Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.


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Five Years to Miss You

Dear Sebastian,

It’s now five years since your birth day; five years and about thirty-seven hours since your heart beat last.

There is something about this year that has made my baby memories extra-vivid. I have thought of you so much this spring. I feel your days coming the first time the weather gets hot. Despite seemingly constant over-busy-ness in the last two months, you’ve been right at the top of my heart most of the time. It has felt strange, being in our new house where you never lived… but I feel you anyway.

I thought about you especially on your big brother’s seventh birthday. I could viscerally remember bringing E home as a newborn: the sunshine, the tiny onesies, the smell of welcome-home fruit crumble, the swaddling blankets, the days of rapt, awestruck bliss.

I remember how I felt that week when Emi told me that a friend of hers had borne a son on the same day I had, but that hers had been stillborn. My heart dropped like a rock as I tried to fathom how any parent could withstand that pain, when I could barely let my own newborn out of my arms.

Then, two years and one month later, you were born still, and I became friends with that same bereaved mama, who offered beautiful, generous words of empathy that I’ve never forgotten. By that time, she had a second daughter, who is now five – like you. What a strange, sad, lovely, mysterious entwining of lives and deaths.

Normally, school ends and there is that sudden space in my life at the beginning of July – and I let myself ponder you as much as I want. This year, I haven’t had time to spend with you, but my systems knew what they were doing and went all weepy anyway. I didn’t know what to do with that, because five is a heavy milestone, and it was getting lost in the preparation for Family Camp.

Then yesterday, I arrived here at NeeKauNis, and I suddenly felt lighter, righter, like you were all around me. It was quiet and fragrant and humid and leafy. I saw you, in this bright face.


And I saw you again in this expansive sky-smile, after a much-needed, stormy downpour.


Today, the other families arrived, and our Camp is full. It is busy and noisy and full of life.

This week, I’m going to watch for you. Beauty has always been where I see you, and interacting with beauty is how I feel close to you.

I really wish there were some way I could cuddle you again. Part of me feels entitled to, after missing you for so long. But I’m glad you’re here with us.

I love you always.



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Things I’ve Learned About Being A Baby Loss Mama – Three Years Later

Photo from

It’s October 15th: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

On July 9th, 2011, as you know, our Sebastian was stillborn at 35.5 weeks’ gestation. I have learned things, since then, about mothering an invisible child. Although I don’t presume to speak for other babylost parents here, some will relate.

  • It gets easier. Functioning day-to-day, compartmentalizing to get things done, packing away anguish for later – all that gets easier, gradually. They’re habits formed of necessity.
  • It also gets harder. Since Sebastian died, every day that passes takes me further from him. It’s agonizing, feeling so distant, trying to really remember his face (since our photos didn’t truly capture him). The older my living children grow, the more his infant existence seems out-of-context, and the more difficult it is to mention Sebastian in conversation – even though I yearn to acknowledge him.
  • The pain is the same. Underneath the coping habits, when I unpack it, the sorrow is the same sorrow it was three years ago, the loss the same loss, the love the same love. That’s what people mean when they say you never “get over” losing a child: they’ll always be your child, and they’ll never not be gone. That truth just hurts – and it rears up unexpectedly.
  • The awkwardness still exists. I sadly confess, I am no better at answering that awful question, “How many children do you have?” People meet me with my toddler, and I still talk around it: “I also have a five-year-old at home.” I can’t make myself add “and a baby in my heart,” even though I always think it, and mourn.
  • The club exists.There is an immediate kinship between bereaved parents. I’ve felt it with many who have lost children of any age, whether through miscarriage, disease, accident, or suicide. It’s not a happy club… and yet there is comfort in it.
  • I always know how old he’d be. Right now, he’d be three-and-a-quarter. There’s always a pang when I see the children of my pregnancy buddies – kids “his” age. Thank goodness, they are beautiful and healthy. I wish Sebastian could play with them.
  • Different versions of my family exist in my mind. I relate to your family with two close sons. We envisioned, almost were, that family. I relate, too, to the family with two boys and a little girl: that’s the family we are in my heart.
  • Grieving is different for everyone. I mentioned that Sean and I had a heart-to-heart last Sebastian Day, arising from my loneliness in grief. It was an important talk, one we both needed, revealing that neither of us is alone – we just grieve very differently. We must remember each other’s grief, even if we can’t see it, so we can still support each other.
  • It’s tricky to grieve an unknown sibling. Sometimes, E mentions Sebastian casually, without sadness. But as he grows, he understands his own loss more – the unfairness of having a brother he never met. Sometimes, when he’s feeling fragile, he cries. He adores his sister, but does wish we could’ve kept that brother.
  • Your babies are your babies, no matter how small. Sebastian changed my life dramatically, but I’ll never forget my first loss: an appleseed-sized person whose heartbeat stopped on May 28th, 2008. That tiny life will always matter to me, as part of my family and my remembrance.
  • The same things hurt.When friends, even close ones, accidentally forget or negate Sebastian’s existence, I understand… but it still hurts. I know that, having birthed him, I have the unique inability not to count him as one of my children.
  • The same things heal. When someone mentions him – by name, especially – that acknowledgement is profoundly important to me. Bringing him up doesn’t “remind” me; he’s always in my thoughts anyway. It helps to know that Sean and I aren’t alone in grieving him. I recently discovered that my sister-in-law has a Sebastian tattoo, and really appreciated the reminder: he’s in many hearts besides ours.

