Thursday, November 14, 2019

Who Watches

Watchmen ep. 4. A middle aged couple living their lives on their farm while Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers' Islands in the Stream plays as the soundtrack. Selling farm fresh eggs, doing a puzzle in the evening, brushing teeth side by side,  snuggling up in bed. They seem privileged and quite content for their situation. Then a very wealthy woman shows up at their door and says she wants to purchase their house and land, which the couple says is not for sale. The rich woman says, "Ten years ago you went to X fertility clinic..." The wife begins to cry as the woman recites details of their failed attempt to conceive a child. Then she says she has made them a baby and someone walks into the house with a baby in his arms. "Your son". The rich woman says they have 30 seconds to agree to the deal and if not their biological baby will be adopted out. ("Destroyed." she at first jokes.) The husband grabs the baby, the wife grabs the pen and signs the papers, and presumably all their problems are solved and they are now truly happy. Not that fake happy from earlier.

In that earlier scene, the wife stumbles and drops a box of eggs onto the porch. Some of the eggs break but one rolls intact towards the husband and he catches it. They both chuckle. It's played as cutesy. But to me it's disturbing and annoying. YES WE GET IT. Woman. Carrier of eggs. (And dropper of eggs.)

Pete has warned me that there is another scene in this episode that I'm going to want to avoid. He ended up describing it to me and yep, I don't need to see it. For a while I have felt like just giving up on the show because it's not for me. Not really. So many things are not for me anymore. I am not strong enough, I am not well enough, to experience certain things. It affects my well-being in real and tangible ways. I've decided to try to continue with the show because I have mostly enjoyed it so far and I love what it has to say about race. So I've devised a (ridiculous) system where I will watch the show and pause it to just before where Pete told me the problematic scene starts. Then when he gets a chance he will ffwd it for me to a 'safe' spot and I will pick it up from there. Ridiculous. Never did I think I would have to do things like this. But now there are lots of things I have to do that I could not have predicted. Who could. Even if healthcare were to suddenly take stillbirth seriously, it's such a weird type of loss, how could anyone predict the bizarre shit bereaved parents would have to cope with.

Every day is hard since we lost him. It feels like my pain is a cultural joke, like his death is mostly a plot device for lazy screenwriters. My life used to be pretty easy and now everything is hard. I guess I'm lucky. I know it. Lots of people don't even have that.

Islands in the Stream, D. Parton, K. Rogers

Thursday, September 19, 2019


In the movie The Favourite, a servant is admiring the queen's rabbits which she keeps in cages in her room. She tells the servant that it's "Hildebrand's day" and to take him out of his cage. Then she blurts out, "I have lost 17 babies. Some were born as blood, others without breath, and others lived a short while." Probably not an exact quote but that's how I remember it. As the servant girl is cuddling this bunny, you can see the dawning comprehension on her face that these rabbits represent these lost babies, and that the one she's presently holding represents a baby who was born, or died, on this day. Later they're shown having a little birthday party for the bunny. It's played as sweet, not grotesque. That's how I saw it. I both love it and hate it. It's often both with me, even when it's something "inspirational". In a comfortable place, surrounded by other parents of stillborn babies, I would love to talk about this scene and all the things it brings up. But outside of that space, I worry that it's viewed as morbid, or pathetic. There's a more troubling scene (for me anyway) later on where the queen is having some kind of breakdown and she's shown wandering hysterically around the palace. She comes upon a woman with a baby and tries to grab at the baby, all while sobbing and talking nonsensically. It only last a few seconds but that scene filled me with dread because I feel like it plays into this idea that someone who has lost a baby just wants to replace that baby, and that any old baby will do. I've written about these kinds of stories before, the stillborn baby as gimmick to show a bereaved woman behaving irrationally. Babies and death don't go together - they shouldn't - so the result must be a lunatic woman fantasizing about taking someone else's baby. You can act the shit out of those scenes and then maybe win an Oscar for it. In all the different support groups I've participated in, out of all the bereaved parents I've spoken to, out of all the deepest darkest thoughts and emotions that have been shared with me, no one has ever said anything about wanting to steal someone else's child. And yet that trope appears regularly in popular culture. It's one of the many annoying and harmful things non-bereaved people imagine grief is all about.

