Monday, March 25, 2013

Pregnancy after loss

This is my belly!  Pregnancy #4 is underway and has so far been a smashing success.  In about a week or two we should be meeting this little person who has been doing circus tricks and tap dances on my insides for the past few months.

We are thrilled, of course, to have another opportunity to be parents.  I am relieved to find out that my body can carry a baby this far.  Pregnancy after loss is such a mixed experience and I'm sure it's different for everyone.  Our experience has been interesting, joyful, terrifying all at once.

Since we had one 2nd trimester loss and two 1st trimester losses, we had several different "milestones" to cross before we could really start to enjoy the pregnancy.  Getting through the first trimester was a huge relief, as the previous 2 pregnancies ended at weeks 9 and 10.  As usual, we felt the need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  When I had my early ultrasounds, I chose to privately tell my boss what was up.  Since going for a scan for me has sometimes meant discovering an embryo no longer growing, I had to plan for that in case I went to a medical appointment and then couldn't come back to work for a week or two in order to allow for the miscarriage to occur or have a D&C.  So always on my mind before doctors appointments was "are my files in order and my work up to date in case I disappear for a week and someone has to cover for me?"  Luckily my supervisor is supportive and I could trust her with my information.  She always encouraged me and told me not to worry that no matter what happened she would take care of everything.  Fortunately I made it back to work after all those early appointments and did not have to deal with an unexpected absence!

As the 2nd trimester approached we got a little more excited, but as always, nervous.  Not outwardly, I couldn't really "feel" the nervous feeling.  But it showed up for us in different ways.  Changed sleep patterns, attitude changes (a.k.a. Grumpyfest 2012) and signs of anxiety.  The hardest part about the 2nd (and 3rd) trimester is that you can no longer choose when and with whom to discuss the pregnancy.  It's just out there!  Anyone who feels like commenting on it can and will comment on it.  Even if I'm not in the mood, or feeling particularly vulnerable and fearful that day.  This was actually a major adjustment for me.  I had to prepare my response for the "Is this your first baby?" question which happened several times a week.

Something tells me I've talked about this before, but I'm too lazy to check back on my older posts, so skip this if I'm repeating myself.  Other bereaved parents have told me they are often unsure of how to answer this question too.  If I say "yes, this is my first baby" I feel a twinge of something in my soul...I think it's guilt and/or sadness.  Not that Donovan can hear me, nor does he care that I have chosen not to mention him, but more of like yucky discomfort when you know you're not being true to yourself.  For reasons that are hard to pin down, it's not always a safe time/place/person to bring up the fact that I've lost a child.  So sometimes I don't.  Other times I do and say "It's actually my second but my son passed away a few hours after he was born" or something to that effect.  This is always dangerous, but it is my preference to be honest and to allow that person to know the real answer.  I love Donovan as much as any parent loves their children, and to ignore/deny his existence just feels wrong, even when I do it to protect myself, or to avoid awkward conversations.  In a perfect world I could always be truthful and never have to regret having answered honestly.

How do you know when it's a good time to be honest and when it's best to just skip it?  No idea.  I thought I had it down, but I was proven wrong.  Normally (I thought) someone who is older, more experienced in life and maybe has children of her own, can handle the fact that sometimes babies don't make it and life can really suck.  These people I tend to assume will handle my truth carefully and respond with a solid "I'm so sorry to hear that, I hope everything goes well this time."  Someone younger, less life experience, I sometimes assume won't care, or will say something dumb just for lack of tools for how to handle unexpected responses to basic questions.  One week in February I was proven so very wrong.

A lovely young woman (early 20s) was cutting my hair.  I had never met her before.  I answered "yes" to the "is this your first baby" question and we continued to chat.  After awhile she mentioned that her best friend had recently had a very late and devastating miscarriage and she didn't know how to help her.  I then shared a little about my experiences and also told her about my blog.  She was very interested and we had a very meaningful discussion about what helps and what doesn't help when someone is suffering this type of loss.  I felt grateful for the opportunity to help someone find ways to support a grieving friend.  I was glad she was honest with me and glad I was honest with her.  

One week later, feeling all energized and healthy about my attitude toward my own loss and willingness to be honest with others, I went to the dentist.  My big belly and I settled into the chair, and before the lady even started cleaning my teeth, she asked if it was my first baby.  I said "No it's my second but my first one was born premature and didn't make it."  Mistake!!.  While both of her hands were in my mouth, she proceeded to natter on and on about everyone she has ever known who has lost a child (and there were many), how it happened, how many times it happened and what I should be doing to avoid it happening to me.  She even said at one point "My sister lost her daughter at exactly the stage you are now!"  Then I'd had enough.  I backed away so I could speak, and said "Why would you tell me that?"  To which she replied "Because you need to know these things.  You need to talk to your doctor."  Oooooooh Maaaaaaaaaan.  I was livid.  She was going to need her own doctor soon if she kept talking.  I politely asked her to ease up on the scary stories, but obviously this women (mid 50s, mother of 2) had no common sense and my warnings went unnoticed.  Now the worst part in this situation was that it is hard to talk, interject or defend yourself while someone is cleaning your teeth.  I felt helpless.  Plus, it is one of those offices where there are chairs lined up with no walls, and I felt self-conscious with other people in earshot.  I felt like I was about to cry.  Yes I could have bitten her fingers, but somehow I refrained.  I left the dentist office having heard of about 20 new ways babies can die that I hadn't even heard of (and I thought I'd heard them ALL...after 3 years of "Ya my cousin's neighbour's best friend's aunt lost a baby too....").  I was devastated and so discouraged.  I called the office later that week and asked for her name and requested not to be paired up with her next time.  They didn't ask why, but they sounded surprised and agreed to make a note on my chart.  This experience really rattled me.  It took me over a week to catch back up to where I had been emotionally.  It's amazing how much 2 strangers affected me that week.

