Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ten Years: Living in the After

Across the timeline of my life there is a line than divides the before and the after. It was written there forever on this day ten years ago. That line separates what was and what is, who I was and who I am. That line was drawn ten years ago today, the day I was told my baby was going to die. 

Although ten years have passed, today brought a flood of emotion. I remember the sights, the sounds, the feelings of that day as though it were minutes ago, not years. I can still hear the sound of a tearful doctor whispering “poor, poor baby” before telling us the news. I can still feel the tiny kicks inside my womb, the little life inside of me defying the words that were being spoken…”your baby’s condition is incompatible with life outside of the womb. I am so, so sorry.” And I remember the fear, and the suffocating pain of knowing my first task of motherhood would be loving my child as he died…the child I had dreamed of all my life, the child I had longed for through five years of infertility, the child I had prayed for, this child I so loved…

One winter’s day shortly following that news, I was kneeling on the floor of our bedroom to tuck an ultrasound photo into a keepsake box. In the box was a stack of old photos - a random assortment of memories, from wedding candids to birthday parties to camping trips. I sorted through them with shaking hands, my whole body wracked with sobs as I grieved the “before”. How I longed to still be the smiling girl in those photos, to be that carefree soul. How I longed to be the person I once was, the one who wasn’t making decisions about palliative care and children’s hospice. The one who didn’t know heartbreak the way I was about to experience it. I would have traded everything I had to go back. I knew looking at those photos that my life had already changed forever. And though my greatest heartbreak was yet to come, the line had been drawn.

The ten years that have passed have proven that to be true. What happened on this day ten years ago altered the course of my life completely. The heartbreak that would follow in the months and years to come was more than I could have fathomed. There is no pain that compares to the death of a child, nothing on earth that can ravage you so completely. The grief that followed was relentless, like living each day in a storm tossed ocean, gasping, panicked and drowning. 


There is a gift in knowing the fleetingness of life. And somehow, amidst the fear that followed those early days after our son’s diagnoses, God gave us the strength to hold on to that gift. As we resolved to love and cherish our son every moment that he was with us, there were moments of such peace and such clarity. Moments of joy as we stored up every memory of him. The moment he was born and placed in my arms was the most profoundly peaceful moment of my life. And I looked into his face, the face of this sweet one whose body was made a little differently, this brave little warrior who had defied the odds even by being born, and all I could say was “You’re so beautiful.” Over and over I whispered it. And he was. And I knew in that moment that the gift of loving him outweighed the grief and the fear. The honour of being his mama made all of it worthwhile. Even ravaged by the pain of his death, I was finally a mama. I was his mama. And he had been worth the fight.

And it was those very lessons that would define my life from that point onward. The beauty and value of each little life, each one of them worth fighting for. The knowledge that even in pain there can be joy. The conviction that fear should not be enough to stop us…

The ten years that followed would bring six more beautiful babies into our lives, each one of them through adoption. Four precious gifts who would stay forever, two more who would leave. The heartbreak of two more goodbyes was almost more than I could bear. Loss upon loss, trauma upon trauma. Fear so stifling that at any point we could have stopped in our tracks. At any point we could have given up. When the possibility of our most recent adoption came up, those repeated losses and the fear that came with them were almost enough to paralyze us. The thought of risking our hearts again, of opening ourselves up to such uncertainty, brought with it nearly debilitating fear. But it was the memories of our first baby boy, and the lessons he taught us, that kept us going. It was the knowledge that we could face whatever uncertainty lay ahead because God’s grace had always carried us through. It was the deep assurance that fear and pain cannot cancel out true joy. And the absolute certainty that each precious little life is a gift worth fighting for.

And so last year, exactly nine years to the day that we were first given our hardest news, the day that divided our life in two, we booked our plane tickets to China. Nine years to the exact day, we made plans to fly to the other side of the world with our three children, and to fly back home with four. And when the day came that I finally held my newest son in my arms, I rocked him to sleep in our little hotel room. This little one whose body was made a little differently, this brave little warrior who had defied the odds. And as I rocked him, I looked into his sweet little face and whispered “You’re so beautiful." Over and over I whispered it. And he was. 

