Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve 2008

Dh & I got back from my parents' on Sunday night (that is, MIDNIGHT -- our flight was 1.5 hours late & the luggage took half an hour to arrive... ARGH...). The week at home that seemed to stretch in front of me with infinite possibilities is now flying by at warp speed. Ack... slow down!!!

We had a pretty good time, overall. It was bitterly cold when we first arrived (like, the low -20Cs, with windchill factors in the neighbourhood of -35C), so we barely left the house all week, but that was fine with me, lol. I read the next Barren B*tches Book Brigade selection as well as the new Vicky Bliss mystery by Elizabeth Peters (a favourite author of mine & my sister's since high school) and am currently about halfway through Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father.

My parents' neighbours had their first grandchild (grandson) visiting so my mom, sister & I went over for the obligatory visit. He is seven months old & a very good baby. I held him for awhile & felt a brief pang looking at that downy head & the crinkle in his ears, thinking, "I will never have this for myself." But I managed to keep my emotions in check.

The only time I cracked, briefly, was at Christmas Eve service at my mother's church. The service traditionally ends with the dimming of the lights, the lighting of candles held by the congregants, and the singing of "Silent Night." I thought of my Katie, of my grandparents, dead these 10 years, and of all my real-life and cyberspace friends who have struggled (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to bring their own babies into this world, and I had to stop singing and hand my candle to dh while I fumbled in my pocket for some Kleenex.

I feel a certain relief in letting 2008 go. It wasn't a bad year by any means, but getting past that 10-year mark was an enormous burden off my shoulders in some ways. The anniversary cycles will continue to come & go, of course, but they won't be vested with that special weight that a year ending in 5 or 0 seems to bring.

Some of the things that made 2008 difficult:
  • reaching the big 10 year mark since my roller-coaster pregnancy & the stillbirth of Katie (& the death of my beloved grandfather).
  • the closing of the first Childless Living board I joined, which helped me so much in those early days after stopping treatment.
  • surviving several pregnancies around me, including my co-worker's, as well as unexpected pregnancies from the (40-something) wives of dh's cousin & stepbrother.
  • another year of getting older, & various health-related concerns (most of them, however, thankfully, not serious).
  • not enough vacation time (or so it seemed...!).
  • the big stock market crash & all the economic uncertainty.
  • a Canadian federal election that looks like it may be repeated early in the new year.
  • constantly feeling disorganized & that there's never enough time to do everything that I need & want to do (how do mothers of small children do it??!).
Some of the things that made 2008 good &/or memorable:
  • one full year of blogging, & all the new friends I've made.
  • finishing two more scrapbooks for my nephews.
  • meeting a new cousin, who's just as crazy about genealogy as I am.
  • (finally) getting to see & touch my great-great-grandmother's letters, & donating them to the county museum.
  • spending a weekend with our friends in their new home in September (note to self: must schedule more weekend getaways more often in 2009...)
  • spending a week with my Mom in October & seeing "Jersey Boys."
  • following the U.S. election (far more exciting than ours!), & staying up late to watch the historic results on election night.
Dh & I went out for an early dinner & are settled in here at home for the evening (& hoping to stay awake until midnight...!).
Whatever 2008 was like for you, I hope 2009 only gets better!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A horror movie (in more ways than one...)

Has anybody else seen the trailer for this upcoming horror (in more ways than one) movie (which is currently being played ad nauseum on the Comedy Network my husband constantly watches)?? (And why do they show so many horror movie ads on the COMEDY channel anyway??)

(I'm not going to link to the trailer here, although it's easily found via Google.)

Is anybody else as utterly repulsed as I am?

Cripes, no wonder people find the whole topic of pregnancy loss so scary, with GARBAGE like this stirring the pot. :(

My beautiful stillborn daughter deserves better than this.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Dear Sweetheart"

Saturday morning, getting ready to head to the airport, I came down for breakfast & dh had The Globe & Mail sitting on the kitchen table.

I saw the banner on the front page -- the photo of a yellowed telegram -- & whimpered a soft, "Oh nooooo."

Over the past few months, the Globe has been running a series called, "Dear Sweetheart: Letters home from a soldier" -- a wonderful collection of letters home during the Second World War, written by a Toronto soldier named David K. Hazzard to his wife, Audrey, & two daughters, Anne & Karen. Every letter began "Dear Sweetheart;" every one ended, "P.S. I love you." David wrote vivid descriptions of training camp, life in England, and then being sent to France as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Saturday's story was the end. David was killed shortly after he arrived in France on July 5, 1944.

I don't know why I -- who should know better than anyone that stories don't always have a happy ending -- was so shocked. Somehow, I just assumed he made it back home & lived to a ripe old age.

Along with his final letter, there was a feature story, an epilogue, with photos, about what happened to David's family, titled, "'He never left my mother. Ever. Ever.'" Audrey lived to be 90 & died in 2004. Anne & Karen, now in their 70s, recently made the trip to France to scatter some of their mother's ashes on their father's grave, with a Globe photographer present. As far as they can recall, she only went on two dates after their father's death, and only many years later. "She said, ‘If you have found the best, why bother?” Karen remembers."

“She made a good life,” says Anne, on a July afternoon, poring over old pictures with her sister in the basement of her Pickering home.

“It just wasn't the life she wanted,” Karen adds.

My loss was so very different from Audrey's. But boy, can I can relate. What a perfect description.

It's a sad, but wonderful story. Go read it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas ghosts that haunt me (past, present, future, never)

My mother once said something, when we were talking about trying to get time off for Christmas, that struck me. She didn't say it in these words, but this was the implication, & the meaning I took from what she had to say:

Perhaps a family like mine -- where there are now just the six of us (my parents, me & my sister, her longtime boyfriend/partner & my dh), where I grew up without a large extended family close by to celebrate with, where there are no grandchildren on whom to focus the celebration now (and never will be), and the grandparents who used to be with us every single year for Christmas are with us no longer -- perhaps a family like mine needs all hands on deck, even more so than families where there's always an abundance of people underfoot.

Yes, it's great when the whole family can get together, regardless of size. And I know that the day comes for every family when certain key members are not going to be around -- because of work or the kids getting sick or inlaw obligations. Or death. And most families come to terms with that, & accept it.

But when there's only a very small group of people to begin with… and you've managed to spend every Christmas together thus far… I think it hits that much harder when someone isn't able to be there. Especially after a loss, when you know they're not going to be there, ever again. There's just not as big a pool of people around to fall back on for support.

I know that last year, when my sister unexpectedly wasn't able to come home on Christmas Eve for the first time ever, was a bit of a revelation for me. Yes, we don't have any little kids running around at Christmastime -- but we haven't for a very long time. (Even the neighbours' daughter, who still comes over ever year at Christmastime, is now almost 24!). Things have been more or less the same for so very many years, it's easy to sort of lull ourselves & fall back on old roles & traditions. But when someone who's been part of that tradition for so long is no longer there -- my grandparents and, last year, my sister -- it's a real jolt to the system.

Last year, I wrote about one of those revelatory moments, a year or two after my grandparents had gone:

…. we were all sitting down to Christmas dinner, and my father went to get the camera to take a group shot of us seated around the table, as he often had in years past. He stood there looking through the viewfinder and as we all looked back at him, a strange thing happened. He set the camera down without taking the picture, turned and went down the stairs to the basement family room. Everyone looked blankly at each other. My mother got up and followed him down the stairs, and I bowed my head & struggled to hold back the tears. I knew exactly why he had to put down that camera & hide the emotions that had hit him unexpectedly. Instead of growing, our family was actually shrinking -- so many people we loved just weren't there anymore (or, like my daughter, never made it there to begin with) -- and I knew instinctively that he had realized that as he looked through the lens of that camera.

After a few minutes, he came upstairs & took the picture. I love looking at pictures, but this one gives me pain to see. None of us are smiling in it.
My parents, now 67 & 69, are still relatively young… but they are growing older (along with the rest of us). Someday, I know, the dinner table will become smaller still -- until perhaps it's just my sister & me and our respective partners left.

And then what? That's the part I don't like to think about. I dreamed about bringing my children home to my family for Christmas, & passing along our family traditions to them. And it's hurt to watch that dream evaporate.

But it was still just a dream. It never became a reality. I hurt for that unrealized dream. But I still take great pleasure in Christmas as it is right now. When all things are considered, the present is not a bad place to be.

What I love about Christmas present is that it's (still, for now) so firmly rooted in the past -- in who I am, and what my family is about. Christmas has always been the one holiday that was about me and my family's traditions. When I married dh, I left behind my Ukrainian-Canadian/Irish-Swedish-American family and my Prairie roots, and moved to the big city and into his family's welcoming but unfamiliar Italian culture. I told dh then that, since we were living in the same general area as his extended family, they could see us anytime they liked during the year. Christmas has always been important to me & my family, & I wanted to go "home" for Christmas.