If you are able, tonight at 7 pm, please consider lighting a candle in your window for this Remembrance Day Wave Of Light. You never know when that small flame will comfort someone in need.




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Three Years.

Dear Sebastian,

It’s been hard to write today. Not just because thinking of you can be hard. It’s also difficult to find the time, with your brother and sister around, and life being the overwhelming To-Do list that it is. I feel drained, and the words feel awkward under my fingers.

It’s been three years since your death and birth. When I let myself remember that time, it does not feel like three whole years ago. The memories are so clear and immediate. Part of me is still back there with you, I think.

In another way, I feel far from you, because I have no baby this year. On our first anniversary, your sister was growing in my womb. On our second, she was still definitely a baby. This year, she romps around full-tilt and talks nonstop. She’s not a baby.

Somehow, it made me feel closer to you to still have a baby in the house.

This brings home something I already know, but don’t like to think about: my other children are growing past you. Someday they will probably be even bigger than me, but you – at least in my mind – will still be a baby. It will get harder and harder to think of your babyness. I guess I should be keeping in mind that you are not a baby – you are a free soul. You have no age.

I’ve thought of you so much over the past many weeks, but I still didn’t feel ready for this. I don’t have time to grieve for you very often, even when I need to, and that makes me sad and guilty and off-balance inside.

(I can’t help but notice that I keep using the word “still.” I wonder if that’s just a coincidence.)

Yesterday morning at 9:30 I happened to have an appointment to donate blood. I thought about that very last time I felt you move, right around the same time of day, on that date, three years earlier, and it made a certain kind of sense to me to be giving blood.

It was my twentieth donation (took me a long time to get there, between travel, occasional low iron, tattoos, and pregnancies, but I still felt proud). While I donated, I wondered where my blood has gone from my other donations, whether the people who got it survived, and whether any of them were children.

When I got home, I was talking to your brother about blood types, and we looked at his baby records to check his. I had forgotten that he is O negative, like me – the universal donor.

I realized I don’t know what your blood type was. I know we have the records somewhere, but I couldn’t find them.

Daddy and I had a big talk about you yesterday, too. We talked about how we have very different ways of grieving, which is sometimes hard for us. We both think about you very, very often. We talked about what we remember about you, and the day you died and the day you were born. We both remember them in great detail.

We figured out that it’s both harder and easier for me, to have the privilege of being the only person who actually felt you alive. (Daddy felt you from the outside, but it’s not quite the same.) We both really really wish, just as profoundly as we did on your birth day, that we could have held you in our arms when your heart was still beating, and looked into your eyes, even for a few minutes.

I’m so sorry that when we think about your sweet self, it always has to be sad.

I still need to do the thinking, though, and the sadness too. Sometimes I worry that I spend so much time ignoring or pushing away or skirting the painful parts, I will forget how to connect with your memory.