After our first son died, a family member said to me that heaven is closer than we think. She said it’s not a faraway place, but rather it's as though it is just on the other side of a veil. The summer after my first son went to heaven, I was on a hike with my husband. We were passing by a river, and the water was rushing over some rocks, making a soft babbling sound. A gentle breeze was blowing, and I remember watching the river and feeling like my son was gently dabbling his fingers in the water. It felt like the briefest of glimpses, as though the breeze had softly lifted the veil and let me see for a moment that heaven was near. It was the most profound moment to me, like a gift from God to let me know that my son was closer than I imagined. It was deeply comforting to me. And my grieving mama heart felt a moment of peace.

This past summer, we took a hike as a family by that same river. It was the first time I had been back since that moment. As we walked past the river, I looked back, almost expecting to see something again. But there was nothing. We hiked farther, enjoying the sights and sounds of our four other beautiful children as they ran and skipped and played. On the way home, I picked up my youngest son, our newest little gift, our sweet little treasure. It was a long hike, and he was still recovering from surgery a few months earlier. He was settling in to our family and adjusting to so much change. I was carrying him as we walked past that spot in the river, and suddenly felt two little arms wrap themselves tightly around my neck. 

“I love you”

My breath caught in my throat. And then he said it again.

“I love you.”

He was just learning English, and just recovering from surgery to repair a cleft palate. Speech was a challenge. Could this really be happening?

“I love you,” he whispered, his soft little arms wrapped around my neck, his head nestled into my cheek. Over and over again as we walked he repeated it, louder and more confident each time. And my mama heart soared.

Heaven is closer than we think. And God is nearer than we know. It is something I have learned only from living in the “after”, something I could not have known in such a profound way if that line had not been drawn ten years ago. Ten years has brought unimaginable pain, but immeasurably more joy. Looking back, I hardly recognize the girl who knelt sobbing on the floor, longing for the before. I can’t imagine it now. No part of me longs to go back. Because while the pain of loss will never go away, joy is magnified because of it. The hard road has been worth every step. The sorrow is not erased but remains with me always, the trauma is as real as physical scars. But just as real is the faith that comes from walking that deep darkness and seeing purpose and meaning on the other side. There is great beauty in the after.

Monday, March 21, 2016


The other day I went to the store to buy a birthday card. My daughter had been invited to a birthday party for a boy in her class. A boy who was turning eight. The cards in the store were on a little rack that spins, and I stood there spinning it round and round, unable to make a decision. What kind of card would a boy turning eight like? I suddenly realized that I didn't know.

