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.

Babysteps into eternity: no one is too small to do good

 

Some people might doubt the impact on the world of a person who never saw the sun. Or even took a breath. What could such a person possibly have to say? What could a baby who died in early labour have to teach the world? 

Love. Unconditional, perfect, unending love. The kind that doesn’t have to be earned. The kind of love which created us all. Rather the Love Who created us all, and to whom we return. Losing my baby Josephine three years ago today has ripped open my heart and exposed it to this kind of love. I have been honoured to share it with many other beautiful people who have lost little ones as well. 


Through my daughter’s silence, I found my voice. I had the courage to speak words of sorrow, of brokenness, of hope and of consolation. I wrote book of poetry spanning the first year after her loss, and in this past year have been able to send almost 250 copies of it out into the world. Less than a handful are left and I’m planning to order more copies of unexpected blossoming: a journey of grief and hope this coming week. If you know someone who has suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, and who could use some words of encouragement and solidarity, please let me know. 

Every now and then I get an amazing email from someone who has found an echo of their heart’s sorrow in my book. It’s a consoling reminder of the beauty that can come from shared suffering. I hope those ladies won’t mind if I share a few of their sweet words… One friend who suffered a mid-pregnancy stillbirth told me “Your poems express what I felt but couldn’t describe…they made me feel less crazy about my grief.” Here are a few more responses:

Your book – your words- have been so therapeutic and healing. I really enjoyed it and I am so thankful for you for sharing it with me.

For many weeks I worked very hard at working through and processing my feelings and my grief. It is difficult to face pain head on, but so necessary. 

M.S.

I really wanted to take a moment and let you know how truly touched I was (and am!) by your vulnerability to share your story through your creativity. I cried like mad as I read the book from cover-to-cover in I hid under my blankets while the baby was sleeping and the 2 eldest were watching a video! I treasure your words, and please know how profoundly they have touched my heart and surely helped me along the road of healing. ❤
E.D.

 I’m sharing these with you not to applaud myself but to rejoice in the impact my little daughter has had…the powerful healing she helped bring about by uniting me with other babyloss mamas and affirming that the depth of their grief comes from the profound depth of their maternal love. 

So Little Jo, on your third birthday, know how incredibly proud I am of you and all the good you do from Heaven. May it be the icing on your cake of heavenly joy!

Selfishness, Responsibilty and a Blue Couch 


Selfishness is so easy. It’s so easy to focus on yourself and blame all your troubles on others. Doing so allows us to stay in a state of inaction: there is “nothing” we can do about our problems because they are “not our fault.” Someone else is to blame. But this attitude dooms us to shadow-boxing all our lives–flailing out our arms uselessly to hit the imaginary causers of our own difficulties. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we discover that the source of our brokenness is within. Even if we were isolated from all others in a tiny hermitage, we would still struggle. This is a sobering thought. It means we have to rise from our stupor and take responsibility for our lives. Only we can change them for the better. 

But while we can take positive steps towards small changes for the better, healing our brokenness is not something we can do alone. We can’t make ourselves never grumpy, annoyed, snappy, imprudent, lazy or selfish etc by our willpower alone. We are like broken light bulbs whose wires are not connected, so the electricity can’t flow through them. We need to reconnect those wires by joining our hands in prayer, so the grace of God can flow through us and help us to shine. 

In the bustle of daily life, it can be easy to forget this. We get wrapped up in our troubles and forget to ask for help. We forget to pray for our needs, and for the grace to bear hardships cheerfully. But God is just waiting to show us signs of His affection, if we open our hearts to receive it. Sometimes His generosity is very concrete. Recently my Dad and I went on a wild goose chase search for a second-hand dresser for my eldest daughter. We drove all over, even out of town, and checked three stores with no luck.  We saw a couch I liked which could replace our old beat-up red one, but I couldn’t get a-hold of my husband at work to ask his opinion. It was a hot, tiring day and nothing seemed to be quite working. 

