I have so much to say and I am struggling to put it all out there in a way that makes any sense at all.
Today is the 7th. Do you know what that means? It’s the day I mark special on the calendar for your oldest big brother, Ryan. In the early days of missing him the 7th was sacred. I seldom did much else but think of him. As the years move on though, reality changes, and the 7th of the month becomes a “regular day.” Still marked by a butterfly on the calendar. My heart still full of thoughts of him. But the minutes of my day are spent doing all of the things I have come to love these past few years: making Brayden smile, spending time as a family, and now, sharing thoughts and tender belly pats with you.
I wanted to write this letter to let you know so many of the things that have been on my mind these past few months with you.
This pregnancy has been so different compared to Ryan’s and Brayden’s. People are always asking: “How is this pregnancy compared to the others?” I always say it’s more or less the same. But there are lots of differences I don’t talk a lot about. I tend to keep quiet about how guilty I feel that the past 5 months have not been all about you as they were with Ryan and Brayden. With each of them I had little else to focus on. With Ryan, it was the wonder and mystery and excitement of it being “the first.” With Brayden, the “rainbow.” Simultaneously grieving the raw, fresh grief of Ryan and hoping hard for Brayden’s little life inside me.
With you, it’s different. Same fears. Same hopes. But so much less time for introspection and reflection. So much less time to lay still, feeling the flutters of a new life growing inside me. So much less time to just be with you and feel connected to you. I’m sorry about that.
We are so anxious for you to arrive safely. Up until recently, I haven’t felt your movements – at all. No initial flutters or subtle pokes. Just stillness. This has been owed to the unfortunate position of my placenta which has been called both anterior AND previa. Which essentially made me a slave to my Doppler and checking for blood from about 11 weeks until now. It never once occurred to me how fortunate I was with both Ryan and Brayden to feel their movements constantly from relatively early stages in my pregnancies with them. It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I have felt the wonderful and unmistakeable sensation of life moving inside of me. Each kick and roll and wiggle brings a smile to my face and my hand to my belly to feel as much of you as I can. I’m hopeful in a few weeks when I go for a follow-up ultrasound for good news that my placenta is in a more ideal position.
Another question I’ve heard a lot of which I admit always feels like a bit of an accusation is why I have not taken or shared more “bump photos.” People tend to laugh this off to me as a “3rd child problem.” And yes, I know there aren’t many pictures of us together right now. I haven’t been doing obsessive weekly bump documentation like I did with Brayden (may I remind everyone I didn’t do many with Ryan either, though, but I digress). Again, this is something I’m sorry about, but that I blame on anxiety. With Brayden I didn’t want to take a single second for granted. I anticipated losing him at any moment so wanted to document and share every moment we had. This time, I’m once again balancing on this thin wire of hope and knowing that bad things happen. The trepidation with which I entered this pregnancy – that we were “pushing our luck” to hope for another healthy baby – is very much still there. Yet, I feel it’s important to say that I am enjoying you. I am treasuring our moments. But I’m scared to flaunt them too openly. I think that’s the best way I can explain it.
Despite holding back in some areas, I’m cautiously charging ahead in others. We have begun to prepare a space for you. This means making pretty big changes to what was originally Ryan’s room. It’s harder than I thought, even after 3 years, even after it’s belonged to Brayden for 2 of those years. It’s the end of a chapter in a lot of ways, but a hopeful start at a new one. We didn’t have to prepare a space for Brayden. It was there. Ready. Waiting for him. Creating a nursery for you is a big commitment to the hope that you will get to come home with us. It’s scary and takes my breath away to think of for too long – so I will leave it at that. But I want you to know we are preparing for you.
You are such a treasured gift to us. We take nothing for granted. And we want you to know how loved you are already. The timing of this letter is intentional. You're 24 weeks this week. Your first "viability milestone." And although milestones like this bring me little comfort, they're worth acknowledging. So today, share in Ryan’s special 7th day because you are so very special, too.