I didn't know. 
My son, whom I love more than life, should be celebrating his eighth birthday, too. Had he not died, I would have eight years of experience knowing his likes, his dislikes, his personality, his interests. But as I stood there spinning that rack of cards, the realization grew as a knot in my stomach that spread slowly upward to my brain - I just didn't know my son that way. Not the eight year old him. Not the boy he could have been. 
My breath caught in my throat. And instantly they were there. The tears that spring just to the corners of your eyes, not falling but just balanced there, waiting for the tipping point. The tears that sting as they wait, that tingle and burn with increasing urgency the harder you fight to keep them from falling. 
My vision blurred a little as I hastily grabbed a card. I paid for it while avoiding eye contact with the cashier, then hurried out of the store. By the time I stepped outside the door the tears were falling fast. I reached the safety of my vehicle and my shoulders shook with breath catching sobs. Eight felt so far from the tiny baby I cradled in my arms. So far from the son I dressed in soft blue striped sleepers, the one I swaddled in blankets and laid on my chest. How could eight years stand between the baby I delivered that early spring morning, and the moment at the card rack, when it seemed I no longer knew him? For one terrible moment, he felt so very far away. 
In the early days after our sweet Owen died, distance was my most overwhelming fear. I clung to every reminder of him, terrified that if my baby could be taken from me, perhaps the memories of him would one day be taken, too. I made endless copies of his pictures, worrying obsessively that somehow they'd be lost or erased. I cried when the flowers from his funeral began to die, and couldn't bear to watch as they were thrown away. But one of the hardest milestones for me was when his blanket and baby clothes began to lose his scent. I kept them on my dresser, and each night before bed I'd hold them and breathe in his sweet baby smell. He felt almost within reach in those moments, so close I could almost touch him again. But as his tiny clothes eventually lost that beautiful, comforting scent, it felt like he was slipping slowly farther from my arms. 
Owen was everything I'd ever wanted. I loved him more than breathing. How desperately I wanted him near. I can attest that there is no worse feeling on earth than that of a mother separated from her child - there can be no farther or more painful distance than that. And yet so often that is how we attempt to comfort people who are grieving - by emphasizing the growing distance. "Time heals all wounds" or "with every day the pain will get less" - the theme of most sympathy cards, and the well-intentioned words of long lineups of friends and loved ones at funerals, who just don't know what else to say. Those words were like knives to my soul those early days. Like salt on a wound. Like fans to the flame of my very worst fears. As I clung with every last ounce of my strength to the child who'd been taken from my arms, fighting to keep him near, the world around me just kept telling me to wait it out - that after a while it wouldn't matter so much that my child had died. That in time, I'd stop loving and missing him as desperately. In time, he would fade. He'd be distant. My baby wouldn't be so near. Perhaps that was never the intended message. But it's what my grieving heart heard. 
And I think often, that is the comfortable understanding that people hold about grief. That in time, there is a slow fade. And gradually and proportionately, the tears get less. You don't cry as quickly in stores while shopping for birthday cards. The days get easier. And all of it becomes more distant - the pain, the memories, the impact on your life in general. Distance grows between you and the experience of that death. And eventually, you move on. 
It's all about distance.
And eight years later, I now know that to be true. But not in the way you might think...
Eight years later, I know that the dance between near and far is one that continues for a very long time. I still have moments these days when my precious baby feels far. Heart wrenching moments like the one in that store, spinning the racks of birthday cards, fighting back the tears. But I have far more moments these days when my Owen feels near. Like today on his birthday when I laid my hand on the tiny footprints on his gravestone, closed my eyes and felt him almost right there with me. When I breathed in the scent of the cherry blossom trees and sensed such peace about his nearness, and about the joy he must be experiencing in heaven. I may not know who he might have been if he had lived to be eight. But I know without a doubt who he is now and forever will be to me. He is the moment each morning that I first think of him, as comfortably as breathing. He is my constant inspiration to live the life I was called to, my moment by moment reminder to be thoughtful, to be intentional, to live with purpose. He is the reason I choose to grab hold of joy and not let go. He is my baby, my miracle, my first great blessing. He is the gift God gave me to turn my life upside down, and to change me into the person I was meant to be. Every day, I do the very real work of being his mommy. He is NEAR me. Always. 

And it is true that eight years later, I have far fewer moments  of crying suddenly in stores. But that is not because my child, or my love for him, or the pain of his loss, or the depth and meaning of our relationship has become more distant. My love for him has never faded. And neither has the pain of his death. What has grown more distant is the fear, the fear that used to grip me in the night as I clung to his soft, tiny baby clothes – the fear of him slipping away from me completely. Eight years later, and I KNOW now that I cannot ever truly lose him. I KNOW that time cannot take him from me...
Eight years ago, our mantle held over 100 sympathy cards. They were beautiful and the sight of all those messages of love and support was a comfort to me. If I ventured a guess, I'd say about half had messages printed by card companies reinforcing the distance. In time, they'd say. In time. But in amongst those 100 cards, there was just one that looked nothing like the rest. Pale blue, with a blue checkered frame, and a little brown teddy bear wearing a blue bow. Congratulations, it said. Congratulations on the arrival of your new baby boy. 
Eight years later and I can tell you with certainty - that is the one that got it right. That early spring morning, our sweet Owen arrived. To stay. I miss him desperately. I long to hold him again, to cuddle him just one more time. What I wouldn't do for just five minutes with him in my arms. But in a very real way, he is still right here with me. Always and forever. It brings my mama heart joy to know that time can never steal him away. 
Happy eighth birthday in heaven, my sweet Owen. I'm so glad that you are near. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Splash Zone