But the next day, the reason for our fruitless search was made clear: there was something  better waiting for us. A block from our house, my Dad spotted an estate sale with gorgeous furniture. There was a beautiful maple dressed in perfect condition for $45. And even more lovely, an antique Coombs couch and matching armchair, with wooden finish and lovely blue upholstery for $250 together. I don’t know what their original price would have been, but the reupholstering alone would have cost $2000 in the ’80’s! Talk about score. Furthermore, they were willing to deliver the furniture to our house, which was another godsend, because some things are just too darn big for my double stroller (we don’t have a car). 


So this is just a little reminder, to myself as much as to anyone else, to take time to join my hands in prayer, reconnect with God and let His love flow through me. If we could all shine our little lights, instead of staying in the darkness of anger and blame, how gorgeous the world would be. Like a glowing Christmas tree, every little light sharing its warmth with the others. In a time of uncertainty and violence, I think the peacefulness of this image is one worth focusing on, hoping and praying for. God bless you all. 

“Open Wide Your Hearts”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of emotional connection in marriage. Now I’d like to discuss how deep friendships and a wider support network are also an essential element to personal growth and spiritual wellness.

I feel extremely blessed to have many friends who help me grow in various ways. People who are willing to share their passions and talents and help me expand my horizons in so many areas….from fashion to faith, homeschool, writing, healing from grief, forming better habits and growing in virtue, self-care, intellectual openness and more. All of these people help provide the “atmosphere of growth” author Gretchen Rubin claims is an essential part of happiness. They encourage and support me to become a better me, in ways I certainly couldn’t become alone. And I think it’s meant to be this way…that the company of kindred spirits helps one’s unique talents and beauty shine.

In their insightful book, “How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth,” authors of the popular “Boundaries” series, Drs Cloud and Townsend, strongly emphasize the need for vulnerable, authentic connection with others. Rather than promoting an individualistic faith that is between God and the person alone, they present the love of other people as the lifeline between our hearts and God’s. Thus healing from deep wounds requires not only intellectual knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness, but real experiences of the heart. We need to feel His love, and the way we can is through the support and love of other people.

To connect with God’s love, however, we need not only people, but also need our hearts to be available to those people. We have to be open and vulnerable for the grace and acceptance to do any good. Many people “fellowship” with others, but they share so little as they fellowship that nothing happens at the heart level. As Paul told the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding your affection from us. As a fair exchange–I speak to you as my children–open wide your hearts to us also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). So for growth to occur, it must include experiences where hearts are open with each other. Otherwise, it is just known in someone’s head and never experienced at the levels God has designed. (How People Grow, p.128)

I think we can all relate to the power of a really good “heart to heart” chat with a close friend. Such closeness and sharing can make the unbearable seem possible and restore hope. The loving mercy of a friend who encourages us gives us the strength to not give up and the inspiration to try better, while knowing we are already loved exactly as we are. Receiving this kind of grace requires vulnerability and courage, and can’t be had by hiding and pretending we have it all together.

The point here is that grace can be available to us, but we might not be available to grace. We can be around a lot of acceptance and grace, but until the hurt and guilty places of our heart are exposed, we do not experience grace, and the gap between our head and heart continues.

To confess one’s greatest failures and sins, and then still be embraced with love and encouragement, is to experience the unconditional nature of God’s love. This kind of mercy has the power to be transformative. Deep suffering can break one’s heart open, but if we allow it be be exposed it to the healing love of trustworthy people who will comfort us, it can enable us to grow.

When we lost our baby Josephine, we were immensely supported. We could feel ourselves being held up by the prayers of friends, loved ones, and even strangers who heard our story. We experienced the emotional equivalent of a train wreck, but we got up and kept walking. This is not because of our strength, but because of our acceptance of our weakness…we weren’t afraid to lean hard on others so they could help us up again. To me this was a kind of miracle–a sign of God’s love–lavished on us by so many of His children, all participating in one way or another in the communion of the saints. By this I mean not a club for the ‘saintly’ but a vast family of imperfect people struggling to live with hope and love even in the midst of tragedy.

We experienced this all grace because we were open to it…when in pain my natural tendency is to reach out. Some people shut down and hide. It is hard for the warmth of affection to reach them. Recovery can be much slower, and on top of that, hidden wounds are very lonely.

