A Little Help From My Friends

Darcy and I often joke about my twice weekly visits to the psychologist. We’ve dealt with just about every situation in our lives using humour. It’s how we cope, and this isn’t very different in that respect. Often, after our appointments together we’ll look at each other and say “still crazy? yep.” and chuckle and move on to face whatever that day has to hold. On the outside, we put on our bravest faces. On the inside, usually we’re both barely held together by the seams. 

“How the hell do you think I am?”

How many times have I wanted to scream that at anyone who cares to ask how I’m doing?  People wouldn’t ever expect me to react that way. They’d know I was crazy. Alternatively, how many times have I wanted to meet their eyes, all calm, cool, and collected, and say that? Just say it– no forced smile, no nothing. How many times? I’ve lost count. And how many times have I actually said it? None. But none of us are any good at this. Sometimes people don’t know HOW to ask how I’m doing. And sometimes, I really don’t know how to answer. 

Why is that, you think? 

I think part of my need to appear sane isn’t about me at all. It’s not about my pride being hurt if I’m pitied; looked at like a sad puppy in the pound at the SPCA. It’s not about being patronized with idiotic advice on how to make things all better. I think some part of this is about the need to have Everlee seen as profoundly cherished, and not just some event that has driven me to the brink of insanity. I hold it together so that when I choose to talk about her, I am not dismissed. I think one of the things I want most is for others to understand my grief, just a little bit. It’s not an overreaction. It’s a deep love for my child who has died, and that warrants the most hurtful and deep sort of grief there is. It’s messy. and hard. But it’s far from an overreaction. And that’s hard for others to see sometimes when they haven’t been here. I know that I am slowly finding my footing in this new world I’ve found myself in but it is, by far, that hardest thing I have ever done (and will ever have to do, one would hope) in my life. 

I have so many wonderful people in my life who regularly check in on me. I still don’t spend much time with people. I find it so difficult. It gives me anxiety to the point where I break into sweats and have to actively think about how to breathe. It’s getting easier than before, no doubt, but it’s still a challenge. That’s why I am so thankful for things like Facebook that allow me to still maintain those relationships that are so important to me (and, it seems, meet people who have families like mine).

“Hi Rhonda, I just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you, Darcy and Everlee today. Love you xo”

So simple. So easy. That very tiny bit of love, sent regularly by keyboard, lets me know that my friends care,even if they don’t completely understand. It soothes my beastly bitterness at how the world slights this type of loss. Facebook, of all things, has saved some real friendships, by helping me let people off the hook for not being better at this.

No part of this has been easy, and more than occasionally I have been teetering on the brink of losing it. However, there is not a doubt in my mind that it is that love from the amazing people in my life that has hauled me back from the depths of grief stricken hell. Am I insane? No. Do I often feel like I might be? Absolutely. But one thing is for certain, and that is that without my friends, and my family and my Darcy I wouldn’t be able to put on that brave face and keep my seams from bursting apart with all of the pain inside. 

 

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Life, Revisited.

Every time I’ve sat down in front of a blank screen this week I’ve been at a loss for words. With Before-Rhonda that would be shocking. With After-Rhonda, not so much.

My words are lost somewhere between my heart and my fingers. I rarely write here with my head. When I started this blog I knew it wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t completely honest and raw as a writer. I write first and think after most of the time. It gives me some catharsis then. A release that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t find anywhere else.

After my last entry, Darcy looked at me and said “You know, your blog entries are incredibly self loathing”.

And he’s not wrong.

I see that when I write, but more and more, I see that when I look in the mirror. And I know that’s what I need to change now more than anything. I can’t bring my daughter back. No amount of hoping and praying nor well wishes from others will ever give me what I need most. I used to love myself, every little bit of me. I loved who I was and I loved what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I wasn’t ashamed of who I had become. But that was Before, and After-Rhonda needs to fight her way back to that spot, if that sacred piece of ground still exists. Maybe it’s somewhere in a new place.

