Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can I have a Do-Over?

As parents, bereaved parents, we need to take time and appreciate that we are doing a good job.  Heck some days I am doing a great job.  Other days I just want a do-over; reset and let me try that one again.
At a recent busy sporting event I had my oldest with me for the entire day and it was nice to have time devoted to Mom and Biggest kid.  After the event we were invited back to another family's house and my son wanted to go, so we did.  There were about 5 teenage athletes that came back with us and hung out in another part of the house while I was having tea with the mom getting to know one another.  It wasn't long before there were six teenagers were hanging out in the kitchen with us - possibly scavenging for food but in the vicinity nonetheless.  The other mom was commenting on the age gap between my boys, asking all of their ages specifically.  Before I could answer the Biggest replied "We have another brother but we lost him."
The 5 other teenagers stopped chatting and the mother asked him what he said (kindly) and all I could think was did the air just get sucked out of the room?

My Biggest said again "We had another brother, Flynn, he was three years younger then me and we lost him."  I corrected him - it was all I could do - "Honey you are correct and he died, shortly after he was born."  The mother was sympathetic, if not completely thrown for a loop. The teenagers were fascinated, the Biggest continued to chat about his brother as they headed back downstairs and I was left feeling exposed,like my secret identity had been revealed.
I have learned that talking about Flynn is easier for me if I feel ready and prepared for the conversation. It is a very intentional act and something that I do not bring into casual relationships.  I guess some would call it guarded.  My Biggest charges into this discussion with a different perspective and understanding of his relationship to his brother.

When we left the house I talked to the Biggest about bringing up Flynn.  I started by letting him know that it was okay to talk about Flynn but that saying things like "we lost him" is confusing when in actuality he died.  I tried to help him see how vocabulary can change the intent of the message. Then I asked him why he brought up Flynn and although I meant it out of curiousity, a part of it was due to my own discomfort.
"He is my brother and if people want to know me they will know about him. I always tell people about him, usually right away."
"Well buddy it is just a very vulnerable aspect of who you are and I worry about you sharing that with people too soon." Even now as a type this I wonder, did I really say that and yep I did.
"I want people to know about him; he was a human being too you know?"
I stopped.  It really was that simple, wasn't it.  Here I was complicating it, caving into societal expectations and definitions of life, death and the value associated with both. Here was my man-child simplifying it down to the root - a place I rarely touched anymore and sadly he thought I didn't realize how human Flynn is.
"That he was, a very special one too."
Where is that parent Do-over button when you need it?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hello Grandma, it's me Melissa

Seven years ago today you died.
A lot has happened since the last time I talked to you.  I remember that day often, the morning that we were leaving to take the boys to Disney World, coming to the hospital to find comfort in your closeness before I could leave.
A day or two before dad had called me at work to tell me that you had fallen. He said that you had told him you were fine.  I called you right away and you told me that you had slipped trying to open the fridge.  You said your ribs still hurt and I asked you to go to the hospital.  I expected a fight at that suggestion, lord knows I had them in the past but you agreed with me. I remember feeling a foreboding pause and I held my breath when I set down the phone receiver.
Dad called me at work the morning I was supposed to leave. I had been putting in a couple of hours because we were not leaving until the afternoon.  He said you had punctured a lung and that the doctors said that given your already fragile condition, it was not likely that you would recover.  I cried heavy full sobs - the tears came out of some place I had been stuffing deep into my gut for a long time - they erupted from me.  I think I shocked dad and it was hard for him to hear me cry like that. I remember him saying "come on now, we knew that this day would come eventually."  It was true, for years you had been preparing all of us that one day you would be gone.  Even a goodbye seen from years away still hurts when it finally gets here.
At the hospital I tried to be stoic. I marched into your room and asked what the doctors were doing and what they thought could be done.  You looked even more fragile then usual but your fire remained.  It made it easy to believe you when you told me that you were not going anywhere.  The nurse interrupted us and I was so grateful because I was on the verge of tears. I went into the hall with Grandpa and he told me that we had to go to Florida and that we could not stay, you didn't want that.  I cried again.
We went back into the hospital room where you were sitting up in bed.  I told you that I loved you and kissed you on the head.  You told me that you would see me when I got back.  I think we both knew the reality and neither one of us could face it.  I left clinging to the hope that your fiery spirit would once again out pace your weakening body.
You died the morning we headed home from Florida. I wasn't there with you.
I wanted to tell you that we had the best trip, together as a family, all of us experiencing Disney for the very first time.  You knew that the previous year had been a tough one for us; we really needed that vacation. Thank you for insisting that we go.
I know you know how the rest of my story goes, I tell it to you as I go. Hello Grandma, it's me Melissa xoxo.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The 20th Anniversary of the Best Week I Ever Had

Remember when you had a best friend (maybe you still do, no judgement)? Their title had been put in place just to remind all of your other friends that there was a bar set and an expectation to meet. Or possibly like me you had 6 best friends, which were really all the friends I had in the world. Every one was a best friend partially due to my own need for diplomacy but also because the friends I had all contributed something amazing to my life.  So how could I choose just one "best" friend?

