Friday, January 30, 2009

Note to governments: Just fund the treatments already, will ya??

From this morning's Globe & Mail. Boldfacing is mine for emphasis. Check out the comments… and try not to grind your teeth too much over the use of the term "implant," lol.

*** *** ***

Fertility treatments, older mothers leading to rise in premature births
From Friday's Globe and Mail
January 30, 2009 at 4:35 AM EST

More babies are being born prematurely because women are waiting longer to start their families and relying on fertility treatments that can lead to pregnancy complications, a new report indicates.

The rate of premature births climbed a staggering 25 per cent over the past decade, the Canadian Institute for Health Information said yesterday. The figure caught obstetricians and gynecologists by surprise.

In 2006-07, 8.1 per cent of babies in Canada - roughly 29,000 - were born preterm, meaning they were delivered before 37 weeks of gestation. In the early 1990s, such babies made up about 6.6 per cent of births, the report found.

Those in the practice of delivering babies were particularly troubled by the data because human life is fragile at an early stage, and premature babies who weigh very little are at risk for an array of complications, including blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.

Mothers over 35 were 10 per cent more likely to deliver preterm, the study found. And the rate of preterm births among women having multiple babies was 17 times higher than for mothers delivering single babies. Increased use of fertility treatments has led to an explosion of multiple births.

Annie Janvier, a neonatologist at Montreal's McGill University Health Centre, said the blame lies mainly with "irresponsible" governments that don't encourage women to have families early, allow clinics to implant more than one embryo during an in vitro fertilization cycle, and don't finance fertility treatments. Using one embryo per cycle increases the chances a baby will be carried to term, but the high cost of treatment means some want to improve their odds by implanting multiple embryos.

"This is avoidable," Dr. Janvier said. "But infertility is really not seen as a health problem by our government. It's really too bad."

Laura Bergeron-Blais learned the hard way what it means to implant more than one embryo. She paid for three in vitro fertilization treatments over three years. She became pregnant with a boy and a girl after her second treatment, and after implanting "a lot of embryos."

She delivered prematurely 26 weeks later. Megan, weighing 710 grams, died an hour after birth. Logan, weighing 785 grams, died two months later.

"I wasn't aware of the high risk when it came to twins. I didn't understand that," Ms. Bergeron-Blais said from her home in Montreal. "Because we're paying for this ... we kind of get raped in our situation. We don't care what it takes, just get me pregnant. I put in [embryos] way beyond the norm and I got pregnant with twins."

Seeking to avoid another preterm birth, she had only one embryo implanted during her most recent treatment. But she suffered an ectopic pregnancy.

She and her husband are now looking into adoption.

Of the number of babies born prematurely due to multiple births and fertility treatments, she said: "The government has to step in and start controlling the situation before it gets completely out of hand."

Premature babies cost the health-care system seven to nine times more than full-term babies. A single preterm baby costs a hospital $9,233 compared with $1,050 for a full-term baby.

Jan Christilaw, an obstetrician-gynecologist and interim president of British Columbia Women's Hospital and Health Centre, said would-be parents and hospitals pay a heavy price, and governments should step in.

"We are not there in terms of having the best possible reproductive care," Dr. Christilaw said.

Oh, puh-leeeze!!!

Gimme a break... 

Obama baby bump watch begins 

"The American public simply seems to crave "pregnancy porn" -- tabloid photos of celebrities humanized by stretch marks and weight gain -- and so we search for it everywhere... it's hard not to see this renewed pregnancy gossip as part of the "momification of Michelle," a desire to cast her as the star of our new domestic soap opera. Everyone's watching, whether she likes it or not."
A good related article: 

Anyone care to discuss?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's all about being a mom...

(As if I needed any more reminders…) 

Two items in this morning's Toronto Star had my eyes rolling, if not my blood boiling. 

First, coverage of the federal government's budget yesterday. There were profiles of various "ordinary Canadians" & how the budget would affect them, & charts showing different family scenarios & incomes and how the budget would affect each. There were single people, one & two-income families with children, single mothers with children, retired couples… 

Not one mention anywhere of how two-income couples without children -- like dh & me -- would be affected. (There rarely is.) I didn't see anything in The Globe & Mail or the National Post, either. Never mind that we are a large & fast-growing segment of the population. Or that before any couple has kids, they are a couple first. 

Of course, we rarely get any breaks. Why should we? Two incomes, no kids -- we must be rolling in money, right?? We don't need any help. Right? 

