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.