When I started this blog, I started it from the very depths of my own hell. A hell I have barely begun to inch my way out of. I’ve lost track of the stages of grief. I’m not sure I’ve ever really gone through any of them fully. I’ve always been the type to do things my own way, anyhow. Why should this be any different? At least that part of me hasn’t changed. But Darcy is right, that fun-loving side of me is gone, those shiny blue eyes that could look in the mirror and love what they saw are dull, and weary and tired. At least for the moment. Maybe forever. Who knows? But I’m working so hard to get that spark back; To try to find a little bit of joy. Right now I would settle for being able to face the world without being medicated half the time.

Every now and then I get a glimpse at what my life was like Before. It’s so alien. I’ll see my own photo and I’ll not recognize myself. I want that feeling back. I want to feel like tomorrow is promised again. I don’t want to face my own mortality like this. I don’t want to feel death so close anymore. I don’t want to be heavy with grief. But I am. And I look at those pictures it’s like life, revisited.

Image

Ive started beating the crap out of my body with exercise. Eating right wasn’t working fast enough. I have just over 15lbs gone in the last 5 weeks. It hurts to move, but at the same time the ache reminds me that I’m still alive and that I’m still breathing even though most days I feel like I’m merely existing in my own little world. I’m trying to learn to love it. I’m not there yet, but I know it will make me healthier and stronger for Everlee’s brother or sister.

It’s easy sometimes for me to hide behind my screen and interact with people this way. No one has to see the sadness in my eyes or hear the cracks in my voices. No one has to watch my eyes well up and my body recoil as I learn to live with discomforts of being this new me. It’s easy to type “:)” or “haha” to fool other people. I do it every day. That’s why I love social media so much. You can create a persona and no one is any wiser. But here, in this space where everyone sees me as who I really am, I don’t have to hide. And although my blogs are honest, and real and sometimes painful and self loathing they’re who I am right now. But readers I want you to know, that no matter how far down I am, I will always be fighting to get back to that place where I can smile and feel happy again. Because here, I’m Everlee’s mom, and I’ll always fight to make her proud of me.

It only hurts when I breathe

I think that I am starting to accept that I will be sad forever.  It is my destiny to grieve.  I mean shouldn’t I?  I have a child who has died.  Should I not be sad until the day that I die?  And it is just starting to dawn on me,  I should be sad.  I should be sad every moment of every day.  How peculiar would it be if I wasn’t sad for my Everlee?  How cold and heartless would I be?  Instead of worrying that I’m still sad, I should worry that some day I might not be sad…as much as I desperately want the sadness to go away, the sadness means that she was real, and that she mattered. 

I know that at some point I have to allow myself to be happy, or at least that’s what my psychologist tells me. But I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure I ever will be. I have cried every day and I don’t know if the tears will ever stop. 

So often I go around feeling like I am alone in my misery, with Darcy. I don’t know many people (and I know nobody my own age) who has gone through this kind of tragedy. I don’t often get to see people on the other side of this Everest of pain. It seems sometimes that no one remembers that I was pregnant, and that there was a living being here on this earth that looked just like me and Darcy.

People forget that every day, every minute, I pine for that tiny soul, my sweet Everlee.

People forget that shoving their big bellies in my face, or their newborns reminds me of how broken and lost I really am and what I’ve lost, and what I may never have again.

Its human nature to forget, maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t know.

Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

I can’t begrudge them (even if secretly, occasionally, I want to poke them in their perfect world).  

And just when I thought that every last soul on this earth (except Darcy) had forgotten that I had a precious baby once too, someone comes along with a nudge to tell me they remember.

Thank you Cathy, for giving me what many others could not.

Happy Father’s Day. Happy Birthday.

Daddy and Everlee

Daddy holding his daughter for the first time.