He agreed, and that's what we've done for the past 23 years. Our traditions have evolved over the years, of course, and as I said, we've had to adjust, as we moved from town to town & my grandparents grew older & then passed away. But I love the overall continuity of my family's Christmas celebrations, of the rootedness I feel when I'm with them at this time of year. And I dread the erosion, and possible eventual disappearance, of those traditions.

There were big chunks of my Christmas experience that dropped away after we lost Katie & my grandparents died. We adjusted -- but I dread the adjustments that I know will come in the years further down the road. What will I/we do when my parents are no longer here, & it comes down to just me & dh, & my sister & her partner? Will we still try to spend the holidays together? Will dh & I stay here, & try to wangle an invitation to be part of his brother's family's celebrations? I dread the thought of people (once again) feeling sorry for us, & extending invitations to us out of pity.

On other holidays during the year -- Easter, Thanksgiving, etc. -- dh & I are often at loose ends. My MIL died before I ever met her, & the holidays have not been the same for dh & his brother since then. FIL often winds up spending holidays with stepMIL's extended family, and BIL with SIL's -- leaving dh & me at loose ends. Sometimes, we'll get invitations to join FIL at one of stepMIL's relatives' homes, or to go to BIL's to celebrate with SIL's family. Sometimes we accept, more often than not we don't. They are all very nice people, but they are not OUR family.

Is this the shape of Christmases yet to come?

*** *** ***

For now, I will head home to my family for the holidays with an appreciative heart, & count my blessings while they still abound. This morning started out cr@ppily -- 10 cm (about 4 inches) of snow overnight, which wreaked havoc with the commuter train schedules. Which normally wouldn't be such a bad thing, but we had 8 a.m. dentist appointments, & wound up being half an hour late. My dh HATES to be late (or to be kept waiting himself) for anything, & so was in a lovely mood all the way there.

And then I got into the office -- & saw my family doctor's name on the call display of my phone. I just about had a heart attack. I went for my annual mammogram on Monday, & was told they would call my dr with the results within a week or so (which is par for the course). I figured a call just two days later could only mean one thing -- something was wrong. I started hyperventilating & my fingers were trembling as I dialled into my voice mail… only to hear the receptionist's cheery voice telling me the mammogram was NORMAL. Which is spelled R-E-L-I-E-F, lol.

After that, my morning continued to brighten:

  • Dh apologized for the morning, & has been sucking up to me ever since. : )
  • We had coffee together this afternoon, a rare treat during a busy workday (we work in the same office tower & usually commute to & from work together, but rarely see each other during the day).
  • Someone sent us a box of Laura Secord chocolates at the office, & I got to eat both the chocolate-covered cherries as well as the maple creams. : )
  • The cafeteria was serving its annual holiday turkey dinner today, complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatos, gravy, vegetables, buns, cranberry sauce, a little cup full of candy & nuts, and your choice of dessert & beverage -- all for $7.75. (Granted, it's not Mom's -- but it will do until I get there, lol.)
  • I went to a noon hour concert in the concourse by The Barra MacNeills, a Celtic-flavoured musical group of siblings from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. It was mostly Christmas music, including a high-spirited rendition of "Christmas in Killarney," some step-dancing, beautiful harmonies, an audience singalong to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and an achingly beautiful version of "O Holy Night" that gave me goosebumps & brought tears to my eyes. (I love Celtic/East Coast music. I grew up on the Prairies but, with only one television channel -- the CBC -- watched a LOT of Don Messer's Jubilee, Singalong Jubilee, The Irish Rovers, John Allen Cameron, etc.)
  • I have 1 & 1/2 days left to work before vacation (part of which will be spent at home with my family, the rest around the house).
  • The weather forecast is calling for more snow on Friday & Sunday -- but Saturday is supposed to be clear & good travelling weather. Fingers crossed!!
Who knows what the future will bring? But for now, life is (mostly) pretty damned good. As one of the songs at today's concert went, "Now's the time to have good cheer/ Pass the punchbowl round the table/Christmas comes but once a year." (Or something along those lines. You get the idea.) ; )
Merry Christmas to all of you out there in blogland. I will be checking in from my parents' house (although I may be fighting for computer time with my sister, her partner & my dh, not to mention my parents!).

Article: "Merry Christmas, you're working"

The Globe & Mail had a story earlier this week about working at Christmas… and how the burden of covering shifts always seems to fall on people without kids. The focus was mostly on singles, but does also mention childless/free people. Here's the story (since the links will likely expire soon) -- my comments are below.

*** *** ***

Holiday Survival Guide
Merry Christmas, you're working

From Monday's Globe and Mail
December 15, 2008 at 4:10 AM EST

For the third year in a row, Lyndsay Morrison won't be eating turkey dinner or gathering round the tree on Christmas Day.

Instead, she will be sitting at a desk, writing script for The Weather Network so Christmas travellers are wise to dangers such as snow squalls and freezing rain.

Since the weather doesn't halt for the holidays, somebody needs to work. And it's rarely those with kids.

"They give us some holidays and assume we'll be working them," says the 21-year-old part-time news writer.

New to the industry, Ms. Morrison says she doesn't complain about working holidays. Still, Christmas is but once a year and sometimes she would rather get time off than automatically see her name on the schedule.

"It gets to a point where you kind of feel like you've paid your dues a little bit and you would like some time," she says.

Young people, singles and employees without kids often feel an expectation to remain glued to their desk once the holidays roll around, partly because bosses think employees with kids have more important commitments, experts say.

And while many singles such as Ms. Morrison say they don't mind filling in for colleagues now and again, some think it's unjust when the boss schedules them without a second thought.

In its most extreme form, one can call it "singlism," a term coined by University of California psychologist Bella DePaulo. Family status routinely plays into some bosses' decisions for who gets a holiday and who stays at work, says Prof. DePaulo, the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

"Co-workers and bosses say, 'Oh you can cover. What do you have to do on the holidays?' " she says. "I think that's totally inappropriate even if it were true. It has nothing to do with your work."

In the Winnipeg family restaurant where Joanne Evans has worked every Christmas for four years, it's often new employees who, when hired, say their schedules are wide open but then scramble to get out of holiday shifts claiming they need to be with their families.

"They do need people to take certain shifts and it elicits guilt if [you're single and] don't take the shifts," the 22-year-old says. "I think it would be more fair if it was on seniority, something you could sort of work toward or earn, not based on family status."

So if you would rather spend Boxing Day scouring the mall for sales or watching a marathon of holiday movies, you shouldn't keep quiet and work through the holiday if you think it's unjust, Prof. DePaulo says.

You can get out of it, she says, by appealing to your boss's sense of fairness and negotiating for holidays off.

Sometimes simply expressing your side is enough, but take care to acknowledge your boss's scheduling dilemma, says Laurie Barclay, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

"I think people have to remember a lot of the times their bosses aren't trying to be mean or pick on them unfairly and they have to pick somebody to work," she says.

It also helps to be vocal about the other people you plan to spend holidays with, says Laurie Lisle, author of Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness.

"People without children need to explain what their lives are like and have pride in them and talk about the kinds of relationships they have," she says. "They need to think they're valued and not be intimidated at Christmastime [because] it's so family focused."

But that doesn't work for everybody.

One human resources professional in Toronto, who didn't want her name used for fear of company repercussions, occasionally mentioned visits from extended members of her family in front of her bosses, but to no avail.

The until-recently single 42-year-old worked every Christmas for 15 years because, unlike her colleagues, she didn't have stockings to fill and a turkey to stuff. She finally just booked the time and offered no explanation.

"I just kind of hit a point where I said, 'I don't have kids, I don't have a husband, I barely even have a household to manage, but you know what? I'm taking three weeks at Christmas,' " she says.

And liars beware: If you tell the boss you're going to church, then skip it to get sloshed on eggnog with your buddies, your dishonesty may catch up with you, warns Blaine Donais of the Toronto-based Workplace Fairness Institute.

"Lying is something that can get you fired and keep you fired," he says.

If your boss is being really unfair, Mr. Donais suggests talking to a union representative or visiting the human resources department. Discrimination against family status is included in the Ontario Human Rights Code and codes in other provinces.

Though working through Christmas may be kind of a drag, Ms. Morrison is grateful she will get to ring in the New Year with her friends and not the weather anchor.

She also keeps things in perspective by putting herself in the shoes of those with children at home.

"I can't imagine working Christmas when I have kids," she says. "No way."

*** *** ***

You may also want to read some of the comments.