One of those incredible women was Sheri.  She came into my life unexpectedly, you could even say stealth-like.  In the rule of teenage angst and politics we were destined to be enemies (we had both dated the same guy).  However Sheri could win anyone over with her joie de vivre and when she called me one day asking to go to coffee, I could hardly say no. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of one of the most influential friendships I would ever have.
Sheri and I became fast friends, much to the dismay of our commonly held ex-boyfriend.  We did not attend the same high school so we frequently met at a local coffee joint called The Purple Turtle. We would order coffee and dessert while flirting with the creepy bartender in hopes of getting a shot of something in our coffee (we would never do that!!).  The Purple Turtle was just like those smoky lounges in the movies with couches, live music and sometimes poetry. Sheri and I would sit for hours telling one another about our childhoods, our dreams and aspirations or sharing some darkly shrouded secret.  It was so easy to love Sheri, regardless of her true feelings, I always felt loved in return without judgement or criticism.  There were no politics in our relationship, not in the early days anyway and those were the days that shaped the friendship.

In that coffee joint we dreamed up the idea of going to Montreal for March Break. We were both going to be 18 by March that year (yep do the math from the title and now you know that I am not as young as I look!) and with the drinking age in Quebec being 18 - we could party like it was 1999 (although it was only 1994).  I warned Sheri that my parents would never go for it and she promised that if I could not go she would not go with anyone else and so we asked our parents.  I still wonder to this day if my parents and Sheri's parents had conferred before answering us regarding our trip but I was overwhelmingly surprised to be told that I could indeed go.  For the next couple of months Sheri and I spent most our time planning our vacation.  We booked the VIA rail tickets, found a hotel and planned places we wanted to check out while we were there.
Getting to Montreal was fairly uneventful. What I remember most was changing trains in Toronto and helping Sheri to lug some of her medical equipment between trains - it was f***ing heavy!  Sheri had Cystic Fibrosis and her oxygen machine had to weigh about 50 pounds ~luckily it had wheels but I may have bitched and moaned about its weight for the next 5 hours as we made our way to our destination.  Our hotel was filled with young people, mostly from Ontario and within minutes of checking in Sheri was socializing with people in the halls, getting room numbers and finding out where we would be going that night.  She made a friend everywhere she went!

I would love to document the whole trip here, I think there are things I have long since forgotten but there are some moments that stick out for me. Of those memories, is one night, when Sheri and I went to the Peel Pub.  It was full probably over capacity and I remember the seating as long wooden tables with equally long benches so you were elbow to elbow with the stranger next to you.  Sheri and I started out simply enough with one drink each. Sheri was talking and flirting with people at our table. She said something about being able to stomach anything and so someone bought Sheri a Prairie Fire.  I remember refusing the one bought for me (I could not stomach anything) and so she threw both shots back and asked the waitress for another.  When it arrived she tossed it back too. The group around us started to cheer and clap.  I think she may have had a few more and the crowd around us seemed to grow.  Sheri told the waitress that she could make a sound like a siren and then she did and oh man was it loud!  By now it felt like the whole bar was chanting Sheri's name and so she sounded the siren one more time before retiring the sound effects for the night.  I don't believe we bought a drink all night and when we left that night the whole bar said goodbye to Sheri.  She really could attract people.  Now I will not disillusion you, she may have been able to stomach all that spice but I had to carry her (fireman style) to the waiting cab.
The other memory from that trip involved all the people we met at the hotel.  At any given moment there would be 5-10 people in our room talking, drinking and making plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the bar, whatever. I have pictures of people posing with Sheri and I and frankly I don't remember their names but they all wanted to be in our room, hanging with us.  We talked with people from across Canada. I think we may have made promises of visiting people from B.C. all the way over to the Maritimes. I don't think we bought any drinks while we were there and in our room there was always someone sharing a drink with us (it was truly a celebratory atmosphere). Sheri and I had invitations for every evening that we were there and I don't remember a dull moment.
I said that this March Break is the 20th anniversary of the best week I ever had. Twenty years ago, for the first time I was given the freedom to try out my life as an adult. I took healthy risks and had an incredible amount of fun with total strangers and with my best friend. More than that, for one whole week I got to be joyfully close to a joie de vivre that I had never known up until that point in my life.  In honesty it was a spark that I have not come across again and today is a good day to remember that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Family Tree Assignment Part 2

You may remember that recently our Littlest brought home an assignment to do a Family Tree for school.  He decided, after a discussion with the Middlest, that he would include Flynn in the project.