One year ago today, we walked through the gates of a decrepit aquarium, in desperate search of something to fill our time, and to hide the heaviness in our hearts from our two young daughters. The day before that aquarium trip, we had said goodbye to a beautiful baby boy. Months of preparation, planning and prayer, and weeks of whirlwind travel and chaos had ended in a broken hearts, as a birth mother we had come to know and love changed her mind just hours before signing the adoption papers. And we had said a sobbing, heartbroken goodbye to a beautiful boy we had prayed for and loved and named. A baby we had seen born into the world, and held in our arms for two precious days. A baby boy we thought would be our son. To add to the depth of heartache, every moment of that goodbye brought with it deeper layers of anguish, as we remembered the losses of our first two baby boys who had gone before.
So there we were, less than 24 hours after our most recent loss. Living in a hotel across the continent from home, with two daughters whose little heads were spinning. And we wanted to protect them, and make that day somehow better. And that’s how we found ourselves at the aquarium. The stinky, run-down, paint-peeling aquarium. Where most of the exhibits were closed. And it was clear the place had seen better days. We wandered a bit, found a little playground. Looked at a few fish. Did our best to fill the time – which is hard to do when your heart hurts so badly you can barely move. So when we heard music in the distance, we followed, eager for a chance to keep our little girls entertained, to conceal our grief behind moments of fun. That’s how we stumbled upon the whale show.
The whale show was in an open air arena, with old-looking grey concrete walls, and a far-too-tiny whale enclosure. We were late, but there were lots of empty seats. Good seats, actually. Really good seats. Front and centre, with a perfect view. We hustled the girls in. Past the ushers, who said nothing, directly to the great, empty seats. Everyone else was sitting far back in the rafters. They just stared at us. No one said a word.
And the whale show started, and the girls were thrilled. And for a moment there was a glimmer of feeling a little bit okay. And then the whale jumped.
And when a seven tonne killer whale jumps in a tiny pool, and you are sitting in the splash zone, you get hit with a wall of water that takes your breath away. Never have I experienced that force of water against my body. I tipped backwards and nearly fell off my seat. My sunglasses flew off of my face and landed three full rows behind me. I gasped for air. And beside me, my sweet two-year-old had just been subjected to that same wall of water. She was stunned. And then she started sobbing.
And I carried that sweet two year old out of the arena, past the ushers who hadn’t said a word, and past the safely-rafter-sitting audience members whom I felt certain were all laughing at my expense. We stood outside the arena, as wet as if we had jumped into the ocean, and I tried wringing the water out of my toddler’s dripping clothes, puddles forming around us, my eyes stinging, shivering, ridiculous. And it occurred to me that a tiny pool in a decrepit aquarium was likely brimming with whale poop. And we were now covered in it.
And that moment, that soggy, whale-poop drenched moment, was my rock bottom. Because suddenly it became a metaphor to me for everything we had just been through. I felt like a laughing stock. A ridiculous, pitiful joke. Like the world was shaking its head at me, wondering how on earth I could be so stupid.
We had walked into this adoption with our eyes wide open. We knew the risks. We didn’t care. We felt that God had called us there, to walk through labour with this birth mom we loved, to hold her hand knowing she could still change her mind. We had uprooted our family, lived out of a suitcase for weeks, risked all of our hearts because we felt we were doing what was right, and living out God’s specific calling in our life. We had known our hearts could be broken again…and then they were. And the absolute worst thing that could have happened, happened. And now here I was. Far from home, with my precious, tender-hearted little children. Emotionally and physically exhausted. Financially drained. Heartbroken. And drenched in whale poop. I couldn’t have sunk any lower. I was spent.
A few minutes later, my dear husband and older daughter emerged from the arena. They’d just been soaked – again. But this is the thing about my husband – he has a way of laughing through the whale poop – both literal and figurative – of life. It’s a quality I highly recommend in a husband. And as he helped me wring out our poor, soaked girls, he got them giggling. And he could see that I was crying, and held my hand out to the van. Driving back to the hotel, the girls fell asleep. And because we had no towels and no change of clothes, I wept while sitting in a puddle of poop water. And I told him how ridiculous I felt, for following my heart, for risking so much, for subjecting our entire family to such heartache yet another time. But as I wept to him he reassured me – that all along our path we had made choices others doubted. That when we had chosen to love and give life to our terminally ill son, our doctors were incredulous. That when we had chosen to continue adopting after our first heart-wrenching adoption loss, many shook their heads. And that yet God had never left us. And that we were never a joke to Him. And that He would be faithful.
In the coming days, we would witness God’s faithfulness in the most powerfully tangible ways. Amazing, life altering miracles. God’s hand of mercy upon us. But that night as I lay in bed, I knew only that I had some sense of peace. That heartbreak or not, we were where we were supposed to be. That we were right in choosing to act in love, whether or not that meant risking pain. That God saw our hearts. And that our stumbling attempts to follow Him were never a joke in His eyes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the whale incident lately. Not just because it happened one year ago, but because it has remained a metaphor to me for the adoption journey, a journey we are about to embark on once again. I’ll be the first to admit that I am struggling in the face of our next adoption – that fear has a very real role to play. That this is hard for me – at times overwhelmingly so. There has been too much loss. Too much heartbreak. My eyes are wide open yet again, and they’ve seen a lot that can’t be forgotten. It no longer feels like great difficulty and pain in this next journey are a possibility – it feels like a certainty. It’s a daily battle of hope versus fear. And the truth is, it would be easy just to stop, to not adopt again, to not risk our hearts anymore. We are happy. So, so happy. Why mess with it? It would be nice to feel comfortable for a while.
Once again God is whispering to our hearts. And we know where He’s calling us. And in this moment we have two choices: We can take our seats in the splash zone – and subject ourselves to the breath-stealing punch of the next tidal wave we can’t predict and won’t see coming, to the drenching, stinging onslaught of it all, or we can join the safely-seated crowds in the rafters. Those seats look welcoming sometimes. They really, truly do. But this is the thing about sitting in the rafters – you might not get drenched in quite the same way. But if pain is going to find you, it will find you, rafters or not. And I would rather be part of the show than just watch it. And I would rather feel it, with all of its force, than just be an observer. And I’d rather risk it all and sit in the splash zone than miss everything – the good and the bad – by hiding away. It’s what God is teaching me as He wrings the water from my clothes, and wipes the tears from my eyes, and gives me reason to laugh through the heartache. It’s what He’s teaching me, loss after loss, heartache after heartache, as He holds my hand and never laughs at my heart.
It’s a strange lesson to learn from whale poop. But God works in amazing ways.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Forever a Mother

