at home in a domestic accident. It was totally heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching to read. It's the type of story I would have avoided reading in the past because it's just "too sad". I did have to pause while reading it because she was writing in great detail about the day they found their daughter and what happened at the hospital and all her feelings at the time and now. It upset me so much I couldn't eat my dinner that night. I went back and finished reading the post and had a big cry. I am crying now as I write this. She was writing to tell her family's story and as a call to action - she asked people to secure their furniture because her daughter died when a dresser she climbed on fell over on top of her. To date she has gotten over a thousand comments from people expressing their condolences and telling her that they are heeding her advice for her little girl and for their own children. In our old apartment, all our furniture was secured because we live in an earthquake zone. When we moved, we had to get some new stuff and hadn't gotten around to securing all of it. After I read that woman's blog, Pete went out and got more materials to finish the job.

I've been thinking about why I push myself now to read other people's tragic stories when in the past I avoided it and that seemed to work fine. I just wanted to "be happy" and sometimes hearing about other people's sad stories dredged up things from my past that I had decided not to think about. That was the strategy - don't think about terrible things that have happened and maybe it will be like they never happened. When Toren was born, that strategy completely collapsed. Now you would think, I've got enough on my plate with our own sad story so why add more? I went back to that woman's blog post and as I stared at the photo of their beautiful little girl, bright and smiling with seemingly her whole life ahead of her, I thought about the heart's capacity to feel love and to feel pain. There is no limit to this. In one of the poems that a dear friend read at Toren's memorial, On Joy and Sorrow, Khalil Gibran writes, "Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is greater." But I say unto you, they are inseparable."

In the past, I would have thought that reading this family's story, even knowing about this little girl and how she died so tragically, somehow hurts or diminishes me. That it could somehow take some happiness out of my life because then I would be carrying this sad story too. But since Toren died, I feel that knowing about Meghan's life, and her death, and how her family is carrying her beauty forward with them one painful step at a time, enriches my life. Just as it would have been if I had had the chance to meet Meghan in person, my life is better for knowing about her.

We can all enrich our lives by creating space in our hearts to hold other people's pain, as much as we would hold their joy. I have met people who can do this. It is awe-inspiring and something important to strive for.

In her post about her daughter, this mother is asking us to be with her in her sorrow. It's hard for us, and infinitely harder for her. If you are ready to have your heart (and tear ducts) cracked open, please create a space for Meghan in your hearts and read her story here. (Also, I hardly need add, please secure your furniture.)


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Damages

Last night I was watching an episode of Damages and it was revealed (*spoiler alert* if you are planning to watch this show) that Glenn Close's character, Patty Hewes, had had a stillborn baby 35 years before. One flashback scene showed a doctor very sensitively telling her that her baby was a girl but that she had died just before she was born. Then he asks if she has a name she would like put "on the certificate" (neatly sidestepping the birth/death certificate controversy). Skip to present day - after a traumatic experience, Patty tells her assistant she's going out of town and to tell people she's away "visiting family". She travels to a cemetery and asks a worker to point her in the right direction and says she hasn't been there for 35 years. She uncovers a grave marker which says Julia Hewes, with one date written underneath, and sobs her heart out.

A couple of reactions - first, where are they going with this particular storyline? Death, babies, grief, Hollywood?...not a comfortable combination. One thing I like is that it adds a fascinating layer to Glenn Close's character. I look at her a little differently now. Just like with real people, first impressions are deceptive, and there are stories and experiences that shape who that person is. We never know who we're talking to, until they tell us. I sympathize with her more. I'm not sure I'm supposed to because I think she's the villain of the piece! But actually I like that the characters are complex and multi-dimensional. With my newly-installed grief eyes, I see a woman who probably got no support when her baby died in 1974, which explains a bit why she is the way she is. The plots get a bit far-fetched with subterfuge and murder at every turn. Not surprising, it's a law drama after all. I do hope they continue to treat that aspect of her character with sensitivity and realism. Tall order for Hollywood. Although it's fiction, it could influence how people view stillbirth and grief. We need all the help we can get, and please, no more fiction to add to the stigma.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Revisited

Last year on this day, someone texted me the following message: "Happy Valentine's Day!!!"