There’s an examination room at my OB’s office that I’ve nicknamed “The Butterfly Room” because the artwork is butterflies. Creative, I know. But it’s my little Ryan Room there, and I’m always so happy when that’s the room I’m placed in at my OB visits.
I’ve been seeing my OB again since I was only 7 weeks pregnant. Much too early for a regular pregnancy. And even though Brayden’s pregnancy was smooth sailing and as of right now there’s nothing to indicate any troubles with this pregnancy, my OB is still open to treating me like I’m high-risk. (Mostly because I’m high risk of a mental breakdown, I’m sure, but I’m still grateful for her).
Usually my OB visits are uneventful. It’s the same OB I had with Ryan and Brayden. She knows me. She lets me ask crazy questions and make unnecessary requests for ultrasounds I don’t physically need but that mentally get me feeling good, so I’m happy that we decided last pregnancy to stick with her. I see her every 4 weeks. Which is a change from Brayden. I saw her every 2 weeks then, but told her for now, I feel comfortable going the regular 4 weeks. It is largely thanks to my home Doppler for this. Until I can feel movement, I need to hear that galloping sound of a baby’s heartbeat to have comfort everything is okay.
I didn’t get the Doppler with Brayden until I was about 17 weeks along because everything I had read told me I wouldn’t be able to hear anything until then. It was a long 17 weeks only hearing him every 2 weeks at the OB. This time, though, I gave it at shot at 12 weeks – my OB heard the baby with little difficulty at 11, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. And there it was. The faint repetitive thumping of a tiny little heart. It’s done wonders for making me feel like a “normal pregnant woman.” Not incessantly worrying to the point of being unable to focus on anything else, as was the case with Brayden a lot of the time in those early weeks. Now, if I’m worried, I listen, and I relax.
I had been getting comfortable in our routine, this new baby and me. A tummy rub in the morning. Racing around to get Brayden off to daycare, me off to work. Small pauses throughout the day – was that a flutter? A typical evening at home with Brayden and Rich. A quick listen in to baby’s heartbeat before bed. I am managing – thriving really. I can do this.
Routine is good that way. It keeps your mind occupied. It keeps you focussed. It’s the changes in the routine that can sometimes be problematic.
My OB’s office is not usually as busy as it was yesterday when I went in for my routine check-up. It was a packed house of women in all different stages of pregnancy. We had the “waddlers” ready to go at any moment it would seem. Those at about the halfway mark, chatting away to each other about home renovations and prenatal classes. And then in walked the post-partum check-up, mom, dad, and 6-week old baby in tow.
And it just hit me.
Remembering sitting there in an empty office, my sad 6-week post-partum body, with my useless empty arms. I’m sure Richard was there with me, but I was still such a zombie back then that I can’t really quite remember.
I just saw this little family walk in and before I knew it, I was thinking, “That should have been me. That should have been us.”
But I’ve HAD that moment since then. I’ve had the 6-week check-up with Brayden in tow, the nurses making a fuss about how sweet, how big, how peaceful he was.
And yet, here I was now, tears sprung to my eyes, at the remembrance of the time I was robbed of that moment. And then the spiral effect of resenting the casual way everyone around me seemed to be talking of birth plans and nursery colours. (Don’t get me wrong, I still think of these things too, but it’s always with caution. “If baby comes home…” “If all goes to plan…”)
I’m repeating to myself, “Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry,” when the nurse calls my name.
I practically sprint through the office doors to step on the scale and take my blood pressure. I manage to small talk my way through this once again familiar routine. She leads me to the examination rooms, and settles me into The Butterfly Room.
I sigh and inwardly smile, starting to regain my composure and feeling more like myself. Bringing myself back to the present moment.
The nurse leaves and I sit down and continue to wait. But this time, comforted by the baby who didn’t come home, smiling at me from those butterfly prints on the wall.
