Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Life Touches Life

It seems that the "storm" that hit me last Thursday is more of a hurricane than a thunder shower. I think I've entered the stage of grief that comes once denial has warn off. Something happened last Thursday evening that moved me from a place where I could ebb back and forth between feeling and numbness, to a place where I can do nothing but feel. I have had moments of reprieve from my grief over the past six days - I have shared a laugh or two with my husband; I have enjoyed affection from my dogs; I have smiled at photographs of precious little bean - but I have not, for a single moment, been numb. Every moment of every day, I can feel the weight of my loss. Often I feel it physically pressing down upon my chest, as if literally breaking my heart.

When Tim and I first started out on this journey, exactly four weeks ago today, when, just around this time, little Isla's heart stopped beating, we vowed to each other that together we would survive this. Many times while I was in labour, while we held Isla, on the morning of her funeral, we held hands and told one another, "we will survive this". And, I know we will.

In time, the despair that is my current reality will pass, and I will move to a new stage of life after Isla where I will have accepted and made peace with her passing. Until then, I know I must continue to move through my grief, feeling and learning each step of the way. This is my fate. I may not have chosen this path for myself, but I cannot change it. So today, I decided to embrace it.

Today I read, or rather devoured, Life Touches Life, a Mother's Story of Stillbirth and Healing by Lorraine Ash. I finished the entire book in one sitting, and I have no doubt I will read it again and again. Through Lorraine's story I was able to reconcile some of my own beliefs regarding heaven and my ability to see and communicate with Isla. I was also able to better understand and forgive many of the seemingly insensitive comments made by others. However, most importantly, this book helped me realize that, while no one other than Tim and I, and my parents, actually "met" Isla, her short life has the potential to touch many others.

Through her brief life in utero and her eternal life, Lorraine's daughter, Victoria, transformed Lorraine into a more gracious, generous and understanding person. Victoria also inspired Lorraine to tell her story, a story which has helped other bereaved parents on their journeys through grief. In this way, Victoria Helen Ash, has profoundly changed the lives of not only her parents, but the lives of thousands of other people.

After I finished reading Lorraine's book, I digested it in a hot bath. As I soaked, I thought about the potential for Isla to change me and her daddy for the better as we continue down this fated path.

After soaking, I logged online and visited Love Reign Over Me (, the blog of a fellow bereaved mother, Carly Dudley. I came across Carly's blog shortly after Isla's funeral and immediately I was drawn to her. After the stillbirth of her son, Christian, Carly began "To Write Their Names in the Sand" (, and other online initiatives to help other bereaved parents. While I imagine that Carly was a wonderful, generous person before Christian, I have to believe that she is an even more beautiful person because of Christian. Through his mother, Christian's life has touched the lives of so many others.

Today through Carly's blog I discovered "say it with flowers" ( Carly's friend Sarah and her brother Richard, started this beautiful project. Sarah and Richard are not bereaved parents, but rather the friends of bereaved parents and the siblings of Rory. I know little about Rory, but from the mission of "say it with flowers", I assume he died as a baby. I also know little about Sarah and Richard, but I assume they are the incredibly generous people they are today in part because of Rory. Through his SIBLINGS, Rory's life is now touching the lives of others. How amazing!!!

I have known since the early hours following Isla's death that Tim and I would be forever changed by her life. Along with vowing to survive, Tim and I have also vowed many times to be better, kinder, people because of our daughter. Over the past four weeks I have seen a tiny transformation in myself. While I have been mostly consumed by my grief, I have found small ways to reach out and help others. No act of kindness has been particularly noble, but Isla has been the driving force behind each one.

But, after today, I can't help but wonder, what will Isla's legacy be? The idea that because of Isla's life, her future siblings may be different people, better people, than they might otherwise be had she not lived, is so inspirational to me.

Part of the great pain that comes with the loss of a child, is the loss of that child's potential - the impact her life may have had on the world. Now I realize Isla may still change the world (in a relative sense), and much of her potential to affect the world lies within me. Her life will not be in vain.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Day of Firsts

Today I tackled two big firsts - I made my first trip back to my OB's office at the hospital where Isla was born and my first trip back to work. I'm exhausted.

