805

805 days and sometimes it still seems like yesterday.

For the most part I cope so well. People don’t see the hurt in my eyes like they used to, people don’t look at me and see a dead baby anymore. They see Finnegan’s mom. I love that. But the part that hurts the most is that they rarely see Everlee’s mom anymore. And if they do, they don’t mention it.

I was browsing through Facebook last night as I lay on the couch after Finnegan had gone to bed. It was the mundane stuff I had come to expect. Political post. Someone selling something. Share this in 30 seconds or your eyeballs will fall out. And then, like a swift kick in the kidneys a mother/daughter makeover contest for mother’s day. And I bawled. Not cried. Bawled. Full out ugly cry.  I’ll never get those mother/daughter moments. And I miss her. I really effing miss her.

Take a deep breath Rhonda, and you’ll make it through 806.

Two.

The terrible twos. My heart is heavy. I didn’t post an entry on Everlee’s birthday. I wrote, of course. I always write. But I didn’t post anything. I thought about putting words down all day for the blog, but I had nothing. My words were taken from me again and I fell silent, and for that I hope she can forgive me. I lost my voice with grief, again. I had flashbacks. I don’t know if those will ever stop. I’m told it’s a normal part of PTSD. My new normal.

The doctors thin cold hand on my leg

“It means your baby died”

And that’s when the world ceased to exist as I know it, and the roller coaster hasn’t slowed since.

This year I celebrated my little girl’s second birthday from the beautiful state of Florida with her little brother and her grandparents. The very place I went to escape reality when we lost her. We ate cake. We released balloons. I smiled. I did not cry in front of anyone (I cried a river in the shower). I held it together for the whole day. I don’t ever want Finnegan to think that his big sister makes his mommy sad. I want him to know that although my heart breaks that she is not here, she is, and always will be, one of the loves of my life. I want him to know her. She is the beautiful girl that gave me the honour and the privilege to be a mother. I will always be Everlee’s mom.

People don’t talk about her as often as they once did. I love talking about her. I love hearing her name. I love to be acknowledged as a mother of two. It always takes people back a little when I have to remind them that Finnegan is not my first child, he is my second (and I will always correct people on that). I don’t think anyone has forgotten Everlee, I would never let that happen. But it’s no longer in the forefront of people’s minds when they see me.

I’m not the girl with the dead baby, anymore. People don’t see death when they see me anymore. They see a normal mom. Something I longed for in those dark months after Everlee died, and now something that hangs on me like an ill fitting suit. I’m not a normal mom. I never will be. I know the sting of losing a child. With her went so much of me that I don’t think I’ll ever get back. But with Finnegan, I’ve gained so much that I never knew I could have. It’s a constant struggle to find balance. I am allowed to be sad, and to grieve, but I am also allowed to be happy, and feel joy and celebrate life.

That’s the duality of the situation I guess. That’s the beauty and the sorrow of two.

Video of Everlee’s balloon release 

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Baby Oliver

11copyAnd just like that another year has come and gone.

Last New Year’s Eve I remember thanking the universe that 2013 had finally come to an end. What I can only hope will be the worst year of my life was behind me and I was looking forward to 2014 with all of the hope and anticipation of finally bringing home a live baby. 2014 didn’t come without its struggles. The first half of the year was filled with anxiety, constant fear, and doctor’s appointments. I celebrated Everlee’s first birthday without her, and I was constantly holding my breath waiting for my happiness to be ripped from my chest once again. But then Finnegan arrived. And he was safe, and healthy and happy and I finally could breathe again.

2013 was the year I died and buried myself in grief, but 2014 was the year I remembered how to live.

I have so much hope for 2015. I’ll be celebrating Everlee’s birthday this year in Florida, where I went to find some warmth in the coldest months of my life. But this time I’ll be bringing my own sunshine with me. I can’t wait to go on all kinds of adventures with Finnegan in 2015 and watch as he explores the world for the first time. Every day is a new beginning for me with him. He is my heart and my happiness.