Our next step was to work with him in deciding how to illustrate the tree. I will admit that I had a concern; part of the assignment included doing an oral presentation to the class and I was not sure that our Littlest understood how people on his tree died or came to be part of our family. What I really wanted was to ensure that the project would lend itself to the Littlest presenting it to classmates without him feeling confused or judged (secretly or not so secretly, I was having an anxiety attack).

The concept of Flynn (big brother who had died) was still relatively new to our Littlest and that was not taking into account that developmentally his ability to understand death was just evolving to include humans (up until now it was reserved for plants, family pets and batteries).  I recognize that I was being overly protective.  It came from a place of experience, having been through it with our older two children who were confused by messages or concepts about their brother, shared with them by well-meaning (but meddling) teachers, students and other parents.
So we decided to illustrate family members using pictures, well our Littlest decided, he loves photography.  He is already taking "selfies" with my camera when I am unaware.  Here is one I found on my camera today:
We took pictures of ourselves, the brothers, Grandma and Grandpa. We found nice photos of Opa and Nana.  I found a lovely picture of Grandpa Les that I could scan for the project and now our Littlest just wanted one of Flynn.  We have pictures up in our home of Flynn. We have a lovely Flynn scrap book with pictures of ultrasounds, his delivery and his time spent with us.  There was not a shortage of pictures; I just haven't been able to share any of them with the world (or a grade one class). So I compromised with my Littlest to take a picture of the scrapbook that had Flynn's name on the front and a black and white photo of his hand clasping my finger. We were ready to begin!

We had a blast printing the photos and my Littlest took his time cutting out every one (in that way that little ones cut, with their tongue sticking out and their elbows up in the air as they maneuver carefully through every curve). We got out the paints and I painted the branches on the tree.  We stuck the pictures on the tree and discussed who everyone was and how they were related to us. Our Littlest told me that every paint colour was picked specifically for the person it surrounded, although when asked the significance of the colour, our Littlest replied "just because."
My Littlest told me that Grandpa Les was his daddy's dad who had died (I didn't remember telling him that, funny what they absorb).  He told me his Opa was his dad's step dad but his real Opa (yeppers!!).  When our Littlest got to my side of the family he said they were my mom and dad who had not died.  I reminded him that he did not have to tell his class that, but chuckled at the thought.  When he came to describing Flynn's relationship to him, he stopped and looked at me, "he was my big brother, right mom?"  I told him that was right.  "I don't know why he died?" All I could think was "I don't know why either," but  instead I told him that he was born too early. He seemed okay with that.  We recited the relationships several times that evening and once more before he left with his project for school the next day.  I wrote the relationships on the back of the tree for his teacher just in case he got confused (I know over protective again).

The next week in his planner I got a note from his teacher: "We loved his family tree and He did Great!"

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Blog from The Eye's the Limit

I believe I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by beautiful, empowered, and courageous women.  It can be so difficult to be vulnerable and share a heartbreaking experience with the world and I am so honoured the my sister-in-law, Tamsin has agreed to guest blog here on her journey with infertility. She is definitely one of the beautiful women in my life, and I am sure you will see what I mean when you read her blog:

I am a partner, mother, photographer and a woman who has lived through the grief of infertility. I believe it is very important that parents, like us, have positive and wonderful stories to look to in times when we are coping with the grief of infertility; I want to share our story here.  I will try to make it short….
About 10 years ago my husband and I decided (or more closely I convinced him) to start a family. After a year of “trying” and a few basic procedures with my OBGYN, it was determined that we had “unexplained infertility” and we were told our next step would be to see a specialist.  We did just that and in March of 2006 I had a laparoscopic surgery as a last procedure to further investigate the potential cause of our infertility.
I vividly remember waking from the surgery to the sound of a little child crying for his mommy, and my heart knew at that moment that the impending news wasn’t going to be good. My doctor told me that I had severe endometriosis blocking my fallopian tubes and that I would never be able to conceive a child naturally. In his uncomfortable attempt to find something positive in delivering the news to me, he said “the silver lining” is that you will be entitled to medical coverage of 3 IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) attempts.  Essentially, because our fertility issue was mine and not my husband’s, our procedures and testing would financially be covered by OHIP.  We would be able to have 3 egg retrievals and any resulting transfers of frozen embryos that resulted from those retrievals. It would cut the cost of fertility treatments by 85%.
*I want to take this opportunity to make everyone aware that there are thousands of couples who have unexplained infertility or fertility issues that are due to issues with the man and they do not get the same OHIP coverage.  I find this fact unjust and heartbreaking.