Then, sometimes the ache is so deep and strong, I know you’re still right there in my heart, where you’re supposed to be. When it hurts the most, that’s when I feel closest to you.

I’m afraid that, on these two anniversary days this year, there is not a lot of time to think about you and honour you properly. But something special did happen for you, less than a month ago. Our dance troupe, for the student recital, did piece about some of life’s journeys. I was one of three dancers who did a solo, and it was all about you. All the women in the group knew about you, and danced for you too. We danced for all of us, and the painful things that tear us apart and bring us together. There were tears and there was so much love. I’m full of gratitude for that.

I want to post this while it is still your birthday, but I have more to say. I wish I had a whole day to sit under a tree and think about you, and write to you. With a pen.

For now, good night. Here is your lullaby. I sing it to you often, as I sing it to your sister and brother. Sometimes they sing along. They both especially like when we sing, “Your heart and my heart are always together.”

I love you so much and I miss you so much.



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Here we are. Two years.

It’s here. This day has been homing in on me for weeks.

As I begin to write this, at 2:21 p.m., it was exactly two years ago that my husband and I wandered around the mall with my induction prescription in hand, wondering how we’d manage family phone calls to tell everyone that the baby had died.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been realizing that hot weather is now a trigger for me. It gets warm and sticky and suddenly I think of cabbage leaves and ice packs and bitter sage tea (it wasn’t any better iced). Sorrowing days. Plans and purposes unhooked, dangling. And so much crying. Writing and crying.

And, as I am grateful to remember, enormous love.

We have been using the air conditioning more than usual, because my coping skills diminish in proportion to the rising humidity. I regularly get tears in my eyes over some inconsequential thing; at first I kept thinking, What is wrong with me?? But once I made the connection, it all made perfect sense.

Feeling grouchy, frustrated, and short-fused is not cleansing grief. When I’m just grumpy, and not feeling close to my Sebastian, it just makes me depressed. And anyway, how do I put into words what it means to “feel close” to a son I only held in my arms once he was already gone?

I have a friend whose beloved stillborn son should have turned four just as my firstborn did. She is an amazing source of wisdom and words that fit perfectly. She says Crying is love. This is exactly true. Crying is the best way I know to access what I have of my son – which is mostly just love.

As I was telling another caring friend who wrote me a much-needed note this morning, a day like this shows me how seldom I let myself think deeply about Sebastian. I can’t afford to get weepy every hour (especially because E already does that). Reality needs me to function reasonably well.

Even at times when I am thinking of him, I’m not necessarily feeling him. Yesterday, our little family took a trip to the local pottery shop to make a clay memorial marker for Sebastian. I was glad we did, but mostly I thought about Are those letters straight and Is E getting bored and It’s almost Baby AB’s nap time and Please don’t let anyone impale him/herself on an etching tool.

I guess that’s for the best. I mean, I know it is. I wouldn’t have wanted to weep all over our clay masterpiece. But it’s a good thing there are days like today, when I can sink into the sadness for a little while (the length of a baby nap). Strangely, it’s sort of a good sad. Good in a heartbreaking way, because that’s how I get to feel close to my baby.

Last night, waiting for sleep, all I could think of was his face. I still remember it – I deliberately tried to imprint it on my mind – but it’s getting harder. I thought about the feel of his cheek, so incredibly soft, but cool and pale and lean, never having had the chance to fill in. I lay there and listened to his sister breathing beside me, she of the warm, rosy, very chubby cheeks. My heart was so full, it was hard to breathe.

I know there are countless ways to lose a child. When I hear the awful stories of other bereaved parents, I usually feel grateful that our loss was as simple and peaceful and unpreventable as it was. At the same time, when I think of how it felt to let my little boy leave my arms forever… the pain comes back, sharp and raw. The simple version of loss still hurts a lot.

Also when I think of E, and how he would have played with his brother, how they’d probably share a bunk bed already, and chase each other, and squabble over dinky cars… and how I’m not sure we are succeeding in keeping him reminded that he once had a baby brother he never met – how one of these days, it will suddenly become real for him, and I don’t know what we’ll do then… Those thoughts hurt a lot too.