Then I was reading Rosie DiManno's column. Rosie seems to delight in being provocative, & her writing style often drives me batty (especially when she tries to write about my favourite sport, figure skating -- her disdain for the sport is soooo evident in every word…) -- but today's column hit the spot, & I've boldfaced the part that raised my childless hackles. (It should probably be noted that Rosie is childfree herself... and also that I have absolutely no sympathy for drunk drivers, let alone repeat offenders.) She was observing people in a courtroom:
Into this scene of banal, almost languid foulness enters a woman jarringly at odds with her environment. Long blond hair professionally streaked – Forest Hill hair, as a class-conscious observer thinks of it – with a tight-fitted white jacket that looks suede, and designer jeans. Even fresh from lock-up she's retained an aura of posh and privilege, a lady who lunches, bizarrely exotic in these surroundings. 
The Crown rattles off her charges, which include drunk driving and resisting arrest. The JP asks if she has a lawyer. Of course she has a lawyer, though unable to reach him yet. She gives his name – one of the most prominent and expensive and never-lost-a-case defence attorneys in Toronto. Clearly, she can afford him. 
The young prosecutor points out that the woman is already on bail pending trial on another drunk driving charge. 
The Crown will seek to have her bail revoked next day. 
"You can't!" the woman interjects. "I have kids!" 
As if this makes her special, different. As if all of her is special, different. 
The JP inquires: Where are they now? Where were they overnight? 
"With their father." 
JP: "Do you understand that the Crown wants to keep you in jail until your trial on all these charges?" 
The accused, indignant: "You're going to get me into a custody battle!" 
An observer thinks: Maybe you don't deserve custody, lady. Maybe you're a lying, negligent, selfish bitch, the most unsavoury of all defendants who came through bail court today. 
But with a Yorkville hairdresser and a Bay Street lawyer.
*** *** *** 

And finally, the kicker: doing the crossword puzzle on the train home tonight. 

What's a six-letter word that means "parents and children"? 

F-A-M-I-L-Y, of course. :(

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Odds & ends...

I've had lots of little things flit through my head lately as "stuff I could blog about" but never enough inspiration for one grand post. So this is post is a bit of a brain-dump...!

It's been a busy (and very cold!!) couple of weeks around here. I am thoroughly sick of winter. And it's not even February yet! It was still a little bit light outside when we arrived home from work tonight & I can't tell you what a spirit-booster that was. Never mind that it was freezing cold outside, lol. A little sunshine can make the coldest day more tolerable.

FIL turned 80 last week & we went there on Saturday night to celebrate. BIL & family were there, and so was stepBIL & his wife and the new baby. He slept most of the time we were there, so it was not all about him.

Our gift to FIL (with BIL & family) was a digital picture frame, which I loaded up with about 175 digital photos I've taken over the past few years... mostly of the nephews, but some of dh & me too (why not?). I was also going through old photos of dh & me & pulling negatives to get some reprints done. I've decided to set aside the nephews' scrapbooks for the time being & work on an us/anniversary album, with the goal of having it finished in time for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010. There will be a few pages with photos of us covering from the time we met through to our wedding, & then a spread for each year that we've been married, with photos & journalling covering the highlights.

Going through all those photos, both for the digital frame & to start the scrapbook, was a more emotional task than I thought it would be -- seeing how young we both were (not to mention skinny!!), so fresh-faced & full of hope and excitement about the future. I love scrapbooking, but I sometimes find myself getting strangely stressed about it. Part of it is because I'm a perfectionist (I've procrastinated on doing an album for Katie because, of course, THIS album HAS to be perfect!!) & I get very focused on what I'm doing -- & frustrated when the page on the table winds up looking nothing like the page I had in my head.

And of course, it can be hard to be scrapping photos of your nephews, or yourself, while all around you people are scrapping their babies. I try not to let it get to me & just enjoy the creative process, but I think it does get to me sometimes, at least on a subconscious level.

I like to think I'm a laid-back sort of person, but the truth is I have a lot of anxiety issues. I like to think I've only been that way over the past 10 years, but when I think back, I've had problems with anxiety all my life. Moving frequently, always being the new girl (not to mention the "brainy" new girl), being shy and desperately wanting to fit in will do that to you. I was never assertive enough to stand up to bullies, from the elementary schoolyard taunters to the bitchy roommates I had in grad school (I still have nightmares about that situation sometimes).

I haven't had a full-blown anxiety attack in at least seven years now (knocking wood...!), but it seems like I just get one issue or worry resolved, & something else almost immediately pops up to take its place. I find that, over the past 10 years, I've gotten hypersensitive about my health, in a way that I don't remember prior to loss & infertility. I think part of that is because pregnancy & infertility makes you hyperaware of your body & what it's doing & how you're feeling. And, of course, you become acutely aware of how fragile the human body can be & how quickly things can change and go wrong.

I think I need to get back to a yoga class. I need to practice focusing my mind & relaxing.

Update from Montreal...

An update on a recent post:

*** *** ***

Montreal hospital to tighten measures after stillborn baby found in laundry
January 24, 2009

MONTREAL -- A hospital adopted new rules yesterday for handling dead babies after a stillborn child was accidentally taken out with the morgue's laundry.

The Lakeshore General Hospital will conduct routine body counts and keep dead babies in bassinets instead of leaving them on stretchers after a 34-week-old stillborn was found last week at an industrial laundromat.

After the baby died Jan. 14 from undisclosed causes, the body was covered in a blue blanket and carried by a nurse to a refrigerated room.

Later that night, the hospital had several adult deaths. Another attendant delivered an adult body, also covered by a blue blanket, into the room.

He removed the cover and tossed it on the neighbouring stretcher where the covered baby lay, apparently unseen.

In need of another stretcher, hospital officials say that the attendant scooped up what appeared to be a pile of laundry on the gurney and tossed it down the laundry chute.

The baby was discovered in an industrial washing machine two days later at Buanderie Qualité, a facility about 27 kilometres from the hospital, which is located in the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire.

Several workers were treated for shock.