Tim was by my side all day and is currently making my dinner (something he does everyday, and has been doing since we first started dating). I'm pretty sure if it weren't for him my heart would have stopped beating right along with Isla's.

I've been having some unusual cramps and some other somewhat concerning physical symptoms for the past week, and while I have called her office several times, I have avoided an actual visit to my OB simply out of fear. When the cramps started again last night, Tim did not suggest that I go see the doctor today, he told me "we are going". I loved the "we". He didn't say it like a dictator. Rather, he expressed an understanding about my fears to return to the hospital and expressed his own concerns, and promised me he would be right there beside me holding my hand the entire time (which he was). He gave me no option other than to go though. He told me I had to because his babies were going to grow "in there" too, and he needed to make sure everything was okay. How could I argue with that?

So, after about thirty minutes of sobbing and mustering my courage this morning, I got myself ready and together we headed down to the hospital. The drive brought back memories. The parking garage brought back memories. The lobby brought back memories. I started to lose it in the elevator, and when Tim hugged me, I could feel how anxious he was too. Something about watching him grieve or seeing him nervous, forces me back to put my brave face on, and so brave faced I confronted checking in with the receptionist and the waiting room full of pregnant bellies.

I kept my brave face on as we met with the doctor. She wasn't too concerned about my physical symptoms, but wanted to schedule an ultrasound just to make certain everything is okay. She advised us that the results of Isla's autopsy were not ready yet, and she had no new information about what happened. She explained that while there was a lot of Isla's blood found in my blood, suggesting a placental abruption, until the autopsy results were received she could not be certain whether the abruption was the cause of her death or whether it occurred subsequently. While she explained all of this, the doctor was her usual cheerful, laid back self. There is something about her demeanour that I found very comforting during my pregnancy, and found discomforting today. Today, she seemed just a little too laid back. I understood that she did not have answers for us yet, but felt that she didn't seem to understand mine and Tim's need to eventually understand exactly what went wrong. Then as we were leaving, with a cheerful smile, she said to us, "I still can't believe you came in early enough for us to watch the whole thing unravel."

The day Isla died I arrived at the hospital at 11 am complaining of decreased fetal movement and after two ultrasounds and over six hours of sitting in waiting rooms, my doctor, a high risk specialist, and a resident sat in an observation room and watched my baby die during a third ultrasound at 6:45 p.m. They were meeting to discuss whether or not to deliver her by emergency cesarean. Isla made the decision for them.

I was shocked by the comment made by my doctor. The way she said it, it almost sounded as though to her it was like witnessing some really neat science experiment watching "the whole thing (my daughter's life) unravel". I'm still trying to figure out what she meant by it. Whatever she meant, I know she didn't intend to be insensitive. After all, this is the doctor who hugged me and cried along with us when the bad news was delivered. But seriously, was it necessary to discuss the "unravelling" of my daughter's life with a cheerful smile?!

I left the appointment feeling crushed. Not only was it emotionally taxing just being there, but now, this doctor, who I still had complete trust in faith in even though my baby died under her watch, left me feeling as though she really did not understand the magnitude of our loss. I'm not sure what I was expecting from her. Sympathy and sensitivity for certain, and perhaps I wanted her to be agonizing a bit over having not been able to save my baby. Maybe she is. I understand that she has to detach in order to do her job properly. It just would have been nice to feel as though the loss of Isla was more to her than just another "cost of doing business."

From the doctor's office we headed over to the hospital lab to have some blood work done. The hospital specializes in women's health, so the waiting room there was also full of pregnant bellies. Despite the bellies, I was holding up okay. A woman came in with her two month old son in a sling. At first I craned my neck to sneak a peak and gave Tim a smile to let him know the little guy's presence actually made me happy, not sad. But then, some eccentric elderly woman spotted the baby, and announced far to loudly "oh there is a baby in there". She proceeded to ask the mother how old the baby was, his gender, etc. Each question asked loud enough for everyone waiting to hear. Before I had time to gain control of myself, I was in tears.

