Friday, July 2, 2010


Yesterday was Isla's first birthday.

The morning paper read...

Johnston, Isla Michaela - In loving memory of our beautiful baby girl, born into Heaven on June 30th, 2009, born onto earth July 1st, 2009.

A year has passed without you,
And we have found hope anew,
But no time will heal our hearts,
From the pain of losing you.

You, our precious child,
Our beautiful baby “Bean”,
With Mommy’s nose and Daddy’s toes,
A beauty never to be seen.

Our love for you is endless,
We miss you more each day,
While others have forgotten,
In our hearts forever you stay.

Loving you and missing you always, Mommy and Daddy xoxo

And we decorated the cemetery with balloons. One for each precious little life ended too soon...

and with donations made in their honour, we will purchase an oxygen monitor for the NICU, which we hope will help save other little ones and spare their parents this unbearable pain.

There were special balloons for the birthday girl of course, and more money donated to research into fetal and maternal health in her name...

Then we rushed back to the lake and joined the party on the beach*...

The sky lit up with fireworks...

and we wrote her name in lights...

A birthday just isn't a birthday without cake, so we did that too and sang a little "Happy Birthday To You"...

Happy First Birthday Bean. We love you and miss you. xoxoxo
*July 1st is Canada Day, our nations birthday and a national holiday. To us it is and always will be "Isla Day" so we like to imagine that people gather to watch fireworks in honour of her.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I returned to work in October and juggling my career, household responsibilities, and time for my wonderful husband and pups, has meant less time for this space. It's a reality that can't be ignored, but there are numerous half-written blog posts sitting unpublished in my blogger account signalling to me that I have wanted to be here, needed to be here and I've been silenced.

With fervency I was accused of being "selfish" and having desire to "rake everyone over the coals". Selflessness is entirely subjective and can only ever be measured by others, so I suppose no matter how benevolent I believe my own heart to be, if someone else thinks I'm selfish, well then to them I must be. I could write an entire blog post or perhaps even a novel about how my intentions have never been to rake anybody over anything, but that too is somewhat irrelevant because if my words or actions can be so misconstrued as to lead someone to conclude that "all [I] want to do" is rake people, important people in my life, "over the coals" than its apparent, intentions aside, I have hurt people.

I've always wanted this space to honestly reflect my life in the aftermath of losing my daughter, and to do otherwise would only hurt myself and defeat the purpose in writing all together; but with all that has happened over the past four months or so, I haven't known how to write about my thoughts and emotions without potentially hurting anyone else.

Someone also Twittered about me recently, trivializing my hurt and causing so much more, that I wanted to be certain that by expressing my own thoughts and feelings online I was not doing the same.

This is also after all the "internets" and I can reasonably foresee that airing my metaphorical dirty skivvies out on the line for all to see could also come back to embarrass me in the long term, particularly when you have nosey neighbours if you know what I mean.

I gave much thought to going private or starting a new anonymous blog, but in part, I created this space to share my journey with others walking behind me on this path of life after the death of a baby, and to promote awareness about stillbirth and its disastrous consequences amongst people I know in the real world, so neither option worked for me.

So, I just stopped writing.

I'm hoping now that time has lapsed I can write about what life has been like the past few months for me, without a need to go into detail about the events that have actually transpired other to say that Tim and I have been hurt; very hurt by those who by biological relation and marriage we (perhaps naively) believed would be patient and kind; who would continue to abide even when unwilling or incapable of offering a shoulder or an ear; and who at the very least, would demonstrate a heightened sensitivity towards our feelings at this difficult time in our lives (even when simultaneously experiencing a joyous and exciting time in their own).

The hurt seemed to be continuous - again and again and again - and each attempt to address it directly, and even indirectly, only lead to conflict and in turn more hurt. Eventually Tim and I felt we had no option but to sever ties to save ourselves, at least for the time being. I don't have to speculate that our actions have been perceived as being "selfish", we've been told as much.

Making the decision to walk away from family, even temporarily, was not easy, particularly for Tim. But when I say we made the decision to "save ourselves", I'm not exaggerating.

I will never forget the moment the doctor said, "I'm sorry sweetheart, but your baby just passed away". I cannot allow my memory to linger their for long without instantly being moved to tears, and while that will always be a defining moment in my life, it certainly was not the most difficult to survive. Neither was birthing her dead body, or kissing her goodbye. Don't get me wrong, those moments haunt me and always will. Knowing what I know now and without the benefit of whatever it is your mind does to numb you at times like that, if I had to go back and live those moments again, maybe I would not make it through. But when I reflect on the past 7 months and 28 days, those moments were easy in comparison to what came after.

I do not believe words can do justice to describe the intensity of emotions that consume you and threaten your own life after your baby dies. There is the profound sadness and longing, that I think those who have not lost a child can almost imagine. The duration and intensity of those feelings of course greatly exceed the imaginations of those untouched by this kind of loss, but for me, what has been most surprising and difficult to deal with has been my anger.