He’s got me.
And I’ve got this.
Even though it turns out pregnancy after loss, even with a beautiful rainbow already in my arms, is still no joke.
23 weeks to go.
November 7. The last time I wrote. It's not for lack of anything to say. I have much to say. And much that I feel. But, I've hit a point in my grief where it has stopped feeling okay to share so much, so openly. There's a self-consciousness inside me that worries, again, how this kind of open grief is perceived by the bystanders and onlookers. People who want to see this kind of grief and know that "it gets better." People who love me who want to know that I am "okay."
I intended to say that it has "gotten better." And that I am "okay."
But those phrases don't seem quite right.
Because, you see, if I wrote every time I felt the need, I would still be writing every day. And I guess that doesn't seem much "better" or "okay" than I was 2 years ago.
If I wrote every time I experienced something -- a moment -- tied to my grief over Ryan, you would read about all of the times I watch Brayden playing on his own and knowing in my heart that it's not right. He shouldn't be playing alone.
You would read about the deep connection I hope so hard that they have or will have every time I see him give hugs and kisses to RyBear.
If I wrote every time the urge hit me, you would know that trying again for a third child is as anxiety-ridden and scary as it was right after Ryan. You'd know why I may seem so emotionally charged lately.
There's so much more than regular life going on in my head and my heart these days.
If I wrote every time I felt hurt, you would be here reading more frequently. Because somehow, 2 years later, I still feel like sometimes I'm just not getting this all "right,"
How can I still be stumbling over questions about my family? How can I not be more sure of acknowledging him?
If I wrote every time a thought worth writing about came rolling into my head on a long commute alone, I would hardly find the time to do anything but write.
And I can't help but wonder if I wrote every time I wanted to if I would miss him a little less. Would I miss him even more? Could I possibly?
So for the bystanders, and onlookers, and people who love me -- I'm okay. I am. But I still miss him. And there's rarely a quiet moment in my heart when I'm not missing him. Maybe if I wrote more, you'd know. And I'd feel "okay" about writing.
I'm having a hard time right now. With more than just grief. But isn't it a bitch how other struggles can so easily amplify grief? Frustration with work, financial stress, sickness and tiredness cause me to implode and among the rubble he's screaming for me. My God, how I miss him. I haven't struggled with missing him in a long time. The chaos of the last few months has settled. Ryan's 2nd birthday, Brayden's first. Returning to work. Family things. I've one again carved out yet another "new normal" routine. And I was adjusting just fine. Until I wasn't anymore.
The routine. The normalcy. It jars me sometimes. How little my life has changed. I mean, my life has changed a lot. Yes. But now Ryan's two and we're starting this third year without him here, and my life looks so normal. So much like it did before he died. The part of my life that everyone sees. We walk around and live our lives looking like a normal family of three. Except we're not. How we look on the outside just does not match at all how I feel on the inside.
Especially when I'm struggling.
It kills me when I'm having a hard time coping with the realities of life and everything looks so normal. Because it is this illusion of "normal" where my biggest fears start to happen.
I'm overwhelmed lately with this feeling that people are forgetting. Maybe not forgetting, but certainly not engaging with his memory. On the 15th of October, we lit candles for Ryan and his friends. And I couldn't help but notice that on this third Wave of Light, there were no messages with burning candles pouring in from those who've celebrated in the past. And I'm always so grateful to see the various birthday celebrations (from around the world!) on September 7, but I also can't help but notice when (and by whom) he's not mentioned on that day.
Most painful for me, is that I didn't even make time to write him a note on October 7. The very first 7th of the month since he died that I didn't. It was Thanksgiving weekend and he was obviously on my mind. But with going back to work, and family things... I was busy. I was tired. And I was already pretty emotionally drained. I know I need to give myself a break. But when you're feeling like around you, everyone has "moved on from him" the last thing I need to feel is like I'm leaving him behind too.
