stepping back

Anyone who knows me well knows that an email containing the phrase, “I am pleased to say that I surpassed even my own expectations,” would immediately turn me off. 

I’m not a big fan of blatant self-promotion. A bloated ego makes me cringe in the same way executives who wink at women do. Both apply here, and it’s just… ugh.

This particular chap at the office intends to recreate a fundraiser he initiated last Christmas that culminated with a visit to the local children’s hospital to hand out presents and hand over a big cheque. All well and good (minus of course the percentage of intentions that are shamelessly selfish). Except this year it’s within my remit to oversee stuff like this. And I know the hospital far too intimately, particularly the cardiac ward and PICU.


My memories of the place certainly haven’t faded - far from it. Instead they’ve morphed from shocking flashbacks and taken the alternate, slinky form of dreams and nightmares both.  There are still frequently nights when I relive the hours before and after Sadie died down to the minute. I can’t help it; I don’t know if that ever stops. In a crazy way I’m sure I’d miss it if it did.

I remember the smallest detail, down to the round metal buzzer we would press to gain entry into the ward. I’d say the same thing each time, “Hello, it’s Sadie McKay’s mother,” before hearing the door click and squirting a generous dose of antibacterial cream onto my palm as the door closed behind me. How I felt protective and dizzy and absolutely incredulous on the day we arrived via a silent, steady ambulance.

I remember walking out for the last time, and in a scene straight out of a hundred movies we’ve all seen, I stared from the backseat window as a woman ran to the car trying to reach us before we left, waving her arms at a driver who failed to notice her.  Our counsellor from the ward.  Her eyes locked with mine and I didn’t flinch. I knew I would hate her for whatever came out of her sad mouth beneath her very sad eyes.


Back to this jackarse with his ambitious plans to surpass even himself. 

Managing this would mean regular contact with the hospital and attending the event itself.  If I’m honest with myself, I can’t imagine a purer form of torture than having to go back there.  And a little part of me is disappointed in myself for that. I would love to be one of those women who takes on a cause because it’s close to her heart and puts her philanthropic urges to good use in the place where she lost so much, helping herself to heal and helping give hope to others. I’m sure you know someone wonderful and strong like that.  As much as I’d like to be, I don’t think I’m that woman.


What about you? Have you been back to the place where you lost your child? How did it feel?

it's all in the delivery

I've been working very closely with a woman who is about 32 weeks pregnant. Right around the time she found out she was expecting she also found out she is diabetic.  Naturally, our conversations all tend to end up about babies, pregnancy, the risks and hopes involved.  I didn’t tell her about Sadie until we’d passed about six months this way.

By text.

I kind of cringe just remembering it. I had taken a few days off of work unexpectedly because of a particularly bad time – sleeplessness, low moments, etc. One of the extended dark periods that, thankfully, happen less and less these days. It went something along the lines of, “I’m not sure if you know this, but this Really Bad Thing happened to us about two years ago, etc.” 

I rank it on the awkward scale alongside those instances when some asshole goes on and on asking me why I don’t have children, and how I should really have children, because children, you know they’re the best thing to ever happen to you.  And in my mind every time I scream at him that I know all of that and more, including what it’s like to have your entire concept of what life means ripped away in the instant you watch your precious child die.

In person it usually goes a little differently.

This time I was the asshole.  Her response came back much later, very oh my god I’m so sorry I’ve been talking all this time is my pregnancy affecting you oh my god I’m so sorry, etc. etc and etc. 

Eventually, after a bit of a clumsy transition, our conversations morphed to include my experience with pregnancy, birth, newborns. She asks me questions that never include the how or why, but seek advice about gas and air or the trials of breastfeeding instead.  And I’m content with that.  I am a mother too, after all.

I probably could have gone on without ever telling her.  But that day it just felt so overwhelming, keeping up the act.  The fact that there was this huge big part of me that I wasn’t being honest about – especially something that affects me so profoundly – just got to be too much.  I feel as though I’m doing Sadie an incredible injustice when I don’t acknowledge her, purely to save other people from being uncomfortable. There is a time and place for most things, of course. But I can’t make a habit of avoiding the truth about this little person who changed my life forever with her own painfully short one.

And now this woman and I have moved on. Maybe it helps explain me more. I’m sure it reminds her how precious a gift she’s been given. 


What about you? Do you immediately share your story when someone asks you if you have children, or how many you have?

chance encounter

“We’re 30 minutes early – we didn’t realise how quickly we’d get here. We’re happy to go sit in a café if that’s easier?”

I’m put on hold for a minute and a half while he makes a call from another line.

“Mrs. M no, its fine, the vendor is more than happy to show you the house herself. She just wanted me to let you know that it’s her son’s feeding time so you may be on your own if he’s fussy.”