Daniel Hébert, the laundromat's co-owner, said several of his workers are women and mothers.

"It was total panic, everyone was crying, it was terrible," Mr. Hébert told reporters.

The hospital conducted an investigation over the past week and concluded the attendant made a mistake but will not face disciplinary action.

The baby's body was returned to the custody of his parents for proper disposal.

"We're not interested in assigning blame, this certainly wasn't the intention of the employee," said Suzanne Turmel, executive director of the West Island health authority.

Ms. Turmel would not say whether the family, whose identity has remained confidential, received compensation or is contemplating legal action.

"We've tried to take care of the family in this situation. They were already coping with the death of an infant, which was obviously very hard for them," Ms. Turmel said.

Nora Zaklama, the head of pathology, said baby deaths are not routine events at the Lakeshore, where six babies died last year.

*** *** ***

I don't think anybody should lose their job over this. I'm sure whoever is responsible feels wretched.

At the same time, I wouldn't blame the family if they wanted to take legal action. This review of what happened & how it can be prevented in the future was certainly a step that all hospitals need to take. Why shouldn't babies be put into bassinets anyway, like any baby would?

Six deaths in one year may not be exactly "routine" -- but it's more than enough.

Other news stories on this:

Plan B for LGH

No punishment for worker in stillborn baby incident

Monday, January 19, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Tour: "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" by Elizabeth McCracken

The latest selection for the Barren B*tches Book Tour (organized for our reading & blogging pleasure by the ever-energetic Mel at Stirrup Queens) is the amazing stillbirth memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

I read an excerpt from McCracken’s book in O Magazine last summer & couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve read some other very good stillbirth memoirs – among them Shadow Child by Beth Powning and Life Touches Life by Lorraine Ash – as well as many “self-help” volumes, including the classic “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart” by Deborah Davis. Like reading blogs and message boards, I find that hearing other people’s stories validates my own experiences and makes me feel less alone in a world full of babies & (seemingly) effortlessly pregnant women.

McCracken’s book has its own unique voice and rhythm, and I appreciated her frank prose and wry sense of humour. I see at least part of myself in every stillbirth story, and there was lots of me in this book (although obviously much that was different too).

Each of us on the book tour reads the book, submits a question (which is added to a list distributed by Mel) & then answers at least three of them in our blog. (I can rarely limit myself to just three, though…!) Here are some of the questions with my answers.

The author expresses gratitude that she was able to easily conceive and deliver a healthy child after Pudding's death. Even Pudding's story, while distinct in its own right, is told through the lens of a grateful mother holding her happy sleeping baby in her lap. "I am not sure what sort of person I would be if that hadn't happened," she says. While it is impossible to hypothesize what might have been had some other course of events transpired, how has having other living child/ren either before or since your loss affected your grieving process? If you have not lost a child, how has your in/fertility affected how you view other people's losses? And do your views change if the grieving have other living children?

My stillborn daughter was my one and only pregnancy. I was never able to conceive another child. So obviously, I am not sure what sort of person I would have become, had I had another child.

Sometimes, I can't help but be envious of those who do achieve a subsequent pregnancy, or who have other living children. At the same time, I know enough loss moms to know that subsequent pregnancy is not a cure-all. We have several friends that we’ve made through our pregnancy loss support group who have had one or even more subsequent children. One is due any day now with her third subsequent baby -- but I know she is often upset that nobody seems to remember the little girl she lost. Everyone assumes everything is OK now – but it’s not. No amount of subsequent children will ever make up for the ones that were lost.

I have other friends from group who had other children prior to their loss. They say people would point to their other children as a source of comfort (“You still have them”), as though having other children would somehow lessen the fact that another child had died.

From their experiences, I believe that other children, whether born before or after a stillbirth, can never replace the child who died. They may bring joy to the family in their own right, but they cannot & should not be regarded as substitutes or compensation. Each child is his or her own person with his or her own place in the family, no matter how long they’re around.

After expressing some regret that she did not press for more urgent care with her midwives before Pudding's death, the author apparently comes to peace with the medical care she received, as she realizes the outcome would not have likely changed. How does your (or her) experience affect the way in which you approach your medical care or approach to pregnancy and birth, if at all?

My experience made me realize that doctors are not gods, that there are limits to what they can do, that modern medicine does not have all the answers. For the most part, I felt I received good care, although there were certainly moments (like when the admissions clerk sent us to the regular maternity ward, instead of the special care unit where they were expecting us… & insisted that we hand over our credit card to pay for a private room, even though my dr had said that’s what I’d be getting, without mentioning payment) when I wondered about the medical system.

I have also heard some real horror stories (some of them lawsuit-worthy) from our support group clients.

I did not have a subsequent pregnancy, but if I had, I am sure that I would have been in the doctor’s office every week demanding to hear the heartbeat, asking for ultrasounds, & every other form of reassurance they could give me.

On pages 79-80, McCracken speaks of losing a friend after Pudding's death. I was struck by the way she wrote this passage because it clearly expresses her feelings about the conflict and about her former friend, replacing the silence that she used to break off the friendship (I suspect the friend in question has read the book by now). Have you lost friends during or after your infertility/loss/adoption? If so, how much of the blame for the loss do you place on communication and/or miscommunication? Does your former friend know how you feel about him or her and the loss of his or her friendship?

