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!

Mystery and Loss: International Bereaved Mother’s Day

So for some reason things were hitting me harder than usual this week, and my perceptive friend noticed and decided a mommy date was in order. Some time to decompress. So we both arranged babysitters (small miracle) and took off to a fancy part of town to have tea and scones at a classy café. Creamy earl grey tea and a heart shaped cheese scone with Devonshire cream and raspberry jam. Very civilized!

We settled in our cosy wicker basket seats by the window to talk. After some chit chat we got into discussing the mystery of suffering. I say mystery not problem, because as philosophers explain, problems are things that can be fixed, like a broken clock, while mysteries are things to be entered into. The heart cannot be fixed simply by turning certain screws or thinking certain thoughts. Some wounds remain forever…not in the sense of being deadly, but in the sense of forever transforming a person’s heart. 

 Having both experienced deep suffering and loss, we agreed that there is really no answer to the “problem” of suffering….in the sense of a solution that makes it all go away or become fine. To treat sorrow as a problem to be fixed is to trivialize grief. Sometimes the worst thing a person can do is to try to make it all better by explaining it away or giving little pat answers to the great mystery of suffering. 

The pain of losing someone (a child, a spouse, a best friend), is not something that needs minimized with band-aide phrases meant to make you feel better. Instead, suffering needs to be entered into, acknowledged, faced. So my sweet friend, noticing me a little discouraged, suggested a visit to my little Jo. We hadn’t been to the graveyard to see her since we moved, and I was feeling it. After our tea we bought her the prettiest little pot of flowers we could find, did some therapeutic window shopping, and got take-out to go have a picnic with her. 

  

I told my friend, as we sat with my little daughter, sleeping beneath her flowers, about a poem I had written shortly before she was stillborn, back in those innocent days when I had no idea what was going to happen. It was called “Mama’s waiting to hold you.” Of course it hurts to read it. But there’s a kind of prayer at the end, which I do feel was answered, just in a radically different way than I expected. I ask that my daughter be blessed, and through her for God to bless the world. 

You could say, “How awful, how ironic…” but I don’t think of it this way. I feel she is very blessed…very safe, happy, free from any sadness or danger…that she is glowing like a little jewel in the Heavens, and so fully her little sweet self. And I know that she has brought many blessings, and continues to touch many lives. She continually transforms me, and helps my heart to grow. 

It is hard not to have her with me in my arms. But …

There are no shadows

Without the sun,

No darkness of the cross falling upon my soul

Without the brilliance of glory

Shining behind it,

Awaiting me

With hidden brightness…



There is mystery. There is sorrow. There is hope. I cannot explain it. I can only embrace it, and do so strengthened by the love of those people willing to share this journey with me. To all who do so, thank you. 

Wounded Heart

God’s heart broke open 
when we chose to leave it,
bursting through walls of warmth
meant to nurture,
but misperceived as barriers to freedom. 

Out here in the windswept world
where many wander alone,
each their own god
confusedly crashing into each other,
our hearts are often wounded 
—and burst open— 
red mouths gaping with sorrow.

Who can understand our pain?
Who can heal our shattered souls?
Is there one who has suffered like us,
and survived? Yet more…has triumphed?

Go to Him.

His heart is open still
yearning with the vulnerable expectation of love…
Will you have the humble courage 
to enter? 

  

A Quiet Remebrance Day

  

This year we had a quiet day at home and missed the parade as our newest recruit is only 9 days old, and I wasn’t up to marching anywhere yet. Instead we read some articles about Remembrance Day, such a the D-day memories of a 90 year old veteran, who joined up at age 15. We also read the fictional journal entries of a young British WW1 soldier as he joined up and experienced his first months in the trenches, followed by losing his leg and his close friend, Private Harry, and travelling back home to share the news to Harry’s mother. 

In both things we read, there was the contrast between the young idealistic hopes of a short, heroic experience of war, and the reality of a long, painful and ugly struggle.  The kids felt sad for these young soldiers, and my five year old declared quite a few times that she did not want to go to war, and that we would never let our new baby boy do so!