Another Victorian row house, another new and unfamiliar neighbourhood. Another reminder of just how big that ocean is between us and the nearest family member.

Three years ago I would have been in a tailspin at the thought of making this decision on our own. Now, having proven what we can survive together it’s almost… exhilarating, to be experiencing a major life change that does not involve major heartbreak.


A lovely and very English woman in her mid thirties shows us the front room before we hear a gurgle and the thwack of a sippy cup hit the floor. 

“That’s Alex, I should just check on him quickly. He might be hungry, he might not.”

I’m closest to the door and find myself heading towards the next room uninvited.  In the bright white kitchen a blonde haired cherub looks up at me from his high chair. His instant toothless grin is like a tractor beam. I’m at his side before I realise I had moved. Six months old, chubby folds in all the right places, barefoot and happier than anything. His entire face is a wet smile and eyes full of joy.

“Well hello, Little Man!”

An even bigger smile from both of us and our eyes are locked.

“Why don’t I just take him with us – it’ll be easier. I think he likes you! He’s such a little ladies man already!”

And then it happened. I gave his fat little leg a pat and held out my index finger to welcome his super grip. He bounced in his mother’s arms and waved my hand back and forth, back and forth.

I would have bought the house right there and then had she agreed to throw him in with the deal.


I haven’t even been near a baby in just over two years and two months. The last time I held Sadie she wasn’t my baby anymore. I wish so many of us here didn’t how firsthand how life changing that is.  I certainly didn’t expect that little Alex would make me laugh so purely with his unadulterated exuberance at the sight of my smile. Wee little hand, huge flood of… what? Relief? Happiness? Hope? Maybe all of the above.


What was your first experience with another child after your loss? How soon was it? How did it make you feel?

just time

On the anniversary of Sadie’s death I received an email from a woman I befriended through our antenatal class, whose boy would have been turning two around the same time.

I was surprised that she remembered until it occurred to me that she must on some level associate her son’s birthday with Sadie’s death, considering our children were born only a week or so apart, and that we were fairly close at the time.  She expressed her sympathy and went on to vaguely mention that she had suffered three losses over the past year herself.

Three losses over the last year. Under normal circumstances my reaction would have been instantly and deeply empathetic. Instead, all I could think of was, “Wow. They probably started trying for baby number two when he was just twelve months old.”  My mind clicked through the math, calculating the age difference between her and I. 

I’ve turned into a bit of an age-obsessed person who can’t see past her own poorly-constructed maternal guessing game.  “How old do we think she is?” (Oh yes, it is the royal we inside my head.) “How old are her kids?”  Five points if she’s older with just one. Two if she’s younger with more than one. And, “You lady, you get me twenty points for being obviously over 40 with a toddler!”

I’ve been working flat out for the past six months, pulling hours that looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I pulled off. All toward an end goal that I’m now on the cusp of; a career opportunity I didn’t even know I had enough drive to want, let alone get.  Every week that passes seems to include blowing off the gym, missing a deadline here at Glow, or bailing on a night out with the girls.  And of course, procreating. Instead of re-jigging my priorities or adding “Try Again” to my strategic objectives list, I cower, digging my head into the sands of avoidance even deeper.

I’m 33 next month. There’s nothing dire about that.  Women have long been fed the notion that 35 should be considered our Best Before date. Yet everywhere around me I watch as others are laughing in the face of that idea as they start their families in their late thirties and early forties. So why have I been punishing myself all this time, calling myself weak (and much worse) when no one else could hear it?

Does time tick by in the same way for the babylost as it does for the rest of the world? After wreaking so much internal havoc on myself, pressure where perhaps pressure wasn’t due, I can’t help but wonder if I haven’t taken exactly the right path in my healing. Lately I feel myself paying attention to things that I haven’t in the past. Realising strengths exist in me that I wouldn’t ever have believed a year ago. Perhaps this indirect route back to Me will be the best one in the end, I still don’t know.


What personal checks do you go through when you know you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to grieve in the right way, or in the right timeframe?

What part did time and your age play in making the decision (if you have) to try again?


work in progress

This time of year is really good at hitting me while I’m down. 

There are a string of dates that, starting around Valentine’s Day, tend to make me feel as though I’m on the losing side of a boxing match.  Chronically blurry-eyed and a bit battered, I’m just dragging myself to an upright position as the next blow is dealt, reminding me precisely where my weakness still resides. 

I cower, hands shielding my head, praying for time to fly. 

My husband’s birthday,

Sadie’s birthday on the following day,

Three weeks of in-your-face marketing that culminate with the UK’s Mother’s Day, and

Pulling up the rear – last but not least – the anniversary of her death. 