This weekend I had the honour of speaking at a beautiful event honouring the lives of babies gone too soon. It was a humbling opportunity, as I knew looking out at the crowd that each and every person there had a story equally worthy of sharing. Spoken through tears, this was my story...
I have always wanted to be a mommy. From the time I was a little girl, there has never been one moment of doubt that being a mom would be the most important thing I’d do with my life. My husband Mike and I met as teenagers and were married in our early twenties. I dedicated my career to working with babies, and always imagined that I was preparing myself to be an even better mother one day. But when the time came to start a family, months of hopefulness quickly turned into years of disappointment. Then one day we sat in the office of the director of a fertility clinic and he told us we should expect never to give birth to children. It shook me to my core because I knew that I was meant to me a mother. Mike and I decided to pursue fertility treatments, a journey that proved far more difficult and emotionally draining than we could have anticipated. But then, during what was to be our very last attempt at treatment, we got a phone call from a nurse at the fertility clinic. We were pregnant.
The first months of my pregnancy were so full of happiness. I watched with joy as my belly began to grow, felt the first amazing little flutters of movement. And then, when I was 18 weeks pregnant, we went for a routine ultrasound. I will never forget the way the technician’s hands shook as he handed me the sheet of ultrasound photos. Something was very, very wrong. Five days later we went for further testing at BC Women’s Hospital. And as the radiologist shut off the ultrasound machine, she lay her hand on my belly and began to cry. The first words she spoke were “poor, poor baby”. And my life was never the same again.
That was the day that we were told that our baby boy was going to die. He had multiple, life threatening abnormalities considered incompatible with life outside of the womb. We were told that at most he would survive just minutes or days in our arms. Mike and I were heartbroken and terrified. But we made the choice to just love our son, and to give him the best chance at life possible every moment that he was with us. We named our baby boy Owen Michael, and determined not to hold our hearts back from loving him. We poured all of our hearts and souls into cherishing our time with him. Then, when I was 35 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I went into labour. Our beautiful, much loved baby boy was born at sunrise on the first day of spring. Our brave little Owen fought so hard, and was with us right until the moment of his birth. And as he was born, a great shudder ran through my body, as I looked to see if he would cry. But as he was placed in my arms, there was only silence. And the room full of doctors and pediatricians quietly and respectfully grew empty. And as I held my son in my arms, all I could think of was how beautiful he was. I looked into his precious little face and repeated the words “he’s so beautiful, he’s so beautiful” over and over again.
Even knowing for all of those months during my pregnancy that we would lose our son, I could never have fathomed how intense the pain would be. At nights I would sit on the edge of my bed, clutching the soft baby blanket that still smelled like him, my heart pounding so frantically and hurting so intensely, that I thought for certain it could not keep beating. I remember sitting there and actually waiting for it to stop. And I would have moments when I’d be disappointed that it didn’t.
Several weeks after losing Owen, my husband and I started going for grief counselling. On our very first session I explained our journey through infertility, the blessing of becoming pregnant with Owen, and the devastation of his loss. And the very first thing the counsellor said to me was, “How hard to want to be a mother so long, and then suddenly not to be a mother anymore”. And I remember feeling something crumbling within me, because I knew that others around me probably saw it the same way - they didn’t see me as a mother any more.  The day that my breast milk came in, I was sitting in a funeral home with pictures of tiny white caskets spread out on the table in front of me. I had been asked to endure the hardest test that could be asked of any mother. But they didn’t see me as a mother any more.
That night I awoke sobbing in the middle of the night, my heart breaking in a whole new way. And something happened that really changed the course of my grief process. I know that all of us here come to our losses from a different place. I came to my loss as a person with a deep faith in God. During our pregnancy, praying, reading scripture and meditating on God were the only things that kept me going. After we lost Owen, I lost all ability to hold onto my faith. And that is when I believe God held onto me. That night it was if God whispered something to me – You are forever a mother. And each and every day you are still mothering Owen.
And so I began the work of mothering my Owen. I threw myself into the work of grieving well, knowing that it would be what Owen would want for me and wanting to make him proud. At first it was small things, like opening the blinds in the morning, going for a walk, or forcing myself to eat. I was very intentional about my grief, spending much time creating and sending out handmade birth announcements, arranging photo albums, and journaling my pain. We went back to counselling, and after correcting our counsellor’s mistake, found our sessions helpful. Eventually I took on bigger challenges, like returning to my work with babies at the end of my four month maternity leave. I began to connect with other grieving parents, something I would highly recommend doing. I could talk to my angel mom friends openly without worrying that they thought I was going insane. When I was with them, I felt like I could breathe again.
