Some Things Never Change

The Early Lost

The shade of death upon my threshold lay,
The sun from thy life’s dial had departed
A cloud came down upon thy early day
And left thy hapless mother broken-hearted
My boy – my boy
Long weary months have pass’d since that sad day
But naught beguiles my bosom of its sorrow
Since the cold waters took thee for their prey
No smiling hope looks forward to the morrow
My boy – my boy
The voice of mirth is silenced in my heart
Thou wert so dearly loved, so fondly cherish’d
I cannot yet believe that we must part
That all, save thine immortal soul, has perish’d
My boy – my boy
My lovely, laughing, rosy, dimpled child,
I call upon thee, when the sun shines clearest
In the dark lonely night, in accents wild
I breath they treasured name, my best and dearest
My boy – my boy
The hand of God has press’d me very sore
Oh could I clasp thee once more as of yore
And kiss thy glowing cheeks soft velvet bloom,
I would resign thee to the Almighty Giver
Without one tear, would yield thee up forever
And people with bright forms thy silent tomb.
But hope has faded from my heart – and joy
Lies buried in thy grave, my darling boy.

On June 18, 1844, Susanna Moodie lost her beloved son, John. He was just 5 years old, and he drowned in the Moira River, just a few miles from where I live. She was devastated, and wrote this poem in his memory. Susanna Moodie is best known today for her memoirs, which describe life in early Upper Canada and her adjustment from a world of privilege back in England to “Roughing It in the Bush” in the wilds of Canada. Yet this poem illustrates something beautiful that seems to still be forgotten. Throughout history, even when child death was a common occurrence, women mourned the children they had lost.

We forget because women did not leave much trace throughout history. For generations, history was focused on what was considered to be the important world of men. Our private lives, our private losses, were not considered to be of much use. Yet a walk through a cemetery, or reading a poem like this one, can remind us of how valuable these children were to their parents. In years gone by, when entire families were wiped out by diphtheria, or measles, or influenza, each of those lives lost was a horrific tragedy to all who knew them. Each of those mothers wept just as we now weep for our lost children.

In the pages of her memoir that appear right before this poem, Susanna Moodie tells another sad tale of childhood loss. This story depresses me even more, because it shows how little things have changed in 150 years. I can think of no better time than Black History Month to tell this sad story of loss. My apologies for the language, I am quoting directly:

A little black boy, the only son of a worthy negro, who had been a settler for many years in Belleville, was not so fortunate as the Irishman’s cow. He was pushed, it is said accidentally, from the broken bridge, by a white boy of his own age, into that hell of waters and it was many weeks before his body was found; it had been carried some miles down the bay by the force of the current. Day after day you might see his unhappy father, armed with a long pole with a hook attached to it, mournfully pacing the banks of the swollen river, in the hope of recovering the remains of his lost child. Once or twice we stopped to speak to him, but his heart was too full to answer. He would turn away, with the tears rolling down his sable cheeks, and resume his melancholy task.

What a dreadful thing this prejudice against race and colour! How it hardens the heart, and locks up all the avenues of pity! The premature death of this little negro excited less interest in the breasts of his white companions than the fate of the cow, and was spoken of with as little concern as the drowning of a pup or a kitten.

She does not name the boy, or his father. I do not know whether this “accident” was ever investigated, although it appears it was not. 150 years later, and other than the language, this sounds as if it could have been written yesterday. Plus ça change….

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

 

Darkness and Light

Here in the Northern hemisphere, the days are getting darker and darker. As we get closer to the Solstice on the 21st, at least where I live, it can seem as though we are descending into an ever deepening and never-ending darkness. Much like grief, at best the light peeks through for a few hours, and even when it does, the world still seems grey and flat. The light remains hidden.

Yet this is the time of year where we celebrate light. Christians talk of Jesus being born as the Light of the World. We talk of how the shepherds had their way to the Christ-child illuminated by an angel whose light shone around them, and the Wise Men also were led by the light of the star. In Judaism, this time of year marks Hanukkah, also sometimes colloquially referred to as the Festival of Lights. Each night, a candle is lit to commemorate the rededication of the temple, and to represent a miracle: that the oil used to light the lamps lasted for 8 days. Light is perhaps never more noticeable than in its absence.