I ferociously wish I could protect my E from this loss, and I’m incredibly thankful for him and for my vivacious little rainbow girl, and I miss my tiny unknowable boy so much, and I love all three of them to death-defying heights.

As I finish writing this (having done some reality in the interim), it’s 10:36 p.m. Two years ago, I was feeling the first twinges of contractions, and I was just over four hours away from giving birth.

So tomorrow is Sebastian’s birthday.

A lot has happened in those two years. I know I am different. Still his same mom, though.

Thank you so much for reading today.


Image from Wikimedia Commons.



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Stillbirth: O Magnum Mysterium

This Tuesday, Sean and I were back at the out-of-town hospital, to speak again with the doctor about Sebastian’s autopsy. Thankfully, this time we didn’t wait long at all – and we had already eaten lunch at my favourite Indian restaurant, so that helped my state of mind.

The doctor cut right to the chase: there was not a lot of new information. It’s possible we may end up with a few more facts someday, but we’re not holding our breath.

Here’s what we actually know:

  • Sebastian was NOT anemic or hydropic; those were false conclusions drawn by the original pathologist without knowledge of our last ultrasound.
  • His heart weighed too much for his size/age. (There was indeed a typo in the report.)
  • There were iron deposits in his liver that indicate hypoxia (not enough oxygen).
  • He was born with no amniotic fluid.

What we don’t know:

  • Whether his heart weighed too much because it was overly dilated or because it had thickened muscles;
  • Why it weighed too much (the above conditions have entirely different sets of possible causes);
  • Whether the hypoxia was a one-time cord accident, or something recurring/intermittent;
  • Whether the hypoxia caused the low fluid, or vice-versa;
  • Why Sebastian actually died.

We were told it’s highly unlikely that the cause of death was something inherited, and that even if it was, these things are usually one-time situations, not expected to recur.

Point being, go ahead and try again. Which is good.

I got teary for a moment when the doctor was talking about cord accidents, and how when there’s no fluid in there, it’s easier for the cord to be compressed under an arm or behind a knee or some such… I couldn’t help thinking again back to the night before Sebastian died, wondering for the thousandth time if we could have actually saved him so that E could have a little brother right now. But no – his heart definitely had something wrong with it. That would have remained an issue.

I am still, always, so sorry we couldn’t bring home his baby brother.

This morning, Sean told me about something E said last night. They were saying goodnight, talking about his stuffed toys in the bed: “We’ve got your mouse, and your doggie, and your little boy.” (That’s the one Grammie crocheted for him.)

“Where’s the little boy?” E asked.

“He’s right here beside you.”

“No,” said E, “where’s the little boy who lives in your necklace?”

Wow. Good thing this was Daddy; I would have wept. “You mean Sebastian… Well, he’s not alive, buddy. He’s gone.”

E was calm, but curious. “Did Sebastian go to the doctor and die?”

“Yeah, sort of… he died in the hospital.”

“Daddy, which way is the hospital?”

[E is obsessed with directions right now – I’m hoping he’ll be the opposite of his Mommy and have an accurate inner compass.]

My poor, sweet little E. This mini-conversation makes me wonder: is he thinking about Sebastian just way more than we realize? When Daddy mentioned a little boy, did he somehow suddenly hope his baby brother would be in his bed? My thoughts can’t even go near this without my eyes filling up.

This is one reason it’s tough for him to be as smart as he is; nothing goes unnoticed. He files away everything. Telling him only bits of what happened to his sibling will not suffice for long. I guess we’ll just have to feel our way on this.


Below, I’m including one of my favourite Christmas choral pieces, O Magnum Mysterium…. oh, great mystery. This choir (the University of Utah Singers) does one of the best versions I’ve ever heard of this very difficult, sublimely beautiful piece. If you have five-and-a-half minutes and a set of earphones, it’s well worth an attentive listen.

I know this song is about the birth of Christ. But it comforts me to listen to it (even as it makes me cry), and think of Sebastian as a great mystery: a tiny bundle of divinity, exquisitely special for his own reasons… now at one with an even greater mystery.

I’m sure it’s awesome where he is.