*** *** ***

Let me start by saying that I feel very fortunate: in the 22+ years I've worked for this company, I've always been able to take at least a few days off & fly home to be with my family at Christmastime. (Disclosure: our office is closed on both Christmas Day & Boxing Day, and most people are allowed to leave early on both Christmas & New Years Eves.) There were some years that I didn't get an answer to my request right away, as the higher-ups wanted to ensure there was adequate "coverage" over Christmas week (even though very little usually happens around the office then). For a long (long!) time, most of the people in my immediate work group were childless, which perhaps levelled the playing field somewhat. Also, most of them have most of their families close by and don't have to take extra time to travel, as I do. At any rate, I am thankful that my bosses have been so accommodating. I know that many others are not so lucky.

At the same time, I've often worked on the Friday before a long weekend when it seemed like everyone else had left to get an early start, or on the Monday when Canada Day fell on a Tuesday, etc., while others enjoyed an extra-long weekend at their cottage. I find that these things generally even out in the wash, so to speak, & there's generally no need to keep a scorecard, so long as people try to accommodate each other & don't totally abuse the flexibility.

Flexibility is the key word. When my company introduced a formal "flexible work arrangements" policy in the mid-1900s, I interviewed several people about it for the staff magazine. One of the women I interviewed worked a compressed week -- longer hours four days a week so that she could take the fifth day off. I asked her about her motivation to pursue such an arrangement, & what she did with her time off.

Most people mentioned spending more time with their children. She told me she didn't have children -- she liked to use her days off to go to the theatre and work on the novel she was writing -- but she didn't believe that being childless meant she shouldn't ask for a flexible arrangement. Officially, people asking for such an arrangement are not obliged to disclose WHY they want one, and it is not supposed to be a factor in evaluating the proposal. Employees only have to explain how it will benefit the company (or, at least, not be disruptive) & how the work will still get done.

Still, she noted, there was an assumption among most employees that children were the only "legitimate" reason for asking for flexibility or for time off, & she wanted to dispel that notion. "If you have an interest you would like to pursue, or you need that extra tie to yourself, why not? Your needs are important too," she pointed out to me.

I was still in the early stages of ttc (loss & infertility were still in the future), & never dreamed her words would someday apply to me, but they have stuck with me. Why not indeed? It seems fair enough.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Post #200! Show & Tell: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

The countdown is well underway! The number of days until my vacation begins have happily dwindled into the single digits. And I'm starting to feel the Christmas spirit envelop me.

It started last weekend when we put up our Katie tree... ummm, Christmas tree -- covered as it is with reminders of Katie's ongoing presence in our lives (spiritually if not physically).

It continued with our support group's holiday memorial candlelighting service this past Tuesday night.

And it really kicked in yesterday, when we headed to BIL's house to celebrate our oldest nephew's 20th (!!gulp!! -- yes, I said, TWENTIETH!!) birthday. His birthday is actually Monday, but he has to work that night, so he was going with his friends later Saturday night to celebrate (& Lord knows what time they wound up coming home...)... but still... I love that he still makes time to have cake with his family & let us fuss over him & tell him for umpteenth time about how very cold it was the day he was born, & how we rushed over to the hospital to see him... how the nurse held him up in the nursery window (the practice of keeping babies in the rooms with their mothers hadn't yet been adopted at that hospital) and he opened his eyes & looked at dh & me as if to say, "Who are these people & why are they waking me up from my nice nap?" lol

For dh & I, his birthday is always bittersweet. We are so very proud of him and his brother, and yet seeing them grow up (so quickly!) into such wonderful young men makes us feel the swift passing of the years, and the loss of our own little girl, very keenly.

Nephew's birthday in December 1998, his 10th, was supposed to have been Katie's first big outing, or so we had imagined... dressed up in a velvet holiday dress, underneath her snowsuit, sitting in her carseat in the back of the car, sharing the limelight with her cousin. For the first year or so, after she was gone, whenever we were in the car, I often felt that if I could just turn around fast enough, I'd see her there, in her car seat, smiling back at me. Last night, I found myself reflexively looking back, as we pulled out of the driveway, en route to FIL's to pick him & stepMIL up -- but there was only the pile of presents.

Today, we went to the cemetery (as we usually do on a Sunday afternoon), for what will probably be the last time before we head westward to my family for Christmas. Last week, we tried to change the decorations on Katie's niche from a fall theme to Christmasy stuff... but the weather was so cold that the fall floral pick in her niche vase was frozen solid. The weather was milder this weekend, so we tried again & this time succeeded -- replacing the fall flowers with a Christmas pick, all greenery & glittery gold embellishments, a tiny red felt Christmas stocking, and a little red sled ornament with her name on it.

Now the holidays can really begin!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Light a candle

I went downstairs into the basement last night, as the water was running upstairs. I was standing near the hot water heater as it kicked in… and I smelled gas.

I froze. I sniffed, & sniffed some more. Went upstairs, went back down, & sniffed again. The smell was gone.

Brought dh downstairs. He couldn't smell anything. But still… better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to gas. We knew we had to have it looked at. Sooner, rather than later.
But… it was already past 5:30, & we were due at our support group's annual memorial candlelighting at 7:30. (We've only missed two in the last 10 years, I think -- one very early on, the first or second year we attended group, and two year ago, when the date coincided with the retirement party for my office best friend & coworker of 16 years.) Many of our friends, current and former clients were going to be there, some we hadn't seen in awhile, and we had been so looking forward to it.

With fear, trepidation & some reluctance, I made the call to the gas company at 5:40. The customer service rep told me to open some windows, & not to turn on any (more) lights, appliances, or anything that might cause a spark (including the telephone)(!), and someone would be there "as soon as possible" to check things out.

I pulled on my coat, hat & boots, grabbed my cellphone & went outside into the frigid (-5C) night air to stand at the end of our driveway and call our co-facilitator. (And wondered what the neighbours might be thinking…!) Told her we likely weren't going to be able to make it & why, & would she light a candle for Katie on our behalf? She said of course.

He finally showed up at 6:45. I described what I had noticed to him. "Oh, that's normal," he said. "The hot water heater is open at the bottom, so when the gas comes on, it sometimes sends up a little *poof* but then it dissipates."

I felt a little foolish (who knew??)(I hadn't noticed it before, in the 18+ years we've lived in this house… but then again, I don't spend a lot of time in the furnace room…!), but I showed him downstairs. He applied a soap & water solution to all the piping joints (on the furnace too for good measure, even though we just had it serviced last month), to see whether any bubbles formed (bubbles = leak) & took a reading for both natural gas and carbon monoxide. All was well. He was out of the house again by 7.

Dh turned to me with a grin. "If we hurry," he said, "we can probably still make it for coffee." We threw some leftovers into the microwave, wolfed them down, dashed upstairs to change & brush our teeth, were in the car by 7:20 & pulled up in front of the mid-city church, where the event was being held in the basement, at 7:45.

They had just started. We picked up a candle at the welcome table, crept in as quietly as we could and sat down at the end of the row where our co-facilitator sat with her two children, whom we've watched grow up in the six years since she started coming to the group after the premature loss of her baby. The expression on her 12-year-old daughter's face was priceless -- her eyes & mouth widened in surprise, & then she smiled & waved at us. It was so cute, and so touching to know that she was glad to see us.

So we got to light a candle for our Katie after all. And enjoyed coffee, goodies and good conversation with new and old friends and clients afterwards.

And I will light a candle for you.
To shatter all the darkness and bless the times we knew.
Like a beacon in the night
The flame will burn bright and guide us on our way.
Oh, today I light a candle for you.

-- "Light a Candle" by Paul Alexander

(This song is always played at our candlelighting service, just before the actual candlelighting begins. A harpist, who donates her services, plays in the background as we light our candles, place them in a holder in a wreath, and say our babies' names.)

Tell me about it...

This story from the Los Angeles Times, about how the economy is wreaking havoc with people's plans to start or expand their families, was in the news section of my home page at work.

My first-glance reaction was, "Oh, boo-friggin'-hoo, cry me a river… try coming up with $12,000 a try, even in a good economy (at odds that would probably make a Las Vegas bookie blanch)."

I'll admit I did feel a little sorry for the 39-year-old newlywed who is eager to start her family but feeling the tug of war between bank account & biological clock. And, after all, financial considerations were a prime reason why dh & I waited as long as we did before we began ttc. I respect people who actually give some thoughtful consideration to the responsibilities of parenthood and when & whether they're ready to tackle them, as opposed to those who go out, get knocked up and then wonder how they're going to swing it (recognizing, of course, that very few among us would ever describe themselves as truly "ready" for the challenges of parenthood).

But wait! Reading further down -- could it actually be? A reference to the cost of IVF, and a slowdown in business at infertility clinics? And couples postponing their plans to adopt?

Well, knock me over with a feather! They actually noticed!!

Did you watch?

Did you watch? What did you think?

