My sister's family recently road tripped to us for a visit. I love their visits because we don't get to spend nearly enough time together being about a 4 hour drive apart. So it was great to have 4 days with her, my brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and their new puppy. It's always a bit of a crazy-time, but with lots of fun packed in.
There's also always a bittersweet element for me when we get together, though. Because I can't help but feel a little sad that I can't watch Ryan grow up with his cousins. We took trips to the baseball diamond, Legoland, splash pad, water park, Medieval Times... And in each place I wondered how it would have been if Ryan were there. I can't help it. My mom-instincts just want to place him in all of these little moments with my family.
But since he can't physically be here, I spend time looking for signs that he's with us.
Every day I still need to take a few quiet moments to feel close to Ryan. It doesn't matter where in the world I am, or what's going on that day, if I don't have just a few quiet minutes I tend to feel extra sad or anxious. So each morning of their visit, as I usually do, I stepped outside to "tinker around" in Ryan's Garden. But unlike many days, as I would crouch down to do my thing I'd be greeted by the prettiest little white butterfly. Ryan popping in each morning to wish me a good day and to remind me to enjoy myself and the moments I'd have with my family. On the "worst" of the mornings (because that still happens sometimes too -- I just wake up and feel in the "sad place" about Ryan's absence) I was greeted by a much bigger, more striking butterfly. Because sometimes Ryan just seems to know when I need an extra boost.
The most special moment of the whole visit for me, though, is one I will never forget. My niece who is nearly 3, has the biggest imagination. She can spend the longest stretches of time just playing on her own or with her imaginary friend "Hailey." Something she did for quite some time after she lost interest in our game of mini=putt on Wednesday afternoon. On our walk back to the car, my sister requested her hand to hold across the parking lot. Her fists were clenched tightly and she refused to give up her right hand. "No mommy. That's Hailey," she said. So my sister moved for the left hand, which she also refused explaining, "No mommy. That's Ryan."
My heart swelled in that moment and I smiled at my sister. I have so many thoughts on the whole thing -- but mostly I simply believe he was really there with us in that little moment. And I know I'll always have the memory of that day, watching her play "by herself" on that mini-putt course... but not really by herself at all. Her baby cousin Ryan was keeping her company.
I miss him so much. And I wish so hard I could have seen him truly interact with his cousins. But the greatest gift I could get now is having him be remembered by them even though they never got to meet him. At least not the physical him.
Lately that beast called Facebook has shared with me the memories of Ryan's baby showers. We were very fortunate and showered with love quite a few times. Once by Rich's family and my Toronto-based friends, once by my family and my Sault-based friends. And once by my coworkers. I know sometimes these memories can be nasty triggers when we're knee deep (neck deep, over our heads) in our grief, but they always seem to bring a smile to my face. Reminders of the happy times we spent with Ryan. Before his memory started to carry a bit of heaviness.
Baby showers do seem to be a bit of a trigger for me, though. And though I've been invited to 3 since Ryan died, I still haven't attended one. There's this overwhelming fear and sadness that fills me at the very thought of celebrating a baby not-yet-born. I've been so happy for my friends bringing babies earth-side. I'm even getting good at meeting them, interacting with them, smiling around them. But a shower... even thinking about it now puts this anxiety in my chest.
And here's where it gets really shitty and complicated.
I think it comes largely from a place of jealousy. Which I've said a million times makes me feel so gross. But it's my truth. Not a day goes by in this pregnancy that I'm not afraid this baby is going to die. Another truth. And it hurts my heart that I can't even remember what it's like to NOT feel that way with a baby inside me. Baby showers are all about celebrating a baby and bringing gifts to help mom get ready for when baby comes... And I don't think anyone needs me at their party thinking: "Oh God... but what if it doesn't go the way you all expect it to go?" So I keep that negativity at home, with me and my jealous little heart, feeling whatever kind of protection I feel by avoiding that celebration.
And here's where it gets even shittier and more complicated.