Sadly, yes, dh & I have lost some friends along the way since loss and infertility touched our lives. The example that always springs to mind for me is our neighbour, dh’s cousin, whom I’ve written about before here. I don’t know exactly why we drifted apart the way that we did, and I’m not sure how they would describe it from their perspective (I’m sure we are partially responsible too), but from mine, it all seemed to begin following our loss, particularly as time went on & it became obvious that there would be no other babies. It’s as though we became less interesting people to them, people they were less able to relate to, without the common bond of children to tie us together.

I’ve also written about another friend:

Another friend & former coworker called one day. "Hey, I tried calling you at work. What are you doing at home?" "Well...I lost the baby," I said flatly. "Oh!" she said. I briefly outlined what had happened. And then she began to babble. I realize I caught her totally off guard... but one of the things she said has forever stuck in my mind as one of the dumber things anyone said to me, post-loss:

"Well, you know, Lori," she said, "you've had a pretty easy life up until now." I know I recognized right off the bat that this was a pretty odd thing to say, and I found it harder & harder to keep up my end of the conversation. After we hung up, I mulled the conversation over & over in my head. This friend hadn't had a very easy time of it in recent years -- her husband had left her, she was having difficulty dealing with a high-spirited teenaged daughter. I'd always been there to listen & encourage her.
Basically, I felt like I'd been told that I'd had a pretty cushy life (in comparison to hers), so suck it up. And was I imagining it, or did I perhaps detect a faint note of glee, that I was finally sharing some of her pain -- perhaps even gotten what I deserved?

We have stayed in touch -- but needless to say, we have drifted apart & only speak to each other a handful of times during the year.

My favourite line of the book comes on page 103: "Closure is bullshit." In your opinion (whether or not you have experienced pregnancy loss yourself), is this true or false?

This was my question. : ) And I totally agree with the author. Hearing & reading about people who have experienced some sort of tragedy clamouring for “closure” usually makes me shake my head. It might make you feel somewhat better to successfully sue your doctor for negligence, or see your child’s murderer brought to justice, but it won’t bring back the people you love. I think the hurt lives on, to some degree, for as long as you do.

On page 13, McCracken writes, "I want a book that acknowledges that life goes on, but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn't, but eventually you'll feel better. You'll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead." Do you agree with the idea that those that have died continue on? Have you ever found that Time could actually change your perception of death? If you haven't experienced the death of a child (or even if you have), how might this translate into other areas of your life? (ie. infertility, adoption, loss of other family members, etc).

I absolutely agree with this view. My daughter continues to be an important part of my life, 10 years after her stillbirth. I very recently wrote a guest post for Glow in the Woods that addressed this topic.

Most people outside of the ALI community seem to distinguish between pregnancy loss in each trimester. When I was reading this book I kept running through my head about my miscarriage, how I felt quite similar to what Elizabeth McCraken described often enough. It still reached me, even though I lost my little one so much earlier in the pregnancy. If you have had a miscarriage, rather than a stillbirth, did this book still resonate with you? Or could you not relate at all to the loss that she experiences?

At the beginning of each meeting of the pregnancy loss support group dh & I help facilitate, we run through the “house rules” – one of which is “Every loss is significant, regardless of gestation or circumstances.”

I can remember attending a facilitators meeting at which we watched a video about miscarriage, featuring several women describing their experiences and their ongoing emotions. I was struck by how similar our feelings and our situations were. The only differences I saw were that I was able to see and hold my baby & I had more mementos than these women did.

There are definitely differences in circumstances and experiences and reactions -- but at each meeting, as parents tell their stories, I always feel there are more similarities than differences among us all. Grief is grief -- no matter how we all got to this point, we’re all feeling a lot of the same things and having a lot of the same thoughts.

Have you ever wished that someone wrote the book on the "lighter side of losing a child" (or IF, loss, insert your situation here)? Have you ever found that book? Have you found it in a blog? How have you used humor to work through times of grief?

I’ve never found that book (if you do, I’d like to hear about it!). I do sometimes find some humorous things in loss or IF blogs -- stuff that perhaps an outsider wouldn't find funny, but is to those of us inside the loop.

As we open our support group meetings, we always say, “It’s OK to cry, that’s why we brought the Kleenex.” We’ve also begun to add, “It’s OK to laugh too,” because, contrary to what people might expect to find at a grief group, we also do a lot of laughing. Sometimes the humour is pretty black, but that’s OK.

The author talks about "out-traveling sadness" on page 132. It brought to mind all of the trips we took to forget about IF and how they never worked. What are others experiences/thoughts? Does it work for anyone?

I was amazed when I tapped into an online support group shortly after my loss, to find out how many people had taken trips or vacations to “get away” afterward. One couple’s family gave them money for a vacation. Some said the vacation was just the tonic they needed. Others said it was a total waste of money, as they realized they couldn’t run away from the situation. It was still waiting for them when they got back home.

My parents came to be with us for a few weeks after our loss. My dad repainted our backyard shed & re-wallpapered our bathroom for us. As a thank you, knowing that my parents love casinos, we decided to take a short overnight road trip to a new casino that had opened recently, a short (under two hours) drive from where we live.