It was an amazing Christmas season with family and friends from near and far helping me make it the most special first christmas for my little rainbow. Every step of the way I tried to make sure his big ister was included. I want to make sure her memory is always part of our traditions. From hanging her special ornament on the tree, to purchasing a gift for a needy child that would have been something I know she would have loved to have. Christmas isn’t Christmas without family, and she will always be a part of our holiday traditions.

Over the holidays I also had the pleasure of meeting Oliver’s mom. I wish I knew her name. I only know she is Oliver’s mom. I was at a christmas lunch and she was working at the venue. She recognized me, and she recognized Finnegan from reading this blog. She told me about her son Oliver who was born still in May. She said that I was an inspiration to her, and that she has read what I have written here and it helped her. I have received in the hundreds of emails, but that was the first time that someone has come to me from no where after reading this blog and said they were walking this same lonely path. Oliver’s mom, I want you to know that when I woke up on Christmas morning I was thinking of you. I know how painful the first christmas is. I was thinking of baby Oliver. I also thought about you on New Year’s Eve and wondered if you were also thanking the universe that the worst year of your life was over, too. I want you to know something. The grief doesn’t go away. But you do learn to live with it. It doesn’t get easier, per say, but it does get more bearable. I remember being in your shoes and wondering if I would ever make it to where I am now. You will. I want you to know you touched my heart that day. You were brave to tell me about Oliver. And I am so happy you did. I hope you found some comfort in Christmas. And I hope 2015 is for you what 2014 was for me.

Happy New Year readers. Here’s hoping that each new year is only better than the last.

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Love, Loss and Motherhood

This week a two part special feature on CBC Radio aired about my journey as Everlee’s mom, and to becoming Finnegan’s mom. I chose to keep this quiet because I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out, and I wasn’t sure when it was going to air. But it did air this week and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

Ariana Kelland, an amazing journalist with the local CBC, contacted me back in the winter about doing a story about Everlee, infertility and my journey to becoming a mother again. I was a little hesitant about the idea in the back of my mind, but decided to go with it. It’s important to me to always break the silence about stillbirth and baby loss when I am presented with the opportunity to do so.

Ariana followed my pregnancy and visited me often during my 19 weeks of bed rest and again a few times after Finn was born and sculpted this beautiful piece for radio and the web. I can’t thank Ariana and the CBC enough for being interested in my story and helping to shed some light on a very sad situation that a lot of people feel they have to keep hidden in the shadows. My email inbox has been flooded all day with a lot of messages of support, and a lot of people who wanted to reach out and say they too have walked in my shoes, many before me and many after me.

Early on in this blog I wrote that I wanted Everlee’s life to be more than her death, and I really feel through all of the conversations and connections I have made that her little legacy has been to bring people together and start serious conversations for people who needed to have them.

So here’s the article, you can find the 10 minute audio clip embedded within the piece.

My blog has now had over 111,000 visitors. I want to thank each and every one of you that has helped me tell mine and Everlee’s story. It’s far from over, but knowing that you have been with me through the darkest of days and have helped me bring others light makes my heart and soul smile.

A Little Nuts

The flashbacks happen less frequently now then they used to. My new mom brain must block out that part of me for most of the day as I try my damnedest to be the best mother I can be to Finnegan. But in the nighttime, when the house is quiet and my little rainbow is tucked snuggly into his bed sometimes those monsters come creeping back.

Tonight, just now, I was stood at the sink washing bottles from the day when one hit. The scent of flowers.

When Everlee died we received so many beautiful arrangements. Though we only waked our little girl for one afternoon the room was filled with dozens of beautiful (mostly baby pink) bouquets. After the funeral was over the manager of the funeral home asked us what we would like done with them. Apparently most families are kind enough to donate the flowers to seniors homes in the area, or to sick patients at the hospital.

Not me.