I would go to a shower for a fellow loss-mom without any hesitation. Because she KNOWS. And I would know that any celebration she was having was with a little fear and anxiety and apprehension in her heart too. Baby showers often feel like such a promise -- Here are the clothes we'll dress baby in. Here are the books we'll read to baby. Here are the lotions we'll rub on baby's skin before bed. Here are the diapers in various sizes we'll get to watch baby grow through. But at a loss-mom's shower it would be -- Here are the clothes we hope to dress baby in. The books we hope to read. Lotions and diapers we hope to use. No one receives those gifts and thinks: "If my baby dies, I'll find myself reading these books to him anyway, even though he's not here. I'll steal away to his closet and drawers to imagine him in the outfits. I'll catch myself standing in front of that closet, smelling that baby smell that comes from a pack of diapers, wishing my baby was here." No one except maybe another loss mom. Because that's what we do.
So I can't deal with the unbridled joy of celebration. The assumption of guarantees. The promises. The expectations.
But I can deal with hopefulness.
I can accept a mama's apprehension.
But I would never want to take away a new mom's confidence. Her unwavering faith that everything will be okay. Because no one took away mine when I was a new mom. And the fact is, sometimes, when I'm around other pregnant women, that's how I feel. Like a physical reminder that the worst happens. That they can look at me and think: "Oh God, I hope that doesn't happen to us." And though I can't remember it, I'm sure it was a comfort to not have that kind of reminder, or those worries and fears in my head all the time.
The complications continue when I start to think of my own little one inside me. I would love to celebrate him now. Not a shower. And certainly not with gifts (there's absolutely nothing we need). But how could I expect people to come celebrate my baby when I can't bring myself to celebrate theirs? And how do you even celebrate a little one on the way without a shower or diaper party or whatever? How do you celebrate without fearing you're "jinxing" things?
I'm scared to celebrate and I'm scared to not. And I've hopefully only got about 11 weeks left to figure it out.
The confusion of the PAL journey never ends....
What seems like both yesterday and a very long time ago I used to think I'd never feel joy again. Moments of happiness, yes. A bit of peace, yes. But actual joy? I didn't think it possible. I actually don't think I would have ever considered the word "joy" until about a week ago when I saw it plainly there on my face.
We went and got maternity photos taken. Rich was my photographer with Ryan and I cherish those photos so much now. I think that was a big driving force propelling me to get them done again this time. It's nice to have those memories when you know you're not guaranteed anything. But I also wanted Rich to be in them this time. So we got together with our wedding photographer who was very happy and excited to do this with us.
It was a beautiful day, and I thought of Ryan a lot. I made a few wishes for his little brother. And I asked Ryan to keep watching over him. We felt like a little family on the north shores of Lake Huron. And my heart felt full.
But I remember having a hard time smiling. The photographer would ask me to look at her, or look away, or look at my belly. And it felt like the best I could do was spread my lips into a small grin or smirk. I was happy to be there, with my husband, my son's teddy bear, and my new little one growing inside me. But a real genuine smile felt a little forced. Really, to be there reminded me of Ryan, and it all felt a little bittersweet.
Then I got the photos back. And there, in not just one or two photos, but in quite a few, was a real, genuine, joyful smile on my face. And it took my breath away.
I can no longer say I don't feel joy because it's plainly there in my smile, my eyes, my body as I leaned again my husband, my rock. Or held a stuffed bear in my hands, my boy. Our family captured on the beach with laughter and joy. Actual joy.
In some of the photos I see other things too. A bit of the sadness. That sense of bittersweetness and longing. But in all of them love. And in some of them joy.
I've often seen it written that "just because I'm laughing or smiling doesn't mean I'm healed." And I don't know if us grieving parents say that because we're trying to convince others or ourselves. Are there really people out there that think a parent ever totally heals from the loss of their child? Or do we as loss parents just feel so uncomfortable with our own moments of happiness that we need to somehow bring our child into the moment to ease our guilt at feeling happy? I'm not sure if either of these are true. I think to grieve a child just means to forever balance the happy and the sad.
I really see this in the story of our family as captured by my maternity photos.