This pregnancy has been going very well.  It still surprised me though, that when I admit aloud I'm a little nervous about it, how many people resort to "Oh you'll be fiiiiiiiiiine."  Can you really say that to someone who has been pregnant 4 times and has no children in the house?  Look at it this way:  If you had a child die in a boating accident, it would be a long time (or forever) until you'd feel comfortable putting the rest of your children in a boat.  Correct?  Of course!  You might never go near water again!  Pregnancy is our boat ride.  We have been so hurt in the past, and a pregnancy is how it all started.  However it's our only way to become parents, and we refuse to give up on that based on fear.  It's complicated.  I'd order kids from the catalogue if I could (and don't say "why don't you just adopt" because you know that's not a simple solution, adoption takes years and is a huge life altering decision in itself!")  You can't "just adopt" like you can find a puppy on kijiji.  And I know this because I checked.  : P

As always, the "you'll be fine" comment is patronizing and irritates me (because I don't complain very often, I don't feel like it's necessary for people to say that.  I take great care not to talk about my fears more than my joys).  Another thing that happens a lot is people will give me labour/birthing advice or explain to me what to expect.  This is not weird when it's strangers who don't know my story.  This is weird when it's people who who know me well and who would have been part of Donovan's life.  Our biggest fear from day 1 of losing Donovan, is that people will forget about him.  When someone tells me where the labour floor is, or what contractions feel like, it sure sounds like they've forgotten about my son.  That makes me very very sad.  Several people have reminded me to "take the virtual tour" of the labour ward online.  I hesitate to say anything because I don't want them to feel badly (yep, bereaved parents spend a lot of time protecting other people's feelings).  Sometimes I will gently mention "Yes I remember what it looks like because Donovan was born there."  And then it DOES make people feel badly, and then I feel like a jerk for saying something I KNEW would hurt them and then we all feel badly.  I know that no one intends to hurt me with their comments.  Everyone means well and is excited for me so that's why it seems like there is really no good solution when this happens.

The best things that anyone ever said to me when I announced my pregnancy is "Wow, congratulations, that is such wonderful news!  You must be terrified."  I laughed at how refreshing his statement was.
I think some of the best things to say to someone who is announcing a pregnancy after loss are things like:
"I'm so happy for you...hope everything works out well"
"Congratulations, I'll be praying for your baby"
...or congratulate them and simply ask them how they are feeling about being pregnant after a loss!  It truly is okay to ask.  Better to ask then to assume.  Maybe they are not terrified.  Maybe they are not joyful.  Maybe they can't feel joy yet and feel guilty about that because they feel pressured to be joyful like everyone else is. Maybe.

Lastly, a common assumption was that once I passed 21 weeks (the stage Donovan was born at) that I was all fine and had no worries in the world.  Well once you've had a loss, you hear about other types of losses and soon I knew about 35 different ways babies can die (partly thanks to the tooth cleaner).  Plus, once something horrible happens to you, it is natural to feel vulnerable to all other kinds of horrible things.  I was nearly as fearful of the things that have happened to other people (cord accidents, infections, etc).  So no, passing 21 weeks did not relieve all my fears.  Some, but not all.  Overall we have done a spectacular job of letting the joys out weigh the fears, if I may say so myself.  It took great effort to do so.  My smart (and handsome) husband wisely pointed out "If things go badly, we'll have lots of time to feel sad later.  This is the happy part, let's do our best to make the best of the happy while it's here."

Geeez, every time I think I'm just going to write a brief blog entry, it ends up being long anyway.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  We have been overwhelmed and so moved by the outpouring of support and love people have for this baby already.  We know you've felt our hurt, we can tell that by how much you share our joy.  This is a special baby.  A welcome addition to my special family.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The "M" Factor

About a year after we lost Donovan, we decided to get a dog.  I was not much of a dog person, or any kind of pet person; I'd never had an indoor pet before.  Doug had grown up with dogs and was much more used to the idea.  Why am I telling you this story?  I had no idea what a difference having a pet would make in my life.  I am almost kind of sad that I missed out on this until now!

Keeping in mind we were dealing with losing Donovan, had already had a miscarriage and didn't know if/when we'd be brave enough to try again.  It was an uncomfortably quiet house, a rather boring existence with a couch that was so comfy it was really easy just to stay on it during all our free time.  I have to admit, the first 3 weeks of owning him was well worth the 2 years of picking up poo we've done so far.  We got so excited going to get him, reading books about how to raise a puppy, and creating a puppy safe environment.  We got him at the beginning of a long weekend so we had 3 whole days at home before having to go to work.  The first day back at work, I remember watching the clock so intently, waiting impatiently for the day to be over so I could go home to him.  When 5 o'clock came, I literally sprinted to my car, exploding with excitement to be home with the adorable puppy.  I had not moved that quickly in over a a year, I'm sure of it, and that level of excitement and joy hadn't appeared in a very long time.  That moment alone I knew we had made a good decision!  Totally worth the pee on the floor stage, the chewing stage and every other stage.  Here are a few shots from his first week at home:

Doug and I now had a project.  We had to pick a name, get dog stuff, decide on the rules and boundaries, etc.  When people asked me what my hobbies are or what I do in my spare time, I would say "I have a puppy" and that would be enough said.  We committed as much time as possible to helping him grow up into a healthy, well behaved and happy dog.  Best of all, he just added positive energy into this household that we desperately needed.  It's hard not to smile when you open your bedroom door in the morning and the dog leaps up from his slumber, as though he hadn't seen you in months, bounding toward you with a level of excitement only a puppy can deliver.  It's so cute and it brings joy to my heart every time.  It didn't fix everything and of course there were stressful moments here and there, but not once did we regret our decision, and the benefits far out weigh the challenges.