I did (although I was bone tired -- I'm usually in bed by 10 p.m., & that's when this started!). I was teary in parts, but I did not break down in sobs. Having been part of a pregnancy & infant loss support group for 10 years, I've heard so many sad stories. :( It’s not that they don't move me anymore -- they do -- but I guess the overall shock value of talking about dead babies and seeing photos of them has diminished somewhat. (I still do hear stories that shock me, though!)

If I had any regrets or disappointment about the film (and it's a relatively small quibble), it would be that, while the film's website makes note of stillbirth & miscarriage, it wasn't even mentioned in the documentary itself. The focus was specifically on neonatal death -- on four families whose critically ill babies were cared for at the NICU at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The end result is the same, of course -- a couple without their baby -- although there are differences in how we get to this point.

On the one hand, these parents got to see & hold & care for their children while they were alive, however briefly. Some even got to take their babies home for awhile. Dh often tells parents like these who come to our support group that he envies them for the time they got to spend with their children.

On the other hand -- stillbirth moms & dads like us never have to make some of the awful decisions these parents do, like when to remove life support systems. The decision has already been made for us (often, we're unaware that there's a problem). We don't have to live in limbo, waiting for the other shoe that we know is almost certainly going to drop -- just not exactly when.

Having been to journalism school, however, I can remember my profs/advisors stressing the importance of finding a focus for your story -- of zooming in on the specific aspect of the topic you want to communicate -- and not trying to cram too much into one piece. And while I guess that the subject of critically ill babies -- caring for them, taking photos and hand & foot moulds of them, making impossible decisions about how long to keep up the fight and when to discontinue care -- is a shocking topic for the general public, one they really don't want to think about, it's slightly more palatable and tangible to "outsiders" (and more easily sold to programmers) than the idea of doing the same things with a baby that's already dead.

And I know we can't expect just one documentary to solve all the dead baby problems of the world. That's a pretty tall order. I am always grateful to see this subject get media exposure of just about any sort, but especially when it's handled so well.

So bravo to Sheona McDonald & CBC Newsworld for having the courage to tackle such a difficult subject, and doing it in such a sensitive way.

At the end of the broadcast, they invited viewer comments on the website. So far, they've been very positive, many of them from parents of NICU babies. (You might even see a familiar name & story in there.) ; )

In the sidebar on the Newsworld site (on the right-hand side of the page), you can link to a CBC radio interview with one of the parents featured in the film, and read an essay by Sheona McDonald. The link to the radio interview with her in the sidebar is wrong :( but I searched around the CBC site & found the right link, here. (Not sure how long these links will be valid.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tonight: "Capturing a Short Life"

I'm breaking my usual rule about not blogging at work because I'm running out of time, and I wanted to bring your attention to a documentary that will be airing on CBC Newsworld tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

From the CBC Newsworld website:

Capturing A Short Life is a beautiful and life-affirming documentary about families dealing with infant loss.

Combining verité and interview footage with still photography, this poignant documentary details the stories of families who are dealing, in an immediate sense, with the loss of a newborn baby. Capturing A Short Life portrays in a sensitive, intimate and cinematic manner, the emotional, medical and ethical choices that parents are often faced with when they are told that their baby is incompatible with life. Although this subject matter is impossibly sad, the lives and relationships that evolve, even in this context, are not.

This film follows the stories of four families as they live through, and detail, their baby's lives. Although the circumstances surrounding the births, lives and deaths of their children vary significantly, at the core of their stories there is a similar emotional resonance.

Lydia is born full term, but during labour, suffered massive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. Her family are told that she will never evolve beyond a non-responsive state. Her parents are forced to make difficult decisions about whether or not to withdraw life support and, ultimately, whether to take her off nutrition.

Emerson was born four months early, weighing less than two pounds. With each ounce he gains his parents hope that he will be able to beat the odds and survive.

Twins, Kayla and April were born healthy but, at one month old, Kayla contracted meningitis and her parents have been told she will likely become non-responsive within 48 hours.

Hailey was born with Type Two Gauchers disease, a rare genetic illness that causes extensive and progressive brain damage. The outcome of Hailey's life is inevitable, but her parents are determined to enjoy every second they have with her.

Few people are aware that in North America every year, tens of thousands of families are having to say goodbye to children they've only just met and millions more lose
babies to miscarriage or stillbirth.

When a baby dies, it is not only an infant that is lost, but a toddler, a child, a teenager and an adult. An entire life, an entire future, disappears. There will be no first birthdays, no first steps, no first report cards, no first loves.. instead there is an intense, impossible, few moments to say hello and goodbye.

Capturing A Short Life is not a film about death, it is a film about how critical it is to remember and celebrate the beautiful babies who are only with us for a moment, and how impossible it is to forget them.

Produced by director, Sheona McDonald for Dimestore Productions Inc. in association with CBC Newsworld.

As you read above, the program focuses on four families -- but the CASL website includes the stories of several more, including a mom dh & I know through our pregnancy loss support group.

I've done some Googling, hoping that perhaps some newspapers would be providing some advance publicity about the program -- sadly (but perhaps not unexpectedly, given the subject matter) not.

If you don't have access to CBC Newsworld, the CASL website includes information on how you can order a copy of the program.

Thanks to Msfitzita at Certainly Not Cool Enough to Blog for providing an early heads up about this, and to momblogger Don Mills Diva (a friend of the director) for spreading the word. I've had it on my "to do" list for some time now to blog about it closer to the air date -- & now it's here and, as usual, I'm scrambling. Par for the course, especially at this time of year...!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I guess I don't have a life...

…since I don't have kids… not according to the (Democratic) Governor of Pennsylvania, at any rate. OK, he actually was speaking about single people -- in reference to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security chief, earlier this week. But reading this column by Gail Collins in the New York Times, I found myself thinking, "They could substitute 'childless' for 'single' & the message would still hold in the eyes of many people.

I opened the comments & had to read no more than the first few to see that NYT readers picked up on the link very quickly.

Campbell Brown of CNN rightly called the Governor to task on this... however, as a childfree-by-choice blogger I sometimes read pointed out, she speaks of "mothers and single women" -- implying that married woman = mother.

I am, however, willing to cut Campbell a little slack. Does anyone else remember hearing that she was turned down as the host of the Today show a few years back when Katie Couric went to CBS (the job eventually went to Meredith Vieira) -- because (so it was rumoured) she wasn't a mom (at that time), & the network brass felt that moms (their target audience for the show) would find her too "threatening"?? (!!) NBC's loss, CNN's gain...

(I meant to post this a few days ago, but that's the kind of week I've been having...!)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Barren B*tches Book Tour: "Harriet the Spy" by Louise Fitzhugh

This round's book club selection was a children's book -- "Harriet the Spy" by Louise Fitzhugh. I enjoyed it tremendously -- much more than I did when I read it the first time around at 9 or 10 (as you'll read below). And even though it's a children's book, I found a lot that hit home & that I wanted to take note of -- my copy is fat with yellow sticky notes.

If you read Harriet the Spy as a child, what aspects of the book did you still remember? What did you totally forget?

I do remember getting Harriet from the library & reading it when I was a kid, in the early 1970s. The funny thing is, I did not remember very much about it -- except that I didn't like it very much. I don't remember why I felt that way. I remember recognizing then (& even more so now!!) just how much Harriet was like ME -- writing in her notebook all the time, wanting to be a detective (like Nancy Drew), wanting to know "everything" and feeling stifled. Prone to outbursts (especially at parents, & especially mom), being bullied at school & feeling very much the outsider. (OK, maybe I just answered my own question...!... maybe it just hit too close to home!)

Perhaps Harriet's New York City world, with her cook & her nanny & dance school lessons, was also just a little too alien for a (very) small-town/rural/ Prairie Canadian girl to relate to (& remember that kids in those days were far less exposed to the world beyond their own little town than they are today -- no Internet, for one thing -- and we only had ONE TV channel, for crying out loud...!).

I also think the picture on the cover may also have had something to do with it (and the one on my paperback version is the exact same one I remember from my childhood). With her glasses (albeit "fake" ones) & baggy clothes, she looked/s a bit schlubby. This was long before the whole Disney Princess mania took hold, but I always was a little bit of a "princess." My mother used to complain that I would never be a ghost or a witch or a hobo for Halloween -- I always had to be something "pretty," like a gypsy or an Indian princess or a Dutch girl. ; )

Reading this book reminded me about my teenage years. Those muddled years of when you know "everything" but don't really know "everything". Those years when you "hate" everyone and everything and then "love" everyone and everything. When you really become introspective to the point of often not knowing what is "really" going on around you. Harriet chose to write a lot of those feelings and observations down in her journal. Did you write a journal when you were a teenager? Have you looked back at those years (journal or not) and wondered what was going on in your brain? (I know I do!)