Grief is lonely.
Even when you're lucky enough to be able to share it so openly. As I am. When it hurts, it hurts. And when you look around you, and see how smoothly the world keeps turning, you feel stuck on an island alone.
I know time has passed. I know you've got to keep moving forward. And I have. I do. But some days the moving forward hurts.
That's me this past week.
So when I saw the 7th on my calendar today, I needed to stop. I needed to sit here. And I needed to write. Despite how tired I might be. Despite my frustrations and stresses. I needed to put it out there and maybe feel less like I'm being swallowed by the loneliness that is my grief.
Because really, I just miss my son.
Storm clouds rolled in and out all day long, but they were no match for your sunshine which continued to break its way through the clouds on this September 7th. Your second birthday.
We started the day at the waterfront. I like to celebrate you, you know. Not always with the heavy stuff. But with some light-heartedness. This desire becomes stronger and stronger every day as your little brother gets bigger and bigger. I want him to celebrate you, too. And so I want it to be fun. I want your celebrations to have spirit and joy. So we picnicked on the waterfront and (tried our best) to fly a kite. A butterfly kite I bought in the spring specifically for this day.
Kite flying is a skill apparently. Not just a fun activity for kids as I assumed. So naturally, as I struggled to fly while juggling your baby brother and his needs, my anxiety grew and grew. When there it came. The biggest, brightest orange monarch I've seen all summer long. He danced around us for quite a few minutes as the kite struggled to stay in the air, and I just knew it was you. The most beautiful hello. You made me laugh, my boy. Coming to me just when I needed you. Thank you.
After lunch we headed home where we had a visit with your Gramma and Grampa and then Brayden got to nap. (It's tough work flying kites, as I said). After nap we headed off to the cemetery. We brought you some new flowers to get you through the winter (I hope) and read to you, "Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You." I always get choked up when she writes: "You are loved. You are loved. You are loved." Because no matter how many times I say it, I just hope, hope, hope you can hear us. Because you are. So loved, my boy.
From there, we made it to the hospital to deliver our gift this year. Another bereavement box for another family who will someday leave the hospital without their baby in their arms. This year we included: a teddy bear, two journals, an engraveable necklace, a candle, an imprint kit and picture frame, two books that I found helpful after you died (Empty Cradle Broken Heart, and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination), and a framed quote lovingly donated by a local artist who felt compelled to contribute after hearing our story. I also included this year two resource pages. One, a list of resources for the family to explore when they leave the hospital, and the other a list of gentle suggestions/ideas for how to spend their time in the hospital. Things I wish we had known, had been offered, or told to do with you. We could only create one box, but we brought several copies of the resource pages so hopefully we can reach more families this year.
This got me thinking about your "reach." Ryan's Reach as I've come to think of it. I know your story impacts many in ways I can't really compute. But so much good is done by so many in your name all the time. I always keep track of those tangible ways you've helped others since last September 7, and I'd like to recap them now:
Today was beautiful. But it wasn't easy. In fact, this year 2 celebration was considerably more difficult than your first. I woke up heavy and anxious that no one would remember. Or that maybe they'd remember, but not feel it necessary to celebrate you anymore. But as the day went on, and the wishes and celebrations rolled in, I realized that you matter to more than just me. There's a whole world of family and friends who will never stop celebrating you on this day. I will always take a step back from my every day and give you this one thing. This one day. It's all yours, baby boy, and it always will be. From now till forever.
And with that, I want to take a second to thank every single one of those people who sent a message, called, mailed a card, made a donation, did a good deed, visited my boy, sent up a balloon, sang "Happy Birthday," ate a cupcake, wore blue, sported some butterflies... However you celebrated him. Thank you. "Thank you" actually doesn't seem enough. It's hard to express how grateful I feel when he is so outwardly celebrated. I know he's held safely in the hearts of so many, but to hear his name said over and over today was overwhelming in the most incredible way... "Happy birthday, Ryan!" on the lips of little ones who would be his friends, his cousins... I'm truly at a loss for how happy it makes me. Thank you for not only celebrating him, but for sharing him with your little people.