A dear friend told me once she thought I was brave to be so vulnerable at Josephine’s funeral, letting tears fall as we carried her tiny coffin out of the packed church. Honestly, though, I simply couldn’t help it, but exposing my raw grief enabled others to reach out and comfort me. I could receive their love, and my heart could start to be healed, even as it lay broken and shattered.

I hadn’t really meant to go into all this, but I guess my point is, whatever your suffering, don’t try to do it alone. Let God love you by letting others wrap their arms around you so you can feel His nearness. Stop hiding your face under a protective veneer of pretense, as if huddling under a dark umbrella. Throw it aside and let the rain of grace pour over you and wash away your tears. And with your hands now free, reach out and hold the hands reaching towards you.

K.I.S.S…keep it simple, sweetheart!

Sometimes as a mom it can be easy to get drawn in a million directions, until you find yourself stretched thin, as Bilbo Baggins says, like butter spread over too much toast. It could be million good things…family, friends, hobbies, writing, work, reaching out to those in need…all things you’re passionate about, but–when added up–require more than you can reasonably give.

When this happens my mother-in-law, who happily is a great friend, reminds me to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart (or stupid…whatever works!). Time to step back, re-evaluate priorities, and see how things can be simplified so the most important things don’t suffer. What really matters most? Which things are too important to mess up? As my friend Monique told her teenage son when he was feeling overwhelmed: “You can’t do everything well. You can do a few things well or everything badly.”

It’s hard to step back from the frenzy of constant multitasking to quietly reflect. But it is also essential. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Can we really say that we are living intentionally, that is with passion and purpose, if we don’t periodically stop to reflect on life?


This rhythm of action, rest, and reflection can help bring more harmony to our lives and help us to be more present to the around us who matter most. This is why we need a special day each week to rest, pray and play (and not just soccer tournaments!). But we also need these moments every day. Tiny moments to gather ourselves and be recollected, so we can better face the chaos. I’m primarily writing this for myself. The other day I was texting two separate people at the same time while looking up something online and feeding my baby. Crazy…

In a recent talk I watched (in an online conference for moms) by a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, the speaker said that one of the things that drains our willpower and saps our strength (besides lack of sleep) is making many decisions.. . This could be in tricky meetings, in navigating traffic, making dinner while juggling kids, or even the many tiny decisions of how and when to respond to the beeps and bells on our phone. So I’m pretty sure that constant multitasking, and all the decision-making it involves, is something that drains our will power and makes us susceptible to impatience and exhaustion. This does not help us be the best mom, spouse, friend etc, we can be.

Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson said there are a few things studies have found will restore our will power, and recharge it like a battery pack getting plugged in. These things make us more able to calmly cope with life’s challenges. These were:

1. Sleep (I’ve heard of it…😉) Without sufficient sleep our will power is seriously compromised. Rather than trying to ruthlessly carry on, Dr. Susan recommends becoming a “sleep-seeking missile.” Get a nap in or get to bed ASAP. So many emotional struggles are simply signs of sleep deprivation. 
2.Temporal, sensory contact with friends…that is social time that is face to face or at least on the phone to hear a friendly voice and get an immediate response to our words. Online interaction doesn’t have this restorative function. 
3. Meditation. Even 3-5 minutes of quiet, deep breathing. In your office…or even bathroom (till the hoards of toddlers find you!) or on a walk outside.
4. Prayer. Brain scans show our bio-rhythms become more calm and we are better able to cope.
5. Gratitude. Make a little list of things you’re grateful for. Take a moment to reflect and give thanks.
6. Acts of service. Doing things for others out of love. Freely making efforts to help another person be happy, instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Trying to do your duties cheerfully. 

If we find ourselves too busy for these things…for taking care of our own need for sleep, prayer and friendship, we should realize we are too busy and that something has to go, for our sake and that of those we love most, who may be getting the short end of the stick. We need to take care of ourselves, or we will run out of fuel to take care of others. This means even finding moments for our passions and hobbies. Things that take us outside of time and make us forget everything else…dance, writing, skating, playing music or whatever makes you really happy. Dr. Susan referred to these kinds of activities as “flow:” things that make you feel like a kid again for a moment, and let everything else fade away, even just for a short time.