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Little bits of blue

Many times in the past couple weeks, for some reason, I’ve found myself thinking about Sebastian’s hair.

People who didn’t know me as a kid are surprised when they see E’s platinum-blondness – but I never was. I figured he didn’t have a choice, since Sean and I were both blond as kids.

I got to be surprised when I saw Sebastian’s hair. It was almost as dark as mine is now, and reddish, close to auburn. I guess I don’t know whether he would have kept it (E kept all his, but some babies don’t). Now that we’re starting to imagine, tentatively, a potential child #3, I wonder about his or her hair colour, and if Sebastian was the only redhead we will get, or if E will somehow be the odd one.


If we don’t end up with another boy someday, I wonder whether E will feel cheated and angry that his brother didn’t make it. (Especially if he had multiple sisters, like my poor, severely outnumbered brother.) I hope not.


Sometimes I have half-asleep moments that mess with my mind. Moments where I stop before rolling over onto my belly, because I’ve forgotten that I’m not pregnant, that Sebastian’s not in there. It’s been almost five months. That’s weird, right? I didn’t have that with E. But of course, back then, I had a tiny person beside me to remind me I wasn’t pregnant. There was nothing missing.


There’s also the fact that I still look pregnant, for crap’s sakes. One of my JKs recently mentioned, “You have a big tummy!” Fantastic. She’s a chubby kid, too. That went over awesome.


As reported, Twilight movie night was on Monday. I was happy to go, and looking forward to seeing how they dealt with certain plot points. For example, I love the scene in the book where Edward discovers he can read his unborn child’s mind. It was well enough done in the movie, a happy scene. And as I’ve said, I’m not an overly triggerable person. But I have to admit there was a stab of pain for me when he focused on his child’s thoughts and said, “He’s happy.” I wish I’d had an Edward around to tell me that in July before Sebastian died… just to be sure. If I could have somehow known, “He’s happy,” everything would be easier. And it would have been a chance to know him just a little bit more.

I was also not prepared for the rush of heartbreak I felt later in the film – not at the birth of the healthy baby, as you might expect, but after. When Rosalie is holding her, cooing to her, and she is making tiny newborn noises. Sebastian was so silent and still. I don’t have words to describe the depth of my wish, always present but suddenly crystallized in a dark cinema, to have heard Sebastian’s voice and had that simple, gorgeous moment of communion with my second son. Even one.


On Wednesday morning, while on yard duty, I talked about Sebastian with one of my former students. The one I thought was a girl, but he isn’t. He’s in Grade 3 now. I have a total soft spot for him, not just because he always complimented me on my accessories, or wore nail polish and bedazzled his polo shirts. This is a very sweet kid, insightful and observant. One of those kids who clued in early that teachers are actual people who have their own homes and lives and everything. (In kindergarten, they totally think we live at school.)

This year, his classroom teacher has just gone on maternity leave. It obviously twigged something for him. He approached me and asked (in earnest French), didn’t I have a baby in my belly last year? Yes, you’re remembering right. And did you have the baby? (Trying to think of simple French phraseology that will be understood.) Yes, I did, but he wasn’t alive. Il n’était pas vivant.

Puzzled pause. He wasn’t alive inside you? Well, yes, he was alive… and then one day, he wasn’t.

The child stood processing. He looked sad. I nodded and said, Oui, c’était très triste. He took my cue, my small smile to tell him I was doing okay, I didn’t mind that he had asked me.

He said, Mais… c’est la vie. He gave me a sad little smile back.

It was actually the easiest telling-someone conversation I’ve had. Simple, to-the-point, and taken exactly at face value. I’m grateful for that.



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How the Little Boy Saved the Summer

I’ve finally finished reading Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, after almost three months. It’s not a book I always felt like reading, but I’ve been glad to have it around. Funnily enough, just during E’s crankiest sick days last month, I got to the part about parenting your previous and subsequent children after experiencing a loss. It talks about how lots of parents feel bad that they still get frustrated and angry with their children, as if they should somehow be immune to this, because they know more than most how precious children are, and how fragile their lives can be. The author reminds us that we are still entitled to feel anger and frustration, and to express it (in reasonable ways, of course). They don’t mention blogging as an outlet, but I figure that counts.