I made my family load each and every last arrangement into their cars to bring them home to my house. They were Everlee’s flowers and I would be damned if I was going to give them all away.

For what seemed like an eternity every flat surface in my house, on both levels in every room there was a flower arrangement sitting in a lovely glass vase. At first they were comforting. A bit of colour in my sombre grey world. But slowly, as the days passed they started to wilt, and fade and die. It was morbid, and it was gross and it was depressing. But I held on to each and every one of them. It felt like I was watching what was happening to my heart and soul play out in the withering petals.

One by one I had to watch them go. Every day I was saying goodbye to another arrangement and watching them get thrown in the trash and in the end I was left with just an empty glass vase, delicate but with little purpose. Empty. Exactly how I felt.

But I held on to them because they were hers. And they are one of the few tangible memories I have to hold on to. Each and every vase now sits displayed on the top of my kitchen cabinets. No one has ever asked about them, but that’s what they are. Memories that I can hold in my hands.

It’s thoughts like these that have lead me to be somewhat of a packrat when it comes to Finnegan’s things. He has outgrown some clothes and toys now. Things I could probably pass on to others who would enjoy them like he did. But I can’t. It seems silly after all of the anxiety of a high risk pregnancy has passed, I still find myself cautious that no tomorrow is promised to me as his mother. I want to hang on to each and every thing that he has worn and touched in case it may one day be the only memories I have of him. I have a beautiful, healthy, happy little boy, and my biggest fear in the world is that some day he’ll die too like his sister. It’s depressing to think about in context, but in reality it makes me enjoy each and every moment that I am in. Being his mother has been my greatest joy, even if I am a little nuts.

Photo by Sweetland Photography

Survival

Over the last few months I’ve wanted to sit and write here a thousand times. I always wondered why mothers seemed to abandon their blogs once their rainbow babies came along. I swore I wouldn’t be one of those mothers. But life gets in the way, and I spend every waking moment with my little rainbow. I don’t want to miss a moment of his existence. He is my life. He taught me how to live after I thought I had died.

There isn’t a day that goes by, not a second that passes, that I don’t wonder what life would be like with Everlee here. I constantly wonder how they would compare – would they have hit their milestones the same times? Would she love being a big sister? I could be consumed by the wonder if I let myself.

Tomorrow, October 15th, is Pregnancy and infant loss awareness day. Last weekend we attended the annual walk to remember here in town at Bowring park. Last year I didn’t think my heart could handle sitting there in that room with so many other families who had suffered like mine had. In fact, the crushing pain just about killed me that day (like many other days). There were so many there that were so much further along in their grief journey than me. Some had teeny tiny rainbow babies, other people had been attending so long that their rainbows were nearly grown.

And some had no rainbows.

I vividly remember sitting there wondering if I would ever find myself in the more mature stages of grief, or if I would always feel so exposed and so raw. Some of those women became those that I looked to, an inspiration. I looked at them and could truly see that the raw, all consuming pain was survivable, if I could only hang on just a little longer. Little did I know then I was actually pregnant on Finnegan – barely.

This year I stood in the back of the room and helped rock my fussy baby. I remember how baby squeaks in the room cut me like a knife last year (and gave me hope at the same time). I was acutely aware of how important it was that Finn remain quiet. I listened with tears flowing down my face as they read my sweet baby’s name. I hummed quietly to my little rainbow as they sang “it may take awhile but I’ll get by”. And I looked at the other women in the room, some still further in their grief journey than me, but some in that raw place I was in last year.

After the walk was over one of those women who served as a reminder to me that I could come out of it alive came up to me to meet Finnegan. We chatted for awhile and as we parted ways I thanked her for being that symbol of survival to me. And she looked at me and told me that this year I may very well be that symbol for someone else.
I never thought of it that way.

I am a symbol of survival.

Baby loss is not something you wear on your face or in your heart, you live it with your whole being. Every single day.