When Halloween came along, I found a skeleton t-shirt for a dog for $5 in a clearance bin.  There had previously been a very serious comment from my husband: "We will never put clothes on our dog.  People will think we've gone crazy." He doesn't care when other people put clothes on their dog.  His opinion is that when bereaved parents do it, it looks like they are trying to replace their children with an animal.  He was just trying to keep us looking sane to the people around us, and I know he meant well.  Please note that nowhere have I mentioned that getting a dog eased the pain of losing a child.  It did not.  It just kept us busy, gave us something to get off the couch for, and made us laugh everyday.  The odd person would say something like "Well it's too bad that you lost Donovan, but at least you have Murphy now."  This comment felt like a punch in the stomach.  Sorry folks, apples and oranges.  No, more like apples and lawnmowers! Not even in the same ballpark!  I think I've mentioned in a post before that if you find yourself saying anything that starts with "At least...." when responding to the news of someone's loss, please stop talking.  It is minimizing and we really get tired of people trivializing the nature of our loss.  We know it could have been worse, we know we are lucky to have each other, WE KNOW all the "at leasts."  Anyway, (rabbit trail over) I somehow convinced Doug to put the shirt on Murphy just once, which he did, and he actually agreed to take him for his evening walk on Halloween with the shirt on.  I found it rather hilarious.  I would have preferred a chicken costume for him, with a sign on the lawn that said "BEWARE OF CHICKEN" but I had to accept Doug's hesitations and just let it go. :)

Murphy's first and last Halloween costume.
Perhaps the biggest benefit from having Murphy around for the last 2 years is the sense of accomplishment when he does something I've taught him.  Dogs are so basic.  If you do this and this, you will get this back.  It's very simple actually.  When we start to get frustrated with his behaviour, we know that if we walk him longer or more often and meet his other doggy needs mentally, physically and emotionally, it will make a difference for the better.  It's nice to have something that is easy to understand and within our ability to influence.  I still feel amazed sometimes when he asks to go outside and then politely barks once when he is ready to be let back in and waits so patiently by the door.  We taught him that, and he does it every time!  What a great feeling.

Murphy is hilarious.  The way he plays, responds to us, rolls over when he wants something even though we didn't ask him to (it's like his way of saying "PLEEEEEZE!) never gets old.  Wiping off muddy paws, limiting our time away from home, and walking in the cold gets tedious, but we know it's worth it.  I've even come to grips with the dog hair.  I got a really good vacuum, a sticky roller by the door, and the rest I can live with.  He still has a lot of learning to do, and we know we have to keep on it and not get lazy.  Here are a few pictures of the only other time I put any type of garment on him, and this was done when no one else was home (snicker snicker).

Looks to me like he is doing a Dumbo impression here.

Where did I leave that...?

As yes, there it is!

Merry Christmas!

So, in case you were wondering how we have kept busy in the last 3 years since we lost our son, now you know.  We feel so glad we took on this responsibility and have never regretted it.  One day I saw a bumper sticker in the shape of a paw that read "Who Rescued Who?"  I wouldn't have had the slightest clue what that meant 2 years ago, but now I totally get it.  Thank you to those who have helped us with dog sitting, tolerated the jumping and barking when you come over, and for just supporting us in general!  

Murphy trying to resuscitate a toucan.

A good face to come home to everyday!

Well I have to get going, I have a dog to walk.  Thanks for reading my post.  More news to come soon!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 8

I have sat down many times in the last several months trying to come up with a new post. I either haven't had much to say, or the things I could say are not organized enough. So just a little update will do.
Doug and I still miss Donovan. Everyday I still wish he was living in my house with me and I wish we had celebrated a "real" 2nd birthday last week. We have a good life here; we have good friends, good family, good jobs, good house, fun pet. We really try not to complain too much and enjoy the good parts of our life.
Today was my 3rd due date that came and went with no baby. Our second miscarriage (3rd pregnancy loss) occurred in April. In keeping with the original purpose of this blog, I'll now do a quick FAQ of the things people have started asking me about:

Q. What are the doctors telling you?
A. Not much. In my province, the "rule" in healthcare is that you have to have 3 losses before you get referred to specialists, and before they'll do any investigating into what is causing the losses. Even though the way we lost Donovan was not a miscarriage, it still just counted as 1 of the 3 required losses before I could get some extra medical help. So it was only this past April when I could finally "qualify" to see the doctors who specialize in this. They all have big waiting lists. I am now on them.

Q. What do you think of the "3 losses before we help you" rule?
A. #$&*#%#!!!!!!!!!!!! It's crap.

Q. What have you been doing in the meantime?
A. While waiting on these lists I've been seeing a Naturopathic doctor. This has been a life changing experience. Plus, they have no waiting lists, and their solution for everything isn't "take drugs." I am learning how to balance natural medicine as well as mainstream healthcare, and understand the benefits and shortcomings of both systems.

Q. Would you consider adoption?
A.  I'm not sure and will give it more thought later, if necessary. 

Q. Do you think your pregnancies were too close together?
A. No. Although it sounds crazy to say I've been pregnant 3 times in 2 years, all of my pregnancies were spaced at least 8 months apart, which is 7 months more than the doctors told me to wait. They all agreed that there is no benefit to waiting more than a month after a loss to conceive again.

Those are some of the things people have been asking me about. I wish I had a different story to tell today, one of backache and stretch marks and swollen feet. There might be a new story around the corner for me, when I can get some answers from the medical people...but maybe not. Chronic miscarriage (yes I now qualify as "chronic") is very mysterious, many people never get answers to why it's happening to them.

Thank you to everyone who remembered my son last week on his birthday, November 3. Happy Birthday son, I love you.
Happy supposed-to-be-birthday to baby#3. You were going to be the best birthday present ever for your Daddy. This will still be our special day to remember you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Discussion about Miscarriage

I'm very baffled by something and I'm wondering if anyone else is confused too. Where did the custom of keeping pregnancies a secret for 12 weeks originate? What's the purpose? I've given this a lot of thought, and here is what I've come up with:

Possible reasons for keeping it a secret:
1. In case you lose the baby, you don't have to have the conversation over and over, telling everyone that you are no longer pregnant.
2. One in 4 or 5 pregnancies doesn't make it past 12 weeks, so maybe by keeping it a secret you avoid getting your "hopes up" too early. It seems to be believed that a person who miscarries suffers less if they tried to ignore the pregnancy and tried to keep their "hopes" down. (what's the opposite of "hopes up"?)
3. Ummmm....that's all I can think of.