Anyway, after my recent gripe-fest, I’m going to tell you about the ways E has saved the day (as opposed to making it gratuitously difficult). Really, he does it all the time, and was especially good at it this summer. I won’t go as far as saying he saved us – but there were days when it felt like he did.

  • He fills our home. When we came home from the hospital with no baby brother, there was still a lively, noisy child in our house. Unlike Hemingway’s legendary six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”), virtually all the baby stuff in our house has been well used. A hollow house that’s ready for a baby… would be so much worse.
  • He fills our arms. Many bereaved parents talk about the way your arms ache with emptiness when you lose a baby. I’ve felt that feeling. But for the most part, I don’t let my arms stay empty. E has always been a very snuggly child (probably because everyone snuggles him as often as possible). Whenever I’ve needed a hug or a kiss from my little boy, I could get one. Even when he’s ornery, he usually comes through.
  • In fact, he’s gotten even more affectionate this summer. During the first week or two after Sebastian died, there were several occasions when someone would say to E, “Go give Mommy a hug. She needs a hug,” and he would always do it. And he took that hint – and probably his own sense of heightened emotion in the atmosphere – and for the first time started spontaneously hugging our knees whenever he felt like it. He began to say “I love you” on a regular basis, unprompted. It still bowls me over every time… he’ll be sitting on his little blue chair, having a snack, and I’ll come over and crouch down to give him a kiss, and he’ll grab my arm and stroke it and say “I love you, Mommy.” It’s perfectly appropriate and yet still miraculous to me that we never have to explain this notion to our kids – they just get it. (He also assiduously gives kisses to make it better when I hurt myself, or when he accidentally bonks into me.)
  • He fills our time. As aggravating as twoyearoldism can be, it’s never boring, and it doesn’t leave time for too much introspection about other things on the part of caregivers. Trying to figure out the puzzle of parenting when it’s basically impossible to get a straight answer from your child… it is its own kind of brain gym, a challenge that must be taken.
  • He makes us laugh. Just listening to him talk is entertainment; then he hams it up on top of that. One of his favourite sayings is “Watch this trick, Mommy!” (or Daddy, or Emi, or Grammie, etc.) – then he’ll blink his eyes in a funny way, or do a “dance move”, or say a word he made up that he particularly likes, such as “PaTAH!” It works.
  • He’s cute. Just look at this face.
E pushing toy stroller, Camp NeeKauNis
At Family Camp… he LOVED that stroller.
E rockin' the backwards baseball cap
Tough guy.
E in backwards baseball cap and silly face
Sort of.
E wearing Auntie Em's hair clips
SO kissable.
E in the fire chief's hat and monster pjs
Yes, the undies are on the outside.
E at Royal City August 11- taken by Sean
At the park, enjoying the moment.
  • He is living proof that we can do this. If Sebastian had been our first viable child, especially since we’d already had one miscarriage, we would now be in serious doubt as to whether we could have a living child at all. I’ve read blog posts from women who have suffered a stillbirth after months or years of fertility treatment – which is quite enough of an ordeal in itself – and I don’t know how anyone survives that. We are hopeful about eventually trying again, thanks to our sturdy, irrepressible little E.
  • He is here. I don’t know how often most moms think about their losing their living children, but I had thought about it countless times before all this happened… and now, of course, I think about it all the more. Friends of ours lost their firstborn when he was five months old; my sister-in-law’s third child died at sixteen months. Both of these tragedies occurred due to congenital abnormalities that no-one had reason to suspect until it was too late. And there are so many other ways in which a child, that embodiment of your very heart, can become injured or die. Do parents ever stop worrying about this? I have thought about those “what ifs” ever since E was born… and traitorous though it feels to say this, we know for sure that if E had died somehow instead of Sebastian, it would have been much harder. I can’t deny it breaks my heart that I didn’t ever get to look into Sebastian’s eyes or hear his voice or feel his breathing… but the fact that he had so little chance to influence our lives is partly a blessing. If E were suddenly gone, there would be nothing left in the world that didn’t make us cry – from the sticks and rocks on the ground, to the cars on the street, to the construction vehicles cluttering the city, to the food we eat, to the music we listen to… not to mention all the toys and small-sized clothes and drawings and photos and footage… I have no idea how I would even begin to face that kind of sorrow. I thank God every day that I don’t have to, every day that he’s here, every day that I get to hug and kiss him and hear his voice. I know this must seem morbid… sorry… but on the other hand, it reminds me to treasure ALL the moments, including the ones where he’s being a pain in the derrière.