Most of the time, I intentionally don’t write much about Darcy here. The reason for that being that I don’t want to assume to put words in his mouth, or feelings in his head. If anything in this journey,  I’ve learned that grief and how you cope with it is a very personal thing. No two people grieve the same way. And although Darcy and I are on the same wavelength most of the time, I’m not going to assume to know how he feels well enough to write about it here. That is a mutual respect we have for one another. That is one of the reasons why our partnership works so well, we rarely make assumptions.

Today is a big day in Darcy’s life. Today is his 35th birthday. A milestone of sorts. But today is also his first Father’s Day. Which makes the day taste bitter. Darcy has been apprehensive (to put it mildly) leading up to today. He’s requested multiple times if he could just sleep through it. And as hard as it may be, I think it’s necessary to celebrate the father he was to Everlee and continues to be.

One of those things that haunts me, and I’ve mentioned it before, is that Darcy once said the only thing he ever got to do for our daughter was to carry her little coffin to her grave. And it pains me to think that’s all he thinks he has done.

Darcy, every little thing you did for me while I was pregnant – whether it be going to the store at 7am on a saturday morning because I just *HAD* to have milk,  The emergency chicken wing runs, accompanying me to all of those doctors appointments, or taking charge of the house and making sure things were done while I was on bed rest – they were for her. They were all for Everlee. Our daughter is the luckiest little girl to have a daddy who was willing to sacrifice so much to make her safe and happy. You may have only held her in your arms for a few moments, but you held her in your heart from the very moment we knew she existed.

So I want to take this entry to wish my husband, my partner and my best friend the happiest of birthdays, and the best Father’s Day we can possibly have. You have been my rock through all of this, and since I’ve known you. And you are the best father there is. Because you had such a great role model in your own father, and in your father-in-law. I look forward to celebrating 100 more birthdays with you, and 100 more Father’s Days. I love you. And so does Everlee.

Thank You. Thank you. Thank you.

What a whirlwind.

I had no idea last night when I wrote that letter and posted it on this blog that so many people would share my plight. In the 15 hours since I posted that blog it has been viewed almost 4000 times. It has been shared on Facebook 226 times, and retweeted on twitter 45 times as well.

Thank you. When I wrote that letter I wasn’t sure anyone else would care. I know there are a lot of people that care about Everlee and care about me and my family, but I had no idea that so many people would care that my little girl didn’t have the piece of paper to recognize her little life that she deserves. Thank you for sharing my blog, but most of all, thank you for caring about her.

I sent that letter to the Minister at 7pm last night, and by 9:18am this morning I had a response from him personally. It read:

Rhonda

First of All please accept my deepest condolences. As a father I cannot even imagine the pain you have to live with forever. I cannot make a promise of a change however I will Work to make a change.

Nick

And honestly, I couldn’t ask for anymore from him. I know how bureaucracy works, and I know that change doesn’t happen over night. So knowing that this was on his radar was more than enough for me right now.  It is so reassuring to know that we have a government that is so committed to listening to the things that matter to its people.

Shortly after I received that email I got a message from CBC On The Go (a drive time talk radio program). My blog had reached their desk and they wanted to talk to me about what I had written and the response I had gotten. As much as it hurts, and as emotional and raw as this is for me, I could not turn down an opportunity to talk about my little girl to anyone willing to listen. I did the interview and it is supposed to be airing on CBC NL at around 5pm this evening. (more on this in a second)

Not 5 minutes after I hung up the phone with Maggie Gillis, I got a call from the head of vital statistics, the department responsible for birth and death certificates and the ones who would have to write the letter I need for Everlee. They had received my email from the Minister’s office this morning and were contacting me with some  good news.

  1. They have filled out all of the forms I need and are couriering the letter that I need to my door this afternoon. They were extraordinarily apologetic for everything I have had to go though, and the subsequent hoops that has caused me to have to jump through.
  2. They are directly dealing with the Department of Finance to ensure that my application for the parental child benefit goes through without having to cause me further grief. I won’t have to complete any more paper work, or go into their offices to go through the whole pain staking story all over again.
  3. Most importantly, as of this morning they have started reaching out to other jurisdictions to see what is done across Canada in recognizing stillborn babies in an official way and they are moving toward implementing a stillbirth certificate in Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming months.