It was a mistake. Dh hates casinos & was in a bad mood the entire trip. I was in tears, navigating back & forth between him and my parents, putting on a happy face in front of them. We’ve never been back.

If you had gone through what Elizabeth McCracken had gone through, would you have wanted a picture? Why or why not?

I did go through stillbirth. And when the hospital social worker, who called me before I headed to the hospital, suggested that I bring a camera, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even pack it, in case I changed my mind (who said I had to use it?). Taking pictures of dead babies? It seemed so morbid. What would people think?

So I, who am known on all sides of our family, as “the family photographer,” did not even pack my camera when I headed to the hospital. Fortunately, the nurses took some photos for us. Unfortunately, they were Polaroid photos, and they are horribly taken. There are six photos, and Katie is barely visible in them. There are three of us holding her, and three of her by herself. As I wrote in a recent post, she is lying on a metal tray, with only her face (barely) visible through the blankets, with a nurse’s gloved hand and a bag clearly labeled “SOILED LINEN” in the background. My support group facilitator, who taught seminars to nurses and other professionals who deal with bereaved parents, told me she’d like to use my photos as an example of how NOT to take them.

They are lousy. But they are infinitely precious, since they are the only photos that I have of our very brief time together, that confirm her existence.

One couple who came to our support group were so disappointed with the Polaroid photos that their hospital provided that they donated a digital camera to be used by other bereaved parents. They were thrilled when, some time later, another couple arrived at our group who had used the camera. They had some of the best non-professional photos that I’ve seen yet.

Thank goodness for organizations such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which are helping to add normalcy to the practice of taking photos – not to mention providing parents with stunningly beautiful keepsakes.

So this was one point where McCracken & I differ. I know she worried about making “a fetish” of a photo. Maybe it’s because my photos are so lousy, but I don’t look at them very often anymore. (But I still like knowing that they are there.) I had one (of me & dh with Katie) copied and framed, and it sits on top of our bedroom armoire, along with a few other keepsakes. I know other parents who have their child’s photo on display in the family room, along with photos of their other children. They sometimes get some “looks” from visitors, but they don’t care and I don’t think they should. It’s their house.

In my 10 years as a facilitator, I can count on the fingers of one hand the clients I can recall who, when given the opportunity to see their baby and/or take photos, have declined. (I know of many, like dh & me, who initially did not want to see the baby, but changed our minds and are very, very glad that we did.) I sometimes wonder about them, and whether they have ultimately regretted their decision.

If you had experienced a late term loss, would you have wanted to knowthe sex of the baby during any future pregnancy? Why or why not?

I knew Katie was a girl in advance, and I would definitely have wanted to know in any subsequent pregnancies. Knowing the gender, being able to give the child a name in advance and make plans for nursery décor, etc., helps make that baby more real to you, I think. Even if there is a subsequent loss, knowing is not going to make you hurt any more or less – not knowing is not going to protect you – you’re still going to hurt just as badly as you would if you know.

I do know some parents who have chosen not to know, and that’s fine too.

On page 94 Elizabeth McCracken writes, "I've never gotten over my discomfort at other people's discomfort" also "I don't even know what I would have wanted someone to say", and I am wondering how you have handled that discomfort when something terrible happened to you (suicide, miscarriage, failed cycle, etc.) Is it better for another person to say something cliche that makes you feel awful or is it better for them to ignore the topic all together?

Ignoring the topic is NEVER a good idea. The clichés can make me wince, true, but I usually try to recognize that the person meant well. Better to have at least made the effort to acknowledge my pain than pretend that nothing happened.

McCracken states that her only regret regarding Pudding, was that she didn't hold him. Would you hold your baby in the same situation?

I did see and hold my baby. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Dh was opposed, and my mother (who flew in to be with us) said she’d go along with whatever we wanted (although I think she secretly wanted to see her grandchild). When the time came, I decided that I did want to see her – I felt that I would ultimately regret it if I didn’t – and dh surprised me by saying he wanted to see her too. We are so, so very glad we did. We each took turns holding her. I asked to hold her one more time before handing her back to the nurse. I said “Goodbye, baby, Mommy loves you,” kissed my fingertip & pressed it to her forehead.

That was the only skin-to-skin contact that I had with her. I didn’t unwrap her. It didn’t even occur to me that I could or should. (This is where I think some guidance & suggestions from the nursing staff would come in handy. Who knows what to do, what’s “allowed,” what’s possible, in these situations?) They handed me this little white bundle (a beautifully crocheted shawl over top of a hospital blanket, with a little white crocheted cap perched on her head), and I just stared and stared at that tiny red face. After not bringing along my camera, I think this would have to be my second-greatest regret about the whole experience.

But then, there will always be regrets. There will never be enough time, or enough photos. There will always be things we wish we had done, or done differently. Such is the nature of loss and grief.

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: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not again...

The body of a stillborn baby was found among hospital laundry in Montreal on Friday. This story from Canadian Press appeared in today's Toronto Star:

Baby's body found in a Montreal laundromat
Jan 17, 2009 12:48 PM
The Canadian Press

MONTREAL–The body of a baby stillborn at a hospital in Montreal has been
found in an industrial laundromat in the city's east end.

The employees of the Buanderie Qualite laundromat, located on Fullum Street, made the discovery on Friday, as they processed the laundry from the Lakeshore General Hospital in Pointe Claire.