We are still figuring out how to talk about Sebastian with him. It is easier now that I know we’re not upsetting him; at first, I didn’t ever want to bring it up for fear that he’d suddenly understand he’d lost something. Now we mention it casually when we get the chance; E will say something about our necklaces and we’ll say, “Yes, those are to remember Sebastian, because he died.” We never know if it makes sense to him, but I’m sure it will over time.

I had a little talk with him once about our babysitter’s dad, G, who died this past spring. He used to chat and play with the kids, but eventually he died of illness. I talked a little bit about heaven (my personal idea of it, at least), and how G and Sebastian both went there, and that seemed to go over okay. Then later that day I heard E say something like “Sebastogen went to Kevin.” Oops.

But clearly, something is going in. Today he opened a gift from a friend: an angel teddy bear with a necklace around its neck, with the inscription “I will always watch over you. Your brother Sebastian.” He liked the bear – it’s really soft. And then he was standing there, calmly looking at it, and said, “Sebastogen’s in my belly. He died in my belly, and he’s gone.” He wasn’t upset at all – which was both heartwrenching and reassuring. We just gave him hugs – didn’t try to correct him about whose belly it was.

I’m glad he still knows his brother’s name, and remembers what we’ve told him. That way, he will always know. We will never have to “break the news” to him… I’ve been warned that he will probably grieve later, as he begins to understand, but at least it will be gradual. For now, it’ll just be a reason for more hugs and kisses.

Sorry, readers. This was supposed to be a happier post. At least y’all got some cute photos!

Thanks again for reading.




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What to say to the parents of a stillborn baby

At my parents’ house on the weekend, my dad handed me the local paper and said, “You’ll be interested in this.” Yes, I was. It was a series of articles called Breaking the Silence, focusing on baby loss. The next day, I wrote a letter to thank The Spectator for their feature, which talks about the efforts of two grown sisters, one of whom had a stillborn daughter, to get people opening up about miscarriage and perinatal death.

This is part of that letter, referring to something I have only gradually understood:

Since [my son’s stillbirth], I have been aware of the silence [surrounding the topic], but have also realized I am sometimes a perpetrator. I have been in several conversations with people I’ve just met, where it would have made sense to mention my pregnancy but I deliberately avoided it. I balk at turning a normal, lighthearted conversation into a tragic one. This is part of why the silence is there: if death can put a damper on a conversation, infant death can crush it completely.

In this letter, I also mentioned – and please, give yourself a hug for this – how awesome YOU are. You, dear readers, made it okay for me to bring this up, to not be silent. Even when I gave you what I feared might be too much information, you stuck around. You are amazing. Unfortunately, for the sisters in the article, “social media became a nightmare” after the stillbirth, and I can see how that could happen. But Sean and I have felt nothing but support and love from our online interactions. Once again, thank you.

Along with the articles, there is a “Do and Don’t” list entitled “How to support a grieving parent”, written by Shawna Clouthier (one of the sisters), who works for Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario. It’s a good, solid list – she has obviously listened compassionately to what babylost parents have to say. For the record, people have said many of the things on the “Don’t” list to me without upsetting me, because my brain works along those same lines; but I do relate to what she says, and how it could produce negative reactions.