I have two special thank yous.
The first is to my October Baby mom group. This is a group I joined for Brayden. It's (mostly) online, but it's been a great support through Brayden's first year. I've been fortunate to feel comfortable enough sharing both of my boys with these ladies. And as I went about my day today, the messages came pouring in from these women who have only known me "virtually" and for such a comparatively short time to others in my life. I read each and every message and was touched to have such love poured into my first born.
The second thank you is for Mariana. Mariana's daughter Olivia is a friend of Ryan's. Ryan was there to greet Olivia when she slipped away from this world too soon. And Mariana reached out to me not long after to tell me how Ryan and I saved her after her loss. I'm still so touched by this sentiment, but this woman lifts me up again and again by her incredible generosity in helping others and always speaking openly about Ryan wherever she travels. I feel so lucky to have a friend in her halfway around the world. Today she surprised several unsuspecting strangers with beautiful gestures and gifts all in Ryan's name for his 2nd birthday. She goes above and beyond and for that I'm so grateful!
I suppose I've said all I can about how special you are, Ryan. And how much you mean to me and to the world around me. I'll just wish you one more Happy Birthday, before I go sip some chocolate milk and snack on a bit of watermelon (your two favourites from my pregnant days).
I can't wait to see what your 3rd year will bring.
Happy birthday, baby.
You are loved.
You are loved.
You. Are. Loved.
Last night I had a horrible dream. The worst kind of dream. I dreamed that Brayden died.. I don't need to tell you how disturbing that dream would be for anyone, let alone someone who's already lost a child. I woke up with my heart pounding in my ears. The image of it still burning vividly in my mind.
Fortunately, I wasn't awake for long before Brayden's cries from his bedroom got me out of bed. Reminding me it was only a dream. It was just shy of 5 a.m. I brought him to bed with me, and we slept, cuddled together, for about another hour.
It's no surprise to me that I had this dream on this weekend. My mind's way of saying, "Sorry. Not enough room to keep shutting this shit out." This is Ryan's weekend. 2 years ago I could tell you exactly how I was spending my Labour Day weekend. This was the weekend he was born.
Fast forward to later this afternoon. We broke a bowl. It shattered when it hit the tiles. I didn't even flinch. I moved Brayden safely out of the way and set to work picking up the pieces. How's that for a metaphor?
September 7th might not fall on Labour Day weekend this year, but Labour Day weekend will always remind me of the time that we too shattered into a bits and pieces and then began the journey of trying to put those pieces back together.
In less than one week, it will be two years. The real countdown to the 7th begins on this weekend. So much changes in one year. My Labour Day weekend looks different this year. As it looked different last year from the year before it. And on and on I assume it will go. But I'll always be thinking of him when Labour Day rolls around.
Especially that weekend 2 years ago.
Ever since August 7, my brain has kicked into overdrive thinking and planning for Ryan's 2nd birthday. The honest truth is I think about his birthday all year long. Ways to celebrate him. Remember him. Honour him. But come August 7, just like last year, my gears really get turning and I feel this crunch. Only one more month until we're marking this huge milestone.
Another year without him.
Except I try not to think of it that way. I try to think of it as:
Another year of knowing him. Loving him. And spreading his love as far as I can.
So, birthday prep. How to celebrate him. How to make his life touch the lives of others.
We'll certainly be making another donation to the bereavement team of the labour and delivery unit where Ryan (and Brayden) were born. Last year's supplies were used within 2 months of dropping them off -- something that makes me feel at once both sad that it was needed and grateful that we could be of some help to a family who greatly needed it.