I have kept journals, on & off, through various times in my life, from the time I was 7 through my early years in university. Somewhere, in the depths of the closet in my old room at my parents' house, there is a cardboard box full of notebooks that I REALLY need to retrieve & bring home with me someday...! I have not looked at these old journals in years... part of me winces just thinking of what's in there (WAY too much angst -- perhaps some of it justified, but much of it over stuff that really didn't matter in the long run...!!)... although I know there is probably some really hilarious stuff in there too!

I've kept journals sporadically in the years since I got married. I think what's happened is, when I was in high school/university, I had several penpals that I wrote regularly to -- huge, long, detailed (handwritten!!) letters that sometimes were written over a period of weeks, & sometimes went on for 20, 50,100 pages!! When I was at university & feeling guilty about not writing in my journal, I realized that these letters were, in fact, a journal of sorts, & I started photocopying them & putting them in a binder.

These days, I get the same kind of release from e-mail, Internet bulletin boards, & now blogging. I keep intending to back up some of the things I've posted on boards & on my blog (& never do), just to ensure I have a record of it. The whole idea & process of journalling fascinates me -- I have all kinds of books with journalling prompts & suggestions, etc., & I've always loved reading other people's published journals (starting with Anne Frank's, as a girl). And I have a Rubbermaid bin full of beautiful blank books that I've collected over the years, just waiting to be written in...!

Obviously, this book brings up many questions on privacy and journaling. At one point, Harriet journals all day at school instead of doing her work. Has anyone worked on their journal/blog at work? And been caught? When do you blog/journal? Do you do it when you should be doing something else?

Ahem. I have never published on Blogger while at work -- until today. (I forgot today was posting day! -- fortunately, I had most of my draft written & ready to go!). Sometimes, when the inspiration for a post hits me, I will open a new e-mail, write, & then mail it to myself at home -- edit/add to it & then cut & paste it into Blogger later. I do check for comments on my blog a couple of times a day, & check in on my Google reader & comment on other people's blogs during the day -- usually first thing in the morning when I'm settling in with my tea, and later if things aren't too busy.

Back in high school, I used to write letters to my pen pals during class (no computers then, all handwritten). Somehow, though, it was much easier back then to write letters instead of paying attention in class & still get good marks. These days, there never seems to be enough time for everything that I need & want to do.

I think the only person who has objected to my blogging/journaling is dh, & it's not the blog at all that he objects to, just the fact that I'm holed up with the computer upstairs while he's in the living room with the TV. I think the next computer will be a laptop...! ; )

This book was written in 1964, when gender roles & stereotypes were much more rigid than they are today. In Chapter 4, Harriet & Janie feel the pressure to conform, to go to dancing school and be steered away from "unfeminine pursuits" -- while later in the book, Marion, Rachel, Laura & Carrie imitate their mothers by playing bridge & drinking tea in the clubhouse. I was reminded of Carol Gilligan's work on how girls' "voices" change as they become adolescents. What do you think happened to Harriet & Janie as they became teenagers? Do you think young girls today still feel similar pressures to conform?

This was my question. : ) You don't see many young girls (or mothers, for that matter) sitting around & playing bridge these days, do you? If they were 11 years old in 1964, Harriet & Janie would have graduated high school & started university in the early 1970s. They may have (reluctantly) gone to dancing class -- but I like to think they maintained their feistiness through their teenaged years.

I think both girls had too much common sense to roll around in the mud at Woodstock & take drugs ; ) -- but I think they would have been at the forefront of the political protests of the time. They would have been among the first generation to benefit from feminism at university & then in the workplace. I like to think of them fighting for change on campus & in the workplace, reading Ms magazine & working to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the mid-1970s.

After her visit to Dr. Wagner, Harriet's mother takes away her new notebook immediately, and Harriet is described as feeling empty on the ride back home. Many people, especially bloggers, seem to use writing as an outlet. What would you do if someone took this outlet away from you during a time of difficulty? How would you cope if you had no notebook?

I found it interesting/funny that Harriet objected to Dr. Wagner taking notes during their session together -- but eagerly accepted when he offered her a notebook of her own.

I have used writing as an outlet just about all my life -- through journals, letters & now the Internet -- so I find it very hard to comprehend a situation where I could not write down my thoughts, feelings & observations. Even when I am without paper & pen or a computer, I find myself composing in my head (only not to be able to remember what I wanted to say when I finally do sit down to write...!). I suppose I would seek out people to talk/unload to, more than I do at the moment, if denied paper/pen/computer. But I think I express myself better/more clearly & fully on paper. I'm always going back & revising what I've written to ensure it reflects exactly what I want to say (although I find I always want to add or edit more later!).

For some reason, although I've read Harriet the Spy literally dozens of times over the years, this is the first time that I realized why I love it so much. It's because, to me, this is a story of the pain of growing up. The pain of being in between childhood, with the deep, intimate connectedness that entails, and adulthood, with the separation and independence and freedom and responsibility that come with it. Re-reading this book now reminds me that although I had thought as a child that someday I would be done the work of growing up, I don't feel like I am done, and I wonder if I ever will be. So the question is this: what is the experience of growing up like for you? And is it something that you think is ever complete?

I like the fact that this question is worded in the present tense: "What IS the experience of growing up like for you?" Because even though I'm fast approaching 50 (not QUITE yet, but definitely headed in that direction...!!), I still don't feel very grown up a whole lot of the time. I thought that maybe having kids would make me feel more "adult" (because with kids, you have to at least try to act like an adult, at least some of the time). But I don't have any (living) children -- so I guess that's my excuse. ; )

I do feel my age sometimes (especially when dealing with the 20-somethings in my office, some of whom are old/young enough to be my children...!), but I can still feel very much like a kid sometimes too -- and, reading this book, I was reminded very much of what it feels like to be a kid -- the fun stuff, and the not-so-fun stuff, like the wrath of other kids at school. Dh marvels at how I can remember old hurts & insults like they happened yesterday -- when I talk about them, I can feel my body tensing up & hear my voice start to rise. He'll say, "It was 30 years ago, let it go!!" but sometimes it's easier said than done...!

When my great-aunt was in her 80s, she once told my mother, "You know, there's still a young person inside this old body." So I guess age really is just a number. It's how you see & feel about yourself that's the important thing.

Do you think Harriet kept her notebook for the same reasons we blog?


Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens ( You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Article: "When Did 'Married Without Children' Become Gauche?"

While doing some Googling this afternoon -- killing time, waiting for the next shoe to drop at the office -- I stumbled on this interesting article/blog entry. The author is childfree by choice, but I found myself nodding at about 98% of what she had to say about how childless/free living is discounted by so many parents -- & trying not to giggle too loudly in several places. "The January of the retail season," hmmm? As a January baby myself, I totally understand that!

As usual, the comments are both amusing & infuriating.

*** *** ***

The Daily Beast
When Did "Married Without Children" Become Gauche?

by Rachel Shukert
November 15, 2008 7:40am

As a married woman with no plans to have children, I'm not the easiest person to market to.
My grandfather wants me to have a baby. Now. Yesterday. It would be nice to feel—as he put it the other day—that he had “a breeder” among his grandchildren. “Grandpa,” I finally said to him recently, “you are 87 years old. You live 1,500 miles away. If I got pregnant tomorrow, you would see this baby, what? Once? Twice? Then I would be stuck with an unwanted infant, and you would be dead.”

He acceded the point.

In a few short weeks, the holiday season will be upon us, and my husband and I, like millions of Americans, will be obliged to make conversation with hundreds of relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances who have nothing to say to us. When we got engaged three years ago, talk of caterers and florists and letterpress invitations occupied us at these gatherings. Then, after the wedding, when we debuted as married people, we talked about the things we had received, the things we still needed to buy, and the best places to buy them.

But this year, lacking any such consumer idyll to discuss, people will sheepishly ask us “what we’ve been up to.” I will half-heartedly mutter something about the book I am supposed to be writing, to confirm I am not a total waste of space. They might offer a few words about a case or an account they are handling, of which I will have little interest and even less comprehension. And then, inevitably, I will be asked the million-dollar question.

“So, any babies on the horizon? Is this the year?”

I have formed an immutable theory: In our society, a childless marriage is like the January of the retail season—Christmas is over, Valentine’s Day not yet arrived, and no one knows what the hell to sell you. A transitional period, best rushed through as quickly as possible.

I’ll see the pleading in their eyes, the tension of each upended nostril: “Please say you’re having a baby, and I’ll be able to relate to you. We’ll talk obstetricians, and if you’re having trouble, fertility specialists. I can recommend strollers, changing tables, potties, burp cloths. I can explain in detail the advantages of an all-natural water birth vs. a scheduled C-section/tummy tuck. We’ll have hours of things to talk about. Just say it. Say yes.”

