Today's writing prompt is: "Me." I can't tell you how hard of a time I've had with this one. I write every day about my loss, my challenges, my occasional triumphs. But I don't really think a lot about who I am now. How the changes I have gone through affect who I see myself as today. I was reminded of a quote:
"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are." (Bernice Johnson Reagon)
So I thought about it for a bit, and I came around to thinking that who I really am is a product of so many things, not just losing Ryan.
I'm a daughter of two supportive and loving parents. We have challenged each other. And they have pushed me to grow into all of the things I am today. My sense of humour, love of reading, confidence, and strength are all due largely to these two. They were the first to teach me how to love.
I'm a sister. A middle sister in between two incredible women. One with a family all her own. Who worries too much, but worries out of the most loving of places. The other just starting to carve out her place in the world and doing it one giant step at a time. All of my diplomacy I developed from years spent "stuck in the middle" of their big, beautiful personalities. And all of my silliness I had the pleasure of practicing for them for 30 years.
I'm a friend to so many different people all around the world. Some I've known since before we could talk. They've taught me about loyalty. Others I grew up with and learned about life from. Newer friends I've met through tragedy have shown me how to be strong in the face of disaster. How to embrace sadness. And how it's possible to help others when you yourself need to be helped, too.
I'm a teacher. And in teaching, I learn a little bit every day. I learn compassion. Patience. Motivation. Determination. And that it's okay to make mistakes, as long as you're always learning.
I'm a wife to a man who I once believed to be out of my league. But who was so obviously put here on this earth specifically for me. He has taught me to find calm instead of craziness. To be flexible instead of immovable. He has brought out every bit of goodness inside of me. I'm that much better for being his.
I'm a mother. My motherhood has deepened every part of who I am. I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. More patient than I ever have been. I have discovered what true friendship really is. I am so determined to honour my son in Heaven, and continue to grow my family here on earth. I am unafraid of sadness. And cautiously optimistic for the future. I am both supported and supportive.
Most importantly, by being a mom to an angel, I can love more deeply than humanly possible. Because my love transcends earth.
One good thing about falling apart is having the opportunity to put yourself back together. You have the chance to rebuild yourself; better, stronger, more capable than before.
Though I've slowly been putting the pieces of my life back together since the day we lost Ryan, it's only been in the last 3 or 4 weeks that I've consciously put in the effort to get myself more whole again. I floundered before, trying to figure out what my purpose would be now that I wouldn't be mothering a baby here on earth. And although I still struggle with not having him here, I know now that my purpose is still to go out and live the best life that I can.
To do that I have to start with me.
Along with Rich, I've been eating healthier, going to the gym or working out at home, watching less TV, reading more, and taking "me-time" to do whatever it might be that I feel is needed on that day to feel my best.
And it's been working. Even on my sad days, I feel stronger. And on the days when I don't feel strong, I don't feel the need to beat myself up for feeling so sad.
I'm taking a class at the gym that's a combination of yoga, Pilates, and Tai-Chi. It improves my breathing, my flexibility, my balance, and my strength. All things I need both physically and mentally these days. Every class ends with about 5 minutes of breathing and meditation. We lay flat on our backs and try to melt away. Let me tell you, I am terrible at it. After all 4 classes so far, I have ended up with tears rolling down my face. To me, meditation = silence. And silence seems to translate into thinking. And when I think, my thoughts float away to Ryan. As if she's staring right at me (I don't know, because my eyes are closed), the instructor always says, "If you feel your thoughts running away from you, focus on your breathing." This makes it worse. I end up thinking about the rise and fall of my chest. And then it morphs (every. single. class) into this vision of a baby's chest, underneath some cute little sleeper, rising and falling. And I think of Ryan. Again. And how I didn't get that with him. And I cry a little harder.
Somehow I manage to pull it together before she tells us to open our eyes. And I leave the class feeling strong and good about myself. But determined to go into the next class more focussed on being present.
It's not an easy road to putting myself back together. But it's one I'm embracing every day.
I am a work in progress. I'm rebuilding.
If “home is where the heart is,” then a part of my heart lives in Heaven.
And suddenly it all makes sense.
The reasons why I can feel such joy and pain at the same time.
Because every time what’s left of my heart beats, it’s working double time.
It beats once for everything I love here on this earth.
My husband. My family. My dog.
My hopes for another baby someday.
And then it beats again for what I’ve lost.
His future, and part of my own.
Over and over.
A piece of my heart lives in Heaven.