On my return home from the Southern hemisphere a few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to watch a film called “Light” which explores more of this idea of lightness and darkness. The short film tells the story of Omar, who finds himself falling into the darkness of grief. The story tells just of the immediate aftermath of his son’s stillbirth. As he calls his mother back in Lebanon to tell her the horrible news, she implores him to take care of his son and prepare his body for burial in the traditional Islamic way. The enormity of this task, seemingly so simple, nearly derails him. The film got me thinking about our double-meaning of the word ‘light’. Preparing your son’s body for burial is a heavy task. It isn’t to be taken lightly. And yet at 5 months gestation, this little boy likely weighed only about a pound. Omar is surrounded by light. The hospital windows are large. The room he sits in, waiting for his wife to return from surgery, is painted white. In just 13 minutes, you can sense the darkness fall around him as shock turns to grief. Omar is in a world of darkness. He is a recent immigrant, knowing no one in this new country, not knowing the customs or having close friends and family. He is even separated from his wife temporarily as she is still in recovery. And yet, far on the other side of the world, there is this light: his mother. Her voice over the phone, at once calming and yet clearly agitated at the loss of her grandson, is Omar’s connection to the light. She provides for him a pathway, a light at the end of the tunnel, a way forward. In her instructions to him on how to prepare his son for burial, she is recognizing the value of her son’s life. Stillborn at just 5 months, his life too had meaning and is deserving of the same ceremony and respect as an adult. If you get the opportunity to see Light, please do. For me, it was a beautiful reminder of the universality of loss. It will be playing at the Dubai International Film Festival this week.

As we approach the holidays, with so many difficult times and difficult memories, spend a few moments to think about your light. Even in near total darkness, can you find the light? Like Omar, you might find your light in a relationship with your spouse, a close friend or relative.  You might find a light in your religious or spiritual faith or practices. You may find light in a new mission: to comfort others experiencing stillbirth, infertility or pregnancy loss, or working towards stillbirth prevention. Your light might be as small as a single candle, or as large as “the glory of the Lord”. When darkness is near absolute, it can be hard to believe that one day, the light will return. That the shadows of grief will become smaller and smaller. This month, focus on the light.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

Kubler-Ross and the “Five Stages of Grief”

Grieving is hard work. It is exhausting, both mentally and physically. People who are depressed and grieving often have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, and find themselves going back to bed, or at least to the couch, early in the evening. When you do sleep, it can be restless and hard to catch quality sleep, meaning you wake up just as exhausted as you were the night before.

One of the hardest things to do when grieving is to devote enough time to the work of grief. And it is work. Many employers only grant a few days off for grieving a family member, something that is woefully inadequate. But it can be hard holding down a full time job and work through your grief as well.

The temptation is there to put it off, to throw yourself back into your life and avoid the uncomfortable feelings that grief brings. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was one of the first researchers to take a serious look at grief, and she described it as a five-stage process. However, grief isn’t a linear process, and we can find ourselves repeating stages, moving from one to the next, and back again, as our circumstances allow.

Kubler-Ross described the first stage as denial and isolation. This can be asking for second opinions (or third, or fourth) from medical staff. It can be the way I felt disconnected from myself during the first few days after my boys died. It was as if it was happening to someone else. Pretending this isn’t really happening can be a way to shield yourself from painful emotions. It can be the way you simply don’t want to go out, don’t want to see others, don’t want to have to explain where your baby has gone.

The second stage is anger. This can be directed inward, at yourself, or outward at others. You can even feel angry at your baby. You might be angry at the doctor for making a mistake, even if no mistakes were made. You might be angry at yourself for not recognizing ‘signs’ your baby was in distress, even if those signs were all in your head. You can be angry at your partner too, for not grieving in the same way you are, or for not being supportive enough of your concerns. You can be angry at other pregnant women, for having healthy babies even though they don’t deserve them.