For a long time I woke up each morning filled with anger that I could physically feel. I pictured it like a black serpent in my stomach and my throat. I was angry at the anger and I willed it to stop, but it was much stronger than my own will. Day, after day, after day it was with me.

I would wake at 5:30 a.m. and the endless cycle of thoughts would start like a movie in my mind, initially bringing brief moments of intense hurt, which were always quickly replaced with anger. I spent each morning in the shower banging my forehead against the wall, sobbing, pleading with myself, with God, and even with Isla for it to stop.

I became an expert at compartmentalizing my emotions. The anger would consume me from the time I awoke until I got in the car to leave for work. Slowly as I drove towards the office the anger would soften to hurt, and the hurt would eventually be replaced with thoughts of client meetings and filing deadlines. I would keep myself distracted throughout the day, and as I left the office and headed towards home, my thoughts about work would be replaced with feelings of hurt, and then like faithful a friend, my anger would return. I lived like this for months.

My anger was not generalized. I wasn't angry at the world. I was angry at those who were continuously hurting us, and with each new hurt, my anger intensified.

There were moments when I stared at the razor blade in the shower, contemplating how much more I could handle. Finally,one day in early December, I reached a near breaking point.

Certain things had transpired that day over Facebook and email with family members that hurt me badly. I somehow managed to keep myself together long enough to complete a full day at the office but as I drove home, I slowly began to unravel. On the highway, I drove in the fast lane and I kept glancing at the concrete center median thinking if I just swerved a little to the left I could end it all. I called my best friend in hysterics, screaming and sobbing and eventually admitting that I called her because I was afraid I may do something to hurt myself. When I arrived home, I had to sit in the car on the phone to wait for Tim to arrive because I didn't trust myself to be in the house alone.

Tim eventually came home. The moments that followed are a bit fuzzy, but I remember arguing with him briefly and then I just came completely undone. I'm not sure what I was screaming at first, but eventually it was "make it stop, make it stop, make it stop" at top of my lungs and I was smashing my fists against my head. I kept hitting myself - harder, harder, harder. The physical pain felt good and temporarily distracted my mind from the emotional pain. I think Tim tried to grab my hands to stop me. Somehow I collapsed onto the floor. Things seemed to go blank for a while and I felt nothing. Tim was telling me to "get up". I could hear him, but he sounded far away. For a brief moment I thought to myself, this is it - I'm either dying or being carted out of the house in a straight jacket off to the funny farm. And then I just stopped thinking all together. I think Tim carried me to the couch, although I cant really remember. I'm not sure how long I sat there, not thinking, not feeling, not really there at all.

Then the silence in my mind was interrupted. Tim was talking to someone in his family over the phone. Another argument. Yelling. Much like I did as a child when my parents argued, I plugged my ears and pleaded to whoever was listening to the thoughts in my head to "make it stop". Tim hung up the phone. He was upset. He was crying. My wifely protective instincts kicked in. I was present again. I wanted to spare him any further hurt too. I'm not sure what really transpired next. We were both crying for a long while. I can't recall whether I said it out loud or if Tim just knew it too, but in that moment I knew that if the hurt and conflict continued any longer, neither myself, nor Tim, nor our marriage would survive. It felt as though my toes were hanging over the edge and with one more push, that would be it. Sanity lost. So Tim did what he had to do for me, for him, for us and asked for us to be left alone.

Selfish? Perhaps. I can't deny that right now it is all about me. All about Tim. The anger has subsided some and of course now guilt sometimes creeps into the corners of my mind. I'll address and work through that in my own time. Right now, I'm simply surviving.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A packet of memories...

I've always shared a special bond with my maternal grandmother, affectionately known to me as "Nanny". I'm one of eight grandchildren and numerous step-grandchildren, and it would be incorrect to say I was her "favourite". Nanny never played favourites. She loved us all, with all her heart. But I've always been "Nanny's girl".

In many ways I was closer with my grandmother than my own mother growing up, and I think its safe to say Nanny also felt the same way. Its not that she loved me more. That simply isn't possible. But Nanny and I just always understood one another in a way that I think very few people understood us.

As a child, my mother was single, and I spent almost every weekend, school holiday, and sick day at Nanny's apartment. We'd play games she made out of cardboard and old buttons, draw funny pictures with the pens she kept beside the telephone, and watch "The Young and Restless" together. At night time we'd crawl in bed together and Nanny would make up bedtime stories and after I was all giggles with her tales, she would soothe me to sleep by tracing patterns across my face with her index finger.

As an adolescent, I went to Nanny's most days after school and continued to spend many weekends with her. We would sit and talk for hours. I would share with sharing her my innermost thoughts and Nanny would validate my feelings with tales of her own youth and struggles. And of course, we still watched "The Young and the Restless" together.