But I’m still here, left to love what’s been left behind. What I can still hold on to.
And loving, more than anything, what I can’t hold at all.
At least until my heart is whole again.
I'm proud to say that I smile every day. And on most days, I find something to laugh about. I can get so swept up in my day that my focus stays mostly on task and I find enjoyment in the things I'm doing and the people I'm surrounded by.
But I never forget. I can be in the middle of a class discussion about critical reading, and out of nowhere. Ryan. Just pushes his way to the front of my consciousness. Usually just long enough for me to give him a little mental hug and then continue on with my lesson. But it's never ending. I can always count on it happening, no matter how wrapped up in other things I seem to be.
And I like it that way.
Let me talk about grief for a moment. I read a lot of interesting things yesterday, from a lot of different perspectives. Everyone wanted to chime in on mental health and healthy ways to live our lives since it was Let's Talk Day. I'm left with a few things to clear up on my end.
Just because I think of my baby every day, does not mean I'm letting myself live in sadness.
Just because I willingly make time every day to sit here, and think about things that are sometimes really hard to think about, does not mean that I am "dwelling" on my loss.
I am simply finding a way to live my truth.
This is my complicated truth:
My son died. I will spend the rest of my life wondering about him. Missing him. Wanting him. Regretting any moment I might not have cherished our time. Just because I smile does not mean I'm not feeling sad. And just because I'm feeling his loss, does not mean I can't also feel happy. In my life now, happiness is a choice I have to make. Sometimes I easily slip into happiness and feel its warmth. I cherish those moments. But it's not something that I can walk around feeling all the time. That's not my reality. And that's okay. My reality is always this grief. It is not a choice. It is now an extension of me. It is a part of me that I must embrace when the time is right, and manage all the other times. And I do. I'm getting pretty good at it. They say "practice makes perfect" and I've been practicing every day for 140 days so far. And you know what? I'll keep practicing tomorrow. And the day after that.
I'm not dwelling in my loss. I'm living it.
Some days the smile comes naturally. And some days I have to choose to wear it. And you know what, some days I choose to not wear it. For now, my smile doesn't always feel right on my face. I often feel awkward in photos or even in front of the mirror trying purposefully to put on a smile.
But, with time, that smile will come. And maybe someday it will look and feel like the one on that confident and joyful mama-to-be I knew 5 months ago.
Each year, Bell Canada attempts to raise awareness about mental health issues and initiatives through the increasingly popular Let's Talk campaign. This year's Let's Talk Day happens to be today. Bell customers are encouraged to text and make long distance calls knowing that Bell Canada will donate 5 cents for every action. Not a Bell customer? You can tweet the hashtag #BellLetsTalk or share the official Facebook image and they'll make donations for those actions as well.
I'm not here to sell the campaign today. But I think their mission and mine are pretty similar. I write every day for a few reasons. The first, as I've said, is that it just feels good for me. And it connects me to all of you in some way. But there's another part of me whose mission is to just talk.
Talk about what it feels like to lose a baby. Talk about how it feels to battle grief every day. I don't think the grieving process is typically considered to be a mental health issue. But it certainly takes its toll on a person mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I want to be able to talk about feeling beat up. Feeling triumphant. Feeling bad about feeling good. The days where I take steps forward. And the days when I want time to stand still.
I've read so much about how stillbirth and miscarriage are still considered to be "taboo topics." In the circle I stand in now, it's hard to see that. My social media feeds are flooded with information about these kinds of losses. But I bet, for those of you who haven't experienced this loss, yours aren't. And it's okay to not want to inundate yourself with such a sad and heavy topic all the time. But because it's a reality for so many people, it's very important to talk about it. Or at the very least, listen.
So I will. Every day. And as long as one person is listening, it's worth it.
Today was kind of a big deal in my world. I've been back to work "full-time" since January 4, but my duties there were pretty limited. As a teacher, returning full-time with only 3 weeks left in the semester, it didn't make sense for me to take over other classes. So instead, I filled in when needed, did a little one-on-one tutoring and exam prep with a few students, and most just prepped for second semester. It was a very nice ease-in to being back to work for full days. I did a lot of figuring out how to "keep my head in the game" instead of doing the wandering it likes to do these days.
Well, second semester began today, and I must say I was pretty anxious getting out of bed this morning. There was a big part of me that felt like I was doing this for the first time all over again -- that's how new I feel to myself sometimes.