The third stage is called bargaining. This is where we try to take our loss and regain control over our world. We might make promises to ourselves or to God that this time will be different. “If I have a healthy baby, I promise I will…” This can often be done to hide guilty feelings about things that happened in your last pregnancy. If you’ve felt guilty over the loss of your baby, it can be hard to let those feelings of guilt go. Forgiving yourself is an important step to feeling better.

The fourth stage, and for many of us the one that has the longest impact, is depression. Depression is more than sadness. It hurts. This is where you can’t get out of bed, where you get little pleasure out of life. There is nothing that can be said or done to cheer you up. Depression has been described as a black dog that follows you around, as a cloud, or a filter that leaves the whole world grey.

The final stage is acceptance. Acceptance is not the same thing as happiness. It is the point where you have incorporated the death of your baby into your life. Where it becomes a part of you and who you are. Thinking about your baby will still be sad, but not painful in the same way as it was during the earlier stages.

New pain can bring up old grief. A friend once told me about how he couldn’t cope when his dog died. It left him with a deep and mystifying depression. As a minister, he was used to being the one to hold it together at funerals, to be the one who could step in and take charge, but here he was, almost paralyzed for months by the death of a dog, who admittedly had been sick for some time. Finally, his wife helped him realize the obvious. He wasn’t just grieving his dog, but all the other friends who had died. He hadn’t allowed himself to grieve before because he was busy keeping busy. When his dog died, no one looked to him for answers, no one expected him to perform the funeral or to help wrap up the estate. He was free to grieve, and so he did. And it hurt.

Keep working on your grief. It can and will come back to you when you least expect it. Work with a grief counselor (you can ask your doctor for a recommendation). Devote the time you need to doing ‘grief work’. You’ll still see reoccurrences of grief throughout your life. We all do. It is part of the cycle of our lives. But postponing the hard work of grief will only make things harder later on.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

The Look

Today, I got “the look”. We’ve all experienced “the look”; the one that you get when you mention your child, or mention stillbirth at all. That quick darting of the eyes away. That slightly stunned look as the person rapidly takes in what you’ve said and searches for a way to escape or change the subject. It happens even when we aren’t visibly sad or upset in any way. Today, someone sat beside me at a research conference and said: “I heard you’re on sabbatical! What are you doing?”

(Me, excitedly!) I’m writing a book!

(Other researcher) Oh that’s wonderful, what are you writing?

(Me, still trying to convey excitement) It’s a book about pregnancy after a loss! It’s meant to be a guide to help women going through this difficult time. It’s been great, I’ve been interviewing all these women and just today, my last one is having her baby! I’m so excited for her, I feel as though it is my baby too.

And somewhere in that last exchange, I watched her face fall. I watched as instead of catching my enthusiasm, she didn’t hear any of the wonderful things I said. She just heard “loss”, and stopped listening, panicked and tried to find a way to change the subject.

At first I thought this made sense, after all, who wants to hear about death? Death is sad and scary and horrible, especially the death of children. Then at 5:00 on my drive home, I heard the news….

  • James Foley beheaded in Iraq.
  • More rioting in Ferguson, MO after the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.
  • A mudslide in Japan has killed a two year old boy and one of the rescuers who tried to save him.
  • More calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine is found in Winnipeg.
  • There’s an Ebola outbreak in Western Africa
  • Mass extermination of people in Syria and northern Iraq continues

Death, death, death, death. And so many of these are children.

And it isn’t just the news. Pop culture is focused on death too. How many of the top TV shows are about death, usually in gruesome ways? If you can watch Game of Thrones, how could you possibly be disturbed by the idea that sometimes babies die?

Do people distance themselves from death on the news or on television as somehow not real? It happens to other people, in other places, far away? Do people blame the victim, as if somehow all these people deserved their fate? With stillbirth the victim is the ultimate innocent. They weren’t even born yet! Or is the stigma around stillbirth related to something else?