My husband and I rode the IVF coaster for 6 years. We had over 60 eggs retrieved and more than 35 embryos created.  We endured 8 IVF attempts that included 16 transferred embryos and after a whole lot of heartbreak, we were emotionally and financially spent. We were left with a lot of hurt and confusion because when we started out our prognosis had been so positive. We understood that our issue was merely logistics due to severe scaring of my fallopian tubes. How do you really and truly deal with the emotions-grief-reality of 16 possible babies who didn’t and couldn’t survive?  I personally, still can’t answer that question.  Ultimately, I believed there was a part of me that knew adoption was going to be the outcome of our journey to have children. So after some long conversations and time to begin to heal, we decided to start the domestic adoption process.
From the time I was old enough to understand family love, the challenges of poverty, and the drive to help others, I knew I wanted to be a foster parent.  I wanted to do something in my life to give a child a better life. Life was going to make that part of our journey towards my own family.

Although different, at times the adoption process could be just as emotionally taxing as the IVF process. After completing our home study, we were considered for 3 unborn babies but the birth parents did not choose us as a potential parent.  That was hurtful and it was hard to understand why.  I found myself questioning whether we looked “good enough” for these birth parents to WANT us.
If there is one thing in life that I believe in it is that there are no coincidences. On the very day our worker was coming to us to discuss a birth mom who wanted to meet us, her co-worker, who was days away from maternity leave, brought her a 3 1/2 month old baby’s profile.  The baby was going to become a Crown Ward and the original adoption plan for him had fallen through.  Our worker wanted to know which file we wanted to consider. We only needed a short time to discuss it before we knew this 3 ½ month old was our baby. Enter Maxwell into our lives.  Within weeks we would be bringing him home and less than a year later Maxwell was officially our beautiful son.

We really believed that this was the end of our journey to family story and we have felt super blessed with our perfect charming boy.  We did however think about a sibling for Maxwell and came to recognize that our journey had emotionally extended ourselves further then a Russian gymnast.  We decided that we were happy with our boy and that a sibling (or more so the process of adopting another child from another family) was just too much for us.  In the back of my mind I hoped for the possibility of a biological sibling even if it was a selfish hope.  I felt selfish because no matter what Maxwell’s birth parent’s situation was, not having the opportunity to raise your baby must rip a piece of your heart out and to me it is not comparable to any loss that we have faced regarding our struggles to start a family.
I had made my peace with so many aspects of motherhood that I would not experience, one of them being that I would never have a newborn child. I had dealt with the sadness I felt from missing the first part of Max’s life (something I think only adoptive parents can truly understand).  I had even become “OK” with the idea that Maxwell would be an only child (in our family).  I believed my blessings outnumbered the fact that life has not always been easy and fluid. However, as life changes when you least expect it, we got the message from our worker four weeks ago stating that Maxwell’s birth mother was expecting again and she was hoping for a consent adoption (different and easier process) with us. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I felt my heart suddenly become overwhelmed with joy. Life is an amazing ride. Enter Edison into our lives and hearts. This gift life has given our family is a testament to how you never truly know what to expect and you are never prepared for how quickly your life can change.  I am humbled that Maxwell’s birth mother chose us to be a family to his baby brother; for that reason and many others, we will always be thankful that they wanted their baby with us. Because of their choice we have two beautiful baby boys to complete our family and fill our house with love and laughter.

I wrote my story for myself, for those struggling with infertility and also for anyone who knows someone who is dealing with infertility.  It is so important to give support and to be there for your friend(s) during the ups and downs they may face. It’s not easy to be supportive when you can’t personally relate, but the best thing you can do is to listen, take them out for coffee, and let them have a space to express their feelings.  Being sensitive to that person struggling with infertility when you are “out with the girls” talking about your birth experience, pregnancy, and babies at home.  Most importantly, try to stay away from saying “just relax” and “it will happen, just be patient” and if they have decided to pursue adoption, please do not tell them “I bet you’ll get pregnant as soon as you adopt!”  To those women and men who are dealing with the very personal and often private (too private) trials of infertility, know that you are not alone.  It may be hard to believe (and I understand that), but for us life has worked in wondrous and sometimes perfect ways.