2018: a year of motherhood and loss

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Rarely has there been such a contrast between my feelings with regards to two years. Last year at this time, I was looking back on a year that had been filled with joy, celebration and positive change. This year, I am looking back on a year filled with loss. Loss of family members, loss of hope, loss of innocence. A year in which I have lost an uncle and a beloved grandmother. A year in which my husband have lost not one but two babies in the space of just under six months.

We named our fist baby Jasper when we found out we were expecting him. He brought us such joy and hope. We found out we were expecting him just after the loss of my uncle, so the happiness he infused our life with was felt all the more. He was a very laid back baby and I felt he was at his happiest when I took the time to sit down with a book and one of our cats would come to curl up and purr away beside me. We lost Jasper on my paternal grandmother’s 87th birthday, one day after we had planned to reveal our pregnancy to my family at her birthday dinner. Very few people knew we were expecting a baby, but we had to tell everyone when we lost him because I was so unwell after. My grandmother was exceptionally helpful to me in my grief because she experienced the tragic loss of her third child. She was one of the few people who I felt truly understood how keenly I felt the loss of my precious little baby even after having him with me for just a few weeks, even after never having been able to hold him in my arms, or look into his eyes. It made the sudden loss of my grandmother a mere six weeks after Adam and I lost Jasper all the more difficult to bear.

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When Adam and I found out we were expecting our second baby, we named him Chase. His name was short for ‘chanceux’, which is the french word for lucky and also a reference to the fact that we were fully aware that we would eventually end up chasing our little one away from trouble on a very regular basis. We found out Chase was on his way in mid-november and his pregnancy felt much more stable and healthy than Jasper’s had. Chase was a baby who liked it when I was on the move and particularly enjoyed it when I swayed to jazz music while listening to the radio and cooking on Friday nights. This may make it sound like my second pregnancy was active and bucolic and that I felt confident that all would be well, but let me tell you that second pregnancies after a miscarriage are nerve-wracking. You are perpetually afraid of finding blood in your panties or on the toilet paper or in the toilet when you go to the bathroom. You freak out if you feel fewer pregnancy symptoms on one day than you did the day before and you have to constantly repeat to yourself that recurrent early pregnancy loss is extremely rare (only about 1% of couples experience recurrent miscarriages). Throughout my pregnancy with Chase I had to constantly talk myself down from anxiety and worry. I even started pre-natal yoga at six weeks to help myself relax. Once I got through week seven, the week when we had lost Jasper, I relaxed a little and when I made it to week eight and a tiny little bump appeared in my midsection and I had experienced zero spotting and no cramping for two weeks, I finally began to believe everything would be well this time around. Then one day before week nine of my pregnancy I spotted at the end of the day. I called Adam in a panic and he came home from work. The next day when I was still spotting we went to the hospital and had an ultrasound. Chase had no visible heartbeat. Chase seemed like he hadn’t grown in two and a half weeks. The doctor was concerned and gave us a referral to a specialist who looks into cases of recurrent miscarriage. He told us he sincerely hoped we would not need to see the doctor and asked us to return to the hospital on Christmas Eve for another ultrasound, because sometimes babies can be surprising and a fetus with no visible heartbeat can have a good strong one a few days later. There was absolutely no change in our baby after two days. The little one we had been loving and cherishing for a bit over nine weeks had been dead for the last two and a half. I had a D&C on Christmas Eve, we came home, listened to Midnight Mass on the radio, went to bed and I cried myself to sleep. Being heartbroken and miserable when there is Christmas music playing on every single radio station just adds insult to injury, let me tell you.

It has been a week today since Adam and I said goodbye to our baby and we are, in some ways, more than ready to say goodbye to a year which has brought us so much pain and loss. In another way, we are moving into a year without those we have loved so much and lost. We are also moving out of a year where we were still filled with so much hope and confidence that what we had planned for our future would come about. We always knew I might not be able to become pregnant, we just never expected that I would be able to fall pregnant but not carry a baby to term or even to the point where we would be able to hear and see their heartbeat. I cannot put into words how utterly heartbreaking it is to stare at an ultrasound monitor, search for the tiniest sign of a heartbeat and then not see one.

2019 will be the first year Adam and I look to with no clear plan for our family. We know we are taking a break from growing our family but we do not know for how long. It will depend on when we see the specialist and then our decision will depend on what, if anything, he finds wrong with us. We are welcoming the break though, our hearts and my body need time to heal. We need time to live, time to be something other than a couple who is trying to build a family and not succeeding. We need time to grieve for our babies and all the hopes and dreams we had for them and finally, we need time to accept the fact that no matter what happens in the future, we will be okay. 2019 will be our year of healing.

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Fields of lavender and loss

Two weeks ago Adam and I took a trip to La Maison Lavande in St-Eustache. It was a spur or of moment decision made over Sunday breakfast. I had seen a photo taken there go by on my Instagram feed the day before and felt inner peace just looking at the lavender flowers, so off we went.