 

We talked about the generosity of these men who were willing to give up their lives to protect others, and how grateful we should be to them. In the past we have visited the war monuments in the graveyard, and taken time to discuss the sadness of war and to pray for the soldiers and their families. I remember being very moved by the tombstone of a very young soldier who died serving in the bicycle brigade. Imagine…so vulnerable! 

 

366 days ago I wrote a draft of a post entitled “We Lost the Littlest Soldier.” Remebrance Day last year was only 42 days after I lost Josephine in labour, so my pain was very raw, and I was still bumping into neighbourhood acquaintances who innocently asked me that horrible question, “Where’s the new baby?” Tears came easily at the Remebrance Day Ceremonies that year.  

 

No matter how old our children are when we lose them, they are still our babies. My heart goes out to all parents who have lost their children to war. My you be strengthened by the memory of their courage, and by the sure hope of seeing them again, in the land beyond pain, beyond suffering, beyond anything but peace and the knowledge that we are all, no matter where we come from, precious children of God.  

 

A Letter to Heaven

  
Dear Little Jo,

Tomorrow is a big day for Mummy. Your little brother is going to be born. We are going to coax him out into the world three weeks early, in hopes that he can be safe. In hopes that things will go differently than last time. He kicks and wiggles hello to you, his big sister in Heaven. 

Know, my dear one, that you are very much in my heart right now, as ever. Your little brother is, as a friend told me today, one of your many gifts to me. So I thank you for constantly making my life richer, deeper and more exquisitely beautiful. How much I love you!

After losing you in labour last time, I am afraid. When I think about how I couldn’t save you, I tremble. I want to cry. I want to hide my head in my blankets and not come out. But I know there is a greater, deeper plan than the one I can understand. I know you are safe and beautiful and loved. That you always will be. 

And I want you to know, my little sweetheart, that no matter how much time passes, you will always be my special baby, even when you have grown wise beyond your brief time on earth by so much time spent in Heaven, that timeless place of Love, where I hope to join you one day. 

Save me a huge hug and so many kisses, and tomorrow shower us with the grace of your perfect little prayers, as your brother makes his epic journey into this world. I know that we are wrapped in the wings of angels, and lifted up by the strength of so many heartfelt prayers. 

I pray that our new little one may, above all, become like his sister, a saint—a sweet beacon of love for the world. 

All my heart’s embraces,

Your Mummy

The Feast of All Saints

Nesting, nesting, 1, 2, 3…

 
It’s nesting time in the Eastland household, with less than a week to go until baby! I’m really happy to report that I’ve been able to do some of the normal things to prepare for baby…and that I’m actually feeling generally ok. After losing little Josephine in labour last time, I haven’t been able to even let myself imagine this baby too much…but I’m starting to! I think the prayers of loved ones have lifted some weight from my shoulders, and I’ve managed to do a bunch of things on my baby preparation list:

1. Stock up the house with groceries. My dear friend Cheryl watched the kids for me (and cleaned the kitchen!) while her husband took me grocery shopping. He kindly put up with my crazy preganancy shop and helped me fill two enormous carts of groceries, and bring them all home after. They just had their own rainbow baby a few months ago, and wanted to do something concrete to help support me as I prepare for mine. Doing this normal pre-baby thing made me feel more calm and optimistic.

2. Clean the house. I know it sounds like a funny thing to do so far ahead, when my house is a constantly evolving circus of art projects, blanket forts, and imaginary castles, but what I mean is that I stayed home from mom’s group to help my paid cleaners do a little extra…pull out the beds to vacuum and mop underneath, replace light bulbs, dust the window ledges and lamps etc. Many dust bunnies and long lost objects were found!

3. Pack the hospital bag. This was a big one. It meant acknowledging that this baby is coming for real. And soon. That it’s not all a dream, and that I’m actually going to need his little outfits to come home in this time. That I will get to use my nursing cover this time…that there will be a baby who suckles and cries instead of being silent. The fact that I could prepare the hospital bag without getting upset was for me a surprise and a tiny miracle. 