My doctor didn't fully complete the blood requisition form, so when I finally was called in to see the technician she had to ask me a bunch of questions. Question number two, have you been pregnant in the last three months? Yes. I read ahead to question number three - have you had a recent miscarriage or stillbirth. I was bracing myself to also have to answer yes, only the technician didn't ask. Instead, she said, "you're pregnant now, right?". I managed to mumble "stillbirth". She apologized quickly and proceeded to poke me. While she was drawing my blood, another technician came in to ask her about some misplaced paperwork. The technician holding the needle in my arm seemed concerned about the missing documents and was so distracted by the conversation she was having, she was wiggling the needle all about in my arm. After she was done, she started to get up, then sat back down, squeezed my forearm, and said, "I'm really sorry about everything". She seemed sincere, and I was touched she took that moment. But, it was only a moment, and she quickly got up and began fussing over the missing paperwork. I certainly did not expect this woman I never met to do or say more, but again, it felt like to the hospital staff, Isla's death really was just part of the cost of doing business.

I too detach myself from my work (I'm a family law lawyer, but learned to detach in my previous life working as a case worker at the welfare office), so I understand. It was just a bit painful today to feel as though no one at the hospital really cared about me or my baby anymore (the day of Isla's death and in the days proceeding it, before and after I delivered her, the hospital staff were very caring and compassionate).

After the hospital, I kept my brave face on and went into the office for the first time. A bit rattled from the hospital experience, I brought Tim with me. We didn't stay long. Just long enough for me to check my email and voicemail, and speak to a few colleagues. I had a voice message regarding prenatal classes and an Outlook reminder for my 3D ultrasound appointment scheduled for yesterday. I was prepared for the voice mail, but had forgotten about the ultrasound appointment, but my brave face didn't crack. Tim and I then chatted with my colleagues briefly. During the conversation, I think we both felt as though we had to justify the depths of our grief and explain to everyone that she was our daughter - a whole, perfectly formed, beautiful little baby - and she died.

After a quick trip to the cemetery, we were home by late afternoon. I was passed out within minutes of hitting the couch.

I am trying not to have expectations of other people right now, and trying to forgive insensitive remarks and actions. But what is really getting to me today, is this feeling that everyone other than Tim and I (and a very few close friends and family members) have moved on. It's been less than four weeks, and it feels as though Isla's death is old news. Insignificant. Forgotten about. And worse is this feeling that I need to defend our grief and that fact that we haven't moved on. She was our daughter and she died!!! Why do people not understand that? I wonder how differently things would be if she had drawn even a single breath outside of my body. If she had lived for a minute, and hour, a day, would people "get it" then? Would they relate our loss to the loss of their own children? Would they understand? Would they be little more sensitive? Would she matter a little more?

I hate the word "stillbirth". I hate that there is a word for babies who die before they are born. Stillborn babies are still babies, our babies. They were born and they died, just like everyone else has and will do. So why do they need to be distinguished as "stillborn"? It only serves to diminish the lives of precious little ones and the grief of the parents they leave behind.

Today was my first day back in my "real" world (up until today I've been only in the company of family or strangers). It was exhausting and much more difficult than I anticipated it would be.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What "to do" to do.

In the hours immediately after Isla's death, Tim and I attempted to rationalize our loss by discussing how we would be better prepared for the next baby. Driving to the hospital for my induction, we talked about all the things we would now have the time and money to complete around the house before bringing home a child - installing new carpet and tile in the basement, painting the exterior of the house, purchasing new furniture for the living room, etc.

Having just purchased our first home in April, during my pregnancy I was very stressed about completing my list of home improvements before Isla's arrival . As the weeks passed and my due date approached, I became more and more anxious that we would not have the time nor financial resources to complete my "to do" list before our baby arrived. Aside from preparing the nursery, most of the things I wanted to complete (like changing the colour of the siding on the exterior of the house) really did not need to be done before bringing home baby, but like most naive first time mothers, I wanted the house "perfect" for her arrival.