It was five and a half weeks after I delivered Toren.


Just brutal.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wrong Direction

I listened to the online talk which I publicized in a previous post. I have to admit, it was difficult to listen with my grieving mother ears. The statistics were interesting but a bit too clinical for where I'm at with my grief. I do like what the speaker had to say about our need to focus on reducing Canada's stillbirth rate.

The hardest part actually came when the speaker strayed from the subject matter at hand. In particular, it was totally disheartening to hear the suggestion that healthcare professionals should take care of burial arrangements when a baby dies. This idea makes absolutely no sense to me. Sympathy was expressed for newly bereaved parents being "forced" to deal with burial arrangements while in the midst of their grief. Unfortunately, that's what parenting was for us when Toren died. We were forced to do things we didn't want to do. The biggest thing we didn't want to do was to have a child who had died. But looking back, I don't regret anything I had to do as his mother, only the things I didn't do.

The speaker mentioned that many families do want to be involved in their baby's funeral arrangements and that they should be "allowed" to do so. It's such a strange word to use - allowed. When our daughter was born, I remember being surprised at how very much she belonged to us. It should have been no different with Toren, but because we were in terrible shock, and because of the stigma around stillbirth, we were initially confused about whether we should think of him as our son. During my pregnancy, we knew he was a boy and we felt that he was very much ours. After his birth, that sense of belonging was traumatically cut off. It wasn't until months later, when  the shock had subsided and I understood the grief better, that I was able to think about what my responsibilities were as his mother. I was desperate to do right by him. Fortunately, we had his ashes, but if anyone had pushed me to let someone else take care of arrangements, I would have been easily persuaded in my traumatized state. And it would have been yet another terrible regret to pile onto an already sad list.

I don't want to detract from the excellent work being done by this research team, and the main point that Canada needs to do better for families. But it concerns me greatly that a seed may have been planted in people's minds that newly bereaved parents need to be "protected" rather than supported. It would be a misguided kindness to not give parents the opportunity to engage in active parenting as well as active grieving. I worry that anyone thinks this is the direction we should be heading in. It makes me think of the Infants Garden at Mountain View Cemetery here in Vancouver. Hospitals used to tell parents of stillborn babies to forget about those babies, move on, have another baby. Then the staff would take care of having the babies buried in common graves. Modern thinking, and the persistence of families looking for their babies, led to that area being landscaped, babies identified, and parents encouraged to memorialize their children. It is unthinkable that we would even consider going back to the old way of doing things.

It took us a year to feel able to plan Toren's funeral. It was a beautiful service and I'm so glad we did it. I'm glad that that parenting duty, and the opportunity to show our love for our son, was not taken out of our control during a time of intense stress when clear decision-making was impossible.

I highly recommend this moving documentary made by the CBC about the Infants Garden at Mountain View Cemetery: Buried So Deep. There is much to be learned from the experiences of parents whose babies died many years ago but were never forgotten.


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Waves

The other day I was driving along with my daughter and I heard her suddenly say, "I wish Toren was alive." I said me too and asked her if something reminded her of him, or if she was just thinking about him. She said, "I was thinking about him surfing!" We had a little chuckle about that. I don't know if she knows that Pete has tried surfing and really enjoyed it. I don't know if she imagined Toren surfing as a baby (!), as a big boy or as an adult. Or as a puppy/mermaid/unicorn/fairy/princess (just drawing on her recent imaginings here). Then she said, "If he was alive, he would be coming on holiday with us." We are planning a holiday somewhere soon. She is starting to understand more of the implications of his absence. I think about her growing up and realizing all the things that he is missing for. All the family holidays and all her milestones. And also our every single day.

Thirteen months today. Every day is hard. The only comfort has been community. Thank you to friends old and new, near and far, for being our community.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Courage

"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
~ Audre Lorde