Seven months after Owen passed away, Mike and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. I was deep in the throes of grief, and there was no part of me that felt like celebrating. But I knew that it was what Owen would want for his mommy and daddy. So we went away on a little vacation. And one morning on that vacation I woke up with the strangest sensation. For a minute it felt so foreign I thought that I was sick. And then I slowly realized what that feeling was – I was happy. For a moment I panicked – how could I be happy? And I had to intentionally stop myself, take a deep breath, and know that this was what Owen would want for me. He would want his mommy to be happy. So I would be happy for him.
And then one day happiness returned to our lives in a whole new way. Nine months and eight minutes after Owen went to heaven, his baby sister was born and joined our family through adoption. We were instantly filled with such deep joy. But that didn’t erase the pain of Owen’s loss. We faced fears no one knew of, as I awoke multiple times every night in a panic, certain my baby couldn’t breathe. We experienced the greatest joy and deepest pain of our lives at the very same time, and had to give ourselves permission to embrace both.
And learning to walk that balance between joy and pain was important, because pain was about to enter our lives again. When our daughter was 17 months old, we adopted a beautiful two week old baby boy named Michael. We loved Michael completely from the moment he was placed in our arms, and he was without question our beloved little son. When Michael had been at home in our arms for six days, his birth mother whom we love changed her mind and revoked the adoption consents. We were told that we had the night to say goodbye, and then we were to give our baby back in the morning.
During the months that we were pregnant with Owen, I thought I knew what the hardest moment of my life would be. I  thought that the hardest moment of my life would be the moment that my baby died. But I was wrong. The hardest moment of my life was the moment I wrapped Owen up in a little blue blanket, kissed his soft baby cheeks, told him I loved him, and walked away forever. Two years and two months later, I was forced to live my worst nightmare all over again, as I wrapped Michael up in a little blue blanket, kissed his soft baby cheeks, told him I loved him, and walked away forever.
Michael’s loss shattered me. I felt battered, broken, and betrayed. Like nothing was safe. Life there was no reprieve from pain. It was by far the most traumatic experience of my life. But as strange a thing as this ever is to say, the loss of my first son prepared me in many ways for the loss of my second. Michael’s loss was the loneliest experience of my life, because it was a loss that so few people understood. But Owen had taught me that I had earned the right to grieve as a mother. He taught me that regardless of whether or not anyone understood, I needed to grieve the way I needed to grieve. With Michael’s loss, as with Owen’s, people reacted in vastly different ways. There were some people who amazed us, who were determined to be there for us even when it was hard, sometimes the people we least expected. There were others who tried to fix us or to give us "words of wisdom", when all we needed was for them to look with us at the empty crib where our baby should be, and say “I can’t even imagine”. But mostly there were the people who felt so uncomfortable with our grief that they simply disappeared. It hurt us deeply. But another lesson Owen had taught us that we needed to forgive. We didn’t need to hold on to all of those relationships, but we did need to let go of the hurt and the anger and the betrayal. If we hadn’t, it would have killed us. Forgiveness was what allowed us to live in peace.
I remember the cold spring day that I stood in a church foyer following my son Owen’s funeral. And as friends and family struggled to find something to say, I heard a lot of promises: “One day the pain will go away”, “I know you will move on”, and “time heals all wounds”. I didn’t believe a word of it then. I still don’t believe it now. I still have moments, even today, when the pain comes back as though it were yesterday. No matter how much time goes by, I will grieve. Because no matter how much time goes by, I will love them and miss them. There are so many people who don’t understand our losses. They want the pain to be over with. They want us to move on. So whether intentionally or unintentionally, they try to quantify our pain. I cannot begin to tell you how many people over the years have wanted to know whether my Owen died in the moments before birth or the moments after, as if that would make some difference to the depth of my grief. No. One thing I know for certain – what matters most is not how long they grew in your belly or how long you held them in your arms. What really matters is the depths of love you hold for them in your heart, and the bond that you have with them that will not and should not end.
Since losing Michael, we have adopted another beautiful baby girl. So I stand here before you now as the mother of four children – one in heaven, one in my heart, and two in my arms. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of that fact. Every single day, I do the very real work of parenting all four of them. As I hold and kiss and snuggle my two girls, my joy and appreciation of them is so much deeper because of the gift of my two boys. And as I grieve my two boys, they continue to stretch me and shape me and teach me new things. I am a different person than I was before they came into my life. I have purpose and meaning and direction. And I have deeper JOY in my life today than I ever could have known before. I can stand here before you today and honestly say that if given a chance to do it all over, I would choose to go through it all again. Because even a moment with them was better than no time at all. I refuse to see my boys’ presence in my life as a tragedy. Because in reality, they were gifts. Beautiful, soft cheeked, baby scented gifts, whose tiny hands I got to hold in mine for far too short a time. I believe that one day I will see my beautiful babies again in heaven. And when I do, I want nothing more than for them to be proud of their mommy. Every day I strive to live my life in a way that honours the gifts that I’ve been given. And every time I speak their names or share their stories, I am given a chance to be a mommy to my babies. It at the same time breaks my heart and brings me great joy.

