Hello Grieving My Old Friend

Before I bury the lede: our ultrasound went well. It was an emotional day, for sure, and a long one. We were at the hospital for four hours and saw two technicians and our genetic specialist. I used every tool I’ve got to just get through the waiting around and wondering and I know N was pretty anxious even though he hid it pretty well. I’m sure it’s just as hard to go through the ultrasound as it is to sit (for 45 minutes) wondering what’s happening in the other room. When he was finally allowed to come in and see the screen for himself he looked pretty destroyed.

The technician I saw was actually the same woman who did our anatomy scan for Odin. (The follow-up one we had after we were flagged for issues.) She remembered me and I was both grateful and terrified to be in that room again, with the first person who knew that our lives were about to change in an unimaginable way. She was kind, but professional. She explained right away that we’d have to wait to talk to the doctor about the results but that she could tell us about the heartbeat and the sex. The baby was very active and it felt like it was taking a really long time. I did my best not to cry and to keep breathing. About halfway through she caught me fidgeting and asked if I was okay. And I said, “it’s just really hard not to try and read your face.” She was as reassuring as she could be and said, “for an early scan like this the baby is still very small so things are hard to see. I just have to look hard. I can’t tell you much but I will say this: things are very different this time.” And she said it in a way that let me read between the lines for her positive message. I relaxed just a little bit.

Eventually N was allowed to come in and the technician told us with a fair amount of confidence, given that the baby is still very small: it’s a girl. Once again we were able to see her moving around, legs crossed, bum view, profile (mouth opening and closing), hands waving and it was incredible. The technician purposely left her image on the screen and left the room so that we could take pictures in the cell-phone-free zone.

And then we waited.

And then we had another ultrasound done by a radiologist who said, “don’t worry! We just want some more pictures. Everything is okay.” I felt reassured, N looked worried.

And then we waited some more.

We eventually saw our genetic specialist (who is an angel on earth) and he walked us through the results. We both wish he had opened with “everything is okay!” but he eventually did get around to that after a bunch of clinical descriptions. It looks like our baby girl is okay. We will have another scan and an echocardiogram in a few weeks (Odin had a complex heart condition so they want to check on this baby’s heart) but so far everything looks normal.

Since that day I’ve run the gamut of emotions from relief and joy to extreme grief and sadness. It’s like all of the anxiety and worry that was taking up space in our hearts about this pregnancy has been released (or at least abated) and now my heart is full of sadness and I’m missing my boy so much. It’s been like the early days all over again. I’m back to thinking about his body and the weight of it in my arms. I’m back to crying when I look at his picture (beside my bed; I look at it every night before I go to sleep), I’m back to feeling overwhelmed by the idea of missing him until I die. Which leads to feeling guilty for not feeling grateful to have a healthy pregnancy, which leads to feeling guilty that I’m not my best self for this baby and for work and for my family and friends. Which leads to feeling isolated because of the complicated feelings. And then I worry about this baby and if I’ll resent her for not being Odin. Or that I’ll be able to love her like I love Odin. Basically, it’s a lot. It’s confusing and it’s sad. Now that people are finding out that we’re expecting a baby we’re getting lots of congratulations messages and inquiries about how we’re doing. And it’s so hard to reply sometimes. The feelings we feel are all over the place. We are happy and we are sad. I just have to go easy on myself and hope that people will understand (or at least accept) that they may not hear from us.

Rationally I realize that this, too, will pass. We have wonderful (personal and professional) support and I know I’ll work through this phase. It’s just so hard to see outside of a dark cloud when you’re this deep in it. I think part of what might help me is more journalling and maybe some kind of project for Odin. Something that I can focus on and feel like I’m doing for him. August 19th is The Day of Hope and last year I made a flag for Odin. I don’t know if I’ll have time to complete one this year, but maybe I’ll try. It’ll be a journey figuring out how to parent him and fit him into this new baby’s life but thinking about that is another way for us to include him in our lives, which I’m glad for.

The finished flag

The 20th is Hard

Today is the 20th. Not an extra special 20th, just the day that Odin would be 15 months. I’ve been doing really “well” lately and have been feeling more at peace, as I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts. I think that peace is still there, but some days the grief can feel new again. You can be living your life, just carrying on with the regular things and the gravity of what’s happened — even if it’s been 15 months  — hits like a ton of bricks. I’m having a hard time today so I’m writing as a way of distracting myself and trying to articulate my feelings.