I also agree very much with the “Do” list Clouthier gives. It has inspired me to write my own list. Obviously, I can only speak from my own perspective, and don’t presume to speak on behalf of all bereaved parents… but maybe this can at least be a starting point for people who know a babylost parent, and who are wondering what on earth to say. So here goes…

Things You Said/Did That Were Great:

  • Hugs. Some of the best hugs ever, actually.
  • The tears you shed for us. There are no words for how much this means… even though we didn’t want to make you sad.
  • When you brought food. I am such a kitchen type myself, it felt weird to accept offers of meals… but also really good. In this case, food and nurturing were synonymous.
  • When you said, “I’m so sorry.” (I have heard before that you’re not supposed to say sorry to people who are grieving because it makes them feel they should comfort you, but I don’t agree. It’s simple and heartfelt – and I don’t feel like I have to say “It’s okay”; I just say thank you.)
  • When I told you, right after the birth, as I was still figuring out how to talk about this, “He was going to be Sebastian,” and you said, “He IS Sebastian.” You were exactly right. (This is a big one for many babylost parents: it is very validating when people ask the name of your child.)
  • That you asked about him, how he was born, what he looked like… asked to see pictures, and the scrapbook. It’s the same thing – questions that would be completely expected for a live baby are much-needed acknowledgement for a stillborn one.
  • When you said, “You were a good mama to him.” Even now, for reasons I will never be able to articulate, this one makes me the saddest… but I still needed to hear it.
  • When you asked if we would hold a memorial. Without your encouragement, we probably wouldn’t have, but thank goodness we did – all parents who lose a baby need to say goodbye.
  • When you continued to express your concern, even after weeks had gone by. You never expected us to just “get over it”.
  • When you say, “How are you doing?”… and mean it. Especially this month. September has been a hectic blur in which I have not cried about Sebastian nearly as much as the previous two months… but I still think about him many times a day; he is present in everything I do. It is still tough. Thanks for letting me know that you remember, too.
  • The love… that you have felt, sent, written, spoken, shown, so many times. I guess really, all of the above boils down to this. This love is why we know we will be okay.




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How to put a serious damper on someone’s morning

If you really want to take the wind out of an innocent person’s sails first thing in the morning, tell them about your stillborn baby. That does the trick.

Yesterday was the first day of school, and I was lucky enough to have an easy and anonymous day in the kindergarten wing, where none of the kids know me – and only about half of them were there anyway. The rest of the time, I holed up in my office or the staffroom, deliberately not encountering my previous students or their parents. The classroom teachers for my Core French students kindly agreed to tell them the basics of why I am back so much sooner than expected, and I was hoping the word would spread fast enough that I would get away with never answering that question: “Hey, Madame, what are you doing here?”

Yesterday, I did. Today, not so lucky. I had morning yard duty before the bell, when parents who walk their kids to school are milling around and chatting. Normally, it’s nice. This time, I was out there only a couple of minutes before one mom saw me and exclaimed delightedly, “You had your baby! What did you have?”

Oh, shit.

It was thoughtful of her to remember and ask – again, it’s one of those things that, on a daily basis, makes our tight-knit school community a great place to be. Just not at moments like this.

I had a fleeting moment where I imagined just telling her I had a boy, averting my eyes, and moving on… but of course that would never work. You can imagine the look on her face when I had to say, “I had a boy… but he was stillborn.” Of course she must have felt awful for asking, even though it wasn’t her fault, and I felt awful for crushing her ingenuous question, even though it wasn’t my fault either.

A few minutes later, it was two moms together. One said, “You are without your bump! What did you have?” This time I said, “I had a boy…” and unfortunately for both of us, she said, “Oh! Two boys, that’s great!” before I got to the stillborn part. Nope, not two boys. Two shocked, saddened mothers of boys instead. At least I know that they are caring parents: when they say they are so sorry, I know they mean it.

On the bright side, that’s been the only really hard part. Other than that, it’s actually been good to be at school the last two days. Good to feel the fresh September energy in the building, good to see the talented and dedicated teachers who are my colleagues (although I miss the ones who changed schools this year), good to get acquainted with kindergarten the easy way (starting with just senior kindergartners in small groups, before the juniors are phased in), good to see how very welcoming our community is to new students (we have some particularly special high-needs Ks this year, and I know they’ll get wonderful care). I’m also very grateful for compassion and understanding, not just from my fellow teachers, but from the school board, who made it possible for me to have a reduced (80%) assignment, and from my principal, who has set up a schedule that is as low-stress as possible.

It’s going to be fine. 🙂

Tomorrow: my first dose of JKs!




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