Last year, I had a few friends and family reach out in search of somewhere to make donations of their own in Ryan's memory. This year, I'd be so appreciative if those donations be made to the Grieving Parents Support Network. They are responsible for publishing the Surviving My First Year of Child Loss book that I've contributed an essay to this year.
From their website: "...donations help the charity arm of Grieving Parents Support Network provide sponsored copies of our resource books to hospitals, bereavement centres, grief retreats, and other not-for-profit organizations. Each book purchase, sponsored copy and direct donation helps us gift books to the individuals who most need it – bereaved parents in the earliest stages of their grief."
CLICK HERE TO DONATE
It would also mean a lot of if you do donate, to take the time to have that donation be dedicated to Ryan Russell.
In my grief, I have never sought out counselling or therapy. Instead I relied on support from a community of parents experiencing a loss like ours. Because of this, I feel an incredible urge to give back to that community that helped me so much. I want that to be part of Ryan's legacy. Providing support. Healing hearts.
Less than one month until he's 2! So much to do!
Love you forever, Ryan.
I wasn't planning on writing today I came to the cemetery just to get out of the house. We're going on day 5 with Rich gone and conveniently day 5 of Brayden going through some kind of miserable phase where his sleep sucks, he's refusing to eat foods he once devoured, and he's not happy on the ground or in my arms really. But he's happy when we're out and about. So I guess I am here at the cemetery today visiting one baby to get a bit of a break from my other one. As terrible as that might sound for a loss mom to say. Sorry to anyone who that might hurt.
And though the break from the crying is nice, I got a sad surprise when I got here. All of Ryan's butterflies we've left in the public garden next to his grave have been removed. And I don't even know how long they've been gone. I haven't been here since the 7th and it makes my heart sad to see his little spot without anything. Like no one visits.
So now I'm not sure if I feel better or worse.
But the quiet has been nice.
Yesterday was the 7th. I spent the day running around, packing, doing laundry, and constantly thinking of you.
Today we left for our first real family vacation. It will be insanity... but full of music, food, pool time, baseball. But it will definitely be missing you.
When I was pregnant with you, I planned the most epic road trip across Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US. You would have been about 10 months old. Near the age Brayden is now. We never got to take that trip and I think if we ever do, it'll probably be quite difficult. Most things I planned to do with you but can't tend to be that way.
So that's why this trip as the first one instead of that one. Breaks the ice on the whole family vacation short one member thing.
But I know we're not really without you. As always you reveal yourself to us in the most special ways. Like the giant butterflies sculpted onto the building right outside our hotel window.
I look forward to seeing more of you in next 10 days.
Love you forever and never far from our hearts.
One year ago I was sitting here celebrating your 9 month milestone. Significantly more important than a 21 month marker to be sure. I wrote about it as the day that officially moved me into the zone of being apart from you longer than I was with you. Since that day, that physical separation has gotten greater and greater – obviously. That’s how time works.
Now, I’m sitting in the same place, but with a different situation. Brayden sits next to me, making all of his little guy noises, clapping with joy over the celery in his hands. And me, utterly confused about how I could spend the last few weeks the way I have.
It’s been a hard few weeks. Actually, the depth of the challenge of the past couple weeks I don’t think I can really explain. But I have been out of sorts. Not quite myself. On the constant verge of tears. So quick to anger. Shockingly impatient (even for me). Totally unable to shake the consistent shitty feeling following me around.
A year ago, I’d have blamed my situation. Missing you. Afraid for the little life growing inside of me. End of the school-year burn-out.
But now. I don’t know. I feel like crap and can’t seem to pinpoint the source.
So, I blew off our plans for the day, packed a picnic lunch, and came here. A place I’ve been able to count on to feel some calm. And even with Brayden climbing all over me, still celery in hand, I’m feeling bits and pieces of that calm I’ve been clamouring for over the past two weeks. I know these 30 minutes won’t fix anything. But maybe it’s a start.
I’m glad I made the time to visit you today.
Thank you for hearing me out.