In recent days, Tim and I have busied ourselves making home improvements. We have contacted painters for estimates, washed the windows inside and out, tended to the garden, etc. While we know Isla won't be coming home, it makes us feel better to do these things. I'm not sure exactly how Tim feels, but in some strange way I feel as though I am still doing these things for her. Perhaps with all the pregnancy hormones still circulating through my body, I'm nesting.

Regardless of why, by keeping busy around the house I had several okay days in a row. I wouldn't say they were "good" days, but I could go for six or eight hours at a time without crying. I could think of my beautiful baby bean without being over come with despair. I could eat without feeling nauseous. And, I wasn't just "okay" during the day while keeping physically busy, in the evenings, while relaxing, I was able to watch movies and concentrate on the plot.

At times I felt a bit guilty for not grieving enough. But I didn't beat myself up too much for how I was feeling, because I knew it was still in there. Like a storm on the horizon, I could feel my grief slowly creeping up on me. I would get butterflies in my belly and cry for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. But, as quickly as the butterflies and tears came, they went. It was as though for those few days I could only handle grieving for a few minutes at a time.

I acknowledged my feelings to Tim several times. I would cry for a few moments in bed at night and he would hold me, and then I would tell him that was all the grieving I could handle at that moment and I would turn on the TV.

But then, last night, the storm hit, and it was a big one.

My mom came into the city yesterday, and the three of us went to the mall to shop for new furniture for the living room. It was the first time Tim and I had been in the mall since losing Isla. There were reminders of my pregnancy and Isla everywhere. I remembered that the last time I was in Crate and Barrel I was five months pregnant, and really starting to show. I remembered shopping for glasses, and proudly rubbing my belly and telling Tim there was no point in spending $10 each for everyday glasses, when soon there would be a child in the house and surely they would get broken. I remembered shopping in Pottery Barn Kids for nursery decor with my friend Andrea who is expecting her third baby four days after Isla's due date. Even the mall bathroom brought back memories. The last time I peed there, Tim was in the car waiting for me, but being pregnant I just couldn't hold it until I got home.

On top of the flood of memories, the mall was crawling with pregnant women. During my pregnancy I discovered that there is this look of acknowledgement that pregnant women give to one another. Yesterday I felt as though I was still looking at other pregnant women that way, but instead of looking back at me the same way, they gave me the look they give to anyone else they notice staring at their bellies - the, "yes, I'm pregnant, isn't that great" look.

After dinner, on our way home, Tim, my mother and I stopped at the cemetery to visit Isla. We weren't planning on stopping, so we didn't bring her any flowers. Fortunately the flowers Tim and I left on Sunday were still in bloom. Normally when I leave the cemetery I feel a sense of peace and closure, but yesterday leaving there I just felt more empty. Perhaps it is because we didn't bring her anything.

Once I got home I watched a series of YouTube videos made in memory of other lost babies. The videos made me cry a few tears. I made a point of showing Tim how beautiful each baby was.

Then, it was time for bed. We shut of the TV and the computer and without any advance warning, the storm hit. I started to cry and I could not stop. I felt as though I was drowning in despair. The tears, the kind from way down inside, just kept spilling over. Tim was right beside me, trying to comfort me, but I felt so alone. My thoughts were scattered, but each one brought more and more pain. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to be like before where I could turn it off by simply turning on the TV, but I couldn't stop it.

And then, just as quickly as it hit me, the storm engulfed Tim too. We laid in bed for what felt like forever, sobbing, and trying to comfort one another. Nothing we said made either of us feel any better, so we just held hands. Eventually we fell asleep.

When I opened my eyes this morning, I was hoping I would feel better. That I could get up, get dressed, and tackle some more improvements around the house. But, today is not an okay day, its one of the bad days. It's almost 3pm and I'm still in my pajamas. My eyes are still swollen from crying last night (the lid on the right one is so puffy I can feel it when my eye is open), and I can't bring myself to eat.

The synchronicity of grief Tim and I shared last night has passed. As soon as he got up today he walked the dogs, went to the grocery store to buy coffee filters (and beautiful flowers for me - my favourite hydrangeas and some pink lilies to remind us of Isla), and made himself something to eat. I know he is still hurting, but we're in different places today.