They're a mixture of longing and missing...
...and hope and joy.
And to me, that says everything. No, I may not be perfectly healed, and I don't think I'll ever be.
But there's a relief to know that joy is a possibility.
Even if I'm not always aware it's happening.
And I don't have to make excuses for it.
This month, little one, you visited me in a dream. It’s worth noting because you haven’t done that in a very long time. Not since you first went away.
My mind must lack some creativity in your absence because even in my dreams I can’t seem to imagine you living. What you would be like. Instead, I walked the streets with you in my arms the way you were when you were born. Without breath in your lungs. Without a beat in your heart. But I was so proud of you. We were walking together and I was getting more and more excited and anxious to show you off wherever we were going.
Your body would stir. A feeling unfamiliar to me, but regardless of how you moved and wiggled against me, I still knew you were not alive.
I woke up with two really profound feelings.
One, that feeling of being so proud of you. It’s that same feeling that brings me to write so freely and openly about you. I want the world to know you exist. I want the world to see how beautifully you’ve changed me and helped me to grow. I want the world to know you like I know you and if that means writing about you every day for the rest of my days then I will.
The second feeling is one that’s more fleeting. One I haven’t felt since I got home from the hospital with empty arms. And that is the physical ache of arms that long to hold a baby they can’t. I’m not sure it’s something I can describe, or even if it’s something that can be believed by those without the experience, but there is a real and true ache your arms get when your baby dies. It’s not a pain, really. But this sense of missing. Of uselessness. I remember coming home and feeling like I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Probably like how a musician would feel on stage without an instrument they’ve grown used to playing. In those early days I could so clearly remember the weight of you in my arms. The feel of your little head snuggled against my chest. Too quickly, those memories faded without any way for me to bring them back. I couldn’t pick you up to remind myself. It was just gone. And then I woke from that dream of carrying you proudly through the streets, and I could remember. It was the most bittersweet kind of remembering. I spent that whole day feeling the weight of you in the crook of my elbow. My arms feeling restless for a full 24 hours. Missing you.
I do miss you.
Not just today, on this day that marks 10 months without you. But every day.
You are thought of and missed and remembered and cherished every single day of the last 304 days.
I love you always and forever.
Happy 10 Months, Sweet Boy.
Today I got my hair cut. It was my first haircut since July 3... 2015. That's 369 days ago. I know this, because on July 3, 2015 I got my hair done before a wedding and instead of making my next appointment in advance like I'd usually do, I said, "I better wait. With the baby coming I'm not sure what my days and schedule will look like!" We laughed. I left. And hadn't been back for over a year.
I was avoiding it quite actively actually. At least once a month for the past 10, the thought of the need for a haircut entered my mind. How could it not? My hair was an absolute mess of dead ends, no shape, and altogether fried from pure lack of care. But I absolutely could not imagine myself walking back into that salon, to my stylist, after all that had transpired.
Let me explain.
Living in a community in which I did not grow up, and do not work in has been a bit of a blessing since losing Ryan. From the earliest days I could go out into the community and never fear running into someone who knew I was pregnant, but didn't know Ryan died. I was free to roam about without the panic that comes from "having to explain." Quite literally the only person I was at risk of that conversation with was my hair stylist. Silly to admit, but quite true none the less.
So for months (and months and months) I avoided seeing her. Which was easy enough. I just didn't go get my hair cut. (Could I have gone to a million different salons? Probably. But I had been seeing this particular stylist for almost 3 years and that kind of "relationship" is one I tend to stay particularly loyal to). So instead, I waited until I felt I'd be "ready" to "have that conversation" should it come up.
And you know what? It didn't. She didn't ask about my obviously pregnant belly. She didn't ask about Ryan. I just got a little pampering and some casual conversation. Maybe it was just excellent tact on her part. Or (more likely) just a lack of memory -- it has been a year, after all), but either way, my afternoon was enjoyable. And the best part was that I wasn't even anxious or worried that it would "come up." I know that's because I gave myself the time I thought I needed before taking it on.
