This Strong Mother Monday, I'd love to share the rest of my story. I've already written about how the path to motherhood was a rough road for me (you can read Part 1 of my story here). As I shared two weeks ago, I suffered a stillbirth at 28 weeks of gestation with our first son. His name was Henry, and he came to us and left us, in March of 2008 (it was Good Friday).
One day I would like to delve more deeply into the experience of that day. I may not even share it, but feel there would be great therapeutic value to dig deep and let out whatever comes when I take myself back to the experience. It seems strange even to me that I have not yet really written much about it. I think I have been trying to just keep it on the inside and not dwell. I try to honour Henry's memory and legacy by living and loving well and talking about him to people...and sometimes even to his brother...
LIFE AFTER DEATH
After losing Henry, we discovered some things about my pregnancy and health that were not diagnosed when it would have been early enough to make a difference. In addition to my long term Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was discovered to carry a triple threat: three antibodies that, undiagnosed, can wreak havoc on a mother and pregnancy. It turns out that I had been having TIAs, or mini-strokes, throughout my pregnancy with Henry.
I entered into extensive consultation with a high risk OB/GYN...who warned us that we could have the same experience repeated, or worse: there was a slight chance of my own demise with another pregnancy. My husband and I thought, and talked, thought some more and talked some more, and decided to try again.
We were living in Long Beach, California at the time - though we are Canadian, we had been living there for my husband's work. And so, after a while of wandering around aimlessly and empty, I decided I needed to find something to do. I applied to Long Beach Magazine first as a writer, then was offered the Managing Editor position, and then quickly took over as Editor-in-Chief.
I loved the job. It felt right to be there; managing writers, photographers, designers, working with advertising and management. We moved forward, and by June of 2009, I was pregnant again.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
The first thing I had to do was start twice-daily injections of blood thinners. They were painful and scary at first, but my husband gave them to me until I was brave enough to take over.
We also made the huge decision to move back to Canada, and though it took a few months, we did return. I continued to work remotely for the magazine until they could find a suitable replacement, and we settled into life in our fixer-upper. I had also secured a sort of test position at CBC Radio and gotten an assignment for the Globe and Mail...and I was hatching a plan with my creative partner in crime Cynthia Merriman of My Girl Friday Design to start our own online magazine.
This is one of maybe five photos taken of me during my pregnancy. I was camera shy, as I felt I didn't want to document another pregnancy that might not have a happy ending. It was a cautiously optimistic time, and my belly (and my hope) was growing.
SUNNY SIDE UP
One morning I was DMing with Cynthia and shared that I didn't feel very well. My stomach was really upset and I just could barely keep out of the washroom. Within a few hours, it became pretty evident that I was in labour, and I phoned my husband at work. The only thing I could get out was, "You better get home, I'm in a lot of pain." By the time he got home, and got me to hospital (in that windy October afternoon - I'll never forget seeing the red leaves shaking overhead as we stormed by at top speed), my head knew that I was in full-on labour, but my heart was in denial. I simply could not believe that this was happening all over again.
However, one thing was different...I could feel this baby kicking.
The team at the hospital tried to stop my labour, but there was no stopping this little guy and I simply kept progressing.
Finn Jacob came out just a few hours later, fast and face up, or sunny side up -- purple from nose to forehead and looking like a little boxer. As they took him away for attention, I lay on the table absolutely spent and still, somehow, in disbelief.
It took a while for the shock to set in. My milk came in, painfully. I stayed overnight that first night, and from then on established a routine of going to the hospital all day, every day, with my husband coming sometimes before and always after work.
From the very first day, Finn lived on our bare chests. Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin, was heavily endorsed by the doctors and nurses in the NICU at BC Women's Hospital, and I am convinced that this daily (hourly) practice was one of the top three reasons Finn did so well.
To this day, he will ask me to wear a "cuddle shirt" (tank top) so he can lay his sweet head on my chest and feel happy and safe.
We experienced and learned so much in the NICU: terms like CPAP (the breathing assistance he was on, that is one people with apnea use) - he was not intubated, and was not on a ventilator so that was a strong start. And words like bilirubin, jaundice and gavage. I became proficient at pumping breast milk and my petite breasts filled up the freezers at the hospital and at home! We were given the incredible opportunity to learn about how to bathe, feed, and care for a baby from a team of dedicated and experienced nurses before we ever had to attempt to do so on our own.
And eventually, after seven long and gut wrenching weeks, he came home with us. I sewed a tie on a onesie to make the occasion more festive.
I can safely say that the last six years with this guy have been the best of my entire life. We have been blessed with such a funny, witty, smart, engaging, curious and active child, made all the more precious after our loss.
Finn has his own product line called Finn and the Thunderbolts. Whenever he says something particularly delightful, I'll write it down and then make products out of those expressions. A portion goes to his education fund, and a portion to the NICU at BC Women's. We hope to buy an incubator one day!
He loves to ski, bike, dance, do Tae Kwon Do, swim, read, write stories, and cuddle.
In Finn, I have the love of my life. He brings me purpose, energy, inspiration, tickles, snuggles, song and cuddle time, a helping hand in the kitchen and a nursemaid when I am recovering from hip and shoulder replacement surgeries...and simply, the promise of the future.
I am strong because of the things I have gone through to get to where I am now. I am strong because of my resilience and will in dealing with chronic pain and an active chronic illness. I am strong in my mothering. And I am also strong because of and for him.