There’s a bit of news that I’ve been torn about sharing that I’m going to bury in this post. As of tomorrow I will be 14 weeks pregnant. There, I said it. I don’t know who will read this but admitting it here seems like a good place to start. Our immediate families know and some close friends but it’s incredibly complicated this news. Dreading blind and exuberant “Congratulations!!” messages devoid of the weight of our loss and fearing that those who do not understand what pregnancy after loss (PAL) feels like will assume that we’re finally “moving on”. Or that the people who said “you’ll have another” will be free to say or think, “I told you so” not realizing that a pregnancy is not a guarantee of a healthy living child. The thing about announcing a PAL is that almost everything you do feels like tempting fate. Every good ultrasound or blood test (we’ve had a few already) brings a relief as if we’ve dodged a literal bullet. Every bit of positive news feels too good to be true; makes us question why things seem to be going so well. Even though for the average person a positive result is just expected and ordinary. For me what is a precious gift (my iron levels are okay! I got into the midwife clinic I applied to!) to other people is just a normal, regular part of an average pregnancy. What other people take for granted I realize I am infinitely lucky to have.

I’m not even sure I knew how much I appreciated this pregnancy and how my point of view had shifted until our 12 week scan a couple of weeks ago. With Odin, our 12-week scan was miserable. The tech was rough and Odin wasn’t in the right positions for her to get the measurements. After 45 minutes she sent me away to eat and I came back for her to try again for another 45 minutes. I remember feeling bruised and I barely remember seeing him on the monitor. (I’m trying not to weep as I recall that memory. I know it doesn’t mean anything about his eventual fate, but it does make me sad that that scan went so poorly and it was one of my only chances to see him alive.) With this scan, the baby was relatively still. So still that I expressed concern about it. The tech, who was kind, despite having some undesirable opinions about whether we should pay $30 for a cd of pictures, said, “Babies rest. They move and then they rest” with enough authority that I felt reassured. For some lucky reason I was positioned on the examining table in a way that I could see the screen for the entire procedure. It was an incredibly special few minutes for me. The tech also got me to cough a little to show me the baby’s movements. The tech jiggled the ultrasound wand against my belly as I coughed and the baby wiggled around and put an arm up as if to wave. N also got to come in and see after the measurements had been taken and by then the baby had changed positions and we could see her spine — which was weird but also fascinating (like a tiny little railroad!). The tech had me cough again so N could see her dance. No matter what happens in the future of this pregnancy I am so grateful for that scan. (I was weeping a few minutes ago but now I’m smiling and weeping.)

I have been referring to the baby as “she” for a couple of reasons, none of which are based on fact. One is that I feel so differently with this pregnancy that I’m just assuming that this baby is a girl (I felt nauseated 24/7 for weeks). The other is that I find it annoying to say “he or she” all the time and prefer not to refer to her as “baby”. The other reason is that when we found out I was pregnant my whole heart wanted this baby to be a boy. I knew deep down I would be happy either way as long as the baby was healthy and got to come home with us but I initially really struggled with the idea of a daughter. (Parents tend to have strong feelings one way or another about the sex of a subsequent child after loss.) After the scan, though, and seeing the baby for real I feel more ready for whatever sex the baby is. And the mystery will be solved in a few weeks.

The 20th is still hard, but now that I’ve written my confession I feel a little lighter. I think today I should do something for Odin. I’m not sure what, but I’ll come up with something.




Forgiveness, duh

I just wrote a few days ago, but I’ve been thinking more about why I’ve been feeling a little more at peace these days. Time, sure, is a part of it. But I think an even bigger part of feeling peace is letting go of (or loosening the grip on) some of the negative feelings (anger, especially). Slowly I’ve had this massive and seemingly obvious realization that people outside of this loss are never ever going to understand what this feels like. I’ve always known this, just as anyone who has held their baby and said goodbye knows it, too. But it feels a bit different now —  it’s less like a hopeless burden that no one will ever understand me and more of a this-is-a-fact epiphany.

For a long long time I would get so angry when people didn’t seem to understand me and would say or do the wrong things. There are many blog posts in the community about this. Hell, I’ve written them. When the grief is so raw and you’re so vulnerable — a gaping, bleeding wound — any wrong words or actions hurt so badly. It’s like I’ve said: Anger is easy. Being angry is so much easier than dealing with the complicated feelings that constantly bombard you when you’re trying to be a part of a world that has continued on, unfazed, after you’ve lived through an unimaginable hell. And when you’re bone-tired just from the effort of living it’s so easy to be let down. All you want is to be understood and it’s an impossible and vicious cycle of letdown.

On the other side of the letdown, presumably, is a person who is simultaneously dreading saying the wrong thing, wanting to comfort you, and trying to help. I am understanding and/or accepting this more and more now. I don’t want to make excuses for the people who’ve stuck their foot in their mouths because sometimes people legitimately say really really dumb things. (“It wasn’t meant to be.” “You’ll have another baby.”) But I know loss moms who returned to work by choice two weeks after the death of their baby while others only return after many months leave. I have seen women get pregnant a couple of months after their loss and others wait a year before trying. I know someone whose baby died many years ago and she refuses to this day to speak of it but I also know moms who want desperately to talk about their babies even if they died decades ago. Guessing what an individual might want or need is no easy task and I accept more and more that for most people trying is half the battle. And empathy is incredibly rare. I’m still having a hard time with the people who say nothing at all — who haven’t acknowledged our loss, but maybe that will come someday. I guess for now I just want to try and forgive myself for being so hard on people, and I also want to forgive people who have let me down. I want to use that energy and space for something else.