I’ll always write here. This is where I don’t feel like someone will judge me, or change the conversation if I say her name. God, I love it when people say her name. It validates to me that she wasn’t just a dream, that she was so real and important. This will always be my space to openly be a mother to my daughter. I want to make time for her. I want to have time to sit with my thoughts and reflect on all that we’ve been through. The only way I can introduce you to my daughter is through me. I miss her. Every single day something is missing. SHE is missing. But as her mother I am proud of her. She was here and she mattered and she left a beautiful legacy of love behind her. I can get through this because her life, no matter how short, was bigger than her loss. I can sit here and say because of her I am strong, even when I don’t want to be. I’m sad all of the time because she’s not here, but that’s natural. I’m living. I’m proud. I’m hopeful. And I will forever be her mother.

Wherever you are in your grief, know this: you’re not alone. Your baby matters. And you will survive.

Calling Newfoundland Photographers

I’ve been inspired once more to take up a cause in Everlee’s memory.

The pictures I have of Everlee are some of my most precious possessions. They are some of the only physical things that exist that prove she was here and she was real and she was loved. A few quick snaps taken with a point and shoot camera and an iPhone through teared and bleary eyes are the only physical images that exist of my beautiful little girl. When I close my eyes I see her perfectly, but those pictures mean the world to me. If my house was burning down and I could only grab one thing (aside from my family) those pictures would be it. But they’re crude, not very well thought out and there are only a handful but to me, they are my daughter.

Thanks to this article and my friend Karrie over at finallypregnant2012.wordpress.com I’m reminded of some wonderful people who exist in this world who donate their time and talents to give a precious gift to families like mine. An hour of time to take a few pictures that will be treasured for a lifetime, and a few hours of processing, could make all the difference to creating the memories families like mine hold so dearly to our hearts through our grief.

There exists a group called “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”. Their website states the following as their mission and work:


Mission
To introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture.

Our Work
NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional quality photographers to provide beautiful heirloom portraits to families facing the untimely death of an infant. We believe these images serve as an important step in the family’s healing process by honouring the child’s legacy.

I’ve reached out in the past to ask photographers locally to volunteer for this organization, but there are still no volunteers for Newfoundland listed on their website. As lovely as it would be to have volunteers for this organization here, it would simply just be nice if the nurses and counselling team at the hospital had a simple list they could refer to when tragedy strikes in what is supposed to be the happiest times of our lives. A few local photographers that are willing to be called upon to help these families in their healing process.

This is where I need your help.

Please share this blog post so that local photographers may see this plea and volunteer to donate their time and talents. I hope their services would never be called on, but wish for families like mine to have what I don’t – beautiful professional photographs of their children. There is not a lot of need- you won’t be called upon often- but the need is a great.

If you are a photographer who is reading this and would be willing to be put on a list that could be called upon to take a few precious portraits for a family suffering baby loss then please email me. rhonda.mcmeekin@gmail.com. I’d love to have a small list to provide to the hospital as a resource for families.

Thank you.

Healing Hearts

I don’t need a special day to remind me that she’s not here. The last month has been filled with more joy and happiness than I ever thought I’d get to experience again in my entire lifetime. Finnegan is my reason to exist. His little life gives mine meaning again. But her absence is never lost on me. I constantly wonder, especially in the wee hours in the morning when I get a chance to really examine every curve and line of his face while he eats, what would she have been like at his age? And if she was here, what would she think of being a big sister?
And just as quickly the reality of the situation hits me – if she was here, he wouldn’t be. I most likely wouldn’t have an 18 month old and a newborn. She is the reason for his existence. That stings more than you would realize. I wouldn’t give him up, not for anything in the whole world. But more than anything, I want her back. I want her here with us so our family could truly be whole. But it never will be. There will always be that deep dark void that can never be filled. Finnegan has shown me love that I thought I had lost forever, and sometimes he heals the gaping hole that was left in my heart, and sometimes he makes me so much more aware that it’s there. My heart will never be healed. Ever. Even if I had 10 healthy babies.
But being Finnegan’s mom, and being Everlee’s mom, they’re the most important and most rewarding jobs I’ve had. I miss my little girl so much, but it makes me treasure my little boy so much more.

