This is Brave
I feel so honoured to have these words featured on THIS IS BRAVE , a beautiful site aimed at giving women and mothers a space to share some of the hardest parts of life… an act of bravery.
Brave isn’t a word that came to mind when I found out I was pregnant for the first time, it didn’t even rank in the top ten attributes I thought I would need when preparing to have a baby. Patient, resilient, organized, loving, kind, generous… I thought these were the qualities I needed to foster. But knowing what I do now, looking back at my journey so far as a mother, I know that bravery is the single most important tool I have.
My first son Lochlan was beautiful. He was everything I hoped for, he filled my heart to the brim and my immediate response to seeing his face was the fierce protection you get told about when you’re pregnant. “Something will just come over you, something will take over” your friends tell you, and for me it was immediate. This was because for the previous 24 hrs, my husband and I sat and listened to doctors telling us how dire Lochlan’s situation was. His condition was the rarest of rare. He lived for 22 days. He made me a mom.
When I first said sat down to write something about my motherhood journey, I thought I would talk about our time with Lochlan in the NICU, our brief window into being parents for the first time and how quickly we lost him. I’ve realized, however, that listing off all the times I watched doctors insert a chest tube or look for a PICC line vein or do a life threatening procedure on him isn’t what has made me the mother I am today – not entirely. It’s everything that came after; so I’ll start there.
The morning after Lochlan died, I handed him over to a complete stranger. This person drove an ambulance, but there was no siren, he was perfectly meek and tried not to look me in the eye. My entire body shook as I handed my baby boy over to this man, knowing I would never hold him again, and all I could say was “Don’t take his blanket off. He needs his blanket.” My husband and the nurse at Canuck Place helped me stumble back to our room where the sobs erupted from me like a wild animal, and somehow, some way, a few hours later I packed my bag and went home. It seemed unreal to be leaving a hospice for children, to make our way home on a sunny afternoon with a box of food sitting in the back seat they had packed for us, It seemed more appropriate to be going on a picnic. People all around us rode bikes and jogged in the fresh air, it was a beautiful spring day. We walked in our front door and immediately lay down in bed, struggling to do anything but cry. The most terrible sound I’ve heard to this day was my husband sobbing next to me, unleashing his own grief for a moment when he couldn’t bring himself to be strong for me. Time moved slowly for a very long time, we blindly went through our days for weeks on end, always keeping busy but never doing anything at all – the hopeless dance of the grieving.
For months afterwards, we tried to make sense of being parents in our hearts with no child in our home. I listened to friends and other women talk about motherhood, always avoiding my gaze and speaking quietly as if talking about the greatest thing that ever happened to me would make me hurt more. As if I could possibly hurt more. With nothing to fill my days I decided to go back to work, I am a photographer and it seemed like a cheap joke that my niche was family photography. I eased into it slowly and to my surprise, I began falling in love with photographing newborns, children and mothers again. I seemed to search for any way to be around a family setting. My husband and I started running together, an effort to keep busy but for me, it became a way to run through my sadness and rage. I was angry, so incredibly angry. The world had stolen my greatest gift and I lashed out at anyone who said the wrong thing to me, which was almost always. When I look back at how deeply set in grief we were, how lost and swallowed-whole our entire beings became, it seems almost miraculous that we pushed through. Treading the waters of loss, I somehow dug myself out of the darkest days of my life.
Just over 9 months after Lochlan passed we found out we were pregnant, again. This time with twins. It seemed to be the perfect answer that the universe owed us, two babies to hold and love, one for each of our aching arms. No one envisioned anything but perfection for us this time, the universe owed us a free pass and for a few weeks, we lived in an un-poppable bubble. Then, at 19 weeks were told our baby girl had Down syndrome. The delivery of her diagnosis was a shot to the gut, it was full of limitations and setbacks, things she would never do, sicknesses she might have, hardships she would endure, hardships we would endure as a result of her. Doctors paved a road that didn’t look worth walking. We sat in that office with no hope in sight and felt like they were telling us our child was dying all over again. Any joy we felt at being pregnant again was ripped away from us and for weeks we mourned the loss of a child we hadn’t even met yet. Mourning seemed to be the only task we could accomplish in parenthood, the journey of finally having a child in our arms seemed so steep that we might never get there. I’m not proud of how long it took me to accept my daughter’s diagnosis, the reality of being faced with hardship stung my heart and wore me down, but the day our twins were born and placed in my arms every fear I had melted away. They were perfect, they were tiny, beautiful and healthy. Immediately the gaping hole in my heart began recede.