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A nice, soothing experience was just what Adam and I were looking for that beautiful, sunny Sunday because the Saturday of the week before, I had suffered a miscarriage. I am not sharing this information to garner pity or to shock anyone. I am sharing it because I feel that pregnancy loss is not something that is spoken about enough in our society. I have spent nearly a month now mulling over how to write this post and why I have not come across more women who share their stories of loss publicly.

Pregnancy loss is a very painful experience both physically and emotionally, however it is a very atypical type of grief which comes with a fear of misunderstanding when it is shared. Often, miscarriages occur before the twelve week mark, so parents may not have even had the chance to hear their baby’s heartbeat or if they have heard their baby’s heartbeat before a miscarriage occurs, then they likely have not had the chance to feel their baby move since babies movements in the womb can only be felt by their mother for the first time anywhere between sixteen and twenty-five weeks of pregnancy. Adam and I did not have the chance to experience either of these things, but our hearts still shattered to pieces when we lost our baby because when he died, we lost the chance to ever get to know him. As soon as we found out we were expecting, we began to wonder whether our baby would be athletic or laid back or whether they would be musical since we both are. We speculated about the chances our child would be a creative dreamer like me or more of a rational thinker like Adam. How, though, can you hope that people will understand how deeply you are grieving for a little being you never really got to know? The fear of this misunderstanding pushed us to keep our pain largely to ourselves for the first few weeks after our loss.

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Don’t get me wrong, we did find a great deal of comfort and support from our family and friends, some of whom who had also experienced a miscarriage or if they hadn’t, they generally had another friend or relative who had. Despite all the kindness and understanding, I still ended up feeling quite isolated in my grief and going through a pretty bad bout of depression, particularly during the week following our loss when my ongoing physical healing process prevented me from being as active as I normally try to be when dealing with grief. To compensate for my inability to use endorphins to get me over the worst of my emotional pain, I tried to find books written to help parents through their grief following the loss of an unborn child. After searching through the online inventories of every single book store in Montreal, I found one book devoted to mothers grieving miscarriages and stillbirths at Indigo. I went down to the store, found the book and nearly burst into tears when I realised that it was not what I was hoping to find. The book had been written by a very conservative Christian and therefore addressed healing from a purely religious standpoint i.e.: read the bible and pray and you will feel better in no time once you have understood that God took your baby back into his loving arms for a reason. I respect the fact that this may be helpful to some but it was not helpful at all to me.

IMG_6927 I went back home empty-handed and spoke about my experience with Adam and that’s when it finally struck me that maybe families also do not share their stories of pregnancy loss because miscarriages are often referred to as failed pregnancies. Modern society is endemically afraid of failure. We try as much as possible to project an image of perfection, especially nowadays with social media. Anything less than perfection is of seen as not worth sharing. Some would even point out that we lost our baby because he was not perfect. I, for one, have not been afraid of failure for some time. I have had plenty of practice at it, I challenge you to find anyone who failed more math exams than I have. I failed both my theoretical and practical drivers exams the first time I took them and it took me an extra year to get through both high school and university. I don’t care that it took me longer to do these things, it just makes me prouder that I did eventually succeed at them. I also don’t care that science says that our baby more than likely died because he wasn’t perfect. To Adam and I he was exactly who and what he was meant to be and lived the life he was meant to. Our little one brought us such hope and joy while he was with us and we loved him so very deeply. Some might call that a failure and be ashamed and hide it, but not me, not us.

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Montreal, I love you

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It always breaks my heart when I hear Montrealers say they hate Montreal. How can you possibly hate our city? Then again, this negative train of thought often comes from people who have grown up in the far reaches of suburbia or elsewhere in the province and have moved to the city for school or work. In other words, people who grew up completely outside of a dense urban environment or who have spent their entire lives commuting in and out of it.

I have seen both sides of Montreal. I grew up in the suburbs and it was great. I had a huge yard to play in and my parents didn’t worry at all about where my brother and I were during the day when we were kids as long as we weren’t making noise outside before 10:00 A.M. on the weekend and showed up for lunch and dinner.Mix living in suburbia with a fixed work schedule though and you have Hell, whether you are driving yourself into work or letting the urban transit authority do the driving for you. I did not own a car when I was living in the suburbs and working in town. My hours were from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. I was therefore up at 6:00 A.M. five days a week, out the door by 7:00 A.M. and not home until at least 6:00 P.M. on a good day. I remember one particularly horrible winter day just before Christmas in 2007 when it took three hours to get home.

Needless to say, my suburban lifestyle was leaving me perpetually exhausted. I never, ever said I hated Montreal though. I did, however, say that I hated traffic. The way ahead for me was pretty clear. Either do like a lot of young adults who grew up in the suburbs and get myself a car, or move into an apartment in town. I chose the apartment and promptly fell in love with my new urban lifestyle, which turned out to be everything I ever dreamed it would be and then some. I could get groceries on my own without a car, I could walk to Mount-Royal park and I could even walk home from work! I had time to have a life, because instead of spending an average of three hours a day getting to and from the ofice, it only took me a half hour at the very most to get there.