Family of Four

When you spend six months on bed rest every day that passes crawls by painfully, but the last ten days have been a whirlwind of emotion and have passed in a fraction of a blink. June 16, 2014 at 9:31am in the morning we welcomed our rainbow baby into our arms, Finnegan Alexander Joseph arrived safely (and quickly) and has reminded us what happy really is.

At 37 weeks my doctor, recognizing that he had to make the choice or admit of the psychiatric ward, put me on the list to be induced. I got the call mid afternoon on Sunday (Father’s Day) to pack my bags to come to the hospital with the promise that I wouldn’t leave again until I had a happy healthy baby in my arms.

When I walked into the case room (about 15 minutes after the phone rang haha, I was ready to go!) I was greeted by the wonderful resident doctor who had been working in our formers doctors office when I had that horrible experience last years he was a beacon of light for me at that time, and when he saw me walking in, knowing why I was there he couldn’t hold back his tears. I learned a few minutes later that it was actually his last shift working at eastern health, and he was leaving in the coming days to open his own practice in Moncton(side note if you live in Moncton and are looking for an OBGYN please message me and I’ll give you his name… Who ever gets to have him as their doctor will be a very lucky patient!). Just seeing him set my mind at ease and comforted me in ways I didn’t think I needed.

After about an hour of monitoring baby they decided that it was safe to proceed with the induction and I was given a dose of cream to soften my cervix and start contractions and I was sent to the maternity ward to labour on my own for awhile. It didn’t take long for contractions to start and I spent the next Six house pacing the halls of the floor and breathing my way through contractions. By 11pm they sent me back to the case room to be checked where I was assessed at 2-3cm and only partially effaced. The new resident on the night shift decided that she would give me another dose of the cream and do a membrane sweep and monitor me and bag for another hour or see how uncomfortable my contractions got before deciding to keep me in my birthing room, or send me back to labour on my own on the floor again.

Now I’m not sure how many of you have had a membrane sweep before, but it’s comparable to how one controls a muppet, you’ve really just got to put your hand all the way up there and take control. The contractions became much stronger after that and they decided to keep me in the birthing room.

I’m no super hero. About 1am I asked for pain meds. As my water hadn’t broken quite yet they were reluctant to give me an epidural just yet, so they gave me a shot of morphine. As I said to Darcy a few hours later as I paced the floor, I was still in a lot of pain, but it was pretty funny to me after the morphine. Around 3am I was assessed me again and decided it was time to break my water, and shortly after that I got my epidural. The rest of the night was fairly quiet and I was able to rest listening to the sound of baby’s heartbeat.

At around 7am a nurse came in and asked if we would mind having a nursing student join us for a little while to do some paper work for my labour nurse and to ask some questions. Being someone who works at the university I was more than supportive of the idea of helping in huge learning process, so we were joined by a young fellow who was about 22 years old and covered in tattoos. He was quiet sweet and quite eager to learn. So when they decided to check me again shortly after 8am they asked if i was ok with him staying and I was more than happy to oblige. I was only 5cm. This labour was seeming to take forever, they slightly upped my dose of pitocin and the room was calm again. However about 8:30 I started to feel like I had to pee. I told the nurse and she told me that despite the fact that they had only emptied my bladder a little while ago she was happy to do so again, but the feeling persisted. I was quick to tell her, that this was exactly how I felt when I needed to push with Everlee. It felt like I had to pee. She was quick to dismiss that I wouldn’t feel that way when I had to push, I would feel like I had to poop! For about half an hour I persisted that maybe she should check me again, that I really felt like I had to push. At 9:15 she finally gave in and very quickly discovered (barely touching me) that baby’s head was RIGHT THERE. The room became a fleury of activity as they havpd to get ready, baby wanted out. At about 9:25 she asked me to give her a little push so she could assess the situation but she quickly stopped me after only a grunt from me and called the doctors in. As I got ready to push, the poor nursing student who only came in to ask a few questions holding one leg and Darcy holding the other, the doctor asked me if i had any final guesses as to what baby would be I made my last minute prediction and guesses girl. One push later and I had my perfect little boy sitting on my chest, 3 weeks early and 5lbs9oz and perfectly healthy. He cried for only A minute, then he stared at me with wonder and awe that was only outdone by the look I gave him. Finnegan Alexander Joseph, my rainbow baby and Everlee’s little brother was here. He arrived on his daddy’s 36th birthday.