Things that seem weird about keeping it a secret:
1. It's usually very exciting! Both times I found out I was pregnant, I was totally elated. I wanted so badly to call my family and friends and share that excitement. What hidden pressure prevented me from doing that? Who cares if I was only 5 weeks pregnant?
2. We often feel like total garbage in the first trimester. It seems like such a ridiculous expectation to keep this huge exciting secret, yet throw up at work all morning and nap at our desks. I remember inventing a back injury so I wouldn't have to help unload heavy donations at work. Why do we let pregnancy turn us into giant liars?
3. So, let's say you do lose the baby. Is this something you really want to deal with privately too? Or do we feel like we should?
4. The last weird thing that I have discovered is...even though I did miscarry last June, I missed out on sharing the good part! Those 10 weeks were overflowing with hope and joy. Remind me again why we stifle this and try to conceal something so wonderful?

The truth is, it is different for everyone. I believe that some people would want to handle it privately if they were to experience pregnancy loss. For me, it was unbelievably painful and terrifying. Who was I protecting by trying to pretend I hadn't just experienced something so devastating?

I might even venture to guess that the custom of keeping miscarriage and early pregnancy a secret might be rooted in the attitude that "women's issues" are taboo and gross. "Don't you go botherin' the menfolk with yer woman problems."
I'm just speculating.

Would it be too sad for the world if we had to support and grieve with each other for every 1 in 4 or 5 pregnancies lost? Or maybe because it is so common, it's not worth making a big deal over. It really is a mixed message: "Don't worry, it's very common, you're not alone. Oh but don't talk about it though."

I admit that I did not have this attitude 2 years ago, I would be surprised when people told me that they were 6 weeks pregnant, and I'd wonder why they were telling people so early. But life has a way of teaching me things and making me less judgemental as I grow up : )

So the real point of my rambling is this: Each person should get to do what she really truly wants to do. If you want to share the entire journey of your pregnancy with the world, good for you, I hope you do so freely. If you want to keep it to yourself and have a fun secret from the world for as long as you want, also good for you. I just deeply wish for us all to do what we really want to, instead of letting obligation or tradition make the decision.
Keep the secret if it protects you. But don't keep it to protect anyone else.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Last month was the one year anniversary of the day my baby came and left.  I had read about anniversaries being difficult, but for some reason I thought I could out-smart it.  We have done many things to grieve "properly" and try to minimize the emotional and psychological effects that can result from "unresolved grief."  Once again I am reminded that information, preparation and planning can help a little, but not as much as we'd like.

One book I read mentioned that struggling during the anniversary is absolutely universal.  One study showed that even children who were too small to know what season or day it was when their parent died or left, typically have a very difficult time during the days and weeks around the anniversary of the loss.  Isn't that interesting?

My experience last month was very surprising.  It felt like I had been catapulted back into 2009 when the loss, confusion and anger was so fresh.  It caused me to question myself: What is wrong with me?  Why do I feel so raw and vulnerable again?  Why am I so angry?  Instead of concluding that I was officially going crazy, I believe it is fair to credit these symptoms to the anniversary of Donovan's death.  One reason it was especially tricky, is because unlike last November, this time I had to get through the work days, behave "normally," and go about a very full life despite the sadness that had somehow renewed itself and seemingly squashed the progress I thought I'd made in the last 12 months.

On the actual day of Donovan's birthday, we both took the day off.  We slept in, at least as much as a 3 month old puppy will let you, took ourselves out to a nice breakfast, and went and test drove cars we can't afford : ).  It was kinda fun.  Later at home we looked over all of Donovan's pictures, paperwork, toys, poems, gifts, cards and mementos.   As much as it hurt to do so and let the "I can't believe my baby died" reality seep back in, it also felt really really important.  Since life has inevitably swept us back into the rat race, the time we took to stop, remember, and sit with that hurt again was valuable. 

It's funny how I can tell when too much time has gone by between setting aside time to be sad.  A year ago I looked at Donovan's slideshow 10 times a day.  Now, I don't even do it every week.  A year ago, Donovan's stuffed elephant absorbed my tears every day.  Today I find myself avoiding looking at the elephant, because I don't have time to feel that hurt and sometimes I want to pretend it didn't happen.  But when I pretend that for too long and I avoid the elephant's cute face, when I don't stop and talk to Donovan's picture on the piano, it starts to build up.  I get tense and grumpy. 
So just like a person has to eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired, so also a person must take time to grieve and hurt when your body and your mind ask you to.  No way around it, and it's not healthy nor wise to avoid it.  At least that's what I think. 

The following Saturday we had family come to the graveside to see his headstone and have a little remembrance together.  And wouldn't ya know it, we botched yet another balloon release. This time the balloons let themselves go from the side mirror of a truck when no one was looking.  Again, kinda funny.  So we read the lyrics to the song "Homesick," and the book "born to fly" which is a conversation between a stillborn baby and God.  Both are very cute and inspiring.  We had a big heap of red roses.  It was a very beautiful day, just like it had been on funeral day. 

When Monday rolled around, I had a huge sense of relief.  I had made it through all the big "firsts."  I had nothing else looming in my future that I didn't know if I could handle.  Not much could scare me now and I felt a  One full year of grieving under my belt, and I'm all in one piece, still married, working, didn't quite eat myself into oblivion (close though) and I still enjoy many things in life.  Neat huh. 

So if there is one thing to take away from this blog post: Pay attention to anniversaries.  They are big deal and can catch you off guard.  Also just because there is still deep grief after 1 whole year, doesn't mean there is anything "unresolved" about it.  I'm pretty sure it just means that you have unending love for someone who is not here anymore and you still wish for them back everyday.  I think that's okay. 