But there was also this other part of me -- the little bit of the old me -- who was ready. Beyond ready. I had basically spent 3 weeks planning for today and the days to come. If you know me, you know I shouldn't be left alone for too long with a calendar and a job to do. Because when I walked into that school today, the anxious part of me left, and I felt a lot like the old me.
I just did what I do. And I didn't have to think twice about it. It was nice to not second-guess myself. To just dive into something I'm good at. Something familiar. Not like this uncharted territory I deal with through my grief and my unorthodox-motherhood.
I'm riding a pretty big high right now after yesterday's good news, and now today's work successes. It feels good to feel good. And Heaven knows I deserve a little feeling good in my life. It's as simple as that.
Before I can tell you about today's good news, I need to give you the back story. Here's a post from mid-December:
"Every day of missing Ryan is hard. But when I look back on this journey so far, the hardest moment was when we had to call in a nurse to take out baby out of our arms and take him away from us forever. To somewhere I can't even speak of. Cold and alone. We only got about 12 hours with him. Overnight mostly. And the exhaustion of the horrible day before had us sleeping through most of it. Sleeping with Ryan, but not awake to soak in every moment of him. I regret our lack of time every day. Only a lifetime would have been enough time, but we definitely needed more than hours.
The other day I got a call from my cousin, Angela. Through her restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie, The Breakfast Pig, she takes pride in being part of the community and in giving back to the community. She asked Rich and I if we would be comfortable with her raising money this Christmas for a Cuddle Cot donated in Ryan's memory to the Sault Area Hospital. This has been a quiet dream of mine since Ryan's passing. I was so overwhelmed and immediately told her "Yes!" That we would be so touched..."
Well, through our fundraising efforts at Christmastime, we were able to raise just over $2000, mostly through the generosity of friends and family. An amazing feat in only a couple short weeks. But this still left us $1500 shy of the necessary $3500 for the Cuddle Cot.
But today I got the good news that several local businesses and a "mystery donor" from my former high school stepped up and donated the difference we were missing! Our goal to bring this medical equipment to the hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is going to be realized! And it'll all be donated in the name of our sweet angel, Ryan.
I could not be more proud of my family, my friends, and my hometown for pulling together to help make a difference in the lives of families who may have to suffer such a horrible loss as ours. My ultimate dream would be if these losses didn't exist. But in the meantime, giving the gift of time to parents who so desperately need it, is a good start.
Today I'm sending the biggest thank you to Angela at The Breakfast Pig, and those responsible at Exit Realty Lake Superior, Superior Nissan, and Superior Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Sault Ste. Marie for getting us to our goal.
And as always, so much love to my family and friends who have supported us not only in this little Ryan-related endeavour, but for supporting us in all things these past (almost) 5 months. Just. So. Much. Love.
Thank you. From our little family of three.
A very important video has been circulating, (at least in the baby loss community) about those "helpful" things people say to be encouraging after the loss of a baby. The video focuses primarily on miscarriage, but some of the quotes I've experienced after Ryan's stillbirth in September.
The one that really "gets me," though, is: "Everything happens for a reason." Or its cousins: "Stay positive." "Find the positives." and "God has a plan for you."
Let's start with "Everything happens..." It's a pretty hot topic for me, so excuse my language. But this one really fucked me up for a while. I mean, seriously. I searched hard for a reason.
Maybe Rich and I weren't ready to be parents? No. Definitely not. We are so ready. And we will be (we are) amazing ones at that.
Maybe Ryan wasn't really healthy. But no. Also not correct. He was perfect, inside and out.
Now, we get a little crazy.
Maybe he would have gotten really sick as he got older, so he was taken from us right away instead? But no. Though I'll obviously never know the answer to that question, I would rather have had 2 years with him than the no years I was given.
So let's get a little crazier.
This one pushed me over the edge. Maybe there was something wrong with me? Maybe I was sick. And I didn't know. And some greater power didn't want Ryan to grow up without a mom. I actually went to see both my family doctor and my OB on a few occasions because of this fear. Every ache and pain sent me into a "something's seriously wrong with me" tailspin. But no. Thank goodness. I'm perfectly healthy.
So basically, I've landed on there is no reason. And if there is a reason, looking back on the possibilities, none of them are that great, so I'm not sure how that's supposed to be a consoling turn of phrase.
And for those of you still "searching for the positives," here's one: I've found strength I didn't know I had. Well guess what? I'd rather have a baby. Still sound like a good reason?