4. Get out the newborn clothes and diapers. This was also a biggie. I’m really happy that I actually enjoyed sorting through the little boy clothes, and filling the drawer with cute things for 0-3 months. “Why did you do it, Mum?” my 9 year old asked me, “We might not need the newborn diapers. We might get two saints.” “I know honey, that’s true, but I’m hoping for the best. And didn’t open the package of diapers, so we could always give them away if we had to.”  Gotta love the brutal honesty of children. My 5 year old told me cheerfully, “After the baby comes, we will have a party at Holy Family, right? Either a baptism or a funeral?”  “Yes.” My four year old was sweet at bedtime prayers…”I pray baby brother will come out and snuggle us and suck on my finger.” She knows what babies like!

5. Order new homeschool supplies. I thought it would be a good idea to order some new books now, so that a few weeks after that baby comes, fun parcels will arrive in the mail, and the kids will be excited to read new books and work on new workbooks…even if Mummy is still generally horizontal with baby!

But the icing on this layer cake of baby nesting activities was certainly a special pre-baby party my awesome friend Kate organized for me last Saturday, called a blessingway. Rather than a big early birthday party with tons of baby gifts and funny games, this was a beautiful evening of good company, nice food, emotional support and special prayers for baby’s safe arrival.

I got spoiled with beautiful flowers, as Kate had the idea everyone should bring some at reminded them of me. Most were gorgeous coppery red ones, rather like my hair and glasses…cheerful gerberas and  feathery tulips, but also a poignant white rose from my friend and midwife Terry-Lyn, and a white and greenish bouquet from Kate…with cabbages in it for her veggie friend!  

Fancy chocolate, nice coffee, cosy slippers, homemade lavender bath salts, a cosy homemade crocheted blanket for baby, and generous gift cards also arrived with sweet cards full of encouraging words. This beautiful quote was in Terry-Lyn’s card: 

It’s not just the making of babies, but the making of mothers that midwives see as the miracle of birth.

Barbara Kate Rothman

Can you see why I love my midwives so much? I even wrote a piece for the anthology Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood about midwives and the mystery of motherhood.

There was also a special appearance by my dear old friend Fr. McDonnell, whom I’ve known for nearly 15 years. We used to go to Tim Hortons and Boston pizza together to chat with friends after Mass and compline evening prayers when he was still ‘just’ Brian. It’s so lovely to have him back in town again as one of our parish priests. He made everyone laugh by showing them old pictures of nearly teenage me on his phone. “She never changes,” he said sweetly. 

Fr. McDonnell came to give me the beautiful blessing for a safe labour, and to bless the candles and holy cards of St. Gerard that everyone would take home to light and pray for me these coming days. It is a comforting thing to have special traditions for expectant mothers, and to even have a patron saint for them.   

Thank you to everyone who has helped me prepare for baby so far, and who is holding me close in prayer as the big day approaches. Because of my usual late pregnancy liver condition, colistasis,  we plan to deliver three weeks early, on November 2nd. This is safer for the baby, as this condition has a slight correlation with stillbirth which increases as time goes on. Happily in an ultrasound a few weeks ago, the cord was no where near the baby’s neck like last time, so that is at least a huge relief.    Starting this Friday, the midwives will do stuff to get things going, like a stretch and sweep, and on Monday morning I’ll be downing a charming labour cocktail of protein smoothie with castor oil, and which has always worked in the past to get babies out. Then another sweep. If baby needs more coaxing to come out, my OB goes on call Monday night so she will do the rest. 

Sorry for the rather long update…but I finally found some quiet moments, deep in the night, with only my iPad and heartburn for company, so I thought I’d seize the chance to write before there is a little nocturnal creature wiggling in my arms! Less than a week to go!

Happy 1st Birthday in Heaven, Josephine!

  
Yesterday, September 30th, we celebrated the one year anniversary of my baby girl’s entrance into Heaven, on the day she was born. I thought it would be better to face the day in a spirit of celebration, as much as possible, rather than letting it pass by us acknowledged, quietly and painfully. 