As a teenager, I would drive to my Nanny's apartment after spending an evening with my girlfriends, to find her sitting in her chair, in her dressing gown, with a bed made up for me on the couch. I would scold her for waiting up for me and she would offer me tea and insist that I "eat something" before I went to sleep.

Nanny would often tell me that there would come a day that I would get too busy and not want to spend so much time with a little old lady like her. As a child I would insist that she was wrong. It was inconceivable to me that the day would come when our sleepovers would end. But of course she was right, well...partly right. I always wanted to spend time with that little old lady, but the day did eventually come when I was just too busy to spend my weekends with her as I would have liked to. I went off to university out of town, and then law school, and eventually moved to the big city and got married.

And Nanny moved on too. Physically, from her apartment to one in a seniors building and eventually to a room in a nursing home. And, as she aged and grew sicker, she could no longer entertain overnight company and eventually all day company became too much too, and our visits grew shorter and shorter.

As her own consolation for the fact that she could no longer hold me on her lap and tell me tales, as I reached my 20's, Nanny started to often say that she hoped and prayed that she would live long enough to see my first born and be healthy enough to enjoy her. "Oooh" she'd say, "I hope I get to hold another little pudge like you."

I can vividly recall speaking with my Nanny last February and telling her I was pregnant with Isla. I could hear the joy in her voice through the telephone. Nanny's health was failing at the time, and I can remember saying to her, "you just need to hang on until October Nanny, just until October". "I can do that" she said, "I have to do that, I can't miss holding that little pudge". In the spring, I visited with her and proudly showed her my belly and told her we were having a girl. It brought me such joy to know that while I had grown up and could no longer spend so much time with my Nanny, and certainly could no longer crawl up onto her lap, I could make her dreams of holding my daughter come true.

I know my Nanny's heart broke for me the day Isla died, and my heart broke for my Nanny too.

In the fall, as my Nanny's health worsened, I sat with her and showed her pictures of my dead baby. "Aww, look at her" she said, "look at her". I announced to my Nanny that Tim and I were going to try again. Naively expecting that we would fall pregnant in the first month or two, I said to her, "You just need you to hang on until September Nanny, just until this time next year" Rather than saying, "I can do that", Nanny said, "well...I'll try." Nanny was in pain then. More pain then any of us realized. She was suffering from colon cancer and she had fallen in the shower and broken a vertebrae in her back. The thought of Nanny holding my child had become my consolation.

This past Sunday Tim and I went to visit Nanny for the last time. Like always, she was dressed with her make-up and jewelry on, but her voice was laboured and I knew she was not well. As we said goodbye, she apologized to me for not being able to be there to hold our baby. "We're trying Nanny, we're working on it for you" I said. Nanny said, "I'm trying too sweetheart." But I could see her physical pain in her face, so as I kissed her goodbye I told her, "I'll be okay if you need to go now Nanny, just as long as you promise to take care of Isla for me". She nodded and kissed my cheek.

Nanny died on Tuesday morning. The end came much faster than any of us expected it to. We knew it was near, but not so imminent. She is no longer in pain, and for that I am grateful.

This loss is difficult to bear. The future without Nanny is difficult to imagine. I was not ready to say goodbye. I don't think I could ever be. My feelings of longing for Nanny are almost as profound as those for Isla.

And yet, this death is also very different for me. Perhaps it is because it has come in the natural order; Nanny's life was a life well lived. Or, perhaps it is because I know there has been an end to her suffering; platitudes like "at least she is no longer in pain" have actually provided me with some comfort. I think more than anything though, it is my memories of Nanny that bring me solace.

Yes, I know who I am missing now, and trust me, I couldn't be missing her more. But I must say, knowing who I am missing, makes missing her much easier. I know nothing of my daughter other than the feel of her kicks and the sound of her heartbeat, and that makes missing her so much more difficult. No, the death of a baby before birth is no easier than the death of living relative. No, no. Not at all.

As I went through Nanny's photos this week, I found a letter written just to me. It was written over 12 years ago as I was headed off to university. Inside Nanny wrote that she didn't know what to give to me, so she wanted to give me a "packet of memories" and she recorded some of her favourites of our time together. What a valuable gift to be given.

I love you Nanny. Hold tight to that little pudge.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Deja Vu

Sigh. I'm back. I'll explain later where I've been.

I'm not pregnant again this month. Even though the nookie was perfectly timed, I didn't really expect I would be because, well, the universe just hasn't been that kind to Tim and I lately. So, its not so much the arrival of Aunt Flo that is getting to me, its her timing.

January 5th, 2009 I was spotting. January 6th, 2009 full blown menstration. February 2, 2009, two pink lines.

January 5th, 2010 I was spotting. January 6, 2010 full blown menstration. February 2, 2010, ???

Aunt Flo is four days early too. What's up with that? A sick joke being played on me by the universe or a sign? Probably just simple human biology. But its strange, no?