I am honoured to stand here with you today as you do the very real work of parenting your babies. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you, as your grieve and celebrate your own precious and beautiful little ones.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Even So

Three years ago today, we wrapped our second sweet baby boy in a soft blue blanket, kissed his perfect little baby cheeks, told him that we loved him, and walked away forever. It was by far the most traumatic day of my life, more traumatic even than our first goodbye just two years earlier. I left a piece of me behind as I walked away that morning. My heart very nearly died. And as I awoke this morning, my body remembered. Deep nail marks embedded into clenched palms, head pounding, muscles tensed. With no conscious thought of the significance of this day, while still bleary eyed and unfocused in my mind, my body already knew. As did my soul. You see, the mind is pretty good and shoving things aside, at avoiding, at moving on. Not so the body and the spirit. No, they do not forget.
Three years later. And I miss him. And my heart aches. And I don't understand. Three years later, and I don't have all of the answers. I don't have any of them, really. Three years later, I haven't learned just one perfect shiny life lesson that I can put up proudly on display somewhere as I smile and say, "See? This is the reason. It all makes perfect sense now." Not even close.
There is a gift in knowing that you do not have all of the answers. There is a gift in knowing that healing doesn't always mean sunshine and rainbows. And there is a gift in knowing that sometimes life DOES give us more than we can handle. Far, far more. Three years later, these things I know for sure...
I do not have all of the answers. I probably never will. That is why I rest in the arms of the One who does have the answers. Because I do not labour falsely under the delusion that I will ever figure it all out. There is peace in that. It gives my mind rest.
Healing. Sometimes in this world, you can be healed and still live with pain. Imagine for a moment that I am an amputee, having lost both of my arms. While the wounds have closed over and the bleeding has stopped, there are still phantom pains where those limbs used to be. And though I have adapted, and become fully capable even with them gone, I would still do anything to have them back. I am a better person than I was before I lost them. God has moulded me. Changed me. And I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. But the fact is, they're still gone. And every single thing that I do in life is impacted by that. And it hurts. And I'll miss them. Forever.
And last but not least - in this life, we are sometimes given FAR MORE than we can handle. Before losing my boys, I embraced the delusion that "God won't give you more than you can handle". It was a lie that I bought into innocently. But it was a lie. Nowhere in scripture is such a promise found. If you do your research, you'll discover that it's true. How ridiculous it seems to me now to think that I could handle ANYTHING life happened to throw at me. How arrogant I was. The truth is, I have been given far more than I could handle. Twice. And I can take none of the credit for surviving it. None of the credit for seeing my life transformed for the better in the midst of pain beyond fathoming. No, all of the credit goes to the One who carried me. Who walked me through fire. Who kept my feet from slipping. Who didn't let me drown. Without Him, I would not be breathing.
As we prepare to move to a new home, I have shed many tears about leaving this place. This is the home that we carried our sweet Michael into, snug and cozy in his infant seat, wrapped in the family shawl. This is the home where we rocked him and cuddled him, bathed him and dressed him. And as we prepare to leave this beloved place behind, I knew I needed something to honour those memories to be placed somewhere prominent in our new home. So I have been searching for paintings or wall hangings with the words, "It is well with my soul." And as I searched, I stumbled upon just one that was a little different. "Even so, it is well with my soul".

