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.