Next week, two years will have passed.

I bought myself pink and yellow tulips last Sunday. A Mother’s Day present to myself. I still have my first and only card from my husband, telling me how great I was going to be.

I really need April to just get here already. 


There are some things that have gotten a little easier for me, with time. 

Saying it out loud, for example.  In the first year after she died, saying the words was physically impossible to do without a full-on breakdown. To respond to the question of whether or not I had children with a no felt like a betrayal. Yet for the longest time to respond with, “We had a daughter, but she passed away,” was akin to reliving the day she died.

Living quietly with it has always been easier than actually forcing those words out into the universe.  Now, while the lump in my throat may not be any smaller, talking around it no longer renders me speechless, or awash in tears.

Hearing pregnancy news from friends has also grown easier, if not the source of excitement it once was. And who’s kidding whom - I doubt it ever will. I remember thinking many times that people were no better than we were. That they hardly deserved the joy that had been so cruelly and unexpectedly taken from us, over us. My anger knew no boundaries, from friends and family to, curiously and in particular, strangers on the street. 

Then out of nowhere came the realisation one day that one had nothing to do with the other. Absolutely nothing. Instantly and surprisingly, it became easier for me.


But whoa boy, there are some biggies that haven’t changed.

To me, and much to the chagrin of my husband, I still cannot be around newborns. As in truly INCAPABLE. I learned that lesson the hard way over and over again in the grocery store, at the office, and on the riverboat I occasionally ride to work.  The soft newness and the quietly opened-wide eyes do me in. What they do, when I really sit here to think about it, is send me back in time. I can feel them without touching them, and I can smell them without getting too close.

Every last fibre in my body tenses up with the physical equivalent to missing. I miss her. I miss miss miss MISS her. More than I could ever adequately describe and I know that in this space I don’t need to. Extended exposure to newborns = one really fucked up Jen.  

Working up the nerve to try again remains my biggest of biggies.

It’s on my radar. I know that people in my life who I love very dearly are waiting for it.  If I had to have eleven kids or none at all, I’d be signing up. If only someone could tell me that it wouldn’t happen all over again.

It’s a tough subject. It’s truly amazing what lengths I've gone to in order to distract myself from it. Or how many times I've nervously asked the universe to not write me off while I sort myself out.

I have learned to put one foot in front of the other and survive. There are even some areas of our life together that have thrived. Yet I have no way of knowing if that switch will ever be flipped with honest conviction. From all talk and no action to real life and taking the leap. 

Perhaps all I need is a shove? 


What my distracted mind can surmise with the modest reflection that I allow myself is that two years on, I remain a work in progress. 

I can live with that.


For those of you more than a year or two out from your loss, will you share what’s gotten easier for you, if anything? And what hasn’t?

reflections on baby photos: three voices

1 :::

Several weeks after Sadie died my sister-in-law had the first picture we took of her painted on canvas for us. It is a beautiful shot taken as I held her for the first time, all chubby cheeks and serene newness.

It has been a focal point sitting on our bedroom mantle ever since. Most mornings I send a quick I love you, Munchie towards it before heading off to work. There have been times that I’ve sat on my bed in front of it, sobbing under the weight of how much I miss her.

My brother took my second favorite photo. In it Sadie is sleeping in her father’s arms. The pose of her tiny little fist curled up under her chin like a miniature, tired old man makes me smile. I’d probably have a wall-sized mural of it instead if I didn’t think it’d have every guest running for the hills, calling me a whacko over their shoulder as they went.

The honest truth is that I struggle between that sentiment and a lingering guilt over not having enough of them up.

The strength of our love for her merits having her image splayed across every surface we own. So why the hell should I worry about whether or not it makes our dinner guests fidget in their seats?

We probably took several hundred photos of Sadie over the course of her six weeks with us. At any point I can open those files and look back for as long or as little that I care to. They allow me to remember every curve of her perfect face. The video clips remind me of how hilarious we found it when she grunted her way through a poop. They allow me to grieve as and when I choose.

These images we keep tell our heartbreaking truth: that along with our memories, they are all we have left.

~ Jen


2 :::

Our only pictures of Silas are from when he was still in Lu's womb, and after he had passed away. His presence was too brief and traumatic to capture while he was alive

It is almost impossible for me to look at photos of Lu while pregnant, but I need to see his beautiful and serene face in the collage Lu created in the months after he left us. In it he is newborn and perfect, a gorgeous little kid. The photo was taken by the hospital staff and given to us in a box along with imprints of his hands and feet in clay and in ink, a lock of his hair, the tiny hat he wore at the hospital and several other beautiful photographs of him.