Even so.
Even with questions. Even with pain. Even when life gives you more than you can handle.
It's been a hard day. I miss a little boy who was once mine.
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Somewhere in the world, a little boy turned three today. A little boy who was once mine. He does not hold a little place in my heart, as I think that most assume. I was his mommy. He was my child. And therefore, he holds all of me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Five Years

Five years ago today, our lives changed forever. In one moment, all that we had been was shattered. In that moment, a stranger laid her hand on my pregnant belly and told us that you were going to die. Tears in her eyes, her first words were not explanation or diagnosis. Just a whispered, “Poor, poor baby,” as life as we knew it came to an end.

And I remember in those early, agonizing days stumbling upon a small stack of photos. Some candid  wedding shots. One of daddy, laughing as always. And me, smiling in the sunshine. And I remember weeping for those two people, the people we once were. My heart hurt for them as they smiled back up at me. They had no idea what was to come.

And yet now, I think back on those two smiling faces, and I do not regret the path that lay ahead of them. I look back on the people that we once were, and I am so glad that you came to change us. Loving you, my Owen, transformed us. Loving you made us the people we were meant to be. You taught us more in your brief time on this earth than we could have hoped to learn in a thousand lifetimes. It is because you were different, my sweetheart, that we are different too.

In the past five years, there has been more heartache and more joy than we could have fathomed living in a lifetime. More tears than any parent should ever have to cry. Losses beyond our comprehension. Five years. Four children. Two goodbyes. Four blessings. And a path more beautiful than any we could have chosen for ourselves. Each and every day, we thank God for this journey. Because the light is so much brighter when reflected through lingering tears. And the gifts that we’ve been given outweigh every fracture of our hearts.

Your daddy and I are so grateful, my sweet Owen. So grateful for YOU. And for the path that began that day five years ago, when our lives changed forever.