Alas, I cannot, and we’ll have no choice but to go our separate ways.

Or think of it this way: your wedding is the prestige Oscar bait: a big-name, Britishly acted adaptation from a tony literary source, perhaps—eagerly anticipated and much buzzed about. The announcement of your pregnancy (or simply, the announcement that you are currently…you know…trying, which seems to inspire in others an equally irrational joy) is your big summer blockbuster: huge, giddy, something people are viscerally excited about. To wit: your wedding is Atonement, your baby is The Dark Knight, and your actual marriage, the fragile construct propping up the vast social/industrial complex we call “Adulthood,” is something the studio foists on an unsuspecting public in the dead and deadening month after Christmas, when we start to despair that we will ever again see the sun. Something starring Ashton Kutcher. Your marriage is What Happens in Vegas.

Think about it.

One finds an instructive example of this attitude the publishing industry. Women’s magazines teem with advice of what to say, what to wear, and which sexual acts to perform in order to con a man into making some sort of tangible commitment. Likewise, there are now an extraordinary number of publications and networking sites devoted to modern parenting, designed to guide even the most skeptical urbanite through the brave new world of diaper genies and environmental toxins with wit and panache. In contrast, I have found of late just one article geared toward married people without children: a little piece online advising me to hide the porn when my in-laws come over.

My in-laws live in South Africa, and my husband keeps the porn on the computer, where it belongs.

It wasn’t always like this. In America, everything we are we see in the movies, and classic Hollywood films are filled with glamorous childless couples. Hepburn and Tracy, Nick and Nora Charles, forever lobbing sophisticated quips back and forth, swilling martinis in elegant penthouse apartments, their art-deco lines not besmirched by crayon or small, smudged handprints. (DISCLAIMER: My life is absolutely nothing like this; however, I can’t shake the feeling that if I can just hold off my biological clock, one day it could be.) In the golden age of Hollywood, the children of stars were routinely hidden from public view, lest they make their parents seem old and unfuckable.

I’m not suggesting we go back to the heady days of Mommie Dearest. I’m just not sure I need to know how far Jessica Alba’s cervix was dilated before she checked into the hospital. Nor am I particularly moved by the array of toddlers trotted out before the cameras to justify a star’s existence, or the launch of her clothing line, or to illustrate the fact that she has attained the transcendent maturity that cares only for the troubles of the Children of the World, which a person like Married-and-Childless You, who selfishly worries about things like calories and making your highlights last, couldn’t possibly understand.

But most of all, I find hardest to take the pervasive sense that a marriage isn’t really consummated until the arrival of a blessed event—that everything from “I do” until the snipping of the umbilical cord is a prelude to real life. I got married because I thought it would enhance my life. And in a country where some judges hold up the inability to reproduce as a valid legal reason why some people should not be able to marry, I believe the singular nature of marriage—of two adults in good faith making such a promise to each other, whether that promise includes children or not—should be made especially clear.

Real life is not Life the board game, an orderly ticking of boxes till we fill up our plastic station wagons and become millionaires. As far as I am concerned, I am already living my real life. I was living it before I was married, and I’ll still be living it should my marriage ever end.
So is it too much to ask for a damn magazine?

Rachel Shukert is the author of Have You No Shame? And Other Regrettable Stories, and is currently at work on her second book, The Grand Tour. She lives in New York City

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Article: "The saddest of Madonna portraits"

From Macleans magazine (Canada's newsweekly), Nov. 10, 2008 issue (the last paragraph, to me, says it all):

The saddest of Madonna portraits
Grief over losing a baby is accompanied by a panic: how to remember what he looked like?


In the late 1800s, Edward Bok, the reform-minded editor of Ladies' Home Journal, launched a crusade against, of all things, the parlour — that pretentious little room, as he saw it, reserved by the Victorians for formal Sunday teas and displaying their dead. Better, he thought, to banish the old-time hats and coats and the corpses in favour of a space for routine family life — call it, he suggested, the living room. The wordplay caught on, part of a trend driven by lengthening life expectancies that made death itself an unmentionable. "In the 19th century, sex was the taboo," says Stanley Burns, an eye surgeon and medical historian. "In the 20th century, it was death." Nowhere, oddly enough, was the shift more pronounced than in family photographs.

A hundred years ago, capturing images of dead relatives was de rigueur. Dad's eyes were glued shut, his mouth closed, his limbs posed in such a manner as to suggest a quick catnap; in one famous example, the deceased sits with a newspaper clasped in his hands as though just nodding off. Widows wore lockets with the dead faces of their husbands, mothers the images of their dead infants — sometimes with open eyes painted in and rose tincture on their cheeks. Yet changing attitudes soon saw post-mortem photography go the way of the parlour.

Now, research suggesting that families benefit from photographs of deceased offspring has brought the practice back. "There's that pivotal moment, especially after a stillbirth, where mum all of a sudden won't remember what her baby looked like — and there's panic," says Mary MacCormick, head of the Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. Memories of the traumatic days surrounding a difficult birth can also exaggerate a baby's flaws, haunting parents for years. Hospital staff have battled these anxieties by giving families bereavement kits containing locks of hair, hand- or footprints, and Polaroids. Recently, though, so-called infant bereavement photography has become the domain of professionals.

One charity, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, has connected families with photographers since 2005. It started in Denver, Colo., shortly after co-founder Cheryl Haggard, then 37, learned her infant son Maddux wouldn't survive his first week, and decided to hire the same photographer whose shots of newborns graced the walls of her maternity ward. Sandy Puc' (pronounced putsch), a specialist in child portraiture, didn't know what to expect when she arrived to meet Cheryl and her husband, Mike; she soon learned they wanted images of Maddux alive on life support, then "more intimate" shots, as Cheryl puts it — "those skin on skin Madonna portraits" — after disconnecting him. "I did his hands and feet and his little ears, his nose — I photographed every single part that I could so they would have all of it," says Puc', who then left the room. Forty-five minutes later, she was invited back. "It was so unearthly," Puc' recalls. "Here is this beautiful mom, bare skin, bare chest, with this tiny little sleeping angel in her arms." Maddux was dead.

Within weeks, Puc' and Haggard had founded Now I Lay Me Down, relying on just a few photographers. They now have more than 5,000 in over 25 countries, including Canada. The free sessions — valued at between $1,000 and $1,800 — are available for offspring aged 25 weeks of gestation and up and have been provided for babies dead as long as 10 days. Images are normally black and white to de-emphasize the discolourations associated with stillborns, say, and computer software is used to soften some detail.

Chicago-based Todd Hochberg has shot deceased infants for over 10 years but uses a documentary style that puts his subjects within a hospital context alongside parents, extended family and health care professionals. "It's a record of their time together with their baby," he says. "To validate that they are parents — that this life does matter." Guenther Krueger, a Ph.D. candidate studying bereavement at Simon Fraser University, says such images help families cope. Though grief was once thought similar to physical healing — "you have a terrible time but you get over it" — Krueger says that's not what happens: "Parents incorporate this child into their lives." Burns, who has archived thousands of antique medical photographs and has written books on post-mortem photography, is more blunt: "We are as important as the number of photographs taken of us — to have no pictures at all in this culture is not to have existed."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Odds & ends...

  • Pregnancy loss support group meeting last week: two bereaved moms in their late 20s/early 30s talking to each other about trying again. "It's been THREE MONTHS & I'm NOT pregnant and it's driving me nuts!! With all my other kids, I got pregnant the first time we tried! It's SO depressing!!" Bit my tongue VERY hard & tried to remember I am there to support them, not strangle them. ; ) I understand the driving desire many babyloss moms have to get pregnant again (because I had it myself)... but it's just not that easy for some of us -- & they have heard my story & those of others who have attended the group...
  • Train ride home last night: guy standing in the aisle next to my seat (the train was very crowded) getting quizzed/lectured about his wife's pregnancy by perky young know-it-all mom for the entire 25-minute ride (plus time in the station before departure). My teeth grinding at being subjected to this (loud conversations of any kind on the train are annoying, but pregnancy & baby-related ones doubly so) actually turned to feeling sorry for the guy as the woman regaled him with horror stories about drs, general pregnancy aches & pains, Group B strep tests, birth plans ("is she going to have an epidural? If not, you're in for some blood-curdling screams...").
  • Farewell party for (divorced, childless, 30-something) office colleague this afternoon: adores her niece but is adamant that she doesn't want any of her own. Was told by the party organizer in front of the entire department that they were boing to put a picture of a baby on the card envelope & pretend it was a baby shower. Which degenerated into a conversation about how wonderful babies are. At which point (having already eaten my cake) I quietly stood up & went back to my cubicle.
  • In the mail this week: donation appeal from the hospital where Katie was delivered & where I still visit Dr. Ob-gyn for annual checksups -- but addressed to dh, who recently had some tests run there. "Dear Mr. Road Less Travelled," it begins. "It's a sad truth that women in countries all over the world, including Canada, face complications during pregnancy that can affect their health and the survival of their baby. We're experiencing rising rates for stillbirth, dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy (called pre-eclampsia) and the birth of smaller, very vulnerable babies."