The bunny scene, it makes me think of my dog. Both the joy and the sadness she has brought me. I get the joy of caring for and loving this beautiful animal who is so sweet and loving and forgiving. Every time we come home, there she is bobbing and smiling (YES DOGS SMILE, FIGHT ME), and forgiving us for leaving her. I can pour my heart into her. But sadness too because he's not here to love her. But we wouldn't have gotten her if he hadn't died. Probably. It's confusing. And with the sadness, there is also a kind of pathetic feeling. That I am taking care of this animal instead of my son. Actually, that pathetic feeling usually comes with the joy.

Recently, a presidential candidate in the U.S. tweeted out a question - what's the most absurd hospital bill you've received? Among the many horrific answers, a doctor responded that when her baby was stillborn she received a bill for thousands of dollars from the hospital where she works. Awful. A Canadian responded to her that they are grateful for our healthcare system. It's true, I am grateful for that. I did not receive a medical bill for delivering him in hospital, nor for the painkillers and ultrasound I was given (but neither of which I needed. I know they just gave me those things because they wanted to feel and appear to be doing something, instead of just uncomfortably waiting around for this baby to be born.) But we also didn't receive any bereavement services, no decent photos, no investigation, no accountability. Not a single person in power or on the wards is required to do anything differently, which could maybe prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.

We've come a long way from hundreds of years ago when losing a baby was commonplace and there was nothing anyone could do about any part of it, even if you were literally a queen. And yet in our modern times, all around the world, there is so much inhumanity and absurdity that still exists around women giving birth.

Every day there is something. Seven years later. I could write one of these posts every single day if I had the time and the strength. These experiences keep me in the present moment. If my life were a yoga class, I'd be a star student. I can rarely stray too far from today's reality. I don't like thinking about the past. The memories I used to enjoy and cherish, I don't cherish them anymore. They're kind of weird to me now. Like, imagine a time not knowing, not really knowing, that your child can die right at the moment where he was to begin his life out in the world with us. I'm kind of creeped out by memories of the time before he was born. How ignorant I was. Who was that person? And the future....I try to gently explain to my daughter the uncertain nature of the future. That we have to do our best to make it the best Now possible, and not just for ourselves. And also the best possible future. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the idea that I'm really lying to her. That I'm setting her up for absurdity. But she deserves hope. She deserves a chance at a good life, and some amount of certainty along with the uncertainty we all must live with. And she deserves not to be weirded out by her own story.

Monday, April 29, 2019


Three years ago we welcomed our dog Livvy into our home. We got her from the shelter and were told her name was Lovey. She was overweight, low energy and a much bigger dog than we had planned on getting. We decided we wanted to change her name but only a little, so she became Livvy. It took a while for me to bond with her because it turned out she had more issues than the shelter had told us about. For some months, I regretted getting her. I thought I had made our already challenging family situation even harder. But we had committed to looking after this dog and giving her a good home and a good life and it didn't even occur to us to go back on that. Eventually I grew to love this dog and realized that she really is a 'lovey' after all. She's brought so much love and a lot of laughs into our home. I can't imagine our life without her. She's much better behaved now (with some terrible moments at times - so stressful!) and she's almost down to her recommended weight. Yesterday, our 3 year adoption/rescue anniversary, we threw a little party in the park. There was cake (bone-shaped! mostly) and cookies and a scavenger hunt designed by our daughter, complete with costumes, props and a backstory. Livvy got a nice salmon chewy and lots of pats and scritches, and she even got to bark at her favourite three-legged dog. God help us we cannot get her to stop barking at that poor dog. We're going on a trip next week and it's my first flight since I had a panic attack on a plane to Hawaii 5 years ago. I feel ok about it, not super thrilled, but I was able to talk about it with friends and it felt good to share stories. All in all a really good day.