So stop, reflect, be grateful, and see what you can let go of so you have more time to play. And with a joyful heart you’ll also be better able to serve and to love.

Ode to Gentle Hands

Gentle hands that touch

with a love strong and deep

know the body is no mere shell

for the soul,

but an outward expression of its being.

And when these hands soothe

calm and comfort,

when they restore dignity 

to the broken frailty of an aging body

by the gentleness of their touch,

they affirm with silent symphony 

that each person is precious,

body and soul.

For when the vessel is bent and broken,

light shines through the cracks

and love bursts forth in beauty.

  

Honouring International Bereaved Mother’s Day

May 3rd is international bereaved Mother’s Day. It is an important and beautiful opportunity to acknowledge all the mothers around the world who have suffered loss through miscarriage, stillbirth, child loss or painful struggles with infertility. 

It is a chance to share grief and hope, to reach out and be vulnerable, to connect, to encourage, and to honour the women whose mother’s hearts are suffering deeply. 

 
Every baby is, in the words of Still Life Canada, “a unique and irreplaceable individual.” It is fitting that we honour their passing with our whole hearts. Sometimes sharing your grief is the first step to allowing others to share theirs, too, and beginning to heal. Let’s break the silence with gentle words of love.     Also, the Mothering Your Heart program is a lovely way to connect with other bereaved moms, be encouraged and supported in your journey of grief and healing. There is a Facebook page to share with other moms if you like, and a series of helpful emails you can receive each day leading up to Mother’s Day, with gentle ideas on self-care and nurturing your wounded heart, honouring your baby and seeking the stillness in which to discover the still, small voice of hope….    Wishing you all peace, strength, healing and hope…

With all my heart,

Anna

Mummy of Josephine, my little star in Heaven 

Why Ignoring Anniversaries of Loss Doesn’t Work

Nearly three weeks ago, on March 30th, it was the six month anniversary of my  baby daughter Josephine’s stillbirth. I approached the day with a bit of dread, worried it would send me back and undo my recent period of emotional improvement. I tried to decide what to do…plan a trip with the kids to Science World to distract myself, or invite fellow babyloss moms over to honour the day. In the end, because of a tummy bug, we did neither.

I tried to truck through the day, homeschooling the kids, keeping them fed and occupied, and not allowing my emotional guard down too far. Around 4 pm my sweet friend Kate stopped by with a little pot of bright yellow flowers and homemade chocolate chip cookies. “It’s a day for chocolate,” she told me.

This little visit and chat outside her car (which was full of her own 5 kids who were sick), meant so much. Her kindness in acknowledging my grief gave me the freedom to release it a little. It often takes the hug of a good friend to bring out those hidden tears that are lurking inside like saturated storm clouds, waiting to fall and wash your heart clean again.

The kids, always happy for any birthday, ate Josephine’s half-birthday cookies with gusto as we walked over to the graveyard accross the street where she is buried. We brought her the yellow chrysanthemums, and the kids gathered sticks to make a little enclosure around them.

After this, we took some anniversary pictures, and the kids talked about how big and beautiful baby Josephine is now in Heaven.

  

Their assurance that she is safe and happy shines through their smiling faces. For them, Heaven is very real, and very close. Once my oldest said,

“Mummy, it’s kind of good Josephine died and went to Heaven.”

“Really, why?” I asked.

“Because then she’s right with us all the time, just like Aslan, and never even as far away as if she was sleeping on the couch when we are in the kitchen.”

Kids really get it that love breaks down all barriers, even that of death, and keeps us together.

It is true, but I am little Jo’s mummy, and want to have her in my arms, so while the other kids played happily in the graveyard, I sat by her grave and cried. It was around 5 pm, the time I had been in early labour, when she had quietly passed away from the tight cord around her neck.

The kids hunted for dandelions and blossoms and went about placing them on graves with no flowers, “so they’d have some.” After this we went to the dollar store and everyone was allowed to chose a new colouring book in honour of Josephine’s special day.