Really?? Pray, tell me all about it...!!

The letter is from a dr in the high-risk unit -- the same dr who was making the rounds the morning after Katie's stillbirth, who expressed his condolences -- and his interest in my placenta (let's call him "Dr. Placenta."). It goes on to describe one patient who came to him in 2004, 24 weeks into her pregnancy with a very small baby who did not survive. But thanks to placental function testing early in her next pregnancy at the hospital's Placenta Clinic -- the only one of its kind in Canada, which is approaching its 10th anniversary (!!) -- she has had not just one but two healthy babies.

"Our research, which recently revealed that a simple blood test combined with a non-invasive ultrasound can identify a woman's risk of pregnancy-threatening placental problems, is making a difference to families across Canada," it says. "There is so much more we could do, but we need your help."

Well. You can imagine my feelings upon reading this letter. Including:

  • Amazement -- that a letter addressed to dh would hit so very, very close to home for our family. If it hadn't been addressed to him, & him alone, I would swear that we were being targeted. What are the odds? (Of course, what were the odds that I would have a stillborn baby??)
  • Anger & regret -- that this clinic wasn't around 10 years ago when I really could have used it. And that I wasn't referred to Dr. Placenta during my pregnancy, even though they could tell from my ultrasound that there was something on my placenta, & that my baby had IUGR.
  • Relief -- even though it's too late for me, I am glad that other mothers are being spared the agony that I went through.
  • "It's about time" -- that some real research is being done on this issue. I am very grateful for the programs & protocols in place at the hospital that provided such good care & beautiful keepsakes for us after our daughter was stillborn... there is a real need for more funding for programs that support bereaved parents after their losses. But there is also a very real need for more funding to find out WHY pregnancy loss happens, & hopefully prevent it, so that fewer parents have to go through this special brand of hell.

I think that I am going to make a donation. And if & when I do, I think I am going to write a letter to go along with it, saying some of the same things I've said here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More on the Quebec election campaign

(as I posted earlier this week)

Kissing babies isn't enough
Sure, it's politics, Ingrid Peritz explains, but Jean Charest's sudden support for IVF also rights a wrong

November 22, 2008

MONTREAL -- Annie Martel enjoys family perks that would be the envy of mothers anywhere. When she became a foster parent two years ago, she took advantage of Quebec's generous parental leave. And when her girl started daycare, Quebec subsidies ensured that the service would cost her just $7 a day.

Now that Ms. Martel has adopted the child and dreams of giving birth to a sibling for her, Quebec once again is poised to deliver.

With a provincial election campaign in full throttle, Liberal Leader Jean Charest has pledged to introduce a benefit that would be unique in Canada: full coverage of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

"To have the government pay is an enormous step - maybe we will still be able to have a biological child of our own," says Ms. Martel, a 41-year-old Montreal Web designer who estimates that she and her husband have spent $35,000 on fertility treatments. "This gives us a lot of hope."

The promise brings a measure of comfort to women like Ms. Martel. And it may be a winner on the campaign trail.

No politician has ever gone wrong by promising pro-baby policies in Quebec, where increasing the province's low birth rate has been a near-obsession since it plunged from one of the world's highest to one of its lowest.

Even so, as recently as June, Philippe Couillard, then Mr. Charest's health minister, opposed extending medical coverage to IVF, putting the Liberals at odds with both the Parti Québécois and Action démocratique du Québec, whose leader, Mario Dumont, had championed the cause.

Now, while campaigning for a third term as premier, Mr. Charest seems to have seen the light. This week, he announced that under a Liberal government, Quebec's health-insurance plan would cover two IVF treatments and the existing 50-per-cent tax credit would still apply if further attempts are required.

"A couple that wants children must get all the help possible," he declared.

Total cost of the promise: $35-million a year. Estimated boost to the population: 1,500 babies.

The pledge helps to secure Quebec's status as the most baby-conscious and aggressively pro-family province in the land. The provincial government has been coaxing the stork into Quebeckers' homes ever since it brought in baby bonuses in 1988. Since then, Quebec has trail-blazed with universal daycare and unparalleled parental leave.

The incentives are credited with helping to produce a modest baby boom, although the fertility rate of 1.6 babies per woman is still below replacement levels. Quebec has long tied a robust population to its collective survival in an English-speaking continent, a concern that once led the Catholic Church to advocate the "revenge of the cradle." But the secularism of the 1960s Quiet Revolution brought a steep drop in the birth rate that policy-makers have struggled to reverse since.

Today, the province's family-friendly ethos trickles down to small towns such as St-Lin-Laurentides, which has been encouraging residents to have large broods for 20 years.
To this day, the community of 15,000 north of Montreal gives new parents T-shirts and bibs emblazoned with the municipal crest, along with a $500 bonus for a third child. Mayor André Auger admits the money won't go far, but he wants to get the message across.

"I'm a good Québécois, I'm a nationalist," Mr. Auger says, "and I say a people that respects itself has to reproduce."

Still, with Mr. Charest's latest pledge, Quebec is shifting the focus from new parents to would-be parents.


Infertile couples have battled for years to have costly IVF treatments covered. They found a mighty advocate in TV personality Julie Snyder, wife of media magnate Pierre-Karl Péladeau, chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc.

Ms. Snyder's crusade on behalf of infertile couples led to a high-profile confrontation with Dr. Couillard during parliamentary hearings in June.

At a time when Quebec was struggling with a low birth rate, she asked, why was the province paying for "life-prevention" procedures such as abortions and vasectomies but not something "that creates life?"

Ms. Snyder recently gave birth to her second child. Meanwhile, Dr. Couillard has retired from politics.

Quebec offers a tax credit for IVF, but couples still find themselves taking out loans to pay upward of $10,000 for each series of treatment. For some, the cost puts the dream of parenthood out of reach.

"Do I borrow the money to try it once? Do I have to borrow again for a second try? Then I'll really be in the hole," says Mélanie Pétrin, a Montreal school-board employee whose husband, Benoit Adams, studies while working part-time.

She has been trying to conceive for nearly two years and feels frustrated that other women can afford fertility treatments that she cannot.

"It's true, I'm not sick, I'm not coughing or stuck in bed, but my state of health isn't normal," says Ms. Pétrin, who turns 29 today.

"You feel you could be a good mother, you could give your time and invest in a child. But you're unable to do it. At least if I can try, I will say that I've tried everything."

If the Liberals win the election - they are leading in the polls - and stick to the promise, Quebec will be the only province to cover IVF fully. Ontario pays only for women who have complete blockages in both Fallopian tubes.

As it stands, Canada lags behind most developed countries. Nations such as Australia, France, Israel, Norway and Germany all offer various kinds of coverage, as do some health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the United States.

"Canada is a huge anomaly. It's an embarrassment," says Jeff Nisker, a medical ethicist at the University of Western Ontario who has written about the issue. "I applaud Quebec. It's about time someone had the courage to do this."

According to Dr. Nisker, also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Canada sees IVF as "something for the rich, like cosmetic surgery. Elsewhere in the world, it's seen as a serious problem and it deprives women of being mothers.

"Canadian women are discriminated against more than any other women in the world."

He says that granting coverage is not only fair, it also makes sound medical sense. Women who can't afford IVF may turn to high-powered fertility drugs that result in multiple births, which often require costly neonatal care.

Mr. Charest's promise - and his reference to infertility as a "medical condition" - was seen as a significant step toward victory for the couples and doctors who have been seeking public financing.

"This promise is profoundly symbolic," says obstetrician and gynecologist Pierre Miron, director of the fertility clinic at Montreal's Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital. "It may not increase the birth rate that much, but it gives a social signal that the state supports births even more.

"We are the Gaulois, resisting," he adds, comparing Quebeckers to the ancient Gauls who stood up to the Romans. "With this, we're coming up with an incentive for infertile couples."

Dr. Miron, who has been helping couples conceive since the 1980s, predicts that whoever wins the vote on Dec. 8 will now find it difficult to back down from the IVF promise.

After all, it's a true motherhood issue.

Ingrid Peritz is a reporter in The Globe and Mail's Montreal bureau.


The after-tax annual cost per child of daycare for a Quebec family with two children and an income of $75,000 a year

The figure for Saskatchewan, with the next cheapest child care.

The Canadian average, excluding Quebec.

Source: Le Québec, un paradis pour les familles? by Luc Godbout and Suzie St-Cerny (Laval University Press, 2008).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Show & Tell: 'Tis the season...