Sigh. He is outside installing new exterior light fixtures. I know he wants my help. Today's to do list: 1) eat breakfast 2) put on something other than pajamas 3) wash the tear stains from my cheeks 4) go be "there" for my husband.

Here I go...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rage and Raising Awareness

Yesterday, I experienced anger like I had never experienced before. Anger that I can only describe as rage. I've been angry before, really angry, so angry that at least a few times in my life I have actually lost control and acted out physically. But this was something new.

As Tim, my mother and I walked along the main strip in Grand Bend shopping for new flip flops (my mother's way of making us feel better is to take us shopping), we walked passed a young woman, probably about my age, who was visibly pregnant and SMOKING. She made no efforts to conceal her behaviour - she just stood there, right out in public, belly protruding, hacking a butt. She wasn't just taking a drag either, she was smoking an entire cigarette.

When I first spotted her, I felt panicked. My heart began to race, and my stomach started doing somersaults. I pointed her out to Tim, but he couldn't see the cigarette in her hand, so he assumed I was making reference to the woman's overweight friend, who was also smoking. He tried to reassure me that the woman smoking wasn't pregnant, just overweight. This had me confused, because the woman I was referring to was so obviously pregnant. As we approached the two women, I asked Tim if I should say something, but still not understanding which woman I was referring to, Tim tried to calm me down, and again advised me not to worry, because the woman was just overweight, and not pregnant. We hushed ourselves as we walked by. Once we were out of earshot again, I said to Tim, "the woman in the pink, she's pregnant, look, and she's smoking". He then realized where the confusion had come from, and agreed, the woman I was referring to was definitely pregnant.

With confirmation from Tim that I wasn't going crazy, my sense of panic increased. I kept asking him, "do I say something? do I say something? what should I say?". I felt this overwhelming urge to protect that helpless little baby inside from his/her horrible, selfish mother. But then it occured to me, that was probably not the first cigarette that woman had smoked while pregnant and probably wouldn't be the last, and nothing I did or said was going to protect that helpless baby from the harm his/her mother was causing. That was when my panic, turned to rage - rage directed at that baby's mother. I wanted to turn around, walk back towards her, and literally claw at her face with my fingernails and scream. How could any woman fortunate enough to be carrying a child, knowingly do something that could, and likely would, harm her baby? My heart beat sped up even more, my face grew hot, it became difficult to breathe, and I actually held my hands out like little claws, ready to strike. But then, I didn't strike, or say a word, or even turn around. I proceeded into the store where we where headed and began to shop for flip flops.

Certainly it is better that I did not physically attack a pregnant woman standing on the street, but I wonder, had I calmed down and approached her rationally to advise her that babies can and do die, and that she should consider herself very fortunate to still be pregnant, would she have stopped smoking? Somehow, I doubt it. Even if I told her all about Isla, I have a feeling that the next time she had a craving, that woman would have lit up another cigarette. She may have thought about me and my baby girl for a moment, maybe even felt a twinge of guilt, but then she probably would have thought to herself, "so unfortunate, but something like that would never happen to me or my baby."

I was once pregnant and that blissfully naive too. I certainly never smoked or did anything else I thought would harm my baby. In fact, I did all the "right" things, like taking my vitamins and folic acid, eating healthy, and quitting coffee cold turkey. I even stopped using face wash with salicylic acid, because I read that the effects of topical acne medication on unborn babies has yet to be tested. But I did those things to give my baby the best start possible, not because I thought that after surviving the first trimester my baby could die.

So that got me thinking about raising awareness. I have yet to come across any Canadian statistics, but information I have read online indicates that one in every 160 to 200 pregnancies in the United States ends in stillbirth - that's more than ten times the number of babies that die from SIDS. Staggering. What is more staggering is that no one talks about it. My OB never warned me that stillbirth was a possibility. While the last chapter in the so called, "Pregnancy Bible" deals with the "complications of pregnancy" and discusses stillbirth, there was nothing in the chapter on the sixth month that warned me my baby could suddenly die.