I would love to say from that moment on life seemed as it should be, but what happened next was nothing I planned for or expected. I suppose postpartum depression should have been on our radar after losing Lochlan, but I naively thought all I needed was a baby in my arms to make my world right. Within a week or so it was clear that breastfeeding two infants was going to completely consume me, I spent 80 percent of my waking moments either nursing, pumping or bottle feeding. My heart wanted to breastfeed both babies, my mind told me that to keep things “even” between a typical and special needs infant I needed to, but physically Kenzie and I couldn’t figure it out. My days were spent nursing Wally, pumping for Kenzie then bottle feeding her, rotating them in my arms, attempting to nap them together and then starting the process all over again. It wasn’t the dreamy newborn stage I imaged or felt was owed to me after losing my son. I wasn’t soaking in any cuddles, I wasn’t elated or glowing with joy for my gifts – I was struggling, crying in the bathroom and consumed by guilt over feeling anything but happiness for my two healthy babies at home. I lived in fear of them dying, always afraid I would miss something and they would choke, be smothered by a blanket, drown in the tub. The fear of death ate me alive and stole any chance I had for peace. For months I stayed at home because I couldn’t fathom leaving the house with both babies. Wally cried all the time and Kenzie spent a good 6 months laying on the floor while I bounced her brother. I was sinking deep into the fog of sadness I knew so well that it was almost comfortable. Looking back I can see that I thought our difficult and traumatic months were normal, just like my time after Lochlan was born. It took about a year for me to feel myself again, sadly I didn’t seek help and didn’t tell anyone what I was feeling because I thought I had no right to say any of what I had was hard. Eventually, I came to a realization that has helped me tremendously in the past few years – I realized that I had to let myself be sad, I had to verbalize when I felt broken and not push it down where no one could see it. I had to give myself permission to grieve and grieve hard when I needed to, otherwise, the darkness would swallow me again.
Pretty soon small moments of happiness grew into hours, and then into days, weeks and slowly I found caring for twins easy and wonderful. We found a perfect rhythm of routine that worked for us and I learned to recognize any swings of emotion I felt. I began to talk openly about Lochlan, about raising twins and the hardships we felt through receiving Kenzie’s diagnosis. Writing about and expressing deep grief became my best form of therapy, a way for me to verbalize a stream of thoughts and make sense of it all. My feelings of exhaustion and sadness let way to immense joy and love for my twins, and they began to mend my heart in a way I didn’t think was possible.
This past January I gave birth to Woodford, named in honour of my Dad who passed away last year. My pregnancy with him was full of incredible excitement and terrible sadness. I felt an intense connection to Lochlan and could not separate his loss from Woodford’s growth. It was such a confusing time for me and strangely, I believe those 9 months gave me more strength as a mother than any other. I had a deep seeded worry that our family would never feel full or finished, that we would always be missing Lochlan, therefore missing a part of us. I didn’t want the task of ‘completing us’ to fall on this new babe growing inside of me. I’m not sure how it all fell into place or if I was just prepared for another hard postpartum journey, but since I laid eyes on baby Woody my world has been completed. I know my heart will always be cracked, will always have a space for my sorrow to seep through, but it no longer feels like I am struggling to put all the pieces back together again. I am digging deep and finding the courage to move forward every day, to stretch myself between heaven and earth and cope with what that does to my heart. To care for three children that need me in such different ways and to honour my first child through the way I live my own life. Motherhood is not for the meek, this I know with all my heart, it takes courage and grit. I’ve come to realize that Lochlan is the root of us all, the foundation of our family. I know that he will never be missing, though he is greatly missed.