(Totally relevant sidebar: if you know someone who is going through something awful and you’re feeling stuck, or if you just want to do better for your friends and family, please read this book: “There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love” by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell. I wish I knew how to make it part of every school’s curriculum.)

I still and always will treasure those people who always seem to have the right thing to say. The ones who have consistently provided comfort; remembered dates; said Odin’s name. These people are a gift and they have shown me how to be a better friend, daughter, wife, and mother. But more and more I’m able to just forgive the wrong words and actions. It’s so much easier to let it go than to hold onto it. I know people (for the most part) are trying and they mean well. It just takes a while to accept that.


Progress and Luggage

When I look back at the things I wrote more than a year ago with the idea that time makes pain an easier burden to carry in mind, I could almost be mad at myself for not believing it then. Of course it makes sense that in the early days of grief (and even for a whole year afterwards) I couldn’t even imagine a time when I would care about anything at all ever again. But the wise mothers, years out from their loss(es), who were a guiding light for me then, would have every right today to tell me, “I told you so”. (Obviously they would never do that.)

I have been feeling more at peace (or calm?) lately than I have ever felt before about losing Odin. It almost makes me sad to say that, but only almost. I realized this when I was having brunch with a couple of my loss mom friends last weekend. We were talking about how when we are in large groups of happy people we feel the most alone. L1 described feeling like a ghost around some of the people who she used to be closest to and even around her own family. And I can completely relate to that feeling. It’s awful. When the people who you’ve depended on your whole life; people who have known you for years or even decades just don’t seem to see you anymore it is devastating. And there’s really nothing you can do about it. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just part of the fallout and a secondary thing to mourn on top of the devastating loss of your baby. During that conversation, though, it occurred to me that the last few times I had been with large groups of people I hadn’t felt as isolated and I didn’t imagine screaming and running away. For many many months after we lost Odin I couldn’t sit at my in-laws’ dinner table with the family for a meal because it was just too much. Too much mindless chatter. Too much laughter. Too much noise. I would inevitably end up in tears and have to excuse myself. But the last time I was there, I got through the meal and felt okay. I still have a very low threshold for small-talk but aside from that unavoidable part of any family gathering, I realized that at the last wedding we went to (which was in May) I genuinely had fun. L2 talked about how her therapist suggested that to cope with social situations she “not bring everything [her experience]” with her. And I offered that at this point in my grief journey it’s less of an active choice to bring my baggage with me into a social setting whereas before I had no control over it. I used to be handcuffed to a massive bulging suitcase that sat in my lap and I couldn’t even see over it — now it feels more like a purse that I can hang on the back of my chair. At least most of the time anyway.

This is not to say that I am cured! Oh boy. This is, after all , The Longterm Project. One of my fears about “healing” is giving people permission to treat me like I didn’t live through the most horrible thing imaginable. I think that’s why it is hard (for me) to admit progress out loud. Giving the impression that I’m “over it” is terrifying. So even though I probably don’t need to, I’m going to give in to my paranoia and reiterate that there is no getting over this. Even a couple of nights ago I cried while N was playing the piano. He definitely plays some songs that tug at my heartstrings but that night it was the simple fact that Odin would never hear N play that made me incredibly sad. And I expect those moments to come for the rest of my life and I welcome them with an open heart.

And so, despite my resolve to hang onto my sadness (because it used to be the only way I felt connected to Odin), I feel like I’m just a little bit more capable of looking forward. Losing Odin has taught me that there are very few things in this life that we can control. But what I can do is imagine a future where Odin is still at the forefront of everything we do for as long as we are here to do it. I can live in a way that honours his memory and keeps him in my heart always. I can do things that would make him proud. And until my last breath I can be sure that he remains, as always, our beloved son.

The Weight of Wonder

I haven’t written in a while. I guess it’s partly because what they say is true. With time, grief becomes easier to carry. It becomes more like a familiar companion than a tormentor. And I guess when things are easier there’s less to be fired up about so I haven’t been as inspired to write. But tonight the moon is so bright that it doesn’t really seem like nighttime and I’m here, awake, wondering.

What would he look like?

Now that winter is at a safe distance and vitamin D levels are on the rise it feels a little more possible to make plans. Last summer we were in survival mode but this summer can be something different. I think I can imagine making it through an entire wedding or social event without being crushed by the loneliness of being surrounded by so many happy people.