As much as it might hurt me to see “the look”, there are things that are more important than my feelings. My personal hurt is part of a much broader picture. An estimated 8200 babies are stillborn every day. Half of all stillbirths have no known cause. And in order to find out, we need to have more and better research. Where the cause is known, stillbirths can often be prevented. We need to know why the stillbirth rate in the United States is 3 times the rate in Finland. When stillbirth can’t be prevented, we need to know how to care for a woman and her family going through this horrible time. But research is dependent on funding, and funding decisions are made by women like that one I sat next to at a conference. The one who was so disturbed by my book that she couldn’t even bring herself to talk about it.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

Forgiving Others

Last month, I wrote about how hard it is to forgive yourself. The next step is forgiving others, but it is hard. Oh my God, it is HARD!

I wish I could tell you it was easy. I wish I could tell you that if you follow these simple steps, your life will be sunshine and roses. I still can’t forgive everyone, although I am determined to try. Until they piss me off again, anyway.

Here are my concentric circles of forgiveness:

  1. People who say stupid things, but mean well, and play a small role in my life. These people are fairly easy to forgive, partly because I have once been in their shoes. I know what it is like to open my mouth and say something completely stupid, and immediately feel horrible about it. I can completely empathize with them. For example, the resident who said “Wow, you’ll be busy at home with 5 kids.” I saw her face as she said those words, immediately realized that I didn’t have 5 kids at home, and felt like she’d been kicked in the face. Or maybe it was the nurse kicking her under the table. Either way, I can forgive her pretty easily because I once innocently asked someone “Is this your first?” In fact, I think if I was given a dollar for every time I said something stupid, I could retire at 40. Besides, I probably won’t ever see them again.
  2.  People who know me well enough to know better, but still have a momentary lapse. Again, I can forgive them because I have been there. It is a little harder, because I expect them to know me and to have a clearer idea of what will be helpful, but no one is perfect. Usually, they have good intentions. They truly believe that by not talking about your child, they are helping you feel better. They think “Amanda’s so happy right now, talking about how I miss Nate and Sam too will feel shallow.” Or “She has two beautiful kids, I don’t want them to feel bad by bringing up their brothers, who they did not know anyway.” And even if that hurts because I love hearing about how others are missing my boys too because it reminds me that their lives mattered, they have my best interests at heart.
  3.  People I know and are doing intentionally hurtful things. I’m still not entirely sure I’m ready to forgive these people. Let’s just say I am working on it. To be clear, these are not people in category two, who think they are doing you a favour by not mentioning your children or your grief, but people who are too selfish or uncaring. These are the people who walked out of your life because they could not handle your grief, or the people who actually tell you to stop talking about your kids because it upsets them. It is a lot harder to feel sympathy for them. It is hard to forgive the damage they have caused, especially if they are not looking for your forgiveness. The friends who walked out on your life and still haven’t come back. The people who justify what they did as “protecting themselves”, when truthfully it was just their own selfishness.

But here’s the interesting thing about the circles… in order to get the most benefit, you have to forgive the people it is hardest to forgive. The casual remark made by someone you hardly know, you can stay mad at them forever and it won’t matter, because it doesn’t have an impact on either of you. You both walk away and not see one another again. But the intentionally hurtful actions taken by someone you love, if you hold on to that grudge it will eat away at you every time you see them. And because they are close to you, you see them a lot. Which is why I am working on forgiving those who have hurt me the most. I am not there yet, but maybe with a little more practice….

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

It’s All My Fault

I know it is. Somehow. Nate and Sam died of hypoxia, and I worry that I caused it.
Because hypoxia means a lack of oxygen, here is the list of crazy thoughts in my head:

  1. My left hip hurt. A lot. It is probably arthritis. As a result, I often slept on my right side, even though all the pregnancy books tell you not to do it. Did sleeping on my right side kill my babies?
  2. Also, due to the painful hip, I took  a lot of baths. As soon as I got home from work, I jumped in the bathtub. I added bath salts and lovely scented bubbles. I ran the water jets. The water was hot. Did the hot water kill my babies?
  3. I went to Denver. Okay, this is a little more far-fetched, but three months before they died, I went to Denver for a work trip. I spent five days in the mile-high city! Maybe the high altitude meant they did not get enough oxygen and died? Three months later….
  4. Speaking of work, I worked right up until I was 34 weeks pregnant! My job does not involve heavy lifting or being on my feet, I sit at a computer all day. But that does not mean I was not stressed out about all the things I had to get done before taking maternity leave. Did I somehow work too hard and kill my babies?
  5. Brie. I have a secret weak spot for brie. Smother it on French bread and I am in heaven. This is another pregnancy no-no, which I did anyway, because I love brie too much. I’m pretty sure the reason is because unpasteurized cheeses have a higher risk of listeria, and that has nothing to do with a lack of oxygen. Still, could this be the reason?
  6. I made a joke. Actually, I made lots of jokes. Sometimes I think I’m pretty hilarious. But when I found out I was having twins I was not over the moon, but instead a little freaked out. I made a joke in my e-mail to friends that I was stuck with twins because I could not send one back. Ha ha, looks like you can send them both back, the joke’s on me! Maybe karma killed my babies?

I could go on. In the nearly seven (yikes!) years since Nate and Sam died, I have had plenty of ridiculous reasons pass through my mind. I keep thinking of new ones. But I have to let them go. I have to. When blame and doubt creep into your mind, you have to remind yourself that you were doing the best you could with the information you had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things. First, you have to forgive yourself.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

On Being both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life

I somehow found myself in a flame war online. I didn’t plan on it (does anyone?), but before I knew it, I had to respond. However, like most of these things, the topic is more nuanced than we allow for in short online comments. Maybe this is something that needs to said, or at least something I need to get off my chest.

I’m really bothered by the connection many baby loss moms make with the pro-life movement, and I’m concerned that we may be causing a whole lot of hurt as a result. Right now, mothers who have made heartbreaking choices are deeply grieving the loss of their babies. And, not only do they face the pain and grief of baby loss–the sense of being ostracized from their friends and family and all that goes with that–they are not welcome in many online communities for baby loss moms. That’s wrong.

I can appreciate that someone who is struggling with infertility, or has lost a child, really, truly has a hard time feeling compassion for someone who has made a choice to terminate a pregnancy. Those of us who have disabled children may be hurt too, by the suggestion that no life is better than living with a disability. But when someone comes to the baby loss community looking for love and support, they are past the point where a decision has been made, so there is no benefit to berating them for making a choice different from your own. There is no going back in time to change their minds.

Each person arrives at her decision based on her own experiences and life, and those experiences may be radically different from yours. We may reach out to this community in order to feel a little less alone, but the truth is, we will always feel a little bit that way because we always are. No matter how similar we are to one another, we each have very unique circumstances that have brought us here. Even our spouses, who we love and cherish and who lost the same baby (or babies) we did, do not experience the emotions, grief or loss in the same way we do.

This isn’t to say that I cannot sympathize with the pro-life movement. I live in Canada, where there are no legal restrictions on abortion. It means that when a baby dies in utero, there is no legal recognition, and that hurts. Had my sons died due to medical incompetence, I would not get any financial compensation had I sued. The law simply doesn’t allow for it. This legal position contributes to a society that denies recognition of our children, and makes it easier for them to be forgotten and ignored, and for us as grieving mothers to be shunned and treated as though we do not deserve the same compassion as other grieving mothers.

Being pro-choice does not mean that one endorses abortion, or that one would choose it for oneself. It simply means that you believe the choice is yours alone, and you do not get to make the choice for anyone else. That’s why, politically, I am pro-choice. I cannot imagine the pain that mothers who have had to choose live every day, and I can only say that I am thankful not to have to be in that position. My heart aches for them, and I wish only to show them compassion, love and friendship. I want all baby loss moms (and dads!) to be welcome here.

For those who are wondering, I believe in God. I do my best to live a life that follows Christ. For me, that means this wonderful fact: I am forgiven. It also means this wonderful fact: so are you. We are all called to forgiveness. I don’t seek to change anyone’s opinion on abortion. I just wish to ask that there is more compassion in how and where one expresses views. The baby loss community should be a place where those of us who are grieving can find solace.