-Mercy Me
You're in a better place, I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you
I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now
Help me Lord cause I don't understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
Cause I'm still here so far away from home
I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Funeral

There are many things that no one should have to do, and plan a funeral for their child is one of them.  Not everyone has funerals for babies born like Donovan was, but I can't tell you enough how important it was for us, and I would urge all bereaved families to do it.  We were distracted by the questions in our minds "Would anyone even come, they didn't know him?" and "What do you say a funeral for someone with a 4 hour life?"  Once we got into the planning though, we found no trouble putting together a service, and we invited just a small number of people.  Again, in hindsight I wish we'd had a regular funeral, where whoever wanted to could attend.  But we felt doubtful that many people would come, so we just had it at the funeral home which only held 50 people, and invited aunts, uncles, grandparents and a few close local friends.  The feedback we've had about it after though made me think that we could have filled at least half a church, if not the whole thing.  I guess I didn't realize how many hearts broke when Donovan died.

Another of the things people shouldn't have to do at the ages of 27 and 30, is decide where they will be buried.  We are way too young to have to choose that type of thing, however we talked about it and agreed that the MacGregor cemetery was a good place for us.  Partly because I grew up there, most of my family is still there, and also largely because there were spots available right next my Grandpa.  Even though we live in Winnipeg (which, for our international readers, is one and half hours away) we didn't want to bury our son in a big crowded cemetery in the city full of strangers.  No matter what happens to us and where we end up, I know there will always people people who know us and love us in MacGregor, and they'll check on Donovan's grave if we aren't able to.  So we bought 2 plots and  convinced my parents to buy the two next to it.  This way when our descendents come and visit us, we'll be nice and organized in one central location.  : )

So with "final resting place" chosen and purchased, we moved on to the funeral arrangements.  Oh, I guess I have to talk about something else first.
Caution: this part is going to be really uncomfortable for you.  Feel free to go get a snack, check your facebook, or stand up and stretch.
At some point, and I don't remember when, we had to decide what to do with his body.  You already know, there are two choices, right?  Well we had to pick one, and it was awful.  When you really think about it, both options seem absolutely terrible.   There are pros and cons for both, but when it all came down to it, there is no such thing as a coffin for person as small as Donovan. 

A few people have gently asked (and never to me, just to my mom) "was Donovan...ummm...cremated?"  The answer is yes.  But it was not an easy decision, actually it was an impossible one.  As a matter of fact, the concept of cremation has always freaked me out and seemed totally cruel.  I know many of you agree.  I was tormented, haunted and tortured about making this decision.  I couldn't sleep, when I closed my eyes all I could see was fire.  How could I let that happen to my son?  Two or three days after he was born and a day or two before the funeral, I had a life changing experience (yes, another one.  This is the whole reason I'm telling you about the cremation).  I was sitting on the side of my bed.  I was hurting so badly in my soul, feeling like I'd done something terrible to the body of my child.  I was praying desperately that God would help me, fix this, heal me, let me sleep and somehow bring me peace about this impossible decision.
A little voice along with the face of my baby boy appeared to me.  I'M NOT JOKING.
This soft little boy who I'd held in my arms just days ago, looked at me (yes his eyes were open now) and he said sweetly "It's okay Mom, I don't need it."

My son told me it was okay.  He had made a very good point.  He no longer needed that body, he was done with it.  The decision we made did not hurt him or bother him.  He was fine with it, and wanted me to know it. 
I am not making this up.  I have never had an experience like this before.  And trust me, I have had many prayers go unanswered (obviously) but for some reason, I got a miracle that day, and I saw my son again, and felt a perfect peace that I really needed. 

Not once since then have I regretted our decision.  It was right for us, it was right for Donovan, and I no longer think it's mean or gross.  The bottom line is, when someone dies the people left behind have to make a very difficult decision between two things that both seem terrible.  There is no way around it and it can be traumatizing. 
However, my unbelievable experience helped me immensely and I would hope for anyone struggling with this type of choice to somehow acquire the peace I felt about it and still feel, after I was reassured that it was okay.  I can still hear that soft, happy, concerned voice: "It's okay Mom, I don't need it." 

We spent the majority of the days between his birth/death and the funeral at our home, editing pictures and putting them to music.  We went out to MacGregor one day and met with the funeral director, selected an urn, funeral card, flowers and balloons.  Hmm, sounds easy now, but every decision was SO HARD.  I felt tons of pressure.  One chance and one chance only to celebrate your child, to introduce him to your extended family and friends, and to imprint his specialness on their hearts.
During these days of planning, our cheek skin was raw and sore from all the tears.  Doug, in a very creative, hilarious way, actually came up with a way of tilting his head back slightly while he cried, then when his lids started to overflow, he would snap his head forward and the tears would jump out of his eyes, missing his cheeks completely.  It was the one thing that could make me smile... and even laugh. 

Since I'd been pregnant, I had no appropriate clothes that fit me, and this resulted in a trip to the mall.  It was the last place I wanted to be.  It was the strangest experience.  I felt so weird being there.  I couldn't help but to think: "How can these people just wander around oblivious..." yet of course why would they know, or why should they know.  But I kept wondering how many times I had walked past someone whose baby had just died or someone else they loved.  How many times have I walked by someone whose silent pain was throbbing through their whole body.  It's a weird thing to think about, and to this day I always wonder what people are thinking about, when I see them walking quietly or looking down.  You just never know what's going on behind those eyes. 

Needless to say it was the most decisive I'd ever been shopping, I think I tried on one thing and bought it.  We went and got Doug some stuff too, and of course at Moore's they ask "Is this for a special occaision?"  Ugh.  It's the kind of question when you know they'll be sorry they asked if you tell them the real answer, so we just said "Funeral."  He asked "Are you a pall bearer or something?"  We just nodded and pleaded with our eyes for him to stop asking questions.

When grow-ups die, there us usually more people to help with the plans, but in our case, we pretty much did everything ourselves.  It was tiring, especially since I'd just given birth, yet at the same time we were motivated with the concept of giving our boy a special day.  The day before the funeral, I woke up to sheer pain on my chest.