Worse yet, when your baby does die, still no one talks about it. I feel this overwhelming societal pressure to pretend like Isla never happened. Despite Tim and I being very open with our grief, we have still heard our share of comments like, "you are young, you will have more children". We know that these things are said with good intentions, so we try not to be too offended, but it just goes to show that our society still does not know how to deal with stillbirth.

I was very pleased today to come across this recent article in the Washington Post on stillbirth - I was particularly pleased to read that a Bill aimed at stillbirth data collection and raising awareness and grief support services will be tabled before the U.S. Senate this summer. I still need to do my homework before I can advocate for or against the Bill, and any possible Canadian counterpart, but at least people are starting to talk about the subject.

I hope that this doesn't come across like I want all pregnant woman to be walking around expecting the worst. Like my mom said to me yesterday, "if people really knew what the odds were against delivering a healthy, full-term baby without complications, no one would get pregnant". And, while (if I am fortunate enough to get pregnant again), pregnancy will never again be a time of naive bliss for me, I certainly do not wish my friends to suffer the same anxiety, pessimism, and sense of detachment that I think is in store for me. I do , however, think people need to be more aware.

Be aware that babies can and do die, so DO NOT take your healthy pregnancy, healthy babies, healthy children for granted.

Be aware that stillbirth does happen, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Count your kicks, follow your instincts, and don't be embarrassed to call your doctor or proceed to the hospital whenever something doesn't "feel right".

Be aware that thousands of parents out there are have lost their babies and are suffering from a grief so devastating it really cannot be described in words. That grief needs to be legitimized and those parents need support.

So, in my own personal campaign to raise awareness and to celebrate our beautiful baby girl, with Tim's support and encouragement, I have decided to take this blog public and post a link to it on my Facebook page. EEK! I'm still a bit freaked out to be so "out there". Up until now I've been blogging to no one, as I don't think anyone is reading, and not wanting to diminish the death of our baby girl, we have yet to discuss the topic on Facebook for all our "friends" to read, but here goes...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Isla's Daddy

I couldn't love you more than I do right now baby!

Isla will be in my thoughts everyday, and even when time passes she will never be forgotten. She has forever changed me as a person, and as a father. She will be that ray of sunshine on a stormy day, and my courage when I am afraid.

Although Isla Michaela will be in our hearts and minds for all eternity, this blog will help those who were not privy to her birth so that they can see her beautiful little face.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

I am still a new mother...

Sixteen days ago Isla died during an ultrasound. We still have no real answers as to why. We agreed to an autopsy, so hopefully some answers will come. Although, it doesn't really matter much what the doctors discover. What we know for certain is that seventeen days ago my baby was alive and healthy, and then SNAP, she was gone.

But I am still a new mother. I gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl I have ever laid eyes on. Perfect little button nose, cute little chubby cheeks, pouty little ruby lips. Like every new mother, I want to show off my precious little one. I have offered to send pictures of her to family and friends, but no one seems to want to see her. I'm not sure what they are afraid of - will it be too big a dose of reality to see a dead baby? Babies die. Anyone we know should be awakened to that reality now. Are they afraid seeing her will make her too real? She was and IS real. Will seeing her be too painful? No one could suffer the pain of losing Isla the way Tim and I are suffering, and her beauty is the only solace we have found in this time of great sorrow.

I've contemplated mailing out her photo to family and friends and just forcing her upon them, but my mother has advised me that I "just can't" do that. Given that its been ten months since our wedding and to my mother's chagrin our thank you cards are still sitting on top of the fridge waiting for stamps, I probably shouldn't cause her any more embarassment. So, I have created this blog to share my beautiful baby girl with the world.

An intensely private person when it comes to matters of the heart, I'm not one to discuss my feelings with anyone besides my husband and a few choice friends, but I'm hoping this blog will also be a venue for me to share a bit of myself with the world. I am in my darkest hour, praying simply for the strength to get up and face each day. I have no insights on how to survive the death of your baby, but it is my hope that through this blog I will find new strength and courage, and maybe one day, when my life is a little brighter, my story will help others find their way in the world without their babies.

To my little Bean - sleep tight. Mommy and Daddy miss you more and more with each passing moment. xoxoxoxo