Every Child Matters: September 30th

This September 30th was the 5th anniversary of my daughter Josephine’s birth. And death. Stillborn. It’s a bittersweet day for me, as we mourn and remember and celebrate her, especially by planting fall bulbs which will fill our garden with colour in the spring. We try to fill her birthday, one haunted by painful memories, with as much love and beauty as we can. We feel the wordless warmth of her love in return, across the temporary divide into the next life. The prayers and kind messages of friends take the sharp edge off this poignant day.

Josephine’s birthday is also Orange Shirt day, the special day assigned to commemorate the suffering of First Nations children separated from their families and put in residential schools. Having lost a child myself, I feel a stab of sympathy when I think of these families who had their children torn away from them. They had the additional torture of anxiety for their children’s happiness and well-being, knowing these were being violated. So from the heart of a mother which has been broken by grief, I send all my deepest wishes for healing and hope to all who have suffered in this way.

I was touched by the slogan below when my sister sent me this poster:

Every child matters.

No qualifying statements: no ‘if/then clauses’ like if they’re wealthy, they matter; if they’re white, they matter; if they’re wanted, they matter, if they’re old enough, they matter. No.

EVERY CHILD MATTERS.

When I saw a petition for equal health care for Inuit babies, I was a bit naively shocked….what do you mean, some babies in Canada often don’t receive equal care?? It seems that in their more extreme climate, many Inuit babies suffer seriously from RSV (respiratory virus syndrome), and some even succumb to it, despite the existence of a preventative antibody that is normally given to at-risk babies. It is not standardly given to them. I’m at a loss to know why. Cost, perhaps? Since when have we put a price tag on human life? Moreover, why is that price tag different depending whose child you are? Every child matters.

To say that some babies matter more than others is to commodify human beings, that is, to turn them into objects of variable worth…mere things whose value is determined by other frail human beings. This makes no sense. Either all babies matter, or none do.

Canada is such a gift. A beautiful country which is filled with so many diverse peoples. Let us please work towards making it a place where it is truly clear that every child matters, no matter what.

Silent Salute

I look with longing up the hill

to where my little sweetie lies.

A strip of tall, green trees topped with crimson

stand at attention along the oft-walked road

like a line of fire

through the graveyard

and up the hill where my baby ever sleeps.

Glorious fall silently saluting the fallen–

my heart shouting without sound

as the bus rumbles by and whisks me away too soon.

Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.

 

Happy 4th Birthday, Josephine!

Thank you to everyone for making this day special! Your kind words, hugs, prayers, and thoughtful gifts meant so much! I was really happy to see many of you today.

I was especially touched by this beautiful piece commissioned by my friend Rachel and painted by my talented babysitter and art student Michelle. It captures so perfectly the essence of the first poem I wrote for Josephine after she passed away:

Josephine flashed before us

with the brightness and beauty

of a shooting star

Our hearts are broken by the briefness

of her visit with us

She has climbed onto our Father God’s lap

and is whispering to him our secrets

with sweet confidence

Speak to her in your hearts

the only language she will ever know is love

Four Years but Love is Forever

I have footprints on my heart. Don’t think that because they were left there four years ago they have faded. The impact of those tiny feet on my heart is irrevocable. I will be forever changed by losing a baby at birth. Besides a tiny curl of dark hair, all I physically have of her is a little plaster cast of her feet. Of course it is unspeakably precious to me. I have it nestled in a piece of the same fleecy soft blanket she is buried in. This is much more than many poor women who lose babies through miscarriage get.

Those of you who are close to me or have been following my blog for some time will know that I lost my baby Josephine just before she was born, due to a cord accident. She was my sixth and I was so ready for her to come…the bassinet set up, newborn diapers on the shelf, the house stocked with groceries…I even had her Christmas present already: a wind-up musical swan with her baby on her back.

She was fine at our last checkup, and then, that night in the hospital…no heartbeat. Just silence. Of course it broke my heart. My family and friends, sweet husband and kids helped hold it together.

She would have been four years old this Sunday, September 30th.

Four years and two healthy babies later, I am much more ok than I was at her first anniversary, or even her second, but sometimes things catch me off guard. I was trying to plan her birthday…maybe lots of us could go to the graveyard and bring tons of flowers…and then I thought, four year olds don’t want flowers! They want toys, and cake and balloons…music and mess and the chaos of 20 kids running through the house dressed as fairies and princesses. It hurts that I can’t give her those things, even though she doesn’t need them. Even though she’s up with the stars and her heart is brimming with love, utterly safe, totally loved, in the peaceful presence of God. I still want to do these simple, silly things for her.

So, we do what we can. The kids and I have made it a birthday week. The other day when we ordered groceries from Save-On, we got chocolate cake. We put on candles and sang. We celebrate her because we love her. We are proud she’s part of our family.

We ordered ice-cream, too and had it the next day. Ben and Jerry’s “If I had a Million Flavours.” We made blueberry crisp, too. We will have mini-cereal boxes on her birthday, as we do for the other kids on their birthdays, because they need her to be just another one of them. She’s in Heaven, but she’s still their sister.

On Sunday after Mass and pancakes we will go to the graveyard and bring flowers. We will spend a little time near her praying, and the little ones will likely run about on the grass and read the names of the people who’ve gone before us: young soldiers from the bicycle squad, grandmas and grandpas from the old country, mothers, fathers, babies who never took a breath outside the womb. All the people who await us in Heaven.

Then, because it’s nice to not be alone on this bittersweet day, we will pick up some of our favourite Indian take-out and go to have dinner at a friend’s place. Surrounded by love, just like our daughter Josephine.