So off to goggle I went, to find out how to deal with this.  I didn't know for sure if it would arrive, since I was only 21 weeks pregnant, but now we know.  The only think I could find that was recommended was cold cabbage leaves, so Doug went to the store.  I will only say this:  I'm never eating coleslaw again.  Doug affectionately nicknamed my situation: Bra-slaw.

It felt like a cruel joke, to have all this milk and no baby that needed it.  Plus all the hugs I got on funeral day were extremely painful and I wish I'd worn some kind of chest protector.  It really hurt!

Sunday November 8th was one of those amazing warm days last fall.  There was still no snow and it was warm enough to be without jackets.  We packed up everything, and I remember pulling out of the driveway thinking "I can't believe I'm going to my son's funeral."  I was so nervous.  Nervous about everything going as planned, and nervous to see people, because besides the mall outing, I'd pretty much been hiding in my house all week.  We had invited people by phone, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents and closest friends.  As I've already mentioned, I do wish we'd opened it up to have anyone who wanted to come, but hindsight is always pretty clear, isn't it. 

We had accidentally ordered 2 sets of balloons, one store sent them to the funeral home, even though I'd said I'll call them to confirm if I wanted them.  It wasn't a huge deal, but they were different colours than the other set.  If you know me at all, I really really like things exactly the way I'd pictured them in my head.  So to have mismatched balloons on an important day like this seemed sloppy and careless.  However, I had bigger things to worry about, and too many balloons was better than too few.  But let's be honest, I to make a conscious effort to let it go. : )

The pastor who did the funeral is the same one who had officiated our wedding 3 years prior.  He's amazing and we appreciate him and his wife so much.  He did a great job.  Doug's mom read Psalm 139, Doug and I both spoke, and we showed the slideshow of Donovan.  I have tried 20 different ways of getting it onto my blog, but I haven't figured it out yet.  Soon, I hope. 

I really didn't cry that much at the funeral.  So little in fact, that I was worried that people would think I wasn't sad enough.  But the truth is, we had planned it so carefully and it was so important to us, that I think I kicked into gear and kind of had my "game face" on.  Doug and I both actually felt an amazing amount of peace that day.  During the slideshow, I leaned into Doug and said "I just want to stay here forever, just keep everyone in this room, ooing and aaahhing over how cute he was, thinking about him and loving him."  The part that scared me most was when it was all over, and I'd be expected to go about my life again.  Being in that room with friends and family focusing on Donovan, actually felt pretty good.   

Here is a picture of the table we had set up in the front of the chapel.  The beautiful urn, surrounded by flowers, and some of the special gifts we and others had given Donovan.

In the entrance we had a very cute guest book table set up, which we forgot to take a picture of, but the table cloth was Precious Moments fabric we'd bought, intending to make a blanket out of it but didn't get to it in time.  Also with some flowers and two stuffed puppies which had been given to Donovan from his Grandpa and Grandma Penner and his Uncle Chris.  It was very very cute and special.

After the service, just immediate family went to the graveside.  Donovan's middle name is Isaac, which was my Grandpa Boehlig's name.  Our plot is in the next row behind my Grandpa, so we had brought flowers to his grave for that day, with a little note that said "Grandpa, please take care of my baby"

The day was so beautiful and peaceful.  I still felt so much disbelief, I think any parent would have that, especially at the funeral.  The pastor read some verses, and a blessing that my friend's mom had written.  It was beautiful and perfect.  Once everyone had a balloon (or two, because of the double order) We had a moment of silence.

It acutally looked really cool, everyone standing together, on such a serious and sad occaision, with 50 bright balloons waving above us in the wind.  Bill said an "Amen" and we all let go.  We let our love and kisses and hugs fly up with our balloons:

I'm really glad we did the balloon release.  It was beautiful.  I do realize that those fell into some poor farmers field somewhere and that they didn't really reach my son.  But it gave us something tangible and visible.  Now, when we're feeling particularly far from Donovan or wanting to do something for him, we go and get two balloons, stand in our backyard, talk to him for a bit and then let them go.  It's our little way of feeling connected to him. 

Now you may not believe me, but something really funny happened.  At least it was funny to me.  For some reason, just after we let the balloons go, I looked behind me at our friend who was videoing the release.  Since he had the camera, he didn't realize that when he let his balloon go, it had gone straight up into a tree and got stuck there.  When I turned, his wife my dear friend, looked at me with huge eyes that said "Oh no!  I'm so sorry!!!"  The look on her face was priceless.  I turned back to our cluster of balloons being carried away.  Finally they got theirs free from the branches and it slowly made it's way up, a mile behind the others and it looked to me like it was saying in a squeaky voice "hey guys, wait up!"  I actually had to bit my lip to keep from laughing.  But when we got back to the house and I was trying to explain what had happened to their devious ballooon, I laughed so hard I cried.  The others in the room seemed to think i'd lost my marbles, but I thought it was good that I could find something funny.  I laughed and laughed, remembering the panicked look on Leann's face.  At that moment I realized if I can laugh at a botched balloon released at my own son's funeral, surely, someday, I would find real joy again and maybe I'd get back to the place where there are more laughs than tears.  Someday. 

The urn was so beautiful and shiny that I really didn't want to put in the ground.  But I'm not really into the urn on the mantle thing either.  Plus, I don't have a mantle.  So again, gotta do it.  The others left Doug and I alone at the graveside, he shovelled and I knelt beside placing flowers which my sister had brought, into the hole.  I had meant to bring some flowers for exactly that purpose and I forgot, so I'm very very glad she thought of it.  Like I said before, i needed this day to be just right.  Sometimes people just leave the burying part to the funeral home staff, but we wanted to do it ourselves.  We buried him right between our two plots, half way down, so when we are buried it will look like he is cuddled between us. 

It was hard, and at this point the peace kind of went away and I started to freak out.  It was all just a little too much.  But we went through these motions, they were non-negotiable, and we to just get through it. 