All because of Everlee.

CBC called back shortly after to clarify some things in the interview, so I happily updated them with the information from Vital Statistics and the good news that they are moving towards a resolution for families like mine. Although the interviewer was happy to hear that, because of the change in the story they were unsure if they would run the interview now. Which is a shame. It was a horrible thing, that has had a positive outcome. I think hearing a story like that would give hope to families like mine, so I hope to hear them run the story this evening. If they do run it I will be updating and posting the audio here on the blog.

In the meantime, Thank you to Minister Nick McGrath for moving so quickly to do the right thing. But most of all, Thank you to all of you for following my daughter’s story and sharing in our journey. My life for the last four months has been agony. I struggle to get out of bed every single day, and my heart aches every single moment of every single day. There hasn’t been a day pass where I haven’t cried. And there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t wished I could take her place. But knowing that so many people out there care about my little girl, and care about me, is what keeps me going.

And with my little girl in my  heart, we’re going to change this. She will be recognized.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” – Winnie the Pooh

Recognize her

Here in Newfoundland, new families are entitled to a parental child benefit (better known here as Danny’s Baby Bonus). I discovered a few weeks after Everlee was born that despite her having been born stillborn that I would still be eligible to receive this money. Although $1000 could never help heal any of the burden in my heart, that money can go a long way towards covering the expenses of burying her tiny little body and ensuring her headstone was fit for the princess that she was.

Filling out those forms weren’t easy. Ticking that checkbox to let the folks on the other side of those government offices know that my baby was still born was hard. What was harder was realizing that because she was stillborn I wouldn’t have any birth certificate to send them, just the tear stains on the page to let them know that she was here and she was loved.

Fast forward a few months, and yesterday I received a letter in the mail from the department of finance. They had received my application, but were unable to process it because of the lack of birth certificate. A birth certificate the same government didn’t feel my daughter was worthy of. I called the contact on the letter in tears explaining my situation. She was very apologetic and told me to get in contact with Government services and that they would sort me out. After a very brief phone call I was quickly informed my daughter was not eligible for a birth or death certificate and that I would have to go there in person and explain to them what had happened so they could write a letter indicating what had happened, adding insult to injury.

In the eyes of my government, my baby never existed. I have nothing official to say she was ever here, and when history books are written, she will be left out.

That’s not good enough for me. So I have written the following letter to the Minister of Service NL, Hon Nick McGrath (and copied a number of his staff, as well as the hosts of the provinces two political radio call in shows) to see if something can be done to address this problem. I may be one person, but I am a mom first. And my daughter deserves to be recognized.

Here’s my letter:

Hon MInister McGrath,

I am writing you this letter because of a situation I recently encountered. I dearly hope that this is the first and last letter you receive on this subject, but I know it may very well not be.

On February 13th of this year at 34 weeks pregnant I gave birth to my first child, Everlee Rose. Having suffered from infertility for a number of years, her arrival was much anticipated and greatly longed for. Unfortunately, my hopes and dreams came crashing down around me when the doctor told me just hours before on February 12th that she would be stillborn. I was induced at the Health Sciences Centre, and went through 16 hours of labour before I delivered my beautiful sleeping daughter. As a parent, I was devastated at the loss of my beautiful little girl. Not 24 hours before I had heard her little heart beating at 154bpm.  She was 5lbs1oz when she was born.  She had my lips and my husbands nose. She was perfect.