I still think maybe adopting a dog while we were still in the early grip of grief was not the wisest decision, but I also think figuring out how to love this dog pushed me to do some work on myself that I wonder if I would have done otherwise. Maybe she's a big part of the reason I feel like I can get on a plane next week, something I thought I would never do again if I could avoid it. I could actually still avoid it but I'm not. That's seems pretty amazing to me.

I know I'm not allowed on the couch but JUST. LOOK. AT. ME.

Dignity. Always dignity.

Bizarrely, this giant dog has created more space in our home. We spend more time on the floor now than we used to. It's like having an extra room!

Fondant is fun to work with and gross to eat.

Toothy grin!

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Beyond Me

I participated in a research project a few weeks ago. It was great to talk about grief in a controlled and supportive environment again. In the first few years I told his story, and my story, a lot, in all kinds of situations. Sometimes conferences and research type settings, but mostly in social situations. I hadn't done that in a long time until I had the chance to be interviewed a few weeks ago. It's made me think about the stories I told in the beginning, and how they're just out there being used for whatever purpose, or no purpose. I think mostly they've become idle gossip, or a weird thing someone once told them. A few years ago we were hiking and we bumped into someone I used to work with. She said that the last time she had seen me I was pregnant, and she was trying to figure out from amongst the children in our group which two were mine. When I told her Toren had died, she looked stunned of course. Afterwards I remember thinking that although this has been the biggest story of my life (so far) that affects me every single day, for her it's just something weird that happened on a hike once.

These pieces, I feel, don't really matter. I don't love it, but also it's not as important as other stories. For example this one: On the day he was born, our doctor was not actually present. The doctor who did deliver him called my doctor and he came a little later on. I will say that on the whole, he is a kind person with a big heart. He had been our doctor for 4 or 5 years by that time. It's not the same as knowing someone but I felt confident in his skills and comfortable with him personally. He was very caring when he came to visit but he did something which in hindsight I question. Actually, I fucking hate it. He told me that of course it was too soon to talk about it but we would probably have another baby, and he knew of a woman who had lost her first baby and a couple of years later when she gave birth to the subsequent baby she cried out "Is it dead? Is it dead?" This is how he told me the story. He threw up his hands when he said it and...rolled his eyes? I can't be sure but that's how I remember it so it doesn't matter how he actually told the story. Someone else's story. This story matters because doctors are key pieces in preventing stillbirth. That's the short answer. There's a longer one about trauma and empathy and self-care. I honestly believe he is deeply affected by stories of stillbirth and is not getting support for that. This means that you can tell a newly-bereaved and traumatized mother a story like that as if you are acting out a scene from a TV medical drama and it doesn't even occur to you that this might be inappropriate and even harmful. Is my baby being used this way? As an awkward and grotesque way to connect with bereaved patients because you feel completely helpless and don't know what to do for them or what to say to them? When you train and practice most of your life to bring life into the world but instead you bring death, what does that do to you if you can't even talk about it? I went to see him for my 6-week follow-up and I wish I hadn't. Medically, I didn't need to be there and he didn't know what to do with me. I probably thought I would get some answers, or maybe even just some kind of support because I was really struggling at that point. This was before I started going to a support group at another hospital. The appointment was a mess. It would have been comical if it hadn't been connected to tragedy. Maybe some sleazy producer can have that scene written into a hip Netflix show about how death is just a big hilarious joke.

If doctors, the people in positions of power and influence in the healthcare system, aren't acknowledging the enormous cost of stillbirth to everyone, how are things ever going to get better?

I'm so grateful that I was able to tell my story and my baby's story to a researcher last month. Whenever anyone reads it, it will be to build on a body of knowledge. It won't just be a weird story floating around out there. And then someday, things will get better.