I’ve had nearly two years to think about, really, what these days would feel like, what it would mean to hold my own flesh and blood and feel that I title heart beating beneath my fingers. To hear the cooing and the see the smiles. I got pregnant with Everlee around Canada day of 2012, and since then I have been day dreaming about what it would feel like to bring a baby home for real. In two years I have experienced the lowest lows and the highest highs that any human can possibly experience, but nothing has made me happier than the last ten days when I have truly been able to be the mom I was meant to be. Finnegan has made me realize that I can be happy again and has refined for me what happy really means.

We’ve already started telling him about his big sister, and how without her he wouldn’t be here (and that’s without a doubt the truth). There are moments when I am swept with so much emotion it’s almost impossible to bear. I think about how precious these moments are, and how fleeting time has become, and it wonder what it would have been like to have these moments with Everlee. It’s hard to find the balance between the grief I still feel every single day (which has a new and tender sting to it) and the vast and overwhelming amounts of joy that Finnegan has brought to me in such a short period of time. I will always and forever miss my little girl. Every second of every day. Finnegan being here will never change that, he doesn’t replace her. But like any family that grows from three to four, you find room in your heart that you didn’t know existed, and you find love so deep you didn’t think it was possible. Everlee will always be a part of our family, and we’ll find the best ways we can to honour her (like in our first professional family photos) but this is our new, new normal now and we can’t wait to embark on adventures as our family of four, three here and one always with us.

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Mommy Limbo

A year ago I was in the Ottawa airport on my way home from a long getaway, and I was writing about facing down my very first Mother’s Day – one that I would have to face without having my daughter with me. I knew then what baby-lost really meant.

This year I find myself in a different situation. Instead of the invisible motherhood I felt last year, this year I wear my motherhood as a swollen bump for all to see. Although I haven’t spent too much time in public in this pregnancy, it never fails that when I do well intentioned people are curious about the little life inside of me. Almost certainly, the first question people will ask is “is this your first?”. I’ve made peace with the fact that any time anyone asks me about the number of children I have it will feel like a slap in the face. No one means for it to feel that way, but it does. Who looks at someone pregnant, besides another baby-lost mom, and wonders if they have any dead children? It’s always my first thought, But to those that don’t know the pain and the hurt and sleepless nights, Ignorance really is bliss.

So to those on the outside today, I’m somewhere in mommy limbo. Invisible mother. Mother to be. But not quite a mother just yet. But to me, I’ve been a mother since I first saw that little bean on an ultrasound in August 2012 and since I that first and only time held that gorgeous little girl in my arms.

So thank you to my darling little Everlee for teaching me how to be a mother. Maybe in the hardest way possible, but I think I will be stronger and more capable and more loving all because of you. You will always be my first born, my first love, my first child. And I can’t wait for the day when I can tell your brother or sister all about you, and how, because of you, that they’re here and they’re loved (and probably over protected) more than any baby that has ever lived.

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that surviving changes us.
After the bitterness, the anger, the guilt and despair are tempered by time, we look at life differently. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, fathers who had to be mothers, baby lost mothers and mothers in waiting out there. Be kind to yourself today and always.