There is absolutely no question that this collage or a photograph of Silas will always be displayed in our house. He was our child and although we did not get to have him long, the physical presence of his life and existence is vitally important to us. Frankly, I've never for a moment considered any other arrangement, or even if having his photo displayed would make guests feel uncomfortable.

Just the idea that someone would want for us to do this differently to make them feel better makes me extremely upset.

It is our choice to remember our son openly and honestly in our home. If any friend or family had any other opinion they would be well served to keep that entirely to themselves. It is up to them to deal with their own inability to face reality and not at all my problem.

In the framed collage Lu created is his photo, the ink imprints of his hands and feet, a haiku I wrote about missing him, a photograph of his name written in the sand on the beach at sunset, photographs of the tattoos Lu and I both have in his honor, and a small print of the constellation Orion, his middle name. It is not nearly enough or anywhere what we deserve but it is what we have, and somehow, it will have to do.

~ Chris


3 :::

What I think about displaying pictures of dead babies in one's house is that no-one but the parents gets to have an opinion on this. A picture, bazzillion pictures, where, how-- none of this is up for discussion. Anyone who doesn't like what the parents do is welcome, and is hereby courteously invited, to shut the fuck up. People's homes, coincidentally much like their grief, are theirs. Both are about them and their family, not about anyone else's idea of what's done or what's proper. Even when an anyone else in question is a close friend or relative. Particularly when it's a close friend or relative.

You'd think that with attitude like that I'd have at least a couple pictures of A up around here. But we have none. Back then my hospital didn't offer contact information for NILMDTS photographers. Even if they did, I don't think at the time we would've been comfortable letting a stranger into that room. Scratch that-- I know I wasn't. It bugs me now, because now I would be. And because what we ended up with are the few pictures my sister took with my blackberry. The quality isn't great. It's not awful either, but it's not great.

I've edited some of the pictures we have, cropped, played with effects. Over the years, I posted two of these edited photographs on my blog. I have all of them, original set and my edits, on my laptop. I can look whenever I want to.

There were stretches of time when I looked every day, sometimes several times a day. But there have also been stretches of months when I haven't looked at all. Not because I "moved on" or any such platitude. I think of A every day, I miss him all the time. But I don't need to see the pictures all the time.

All of these things are true, but none of them are the real reason we don't have the pictures up. The real reason is that parents is plural. There's two of us in this, and JD didn't want the images displayed. He doesn't usually look at them either. He doesn't need to. Not to remember, not to love, not to grieve, and not to miss. I think, truthfully, that in the photographs JD sees too much of his own pain, that the pain he sees clouds the beautiful baby whose pictures those are. I think he sees more clearly in his mind's eye.

And so we don't have any photographs up. What we do have are the two framed drawings of Monkey's, family portraits both. One she started while A was still alive, all of us lined up in front of our house, A with a hypothetical future dog. She had done the outlines in pencil and had started on coloring it in with markers before A died. In the days following our return from the hospital, cleaning her room with her, we stumbled upon the drawing. I asked if I could have it, and she said no-- she would finish it and we would hang it on the wall, for everyone. Finishing the drawing was hard on her. It took her weeks, and in the end some of the coloring is sloppy, too sloppy for what she was normally doing back then, and in darker colors than her usual palette.

The second is the portrait she did in art class last year. It's in paint and is fairly impressive artistically, for a seven year old. As in, for example, people have recognizable features. There are two small boys in that one. Nearly identical, with one slightly larger than the other. She proclaimed the larger one to be A, and the smaller (duh!) the Cub. The boys in the painting are holding hands.

So this is the idiosyncratic place our little family finds itself on the pictures thing.  But like much else in this whole babylost experience, it is not etched in stone. A's actual photograph might still end up on a wall in our home. For a while now I have been thinking about creating a collage type arrangement in one frame, floating or otherwise, with pictures of all three of my kids. I think I want to have something of all of them together, since, you know, I can't have all of them together. I am not sure when I'd do it, or how, yet. I was thinking of using the picture of A's hand in mine, but I am not sure what pictures of Monkey and the Cub to use with that. So it might end up being a picture where you can see A's beautiful little face, or maybe both. See how figured out I am?

And if I do manage to make something that I like, I don't know where I would want to put it. In my office, where most wouldn't see it, or somewhere more conspicuous? It depends. Depends on what it comes out looking like-- too tender and intimate to share with just anyone or something I am ok with people seeing? And depends, of course, on how JD will feel about it. I guess, again like so much in this strange world of ours, we will figure it out when (if) we get there.

~ Julia


How do you feel about displaying photos of your baby in your home or in other personal spaces? If you've chosen to feature them in your life, how have your photos been met by loved ones and friends? What do photographs of your child mean to you?