Next week we will plant fall flower bulbs to bloom next spring, just like we did last year: Josephine’s flowers. Hiding under the earth and snow, but secretly full of life. Like the promise of eternal life…always making this life more beautiful.

We want her to be remembered. We are proud to be her family. Sharing her story helps us to honour her and to heal, and to know we are not alone.

Do you have footprints on your heart?

Share your story with #IHaveFootprintsOnMyHeart.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day 

October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Like a tiny baby, this holiday that is a bit mysterious and new. How can one honour this day well, and support family and friends who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss? Here are some tips from one who sadly knows what it’s like to lose a little one in labour. If my experience can help others, I will be glad!

Thoughtful gift ideas:


When words fail, as they really do on this case, a simple “I’m thinking of you with a lot of love today” accompanied by a sweet gift can go a long way. Kind notes and the assurance of heartfelt prayers on hard anniversaries have helped them go a lot better for me. Here are some ideas:

  1. Flowers. To someone shaken up by the trauma of loss, anything beautiful makes the world seem just a little more friendly, hopeful and safe.
  2. Food:  this could be chocolate, home baking or a nice dinner, or even a person’s favourite take-out. Grief is exhausting and it’s really nice to not have to cook sometimes. 
  3. A lovely piece of art work ( or even card) that somehow relates to their baby…perhaps a nature picture from the season they passed away in, or something you know their parents find symbolic like a ray of sunshine, bird, or a single flower. 
  4.  Jewelry: I’ve been given several special necklaces in honour of my daughter Josephine, such as one with tiny baby feet, an image of the Holy Family, and a single pink jewel. Another special one was a heart necklace with a turquoise pendant, and a large matching heart shape stone for me to put in Josephine’s special memory display cabinet. The hospital sweetly gave me a silver heart necklace with a mini heart inside it on a separate  string. Some people bury the smaller one with their infant, but I couldn’t stand the look of the gaping hole in my heart, so I kept them together. 
  5. Time: Simply offering to spend some time with the person who has experienced loss is also a great gift.  Suggest accompanying them to the graveyard if they’d like to go, followed by a nice lunch out, or you coming over to keep them company and watch a favourite movie and eat popcorn if simple quiet pleasures or a pajama day are desired. Let them decide what they need that day, and how they want to express their grief. 
  6. A self-care basket with gentle hand lotion or body wash, lip balm, a candle to light in honour of their baby in Heaven, and a few treats. The gorgeous basket pictured above was made by my friend Agi with honey from her own garden’s bees! If you want to go all out, you could even include a massage gift certificate, to help work out all the tension the body holds when grieving. 

None of these gifts are meant to ‘fix’ anything…so you don’t have to feel awkward or like they are not enough. They are simply acknowledging that your friend or family member has suffered a tremendous loss, and that their little one’s brief life is not forgotten. This means so much! And don’t forget the infant’s father has lost his child, too, and make sure he is remembered. Even if he perhaps doesn’t express his grief as verbally, he feels it deeply and should be equally honoured and supported. Does anyone have any more good gift ideas for bereaved fathers? Please share!


Little Jo Travels the World

It is with gratitude and bittersweet joy that I can tell you my new poetry book, written in the year after I lost my daughter Josephine in labour, is now available for purchase online at blurb.ca.

unexpected blossoming: a journey of grief and hope

After a year of writing, and a year of creating the book, my friend Rachel (who really made this project happen) and I, after some excellent final editing by my husband James, ordered several boxes of my poetry book. It shipped within three days, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. There couldn’t have been a more poignant day for me, as I’ve drawn such consolation and hope from her in this journey. I really wanted the book to arrive on time for Josephine’s second birthday, on September 30th, and it came in good time only a week after ordering it. I am so impressed with the self-publishing company Blurb! Emotionally, I needed her birthday gift on time and they delivered.

To celebrate little Jo’s special day, we had an open house book launch, and filled our home with people from 1-5:30 pm. It meant a lot to be surrounded by loving friends and family. My mother and sister-in-law even took the ferry to be here. My amazing friend and midwife Terry-Lyn also came, with a tiny pot of white flowers. This made my day. The hands which held my baby, when so few others have, will always be sacred to me. I know she holds my Jo in her heart as well.

That day we ate goodies and shared stories and sold books. In the few weeks since receiving my boxes of books, 200 have sold or been donated. I had the honour of reading one of my poems at an event for bereaved families on October 14, the evening before international babyloss day. My books were available for any grieving families, counselors, funeral directors or other care workers who were there to take with them.

In a strange twist of fate, it turned out that one of the counselors there, Sarah, is close to a good friend of mine, Katie. She had driven her to my house the day before Josephine’s funeral to deliver the soft white blanket she is wrapped in. Funny how life works.

I am grateful that my little Jo is able to be so active in this world from Heaven. That her special mission to reach out and comfort other moms through my writing is being carried out. That she will be known and remembered. One of the sweetest comments about my book came from a Korean friend in broken English, after having read it, “I didn’t understand all words, but I think your baby very happy. She sees her mama loves her very much.” What more can I ask?

Today I mailed 20 more books, so my little girl is, in her own special way, seeing the world, as her book travels to Calgary, Tofino, Nelson, Saskatoon, Toronto, Rome, Hawaii, and the Philippines. My little shooting star…may she bring sweetness and hope to every heart she shines on.

PS If you know a bereaved mom or family member who may appreciate a book, please let me know in the comments below, or order one from the link above.