Now, let me jump to God's plan. I refuse to believe, that my God would ever make it His plan to let this happen on purpose. Not to good people. Not even to bad people. That's just not the God I grew up believing in. Instead, I'd rather believe in an imperfect God. A God who makes mistakes. And the real test of my faith is being able to forgive Him for letting this happen. This is a work in progress.
Make no mistake. I'm not living in a dark cloud about Ryan's loss. I stand by the fact that it's better to have had him and lost him, than to have never had him at all. The joy he brought to us for those 9 months can never, and will never, be replaced. But there are no positives in losing him. At least none that I am willing to see.
Maybe his loss will make us better parents some day. Maybe his loss has made my love for Rich grow stronger. Maybe a lot of things. But losing him will never be positive. It will always be the most epic mistake the universe has ever made in my life.
I was glad to wipe "Everything Happens for a Reason" off my window, and I'll be more glad to never hear those words spoken or written to me, or anyone else who has to deal with loss. Instead, just give a hug. Let them know you're there to listen. And speak loudly and often about the person who's died. That means more than any loss-cliche ever spoken.
It's easy to feel beat up after a few "sad days." That's how I refer to the days when my thoughts of Ryan are almost exclusively heavy. Or the days that I trudge through with a noticeable ache in my heart.
But I always have to remind myself that I'd rather feel sad than feel nothing at all.
Because I've been there. In the place of feeling nothing. When the shock of the situation left me acting like a zombie. Or a robot.
It was the day we found out we lost him. The day before my due date, when my world collapsed. Anyone who has had a baby, been part of a birth team, or just knows anything about delivering a baby, knows that it's a process. And a pretty long one.
It took 6 hours from the moment I was induced before there was any progress. More than 6 until my contractions intensified.
So what did we do in the hospital for all that time, knowing the life had gone out of our Ryan? After the initial wave of shock, tears, and nausea subsided, we did what any "normal" expecting couple would do. We waited. We talked about absolutely nothing of importance. And we played games to pass the time. I look back on these moments now and I get such an eerie chill. The worst had happened, and we sat there in that labour and delivery room and carried on as if things were normal. The thought alone makes me feel like a horrible person. How were we playing games!?
Obviously in hindsight I'm screaming at myself. "Why weren't you asking more questions!? Why didn't you find out more about what to do after he was born!? Why didn't you!? Why didn't you!? Why didn't you!?"
But I was (we were) in shock. And with shock comes this incredible numbness that allows you to do impossible things. Like deliver a baby who was supposed to come out screaming, but instead quietly passed from one world to the next.
I'm proud of myself for doing the impossible. And doing it bravely. And doing it on my terms. The way I had planned to all along. I'm proud of myself for feeling every bit of pain that comes with delivery. Because in the thick of that shock, the pain was one of the only things I felt for quite a while.
When I see these silly games we played that night, I'm taken back there. And I can remember the physical pain and emotional numbness all at the same time. Now it's hard to imagine not being able to feel so torn up about his loss since that's the feeling I carry every day. But I like it that way. I like the feeling of feeling. And for that reason, I can't play those games from my delivery night anymore. They remind me of not feeling. And I never want to not feel things for my baby ever again.
When you don't have children, the weekend is that thing everyone excitedly discusses at work. Plans. Parties. Dinners. Get-aways. Whatever. Everyone seems to have a plan. The same is true for my coworkers and friends with children. But the plans are obviously quite different and almost always revolve around the kids. I'm not judging here. Just observing.
Basically, the weekend is that time that everyone uses to do the things they love with the people they love. To take a much needed break.
For me, the weekends are all of those things, too. We go out to eat, like we do most Friday nights. I read, catch up on PVR, grocery shop (yes, I love to grocery shop), spend time with Rich, see our friends when we can make our schedules jive.
But it's not easy to do these things.
It should be. We have the freedom to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. But we weren't supposed to, anymore. We were supposed to have to plan ahead. Get a sitter. Go to kid-friendly restaurants. Plan activities a baby might enjoy. So, for me, this freedom we still have is often an unwelcome guest on weekends.
Soon after we lost Ryan, we were offered gift cards to go out for dinner. Well-meaning friends and family wanted to do something special for us. I just cried. Sobbed actually, exclaiming how I didn't know how we'd ever go out to eat ever again. It seemed such a normal thing to do and yet nothing in my life was normal. Would life ever feel normal again?
But life has, slowly, found its own new rhythm. And yes, that rhythm includes a weekly dinner out. But still, only for two. I really like to spend my Friday nights, when we can, just us. Together. Curled up on the couch. Almost like how it was supposed to be.