In the weeks and months since I have struggled every single day with the pain of this loss. I lived every single day for 8 and a half months with her living inside of me, only to give birth to her after she had passed. I have received nothing but the best care from the doctors, and nurses at Eastern Health. However, it is the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador where I have found my biggest stumbling block. You see although I spent 16 hours in labour, and although I held that beautiful little girl in my arms, to the province she has never existed. She is not eligible to hold a birth certificate.  She is not eligible to hold a death certificate. In the eyes of my home, she never existed.  Now in order to get her affairs in order I have to go through the excruciating process of contacting vital statistics to confirm that my child did, in fact, exist. Each time opening a very painful emotional wound, and further hurting my already defeated family.

I recognize that this is not something that happens everyday, and that this is not an insurmountable task in the eyes of the Government. But to those that have to live through the nightmare that has become my life, this one simple gesture can mean the world. My daughter may have never cried to be fed during the night, smiled her first smile, or ever learned to walk or talk, and she may have been stillborn, but Minister, she was still born. I’m asking you, please, to consider one of two things to help bring just a little peace to families like mine that have to endure the worst pain that any parent could ever feel:

  1. Acknowledge the life of a stillborn child (<20 weeks gestation) with a birth and a death certificate.
  2. Acknowledge the life of a stillborn child (<20 weeks gestation) with a stillbirth certificate (as those in Saskatchewan, and Ontario for example)

I’ve not just lost a baby: I’ve lost a toddler, a school girl, a teenager and an adult daughter. A whole potential life has gone. The only tangible reminders I have left are pictures, as well as her footprints and hospital bracelet. I don’t even have a birth certificate to acknowledge that she was here, and that she mattered.

Minister, I respectfully ask that you consider what I have said, and make the right choice to move forward to giving families like mine the peace and the acknowledgement these little lives deserve.

“Each new life, no matter how brief,  forever changes the world.”

If you require any further information, or would like to speak to me further on the matter, I ask you to please contact me at (709)6*******. I look forward to your acknowledgement and thoughts on this matter.

Thank You,

Rhonda McMeekin

CC:
Marietta McGrath, Executive Assistant to the Minister
Donna Kelland, Assistant Deputy Minister (Government Services)
Vanessa Colman-Sadd, Director of Communications (Service NL)
Bill Rowe, VOCM Openline
Paddy Daly, VOCM Backtalk

 

Still Loved.

It seems every time I open my facebook lately I’m faced with pictures of pregnancy and newborns. I’ve gotten beyond trying to block them from my newsfeed. There’s too many. They hurt. If someone had asked me last summer how I would cope if my baby died I would have said “I wouldn’t”.

I’m not unhappy for anyone else. 

I’m just jealous that it’s not me. 

I love my pictures of Everlee. I love looking at her little lips, and her cabbage patch nose. I love looking at her little fingers. Her big eyes. And it hurts me that I can’t put those on facebook. It hurts that I don’t have them hung on my wall. I won’t be able to put them on my desk at work. It hurts that I have to have her footprints as my profile picture, and not her sweet little face. I’m not ashamed of her. I would show her to the whole world if I could.

But some people can’t handle it. Sometimes just telling people about her leaves me feeling like I’ve sucker punched them. Dead babies make people sad and uncomfortable. Stillbirth is still such a taboo. I accept that, and I’m ok with it. It’s just one more of those “mommy” experiences I don’t get to have with her. 

I’ve not just lost a baby: I’ve lost a toddler, a school girl, a teenager and an adult daughter. A whole potential life has gone. The only tangible reminders I have left are pictures, as well as her footprints and hospital bracelet. I don’t even have a birth certificate.  These are – and always will be – my most treasured possessions.

If someone had asked me last summer how I would cope if my baby died I would have been wrong. Even now I can’t believe I’m still standing after giving birth to death. 

One Step Forward

I had a really nice time tonight with a friend. Quiet and lovely and they knew exactly what I needed to make me genuinely smile for the first time in a long time.  I left feeling like maybe I could start having more moments like that and that maybe I might be ok sometime in the future. 