Perhaps it seems that we did a fair bit…we at least did something, but it wasn’t enough really. Except for a call from Laura, one of my best friends, who remembered, the day was spent very much alone. I had asked a few friends for extra prayers that day, but that was all. It is a lonely feeling to be living the anniversary of a tragedy when for almost everyone else it is just another day. The very cars driving by so blissfully unaware seem rude. You unreasonably want them to stop, or a least drive slowly, as in a funeral procession.

For me, the next day was not March 31st, it was November 1st, the day after her birth, and the day I came home from the hospital without her. The awful quiet of no newborn cries or coos.

I wanted to write all about it then, to reach out for sympathy and support, but it can be hard to keep talking about loss. Sometimes you feel bad to burden others with your pain, but when you keep it inside it grows claws and shreds it’s way out…so it’s much better to come out in tears.

But like I said, sometimes only the loving acknowledgment of your suffering by others releases them….enables you to drop your stern guard and be vulnerable. This involves telling others what you are going through, so they can walk you through it, or sit with you in it, or whatever it may be.

So I encourage everyone who is suffering some kind of loss, to reach out to others who love them and ask for support, to acknowledge what is happening inside and not try to bury it inside to fester. Put your anniversary of loss on the calendar, own it, do something special on it. And if possible, don’t do it alone.

I’ve been told we can only get through grief by going through it, and anniversaries, as hard as they are, are an opportunity to move through it…rather than remaining stuck in grief by denying it…so don’t skip them. No one gets better by saying “La, la la!” and pretending nothing happened. Sadness grows in darkness and isolation, so let the light of love, that of family and friends, shine upon your soul.

Light a candle, release balloons, have a prayer circle with close friends, make a fancy dinner and toast your loved one lost, or whatever it is that honours the day, and lets you know it’s ok that your grief is still raw, whether it has been 6 months or 10 years.

 

The Ever Changing Tides of Grief

I received this beautiful advice on grief during the holidays from my lovely big sister. Having been widowed when her children were very small, she knows about grief…that we can’t skip it, but have to go through it. She has been a great support to me since I lost the baby.

Hi sweetie,

I know all these celebratory days are falling flat under the weight of your enormous grief. It’s awful and expected and normal. That doesn’t help. Nothing really helps. You have to ride the wave of it. It will wash over you again and again. Sometimes you’ll think the tide is way out there, that you’re safe and far away from it, and yet another wave will cut you off at the knees.

The intervals will eventually get farther apart and yet when a wave hits you, it will feel every bit as intense. That, in my experience, is just how it goes.

The thing is – the waves will send you spinning but they won’t drown you. You’ll keep going because you are tough and resilient and wise and beautiful and have a thousand blessings to offset the struggle.

All my love,
Dymphny

I wanted to post these words today for all others who are grieving, and especially in honour of two of my friends who recently had fairly early miscarriages. My heart is with you as you ache for your babies in Heaven. Your truly lost a little child, just like me. All the potential for a whole life was there in that tiny little being, that new little soul created in love. It is understandable that your heart is broken. This child—with their unique DNA, their individual soul, their mysterious mission—can never be repeated. It is ok that you long for them forever. Forever will come.

May you be comforted by family and friends, and carried by grace through the ever changing tides of grief. And as you keep swimming to that distant shore of peace, know that you will be a sign of hope for others.

The Mystery of Losing a Little One

Today I want to share with you an article I recently wrote about losing my little Josephine during labour. I’ve had a hard time doing much narrative about this event, and have mostly blogged poetry since it occurred, as it felt like a safer way to express myself somehow.

But I really felt called to share my experience and to reach out to other bereaved parents, so I was very pleased when the paper accepted my article. I’m posting the link to it in honour of a dear friend who lost her baby son three years ago today. Perhaps you can all send a little extra prayer her way. The pain of losing a little one comes and goes in waves, and I imagine it might be stronger again today. Honouring this in some way is part of healing.

The Mystery of Losing a Little One

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So to all bereaved parents, I send you my deepest condolences, and stand with you in your pain. May you know that your children are still an amazing gift, and that you have been for them not so much a place of death, as a gate to Heaven.

May our little stars shine forth with their pure, sweet light and ever guide us home.