From the outside, maybe it seems like nothing more than a silly haircut. To me, on the inside, I knew it represented so much more than that. It meant having that certain comfort level and confidence in talking freely about Ryan to someone beyond my inner circle. I'm glad I avoided it for so long. Glad I gave myself some time to feel "ready."
On this journey there have been quite a few things I've avoided. Some things I still am avoiding. It's all about protecting myself. Knowing what I can handle. And knowing what I can't. Today, I knew I was ready to talk about Ryan to anyone who asked. Two weeks... a month ago... Not so much. So you avoid what you need to in order to spare your heart any more aching.
And even though I didn't talk about Ryan today, I left with a confidence knowing I could have. (And a confidence that comes from having your hair cut after a year of neglect).
I have been counting down to certain milestones in this pregnancy without much success in each one making me feel better. "Surviving" the precarious first trimester. Having a healthy 20 week anatomy scan. And now, this morning I was greeting by a notification on my phone: "Congratulations on 24 Weeks!"
I know this congratulations comes from the first "viability" mark. If you've been pregnant. been close to someone who's pregnant, or maybe just know a lot about pregnancy, you know that 24 weeks is a "big deal." Baby has a chance of surviving if he's born after 24 weeks.
What a relief, right?
Well, I thought I'd feel relieved today. I've been waiting and waiting for 24 weeks. The last two have actually crawled by more slowly than any other so far, that's how badly I have wanted to be here. But now, as always, I'm left with a lack of comfort and waiting for the next milestone: 28 weeks.
Why 28? Well, that's the start of trimester 3. But also, at 24 weeks baby has a "chance" at surviving. It's about 40%-70%. Here are my problems with this: a) that's a wide range, no? and b) 40% is less than half. I seem to have lost my optimism... At 28 weeks, the chances of survival are greater than 90%. I like those odds better.
However, I've said it before again and again. No odds feel great when you were part of the less than 1%. I have no real reason to believe baby brother will come this early. But my heart seems to want to prepare itself for any eventuality. So I've been waiting on my milestones. I get that temporary sigh of relief that it's here. And then in an instant it's on to waiting for the next one.
It's a bit contrary to my savour every moment of this pregnancy ideal, but that seems to be part of the complicated package of pregnancy after loss.
So, yay! Today I'm 24 weeks pregnant. My little one has significantly developed his lungs as he practices his breathing, is developing taste buds, constantly putting on the grams, and (if my heartburn is any indication) becoming a little hairy thing like his brother.
But now I'm ready for 28 weeks. I'm ready to feel a little bit safer. Even though I know too well that safety is but an illusion. Something we tell pregnant ladies so they can relax and enjoy the ride.
I think I'll spend today trying to do just that. Relaxing and enjoying. Happy 24 weeks, baby brother.
We are nearly 10 months in to this journey through our first year without Ryan, and yesterday another holiday came and went. It doesn't seem to matter how big or small the holiday, each one is a reminder that he's not here, no matter how desperately I wish he were.
We've never been huge celebrators of Canada Day (and by that I mean we don't create elaborate plans or parties or anything), but we always mark the occasion somehow. A Jays game. A BBQ with friends. A day spent outside. There have been plenty of Canada Days with evenings spent on the back deck watching neighbourhood firework displays. The perfect types of celebrations, actually, for a young family.
This year, with Rich out of town and my dad visiting, I had little urge to do anything at all really. Because no matter where we went, or what we did, if my TV and social media accounts were any indication, the world would be full of families young and old celebrating the day.
And you know what, sometimes, "people" are still too much for me.
Sometimes, for me, a day well spent is one where I'm safe inside my house, hiding from the reality that life has moved on. And that can be especially true on holidays.
In the end, my dad and I went out for about an hour. But that was about all I had in me. The couch and my backyard felt like much safer spaces for me yesterday. And I think that's okay for the times it feels right.
I spent the 149th birthday of my country longing for my little boy who wouldn't be quite 10 months old. Maybe -- maybe -- Canada's 150th will be a bit brighter.