The kids were totally excited, because a birthday is a birthday, and there will be cake. We had a potluck lunch, after gathering in the graveyard to pray and bring flowers, and my awesome friend Kate made the cake. And Thai Chicken Soup for dinner (so I wouldn’t have to cook), which my kids declared the best soup ever!

My husband James took the morning off so we could go to Mass together…and had the sweet idea of bringing along Josephine’s photo…Daddy’s affectionate heart…I entrusted the day to Our Lady, as I had entrusted her with Josephine, that she could cover her with kisses until I arrive to take over the job. 


A few days before the birthday, my 7 year old daughter was walking home holding hands with her toddler brother when I overheard this:

It’s almost Josephine’s birthday! And you’re invited!

Oh, birthday!

And there will be cake!

Mm, take!

And later, when we all get to Heaven, we will play with Josephine! She’s your little sister, and we will be all together. 

My five year old piped up, “And it’s ok if she is still small, and I’m bigger, because then I’ll be able to hold her better.” 

 

Just as at her funeral Mass and burial, we had many people come, and I think this meant a lot to the kids, to have their little sister honoured like this, and celebrated by people who only ever knew her while she was still kicking in my belly. A few kids made her cards, to go in her memory folder, and one gave a special rock. Never underestimate the value of a special smooth rock, given by a child. Such things are treasures. 

  

Once everyone arrived for lunch, we counted 24 kids at her birthday, not including babies, so it was likely closer to 30. Happily it was a gorgeous fall day, perfect for a picnic lunch outside. My friend Tajsha made the kids’ day by bringing hot chocolate mix and mini-marshmallows. Celebrating in style!

We moms enjoyed coffee and sitting chatting outside by the garden while the kids played. I was very happy for all the company and support of my dear and thoughtful friends in this day. I was surrounded by love, food and prayers, and all these things cushioned my heart so I can honestly say it was a beautiful day. Thank you to everyone who made it special. I’m sure Josephine is happy her family has so many good friends, and will sparkle a little stardust your way, if you ask her. 

What it’s like to be pregnant after losing a baby.

  
I’ve been keeping this sitting in my heart for a while, so you could say this post has been a long time in coming. As you can guess from the title, for those of you who don’t already know, I am expecting a baby this November, after having lost my little Josephine in labour last September 30th. It is hard. Beautiful but hard. 

I’m normally one to be on the phone with mom buddies the second the little plus sign shows up on the pregnancy test, but this time I’ve been much more hesitant to talk about things. My usual excitement has been tempered by the confusing feelings of having lost my last child, and not knowing how to experience a simple, trusting hope that everything will be fine. 

I do hope and trust, but in a more complex and nuanced way. Not in the way of thinking things will always turn out how I want them to. But hoping in a plan that’s bigger than mine, a vision far wiser and more encompassing than mine. In a love stronger than death, knowing that no matter what, I can never truly be separated from my babies. 

Sometimes children are so wise. My five year old told me, “Don’t worry, Mummy. Either the new baby will come be with us, or will go be with Josephine in Heaven. So it’s ok.” What strength and clarity of vision!

It is hard to take this risk again—the risk that I might not see my baby smile or breathe until I meet him in Heaven—but it is a way of affirming that I am still alive, still have hope, still believe in goodness in a world where hard things also happen. Besides, the only way to ensure my heart could never be broken again would be to stop it pumping, but risking brokenness is essential to being open to life and to love. It’s part of the fragile thing called being human. 

Several of my close friends have lost babies and have been able to have one after. Those babies are a beacon of hope for me. I rejoice in each one of them. I realize they are miracle and a free a gift, rather than a right. We think we have so many rights, but we forget that people can only come to us as gift, in the freedom of love. 

I also rejoice in the children I do have, just seeing them running around full of life, dancing and laughing, and I think to myself, “They made it. That incredible journey…like little travellers from a far off planet, they made it through the epic journey of the few inches from womb to world, and arrived home.”

So as November approaches, please keep me in your prayers. Especially my little one, that he may arrive safely into his mama’s arms, and that this time, my tears will be of joy. And for all of you who are in the same boat, know my heartfelt prayers are with you as well.