Louis-Pascal Cyr, a spokesman for the Lakeshore General Hospital, told reporters Saturday that an internal investigation has been launched into the incident.

Cyr says the evidence suggests that something "was not done properly" and that everything points to human error.

According to media reports the baby's family has been notified about the incident.

The laundromat employees who found the baby were reportedly treated for shock.

This is far from the first such story I have heard in the past 10 years since Katie's stillbirth, and I'm sure it won't be the last, at least until hospitals adopt uniform protocols to follow in dealing with stillbirth (and perhaps not even then). And each time I hear of such a case, I find myself shuddering & think, "There but for the grace of God go I & my baby."

The first such case I heard of came within about a month of Katie's stillbirth, at a city hospital (NOT the one I had delivered at, thankfully). I read about the case and shuddered.

Thinking that taking photos of a dead baby would be "too morbid," I had not brought my camera with me to the hospital (my one biggest regret). Thankfully, the nurses took six Polaroids for us. They are lousy photos in almost every respect, but they are among my most treasured possessions, because they are the only ones that exist, that attest to the fact that, yes, there was a baby, and yes, we were (and still are) parents.

There is one of me holding Katie (not visible); one of me & dh with Katie (not visible); and one of me, dh, Mom & Katie (also not visible). And three of Katie herself. (My support group facilitator, who helped train nurses and other professionals who assist bereaved parents, told me she'd like to use my photos as an example of how NOT to take them.) Bundled up just as we had seen her, only her tiny red face is visible (and not very clearly at that). She is lying on a metal tray, held by the nurse's gloved hand. There is a bag in the background clearly labelled "SOILED LINEN."

I guess you can understand why hearing stories about stillborn babies' bodies found among the hospital linen hits pretty close to home for me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Handmaid's Tale" in the news

A past pick of the Barren B*tches Book Tour -- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood -- has suddenly become a hot topic in Toronto this week.

A local parent filed a complaint with the Toronto District School Board after his son was assigned the novel to read in his Grade 12 class, prompting the board to review its suitability for inclusion on the curriculum.

The Toronto Star's Antonia Zerbiasias blogs about the issue and the Star's coverage here.

I really can't imagine there's anything about the sex, violence or language in the novel that any Grade 12 student doesn't already know. (I CAN imagine certain scenes & subjects provoking a lot of sniggers among the more immature students.) But I can also imagine some lively discussion on the serious issues it raises -- which, as we noted in our BBBT posts, are still as relevant today (perhaps even more so) as they were 25 years ago when Atwood wrote the novel.

Speaking of the BBBT -- the latest selection, Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination -- will be up for discussion early next week!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm Glowing in the Woods today...

Janis, one of the lovely Medusas at Glow in the Woods, asked me to guest post for her, as she is otherwise occupied with her beautiful new daughter! You can find my post -- about pregnancy loss & the perspective that the passage of time brings (or doesn't!) -- here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Circle Time/Show & Tell: Me! 1st Christmas/Birthday

I love this photo -- my first studio portrait! It was taken by a photographer from my grandparents' small town in Minnesota -- the same photographer who did my parents' wedding portrait.

It was taken in December 1961, just before my first Christmas and my first birthday. I remember seeing copies in both my grandparents' homes -- Christmas gifts, perhaps? I love that you can see a hand -- most likely my mother's -- on the seat of the chair in the lower right-hand corner -- just under my diaper-&-plastic-pants-clad butt, ready to catch me if should teeter on the chair.

And I love the little dress (it's baby blue -- which has long been my favourite colour. The dress I wore for my first day of grade one, and the dress I wore for my high school graduation, were both light blue as well). Several years ago, my mother gave me a bag full of baby clothes that my sister & I had worn -- post-Katie, but when we still hoped to have another child. This dress was in the bag. I knew that if we had a baby girl, I would have her wear it for her one-year portrait.

Tomorrow (January 12th) is my birthday -- my 48th birthday. My ttc years are fast fading into the past. (AF, however, continues to hang around & taunt me...!) I used to joke that I was following the example of my great-grandmother, who famously gave birth to her last child in 1923 at the then-positively-ancient age of 47 (no fertility drugs or donor eggs then!!). Having now been 47 for a whole year, I can't imagine how she did it (and she had five other children as well, ranging in age from 6 to 18!!). I get tired just thinking about it.

There is a certain relief in seeing this part of my life finally fading into the past -- getting closer to menopause and being done, really & truly done, with the whole thing -- although I'm sure my (in)fertility journey will continue to make its impact felt for the rest of my life.

Birthdays aren't quite what they used to be when I was younger -- or what they would be if we had a child around, I'm sure -- but they're still a good excuse for indulgence. ; ) Dh took me shopping this afternoon, & we're going out for steaks tomorrow night after work. There has to be some compensation for growing older, right??