It is not a place for politics.

If you are a mother who has made a heartbreaking choice, there is also a special place for you online. Find it at: http://www.aheartbreakingchoice.com/

This post originally appeared at Still Standing Magazine.

Miscarrying Mother’s Day

My first miscarriage was the Mother’s Day weekend after the boys died. I had a presentation to make for work and just before it started, I went to the bathroom to get ready. I spotted blood and had my coworkers take over while I went straight to the emergency room. Just 8 months after the boys died, I was still raw and grieving their loss and wasn’t in the best place emotionally to begin with. Faced with another pregnancy failure, the emergency room was the wrong place to be. The doctor I saw was not sympathetic, although I think he thought he was. It’s a teaching hospital, so he was a resident, and he made a joke about not being all that good with an ultrasound. He said that he could not find a heartbeat, but that it was possible that was due to his poor skill, and I’d just have to make an appointment with my obstetrician sometime next week. He also said two things: “Either you’re having a miscarriage, in which case I’m afraid there isn’t anything I can do to stop it. Or, you’re not having a miscarriage, and there’s nothing to worry about, go home and rest and talk to your obstetrician next week.”

Even if he wasn’t able to see my full chart, he should have been able to see that my obstetrician was the high-risk specialist. And the mere fact that I decided that this was important enough to come into the emergency department should have been a signal that, at least to me, this was an emergency. This is what the patient-centred care movement is all about – it is the patient who decides, not the doctor.

Emergency rooms should be designed to care for people in both physical and psychological crisis. For many loss moms, Mother’s Day is a day of heightened emotional pain. If you’re in crisis, you should expect your health professionals to care for you and deliver appropriate medical care. The doctor may have been telling the truth when he said he couldn’t stop my miscarriage from happening, but he could have been more compassionate in recognizing the emotional impact this was having on me.

If you had poor care during your miscarriage, you can help to enact change. Contact your hospital’s patient advisor or ombudsman to let them know about your experience. There is research available that shows several options to improve care, such as having a nurse practitioner in the emergency room[1], or obstetrical nurses[2], or referral to the obstetrical unit right away[3],[4]. Approximately 1-2% of emergency room visits are for miscarriages or threatened miscarriages, so this is a fairly frequent thing for these doctors to see.

This is a tough weekend for a lot of us. Some of us do not have living children. Some of us have lost our mothers too, making this weekend twice as hard. It is easy to feel left out of the celebrations. As I lay in bed that first Mother’s Day weekend, I wasn’t yet strong enough to face the world. I was angry and hurt. Making meaning of your miscarriage can be a step on the path to healing. If you can commit to helping improve care at your local hospital for the next woman, you’ll have made a difference. By choosing to take a small step, I was able to join the celebration again, to feel part of the connected whole. I may not have the power to stop a miscarriage, but I do have the power to change the world.

What are you doing to change the world this Mother’s Day? It can be as awe-inspiring as Katy Larsen’s Delivering Hope or as simple as resolving to get out of bed on Sunday and not let the day get you down. Post your ideas here to inspire other loss moms!

[1] Webster-Bain D. The successful implementation of nurse practitioner model of care for threatened or inevitable miscarriage. Australian Nursing Journal. 18(8):30-3, 2011 Mar.
[2] Bacidore V. Warren N. Chaput C. Keough VA. A collaborative framework for managing pregnancy loss in the emergency department. JOGNN – Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 38(6):730-8, 2009 Nov-Dec.
[3] Adolfsson A. Tullander-Tjornstrand K. Larsson PG. Decreased need for emergency services after changing management for suspected miscarriage. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 90(8):921-3, 2011 Aug.
[4] Wilson W. An A&E nurse’s fast-track for potential miscarriage patients. Accident & Emergency Nursing. 8(1):9-12, 2000 Jan.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