I remember that evening, we didn't want the people to leave, we didn't want the sun to go down, we didn't want to change our clothes.  I didn't want it to be over.  We couldn't think past this day and didn't want to think about anything else besides Donovan.  We went home the next day, and by this time we had 13 flower arrangements and our house was like an indoor garden, it was so nice. 

Many times I re-read all the cards we received.  Don't underestimate the value of a card.  It really was nice to read all the messages and poems of love and support.  It was especially neat to receive some from people a little on the outskirts of our lives, like someone I worked with 15 years ago during potato harvest, friends we hadn't seen in years, and the three doctors who helped us at St. Boniface through my pregnancy and delivery.  It was truly did help to know that people far and wide were thinking of us and praying for us. 

I don't really know what else to tell you.  Here is a picture of the heastone, which we designed ourselves.  The footprints in the clouds are an exact copy of his footprints we inked at the hospital.  The shooting star above Donovan's feet is for his little brother or sister who we lost through miscarriage at 10 weeks, on June 16th 2010. 

 The headstone was done by Larson's Memorials, in Winnipeg Manitoba.  They were awesome and we appreciated their careful work and kindness.  This is obviously yet another really tough decison. You know that expression "It's not written in stone" indicating that it's not permanent or won't last forever.  Well, choosing a headstone, really is written in stone, so there is a wee bit of pressure to get it right ; )  Anyway, we are very happy with it, and hope Donovan likes it too. 

That is all I have to say about my son's funeral, burial and headstone.  Sometimes I still shake my head and say to myself "I can't believe my baby died."  Creating this blog has really helped me.  Sharing the details of this experience and letting people know both my regrets and my joys, is very liberating for me. 

Thanks for wondering, and thanks for loving my boy. 

Donovan, I miss you and
I wish you were here...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What was it like when he was born?

As promised, here is Donovan’s life story, from the perspective of his Mommy.

Donovan made his entrance into the world, in a very very quiet room in the St. Boniface hospital. In attendance: his Daddy, Mommy (of course) 1 resident doctor, 1 nurse and a nursing student. At 3:53 am his legs, tiny body and cute little face that order. There was utter silence in the room. I hated that feeling of everyone else in the room seeing him before me.

“It’s a boy” the lovely resident announced.

“REALLY?” I sat up like a shot, shocked and thrilled at the news. “Is he alive?” I asked, expecting a very disappointing answer.

More silence. And still, they hadn’t shown him to me. Doug was cutting the cord.

“Yes!” She said, with not just a little surprise in her voice. The whole room gasped a quiet, amazed, reverent breath. Then they brought him to me and set him on my chest. I couldn’t believe my eyes, what a beautiful, tiny, amazing...Oh my goodness he looks like Doug!! Those were my first thoughts: And here is a picture of my very first moment with my boy:

From that point on, I became very concerned about making sure he was comfortable and warm.  You could see his little chest moving with the beat of his heart.  He had bruises on his leg and one on his head from being in the same position in my uterus for 5 weeks, but again they assured me that it didn't hurt him. 

He had perfectly formed eye brows, his finger nails already needed cutting,  and his head was covered in the softest fuzzy brown hair, exactly the same square hairline as his Daddy.  His lips were pouty and thick and he had very rounded cheeks which was a shock to us all, because there isn't much fat on babies at that point yet.  His skin was really dark and reddish, because he hadn't grown all of his layers yet, and in some places you could see some of his veins through the skin.  Like in this picture, of him grasping one of my fingers and one of Doug's:

Don't you just want to hold and kiss those tiny fingers?  I know, me too.

I gently touched his soft little foot, and ran my finger across his cheek and forehead.  His skin was so soft, I couldn't believe it.  
"Hi baby, I love you" I whispered.  "Are you ok?"  In this moment a made a promise to myself.  Any of you who have children know that experience of reaching out your arms and receiving your very own child for the first time.  There is just nothing like it in the universe, I think.  And although we knew we would lose him, and although we were so sad and tired and heartbroken, that indescribable love that expands your heart and fills your soul...was still there.  And it changed my life.  It was the coolest thing I've ever experienced multiplied by 50.  In that moment I made a promise to myself and to Donovan that I wouldn't give up and I wouldn't let the sadness of losing him, completely erase the beauty of the love I felt for my child.  I promised I would try for more children again someday.  Someday when the time was right.  
"We'll tell your brothers and sisters all about you" I promised my son out loud.

Those first few moments are the clearest in my memory.  Soon they weighed him and measured him:
14.3 ounces.  Just under one pound.

Just about 10 inches long

They put a diaper on him, explaining that babies might leak some fluids, which I didn't like because it was too big on him and looked uncomfortable.  Then they scurried around the ward, looking for the tiniest hat, and the tiniest blanket they could find.
Doug and I had brought a preemie outfit and preemie hat, but he was much to small for them.  I was disappointed.  I didn't like it that he had to be naked.  So we wrapped him up and struggled to keep him warm.  I asked several times for them to bath him or at least wipe off his face.  He had lots of goop on him from birth, and they wouldn't do it.  To this day I wish I'd been more pushy about that, because many of the clearest pictures we have of him there is quite a lot of stuff on his face, which of course detracts from his cuteness.  But, I didn't have time to argue with nurses, I was trying to fit a lifetime of love into a few short hours. 
I lovingly wrapped him, which most mommies get to do daily, but I had one chance only. 

At some point we called some people, I do remember calling my sister and saying "I'm holding my son" and thinking I'll never ever get to say that  again after today.  That realization brought on buckets of tears.  My family and I had barely discussed whether or not they would come when he was born.  We had been prepared to deliver a baby who had already passed away, so we had probably thought we'd just have a few moments together and then they would take him away.  If we knew then what we know now, I would have called everyone while I was in labour and asked them to come to meet him while he was still alive.  I did call my Mom while I was in labour and asked her to make a blanket ASAP, because I wanted the baby to have a something special from his Grandma, and we'd already bought the fabric.  So she stayed up half the night sewing...Thanks Mom! 
Anyway, while our families made their way to the city, Doug and I cuddled our little man. 