For more of this week's Show & Tell, hop on over to the Stirrup Queen's blog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Some good reading

A couple of recent articles & sites of interest, especially if you live in Ontario:
  • A recent Toronto Star article about the provincial government's election province to fund infertility treatments, and the work of its expert panel, which I have blogged about previously, here. (As always, there are some interesting comments...!)
  • The deadline to take part in the panel's online survey on infertility and adoption has been extended until next Monday, January 12, 2009. If you live in Ontario and infertility/adoption has touched your life, please take a few minutes to complete the survey, if you haven't done so already.
  • The Infertility Awareness Association ofCanada (IAAC) is asking Ontario's infertile community to share their stories with the Ontario government and raise public awareness of this important issue before the expert panel issues its final report. They are hoping to collect more than 10,000 personal stories documenting the physical, emotional and financial impact of infertility in Ontario -- not just from those of us who suffer from infertility, but also our family members & friends.
  • While on the IAAC site, I found this link to the website of an interesting initiative: Did you know that a new global initiative called the Assisted Conception Taskforce (ACT) has been formed to provide advice, guidance and information for couples who are having difficulty in achieving a pregnancy? ACT includes patient leaders and health professionals from more than 20 countries around the world who are aiming to (i) help those that are having difficulty achieving a pregnancy through the process and (ii) encourage clinics to endorse a charter outlining global principles of care.
  • Today's Globe & Mail had an article about yoga for infertility. I did not start yoga until after I had abandoned treatment. I started taking a weekly class to try to help alleviate the anxiety attacks I began having after we decided to abandon treatment, following several failed IUI/injectable cycles. It was recommended as good stress relief by several sources, including the infertility counsellor we had consulted, and Alice Domar in several of her books. I obviously never got pregnant, but I have hugely enjoyed the classes I've taken anyway!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Glow in the Woods January 7x7

Some thought-provoking, holiday-related questions from the medusas at Glow in the Woods, along with my answers. Follow the link for more answers from other readers.

1 Welcome to 2009. What have you left behind in the year just past? What do you hope to find in the year to come?

Left behind: a full decade of grief and loss and life in the aftermath of stillbirth.

Hoping to find: a greater degree of peace & serenity in my life, and a better sense of purpose as I edge closer towards my (eek) 50s.

2 We've just come through the season in which our culture touts cheer and peace and family togetherness rather relentlessly. How did your child's death impact your experience of the "holiday" season, personally or culturally?

Katie's stillbirth was followed closely by the death of my grandfather, who was the personification of family Christmases for me. So the loss of the Christmases I had envisioned in the future became intertwined with the loss of the Christmases I had always known. In the gap between, a sort of hybrid celebration has sprung up... I cling to those memories of Christmases past, and there's enough surviving elements to be able to carry on as we always have, mingled with melancholy & longing for what once was and what will never be, again or ever.

3 If you celebrate in any way through December, are there ways you include or acknowledge your lost baby/babies?

Katie is ever-present for us during the holiday season. Her due date was in late November, and I've written before about how I had fantasized about watching the Toronto Santa Claus Parade from the hospital window with a baby in my arms. So I can never watch the parade now without that picture in my mind.

We attend our support group's annual candlelighting service.

We decorate Katie's niche at the cemetery.

I usually manage to work in a reference to Katie in our annual holiday letter, and our Christmas card usually features something Katie-related (Classic Pooh, angels, etc.).

Our tree is covered in teddy bear angels, Classic Pooh ornaments, and hand-knit baby booties, in tribute to our little girl.

4 Through the year are there any holidays, seasons, or parts of what were once cherished rituals that have changed for you because of your child's death?

All of them. At GITW, Niobe said, "On almost every holiday and holy day, I realize how alone I truly am" and I thought, "Yes!!" I always find myself bristling at the suggestion that "Christmas is for kids," etc. -- and yet, I have to admit, there is some truth to it. Dh & I often find ourselves very much alone on most holidays during the year. Christmas we do spend with my family, but they live far away, & his brother & father are often busy with inlaws and stepfamilies. So for Easter, Thanksgiving, etc., we are often at loose ends. While the moms I know bustle around & chatter about colouring Easter eggs & designing Halloween costumes, I remain silent. I had looked forward to doing these things with my children... and dh & I do some traditional things (e.g., we always carve a Halloween pumpkin), but they aren't vested with quite the same anticipation or enthusiasm as they would be if we had a 10-year-old around.

5 Do you do anything to remember your baby/babies' birth and/or death day? Or will you?

We have several rituals we usually carry out for August 7th. In most years past, I have published an "In Memoriam" in the local newspaper (although I'm debating whether I'll do it every year, now that 10 years have passed). We make a donation to our pregnancy loss support group. I take the day off work, if it's a work day, and go through Katie's box of things. We take pink roses to the cemetery. And we order in Chinese food for dinner, in remembrance of what we did the night we arrived home from the hospital.

6 Is there anything about the winter season (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere right now) that lifts your spirits? Is there anything that especially brings them down?

I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, so Christmas (or my birthday) doesn't seem quite the same without snow (lots of snow!) around. Those first few snowfalls can be magical. And I love Christmas -- the music, the lights, the decorations, the party clothes, the traditions (the food!!), the generosity.

But -- while I can enjoy, or at least put up with winter, over Christmas and through my birthday season, by February, I've had enough. The Toronto area can be kind of grey & slushy during the winter, which I find terribly depressing. I get lots of jokes about my home province & how cold it is, but, honestly? I often find it preferable. Back "home," the sun is usually shining (even if it IS minus 30C outside -- without the windchill factored in...!), & (outside the city, at least) things are white and sparkly, and the snow crunches underfoot -- a sound I miss.