Christmas has always been a special time for my family. But it's also been the busiest time of year for us at work, which has added a lot of stress to the holiday preparations. After our daughter was stillborn in August 1998 -- followed by the death of my grandfather later that fall -- I found myself re-evaluating just what was absolutely essential to my definition of Christmas, & what could go by the wayside -- in other words, where I most wanted to spend my limited energy.

I had no energy for Christmas baking -- most of the stuff I made was stuff my mother made & I could eat at her house anyway -- and no matter how much I gave away, I always seemed to have a ton left in my freezer to nibble on -- so I don't think I have baked since then. Likewise, I've had very little use for holiday parties -- particularly since the Worst. Christmas. Party. Ever. in 1998. So I don't care whether I attend any of those now.

But we have always put up a Christmas tree -- which, over the years, has become a Katie tree. And I have always sent out Christmas cards & a Christmas letter. When I lived at home with my parents, I always did my mother's cards (I can count the number of years she's sent out cards herself since I left home on the fingers of one hand, lol). Having moved around a lot, & having a large extended family, my card list is more than 100 names long.

When Katie was stillborn, I used our annual Christmas letter to tell everyone about it (although most of them had already heard through other channels). Every year since then, I've managed to work in a reference to her, albeit usually in connection with the volunteer work we do for our pregnancy loss support group.

The cards themselves are also usually a tribute to Katie, although not everyone would realize that. Most years, I've managed to find cards with a Classic Pooh theme (Katie's nursery was to have had Classic Pooh decor). Other years, when I haven't been able to find Classic Pooh, I've used angels.

I usually know "the card" when I see it, and even if I continue to look, I will usually return to the one I initially felt in my gut was the right one. That was the case with this year's card (below). No Classic Pooh was to be had, but I knew in my heart that this card -- a little girl, looking at Santa inside of a snowglobe -- was the right one for this year. The inside message reads: "Tis the season of magic. Merry Christmas." It's by Papyrus and I bought mine at Chapters/Indigo here in Canada.

Now, to set aside a few evenings to get them done...!

For more Show & Tell, visit here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

First the kids, now the grandkids...

I spent Saturday at a "crop" at an area scrapbook store with about 12 other women. As I've written before, it seems like an odd hobby for a childless woman (dominated as it is by mommies) -- but I still enjoy it, although the mommy talk does tend to get stifling now & then (depending on who I am sitting with). The majority of the women at this particular crop were actually older, more like my own mother's age, & I was having a good time.

It does seem like there's always at least one "ouch" moment at every crop, though, & this one was no exception. At one point, everyone started talking about their grandchildren & how great it was to be a grandparent. Someone brought up the old bumper sticker slogan, "If I knew grandchildren were this much fun, I'd have had them first," & even one of the younger women (whose kids are probably still in grade school!) said that oh, she just couldn't wait to be a grandparent someday!

Just a reminder (that I didn't need) that infertility is the gift that keeps on giving. :(

If you live in Quebec...

...things may be changing. (Of course, it's only an election promise at this point... but...)

*** *** ***

Charest pledges to fund in-vitro fertilization

Opposition parties pan move as election ploy
Nov 18, 2008 04:30 AM
Andrew Chung Quebec Bureau Chief

MONTREAL–After his government long insisted that infertility wasn't an illness and refused to pay for in-vitro fertilization treatment, Premier Jean Charest did an about-face yesterday.

Charest promised that if his Liberal party were returned to power in the Dec. 8 election, in-vitro fertilization would become a publicly funded medical service under Quebec's health-insurance plan.

Quebec's two opposition parties panned the $35 million pledge as a copycat idea, too late in coming.

But for Charest, it's a plan that would place Quebec at the forefront in Canada of fully funded assisted reproduction, and boost the province's mini baby boom. The Liberals believe Quebec could see an additional 1,500 babies born each year through funded in-vitro fertilizations.

Under the new regime, the first two in-vitro treatments would be covered. After that, couples still needing treatment would be able to count on a 50 per cent tax credit, already in place.

Ontario funds three courses of in-vitro fertilization treatment, but only if the woman's fallopian tubes are blocked.

Other provinces offer "zero," according to Dr. Seang Lin Tan, medical director of the McGill Reproductive Centre in Montreal. Tan said if Charest's plan is implemented, Quebec will become the most generous province when it comes to such treatment.

A cycle of in-vitro treatment costs about $5,500 in Canada, plus up to $4,000 for drugs used in the process.

Canada has one of the lowest rates of in-vitro fertilization treatments in the developed world, partly because of cost, and the availability of treatment only in urban centres, Tan said.

Action démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont said Charest lacked honour because for the last year he has panned the ADQ's idea to fund in-vitro fertilization.

The Parti Québécois asked why Charest would do this now, after so much time refusing the same.

"Having waited for an election campaign to respond to this legitimate demand from people suffering from infertility demonstrates the cynicism of Jean Charest," said Dr. Réjean Hébert, dean of the University of Sherbrooke's faculty of medicine and a PQ candidate.

*** *** ***

Another article, same subject. (But are they funding treatment, or tests?? The reporter needs to get his facts & terminology straight...):

Quebec may cover in-vitro treatments

Nov 17, 2008 05:58 PM

MONTREAL – Already rich with a history of policy-makers encouraging baby-makers, Quebec could become the first province to pay entirely for in-vitro fertilization treatment under an election promise made today by the governing Liberals.

Premier Jean Charest has joined a long line of Quebec political and religious leaders to play a role in family planning.

The Roman Catholic Church spent centuries imploring Quebecers to reproduce as their religious duty. Liberal premier Robert Bourassa introduced so-called baby bonuses in the 1970s. More recently the ADQ party has urged the government to pay for fertility treatments.

Now the ADQ says Charest has stolen its idea by promising parents two free fertility tests, courtesy of the Quebec government.

Opposition Leader Mario Dumont says he's happy to see help for people who have troubling conceiving a baby, but he castigated Charest for the sudden policy shift. He noted that the premier has spent a year torpedoing the suggestion.

"He's trying to be a progressive hero but for 12 months, he was trying to bury this," Dumont said in Joliette, north of Montreal. ``I hate personal attacks in an election campaign but I have to say that Jean Charest is shameless."

Charest announced the help as part of his health-care platform in the campaign for the Dec. 8 election, dovetailing it with his emphasis on the economy as the No. 1 issue for voters.

It's a tactic that plays to polls that have indicated the economy and health care are actually tied neck-and-neck in terms of priorities for Quebecers.

"When I say `the economy is first,' I also want to say `the economy and health, the economy and education' and `the economy for all Quebecers to live better'," Charest told a group of supporters.

Charest announced several financial incentives to keep nurses in the public sector and plans to boost the number of family doctors and encourage more medical students to choose family medicine as their specialty.

Quebec already offers a 50 per cent tax credit for families who need fertility treatments but Charest announced Monday that if his team is re-elected, the first two tests would be covered by the provincial health plan.

Parents who wish to keep trying in the event of failure would be covered by the tax credit for further treatments.

The Liberals estimated that 1,500 births annually would be generated by the plan, with costs estimated at about $35 million per year.

The plan is a reversal from a stand taken by Philippe Couillard when he was health minister last year. Couillard opposed covering the cost of treatments because he said infertility isn't an illness. Couillard isn't running in this election.

Beverly Hanck of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada praised the Liberal plan and said it's a one-of-a-kind in Canada.

"It's wonderful," she said. "Quebec is the only province that is doing anything substantial for patients so they're really leading the parade in that."

Hanck, the executive director of the Montreal-based organization, said she has been working with other provinces on the issue, although money has always been a sticking point. Ontario and Alberta are also considering bringing in some kind of help.

Hanck praised the refundable Quebec tax credit, although she said she would like to see it raised even further.

"All of Canada has a total fertility rate of about 1.5 and you need 2.1 to be replacing your population," she said.

"I think politicians are very foolish not to be looking at this," said Hanck, although she praised the Quebec parties for their attentiveness to the issue.

Birth rate has long been an issue for Quebec, most famously in the pre-Quiet Revolution period when Quebecers were urged to have babies in a symbolic settling of scores for the conquest of 1760.

That so-called 'Revenge of the Cradles' had come to an end by the end of 1960s, as Quebec underwent an abrupt transformation from its religious, largely rural past where giant families were the norm.

Within a generation such traditions were replaced by a largely secular Quebec, increasingly urban, and with one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

But the latest trend has seen a small-scale baby boom, with an eight per cent jump in 2006, the biggest birth-rate hike since 1909. In 2005, there were 1,700 fertility treatments, costing between $10,000 and $20,000 per treatment.

Dumont didn't dwell on the fertility issue, however. His main focus on Monday was crime....