Funny hat, yes, but it was the only one small enough for my tiny angel.
Not long into our time together the doctor started harassing me about my placenta, and needing to get it out.  Wow, that was really intrusive, I thought.  But they wouldn't leave me alone, so I handed Donovan to Doug.  This ended up being the single worst 20 minutes of my entire life.  I'm pretty sure Doctor was using two fists trying to get it out, to no avail.  I became hysterical.  While I writhed in pain, Doug had set the baby down to comfort me.  When I turned over and saw my tiny boy all alone in his bassinet, I freaked.  Not at Doug, just at the situation.  I wanted so badly for everyone to leave me alone.  I cried and cried and finally lost my composure that until that point I had kept well within my control.  "HE ONLY HAS A FEW HOURS TO LIVE!! HE SHOULDN'T HAVE TO SPEND ONE SECOND ALL ALONE...SOMEBODY PICK HIM UP...SOMEBODY PICK HIM UP!"  But, that made it even worse because all staff people in the room rushed to MY side, as did Doug and tried to calm me down.  Then they put that gas mask on my face and I got dizzy and I thought they were going to knock me out and result in me missing the rest of my child's life and I freaked even more.  Finally they backed off and Doug held me until I stopped crying.  Then the Doctor says "Ok Jodie, I think we'll just leave this for now"  YA THINK???? 
However, the problem was that a placenta at 21 weeks isn't ready to let go and was being rather stubborn.  So, they had to give me medication to restart my contractions (UGH!) in order to get it to move down.  "Fine, do whatever, just go away and give my my son back please."  So they did.  In an hour or so the Doctor came back and this time both me and my placenta cooperated quietly and the stupid thing was out.

I pretty much cried the whole rest of the morning.  In the pictures where we are smiling, it was a conscious choice to force a smile, because I didn't want to look miserable in all of the photos of me holding my boy.  There was, after all, still that deep deep love and joy, underlying all this pain and sorrow.

Eventually it got harder to keep him warm and I started to feel scared that it was over.  I said "I love you" more and more, in case he could still hear me.  The nurses were checking his pulse from time to time and it was getting slower.  Once it became apparent that he was gone, they waited for the doctor to come and call it.  This unfortunately took a long time, because there was another complicated birth on the floor that night.  Finally he arrived, laid my boy at the foot of the bed, assessed his tiny cute little body, and declared the time of death.  At that moment I so badly wanted to go back in time...for one more kiss and one more "I love you" whispered in his tiny ears.  I can't describe that feeling.  Death is so final and so permanent.  I hate it so much.  
They re-wrapped him and gave him back to us.  The hospital staff pretty much left us alone at that point.  Soon after, my parents and Doug's parents, and my sister and brother-in-law arrived.  I think they all took a turn holding him, and I wish we'd taken pictures of this, but we didn't.  I felt like we'd taken as many pictures as we could while he was still alive and maybe no one would want to look at pictures of a dead baby.  But now I think I still would have liked to have them, just for me and Donovan's grandparents and aunt and uncle to remember that moment.  Even with 5 weeks to plan and think over how this day would go, I still ended up with several regrets and "if onlys."  I try not to let them hurt me too much.   

We were given as much time as we wanted to stay with him, uninterrupted.  The hospital was really respectful and patient.  I'd guess they really hate when this happens too.  It's just awful for lots of people. 
Our families didn't stay long and we waited until about noon and then prepared ourselves to leave.  We got the nurse to ink Donovan's foot prints and hand prints which we are very glad we did.  We ended up using the footprints on his headstone.
By then he was wrapped in his "Homemade by Grandma" blanket and I gave clear instructions to the nurse to pass on to the next people who would care for him, that he was to stay wrapped in that blanket at all times.  We said our goodbyes and soaked up the look of his features and feel of his soft skin.  I handed him to the nurse and then quickly took him back and said "Please just one more hug"  As I held him to my chest,  I glanced at the nurse. There were tears were pouring down her face.   I was kinda glad.  I was glad my son had touched her heart, and it made me feel sure that she would be gentle as she cared for him when I couldn't.

Until now I've avoided the "M" word, but it kind of needs to be used now.  That nurse would then take him to the....morgue.  Ugh I hate that word.  And I was absolutely haunted and tortured with the idea of him being in one, cold and alone.  This was the worst part of the day.  We are not created with the skills or ability to do this.  We are created with intuition and instincts that nurture and care for and protect our children.  Handing my infant over to a stranger and walking away from him goes against every grain in my body and my soul.  But we had to do it.  No choice.  No other option.  We just...had to do it.  

I'm not sure where all the water came from that poured down our faces.  There were endless fountains from our eyes.  Endless.  We walked away, because we couldn't stay there forever.  Took the stairs, because there were Moms and Dads with car seats & new babies waiting for the elevator.  Bawled openly and perhaps even loudly through the lobby and while we paid for parking.  Sobbed all the way home, where our family was waiting for us.   

Whew!  I'm exhausted and crying from writing all of that.  I am surprised that you kept reading.  I hesitated about whether or not to post it, because it is really sad. But as aforementioned, blogs are optional, and I am not forcing anyone to read it.  So you voluntarily read this far...impressive.  Overall I must tell you, the time we had with our son was a miracle, a blessing, a peaceful and perfect gift.  We did get our miracle after all, it was just different than we had thought.  Our miracle was not that Donovan survived, but that he defied the odds, survived labour and stayed on earth long enough to hear how much his parents love him.  We have the memory of the wrinkles in is forehead when he wiggled, the soft skin of his cheeks, and the peace we felt, even though we knew he was headed home to heaven.

We are so glad he came. 
We are so happy to be the parents to Donovan Isaac Willsey. 
It has been the greatest honour of my life to be his Mommy. 
No regrets.  Cheer up.  We are all going to be okay.