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I do understand that just because moving into town was the right decision for me, doesn’t mean it is the right decision for everyone. It depends on each individuals financial situation, personal preferences and goals. When my husband and I had to decide last year where we were going to spend the thirty years of our lives, we did consider a very specific area of the suburbs where we could have bought a less expensive home while still not becoming entirely car dependent. In the end though, suburban life, no matter how bucolic the neighborhood, was simply not compatible with Adam’s unpredictable work schedule and our long-term plans. We therefore willingly gave up on the idea of a big yard, a pool and lower taxes and bought a house in the neighborhood we already lived in and loved. We just weren’t willing to give up on all the extra time we gained when we both moved into town ten years ago, time we now get to spend together. Time we also get to spend enjoying our beautiful city and everything it has to offer.

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In with the new

Most people greet the New Year with the saying ”Out with the old, in with the new!” in mind. I have done so myself, almost every single year and, I will admit, with a particular amount of vigor for the past five years. This year though? I feel like I have won the lottery of life. I have found myself actually fearing, on several occasions, that I was too happy. That being blessed with so much happiness after being either so miserable or so unlucky for so long had to be a prank.

Life this year wasn’t perfect every day, don’t get me wrong. I definitely had a few iffy passes in there. My car cost me a bundle when I wasn’t expecting it to in October, Adam had to work some serious overtime in the weeks leading up to our wedding because of the flooding we had in the Montreal area this Spring and the renovations on our new home cost us a tad more than we had budgeted, namely when the wire that brought power to our house snapped in a wind storm in the middle of February just as the guys were starting to sand the floors so they could varnish them. Also, there was a snow storm the day we began our move…the last weekend in March. That’s life in Canada for you, never take off your snow tires until mid-april!

Despite all the little hiccups this was, I must say, the best year I have had in my entire life. I have, overall, been deliriously happy. Adam and I moved into our dream home after searching for it for nearly a year and, most of all, we got married. I didn’t know I actually had the capacity to be as boundlessly happy as I was on our wedding day. It was the most amazing feeling and one I am very pleased to say I can still find when I look at Adam 🙂

So let me give you all this bit of wisdom, based on life experience: Do not ever give up on happiness. Do not ever give up on love. Do not ever give up on your dreams. Life can be complete and utter shit, believe me, I know. However if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep focusing on and reaching out for your goals, your hopes and dreams, even if at first you only have one little spark of light to reach for you will reach it. Be confident, be hopeful and use that little spark to keep going. Most of all, remember that you are stronger than you imagine.

Thank you 2017 for bringing so many of my dreams to life. 2018, you have some seriously big shoes to fill! Happy New Year to all of you, may 2018 bring you all kinds of treats!

Fall beauty and searching for stillness

 

It is no secret that we live a frenzied lifestyle nowadays. We are constantly connected to others through cell phones and social media on top of regular, everyday human interaction, especially if you are a city dweller like me. That is why I love getting away to the countryside when I can. That can be difficult to do though, because getting out to the countryside requires that ever precious and elusive thing: time. That is why it was difficult for me when my mom announced that she was moving out to the boonies last Spring. It is no fun when your mom tells you she is moving 100 kilometers away, even when you are an adult. Mild consolation came, however, the first time Adam and I went to visit my mom and saw how lovely her home was. It also happens to be right on a lake. So the downside: my mom lives 100 kilometers away and it takes us an hour and twenty minutes to get there when traffic is good. The upside: look at this beautiful, serene setting. We can go canoeing on her lake when we visit her in the Summer and leaf peeping in the fall. It will more than likely be drop-dead gorgeous in the winter as well.

My last visit to my mom’s place left me wondering what I could do to slow down the pace of my frenzied life a bit. Felling overly solicited is a problem of mine and am known for my bouts of Superwoman syndrome which leave me drained and guilt-ridden when I cannot handle taking care of the house, cooking every day of the week, running errands and a few hours at work thrown in for good measure on top of taking the car into the shop. Of course, taking care of myself goes completely by the wayside when this happens as well. After my most recent Superwoman syndrome attack I analysed what I spent time on every day closely for a week or two. I was alarmed by how much time I spent checking my e-mail and social media accounts, so I decided to gradually cut back my access to them. I started by turning off e-mail alerts on my cell phone and tablet, then I removed Instagram from my tablet as well. I gained a lot of time during the day just by doing that. Then a few weeks ago, I was embroiled in some Facebook drama and that was the last straw. ‘Real’ life is dramatic enough, I didn’t need Facebook antics adding to my every day struggles, so I removed the Facebook app from my phone and my iPad. I now have to go onto the Facebook site on my phone, PC or tablet and log on to access my account and news feed. Talk about liberating! I still have Instagram on my phone so I can take and share photos and those go onto Facebook but that is pretty much all I put on there. I have shared one status update in the last three weeks or perhaps even longer and I feel like my privacy level has gone way up. I have more time to do what I love, like reading, writing, cooking and working on my photos and I feel much less like I am living in a fish bowl.

Lesson learned: life will always be crazy, there is no getting around that. You can, however, find ways to free up some precious time for yourself by analyzing how you spend your time and where you waste any of it. For me, my use of social media was the logical thing to cut back on and I have been considerably happier since I have done so. My private life has become just that: private.