Also, while I love Christmas -- the IDEA of Christmas -- the reality is (a) linked so closely to my daughter, it can't help but be tinged with some sadness, and (b) it's year-end at work, so I don't usually have the time to enjoy it and take everything in the way I would like to. Sigh.

7 During your hardest times, how have you found your way forward?

By leaning on my dh. And on my friends, especially those I've made through my IRL support group and online forums. By writing. By being really good to myself. By taking yoga classes (helps me keep the anxiety at bay... sometimes...!). By realizing that many women have trod this path before me, and eventually, I will find my own way too. By realizing that I am a person of value and worth, no matter what my reproductive capabilities (& if others can't see that, well then, too darned bad). And that I am a mother, just not to a child here on this earth.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Odds & ends from the holidays...

A few bits & pieces from the past few weeks that had me thinking, "I should write about that...":

*** *** ***

Formerly pg coworker, now on mat leave, brought her baby (born mid-September) in to the office to meet everyone, a few weeks before Christmas. Lots of oohing & ahhing, of course. I actually found myself wanting to see this baby (& I was fine, so long as I didn't think about it too much as it was happening), & so hung around until she arrived.

She was very cute (of course). I got to hold her for awhile, bouncing back & forth from one leg to another while patting the baby on the rump, & she curled up against me & fell asleep. : ) It was actually kind of nice to be holding a baby amid a group of people, all but one of whom had no clue about my reproductive history -- I could enjoy the baby without feeling overly self-conscious, wondering what they were thinking about, seeing me with a baby (are they feeling sorry for me? are they wondering why I haven't gotten pregnant again? do they think I'm a psycho stillbirth mother who's going to take off with her??)(!!).

When I handed her over to another coworker (not wanting to hog her completely), she opened one eye & glared, lol -- I guess she was feeling pretty comfortable with me. And that made me feel good. : )

*** *** ***

At a divisionwide holiday event just prior to Christmas, I ran into a woman I've known almost as long as I've been with the company, but hadn't seen in almost 10 years, since she changed jobs & moved to another location in another part of the city. I used to attend an annual dinner that she was in charge of organizing, & since she lives in the same suburb as me (same subdivision, in fact!), we often used to travel home from it together.

The last time I saw her was on Mother's Day, a year or so post-stillbirth. Dh & I decided to escape the hoopla by going to an afternoon matinee, & she, her husband & two then-teenaged daughters sat in front of us.

I asked her about her daughters &, after telling me what they were doing, there was a pause & then she said, "So, any kids?" (I guess I asked for it by bringing up the subject, didn't I?) "No," I said, with a smile frozen on my face. "No?" she said, looking slightly puzzled. (I wondered whether she'd heard I was pregnant & had a vague memory of it.) "No," I said, and in the extremely awkward pause that followed, I added helpfully, "It's a part of my life that just didn't work out as planned."

Mercifully, that changed the subject, we soon moved on to talk to other people and, as it was a very busy day for me, I didn't have too much time to dwell on it. I haven't had an encounter like that for quite some time, though, & I'd forgotten how damned awkward it can be. Funny, though, I think she was more traumatized by it than I was.

*** *** ***

I mentioned in a recent post that we went to see my parents' neighbours' grandson over the holidays. Afterwards, I had a weird dream about breastfeeding a baby boy. I'm presuming he was mine (!). I don't recall much about the dream, just that I was breastfeeding & the baby took to it like a duck to water, much to my relief.

*** *** ***

Pamela Jeanne recently wrote a great post about holiday photo cards. I don't entirely mind them -- although, as I said in my comment to her, it would be nice to receive one of the entire family now & then -- I have friends that I haven't "seen" in 20 years!! Of course, most of the photos we get these days aren't of babies any more, which makes it slightly easier. In fact, the annual onslaught of photo cards & holiday letters reminded me that four of my oldest friends from growing up (grade school & high school) now have kids in university. Gulp.

New Year's resolutions

Everyone asks whether I've made my list of NY resolutions yet. I always say that I don't have to make a list, because I've made the same ones for so many years now, I don't need to write them down. But for what it's worth, here they are (again...!):

  • Lose weight. (sigh)
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)
  • Write more in my journal. (However, I think blogging & message boards have superceded my paper journal...)
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house.
  • Tackle some of the clutter that never seems to go away.
A couple of other things I really want to get done this year:
  • Get our passports, & get travelling!!
  • Finally do something with the spare bedroom that was to have been the nursery (get new furniture & linens to replace the old castoffs).
  • Set aside the nephews' scrapbooks for awhile, & start a scrapbook for dh & me (that will hopefully be finished in time for our 25th anniversary in 2010). And maybe (finally) start Katie's, too.
For several years, "Get pregnant" was on the list, followed by "Get pregnant again," post-stillbirth. But that one has been dropped from the list for several years now. With yet another birthday coming up, my ttc years are fast fading into the past. (AF, however, continues to hang around & taunt me...!) There is a certain relief in seeing this part of my life finally fading into the past -- knowing that the course is set & there's no turning back -- although I continue to feel the effects of those years, & probably always will...
My vacation (which began Dec. 19th) is drawing to an end (bah, humbug...). Back to work on Monday!