On Calling it Quits

Five years ago, I walked out the fertility doctor’s office with the first optimism I’d had in some time. There in the waiting room was an old friend I hadn’t seen since we were in school together. I was not really sure of the etiquette, so I pretended I didn’t see her, then sent her a quick e-mail as soon as I got back to my desk. I apologized for not saying hello, but that I did not think it was the right time or place and didn’t want her to feel awkward. We rekindled our friendship immediately, although it was short lived. We were on different paths. That same day in that same doctor’s office, I was finding out I was pregnant again, this time with my daughter. She was being told by the doctor he did not think it was ethical for him to continue to take her money. After spending over $70,000 on fertility treatments, the chances of success were just too low. It was time for her to call it quits. About 3 months after reconnecting, she sent me a very nice note, letting me know that it was too painful for her right now and that she wished me all the best. I admire her so much for her honesty.

Whether we end up having living children or not, how do we know when to call it quits?  For many of us who have lost children, it seems the answer is always ‘just one more’. Just one more child and my family will be complete. Just one more try and this time, this time for sure I’ll get pregnant.

I have started to feel comfortable with the ambivalence. I know my family will never be complete and that so many circumstances are beyond my control. Sure, I am sad about it, but I am comfortable with the sadness. I don’t know for certain, but I imagine the process takes much longer when you have no living children. It does not help when  the messages received by society are that infertility treatments are a cure-all and success is guaranteed. Incredibly, even surveys of female medical professionals, showed that they overestimated how easy it would be to get pregnant. Most people assume that childless couples were always childless by choice, even when that isn’t true.

Whether you have reached the point where you’re ready to call it quits, we can make the world a better place by recognizing that other people may not be in the same stage you are. Next time you meet someone without kids, try making the assumption that it was not by choice and that they are okay with it. It might change how you treat your childless friends.

And to my friend, if you come across this, I miss you. I hope that you have found your joy.

This post first appeared at Still Standing Magazine.

Obsession

I have been criticized for writing for Still Standing. Some of the other writers here have as well. Not criticizing the style of our writing, but the topic. Quite a few of us have family, friends, coworkers, neighbours and others who are disturbed, upset, ashamed or even angered because we choose to write openly and honestly about grief, the death of our children, the death of our dreams for future children, the challenges, frustrations and agony of infertility and other related topics. We’ve been told it is an unhealthy obsession. I’ve been told my sons died over 6 years ago and I shouldn’t focus on it so much. Friends and family who have complimented me on my writing, or encouraged me to remember my sons have faced criticism too! They are accused of facilitating my obsession. I might even understand where these feelings were coming from if they came from people I don’t know. After all, if you only knew me through my writing for Still Standing, you might be forgiven for thinking that all I do is lie at home in a dark room crying over my sons.

But I don’t. I write a lot, mostly painfully boring academic stuff. (Go bore yourself here). My life is filled with baking cookies with my kids, joking with my friends about Wine  Book Club, occasionally even reading books, my work, church, my favourite tv shows, fun with my husband and all the other things that make up my life. It is a full life with lots of joy and wonder and grace.

But there’s still a hole. And to pretend it isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

Arguably, Victor Hugo was one of the greatest writers of all time. He wrote a lot of beautiful poems about the death of his daughter, Leopoldine. He also wrote a lot of other stuff too. I hope when he wrote Demain, des l’aube, four years after his daughter died, no one told him to stop writing about her. Victor Hugo lost 4 of his 5 children (one as a 6-month old baby, one as a teenager, two as adults). His only surviving child spent much of her adult life in an insane asylum. I can hardly blame him for being obsessed with grief.

Writing about Nate and Sam for Still Standing, about how grief changes and ebbs and flows throughout our life, is just a small part of who I am and what I do. We all have many facets to our lives. I didn’t stop being a daughter and a sister and a wife when I became a mother. I didn’t stop loving Nate and Sam when Rebecca and Alexander were born. My grief is a hole that will always remain, but it isn’t the sum of who I am.

“The months, the days, the waves on the sea and eyes that cry
All pass beneath the blue sky
The grass grows and children die,
I know, oh my God !”

–Victor Hugo in A Villequier (translation mine)

This post originally appeared on Still Standing Magazine.