On my way home I decided to stop for some subway as a treat for my supper. As I stood in line the woman behind me asked me very politely if I knew how many calories were in my sub because it looked really good (it was a veggie sub on flatbread). She seemed nice, so we started talking about weight loss, and food, and dieting.

A few minutes in, she told me that she just had a baby and she was trying to lose the baby weight and that her baby is five months old.

 I told her that I was doing the same. 

 Then she asked me how old my baby was. I swallowed hard. I couldn’t lie. I swore I would never ever ever lie about Everlee. I said she would be 4 months old. But she passed away. 

The poor woman felt awful. For a few seconds she couldn’t speak properly. She stuttered, and stammered out an “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask so many questions”. So I, naturally, started to console her and told her it was ok, she would have no idea. After a few more seconds she finally said “My friend who was pregnant the same time as me. She went in the morning of her C-section at 9 months and they discovered her baby was stillborn. Then she had to deliver the baby.”

“Almost the same thing happened to me.” 

She felt awful. She tried to apologize. She put her hand on my arm and said “God has a reason for everything” but I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to leave. I just looked at her and said “It’s ok”. and I went to my car and burst into tears. 

To anyone reading that it might seem like a simple exchange. To me it was excruciating. Every single word was like a knife in my heart. I hate that the only story I have to tell people about my baby is that she died. I hate that talking about her makes other people so uncomfortable. I hate that every time I take a teeny step forward, my feet are taken from beneath me I stumble several steps backward. I hate that she’s not here. 

It amazes me on a daily basis how many people advise me to turn to God to help heal my suffering. It amazes me how many people tell me that God had a reason for Everlee dying; that this was somehow part of His plan.  I always wonder if those people would have such a simple answer if their child died. If they would find comfort in knowing some man in the sky had planned to rip their child away from them? Maybe some people would. But I certainly don’t. What’s the reason? What was his reason?  I’m glad that it can bring others comfort, but not me. With everything else that I have lost, my faith and trust are among them. 

Why Today?

Why today? Why is today so hard? There is nothing special about today… My heart is broken all over again. I am sobbing. I want my baby back. She was my baby, she was my child, she was my daughter. I want to see her grow I want to see her run. I want to see her live.

Why today? Why has this come crashing down on me now?

This weekend, on the advice of my psychologist, I went out of town to try and get back to some of the things that used to bring me joy. The political party that I am affiliated with was hosting a youth retreat (normally something I probably would have been helping to organize) about 2 hours outside of the city. I was extraordinarily anxious about going there and had made a number of arrangements to ensure that I would be able to escape if I needed to, including making Darcy go with me. But I knew that I would be surrounded by people who knew me, and my situation, and they would be nothing short of supportive in my first venture back into the real world. And they were. I thank them all so much for that. 

It was harder than I expected. In a room where I would normally be in control and vocal,  I found myself reserved and confused. And when everyone went out later in the night, I went back to the hotel. My thoughts wouldn’t organize. I couldn’t focus. My words were coming out jumbled. I was just completely off of my game. But I was there. And that was a huge step for me. 

But what used to make me happy, what used to bring me alive and ignite passion in me and make me genuinely happy just gave me a little fizzle. 

Happy. What a foreign concept. 

I look at pictures of myself 6 months ago and it’s like looking at myself in an alternate universe. I wonder if I will ever be able to feel that way again? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to pull myself out of bed in the morning without bargaining with myself. I wonder if I’ll ever close my eyes at night and just sleep ever again. 

You see, with a dead baby and subsequent infertility, I find it hard to get up in the morning (and go to sleep at night) without feeling like a universal reject. By which I mean, kicked to the curb by the actual Universe. Application denied. Not genetically qualified. Unacceptable to procreate. Unfit to parent. Move along.

 

I’m told I judge myself much more harshly than anyone else, and that may be true, but what if it’s the universe that’s judging me?

Why today? Why everyday? Because I miss her. And nothing will ever change that.