But what would he sound like? What would make him laugh?

I’m less anxious about going to malls and parks and dodging the minefield of strollers and Baby Bjorns. I don’t think I’m likely to weep at the sound of a newborn’s cry anymore. I’m slightly less upset by pregnancy announcements and the sight of a pregnant woman doesn’t bother me much anymore.

But what would he feel like to hold now?

It’s true that I don’t cry as often anymore and that life’s routines are basically the same as they were a year ago (a fact which is difficult to consider. Time = black hole). It’s so easy to get caught up in those routines and before you know it the date on the calendar shocks you. I miss Odin every day but I feel like I’m doing alright.

But what would he call me?

Now What

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s been a year. A whole year since Odin was here with us. The countdown to the one-year mark allowed me to digest time in a way that made it more manageable. Four months, eight months, nine months, eleven. Getting to that place at the end of what all the grief blogs and infant loss websites say is the hardest time seems like an achievement. I’m here, I’m (mostly) participating in the world, I am still employed, I don’t have a drinking problem. But now it feels like what lies ahead is so much less manageable. A whole lifetime. 

At what point will counting the months feel less sacred and necessary? Will I still be counting at fourty-two months? Ninety-three? I’m scared to stop counting because it’s something else to let go of and there’s so little to hang on to. Also, part of me also feels responsible for keeping track because if I don’t do it, who will? I’m like Desmond on Lost, pushing the button every 108 minutes to avoid a system failure. It kind of makes Desmond crazy, but I think it keeps me sane (for now at least). Keeping track of time is a thing I can control and so much feels out of my control these days.

What I’ve realized this morning is that parents of toddlers often answer the question of how old their kid is in months (and there are many memes about this). I’ve decided that I’ll grant myself another year (at least) of counting months to the point where Odin would be two years old. It’s my way of taking the whole lifetime of missing one step at a time.

And, just because I thought this article was perfect, I’m sharing it here. How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving Their Child written by Emily Long. (She often writes for Still Standing Magazine and Still Mothers.)

April 20th, 2017: a Summary

Yesterday was a really good day. I am pretty tired today, though, and emotionally drained so this is going to be a very lazy entry. Mostly I’m just going to copy and paste from my Instagram account. (If you hover over the picture or select it you can read its caption.)

From April 19th:

Odin’s birthday is tomorrow. Our Special Odin Day has started a day early thanks to some very kind and thoughtful friends. 💙 Trying to let the love outweigh the pain.

From April 20th:

Special Odin Day! Thank you, dear friends, for all of your messages of love and support and for saying Odin’s name and keeping us in your heart today. We are trying, despite the weather, to make this day memorable. More to come… 💙

Odin Cafe, Toronto ON

Special Odin Day continues. 💞 (Nathan got his wedding ring done, too.)

It was good to feel a little physical pain today. Jazzed up my Odin tattoo and @nzarnke took a big leap! We’re home now and settling in for the evening. Taking time to read all of your loving messages (and open the mail! 🤗) Today has been special for us so far. A very memorable Odin Day. More to come…

Today has been a good day. For better or worse, depending on how you feel about social media, sharing each part has made us feel very loved and supported. We lit a candle at 5:36pm (the time Odin was born) and had a good cry together. Because despite our brave faces, today is hard. Lots of our days are hard even if you can’t see it. But I’m not ready to give in to the heartbreak right now because this is our Special Odin Day! So I’m powering through and sharing again… I’ve been fussing and arranging the “things” from today because it’s keeping me occupied. It’s also keeping me focused on Odin and our love for him. We’re feeling so grateful for our friends and family today.

These are a few more pictures from the day that I didn’t Instagram. 🤗

And these beautiful poems friends shared with us:

Heaven by Patrick Phillips

It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We’ll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

Boo, Forever by Richard Brautigan

Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a
I’m haunted by all
the space that I
will live without


I’ve had a few people ask me what we have planned for Odin’s birthday (which is coming up so quick). The last two weeks were kind of rough (which is relative, I know). But this week I’m feeling pretty good and have come up with a bunch of things I think I’d like to try doing for Odin’s birthday. It’s such an important day with so many heavy feelings and I’ve been really struggling to figure out what to do on that day. The easiest thing (and my plan in the deep dark bubble of last week) was to give in to how sad it is that he’s not here and just stay home in bed crying, looking at his pictures, cuddling Kornflake (the bear we got from the hospital). I know that sounds awful, but it’s honestly the easiest and safest thing to do.

But, somehow, the darkness lifted a bit and I got the energy and inspiration to come up with some things I’d like to do. Things that I hope I can keep up the nerve and energy for next week. Life has become a constant and never-ending battle between the sadness of losing our baby and the love and joy of being his mother. The feelings are honestly the hardest thing to explain and they’re going on in my head and my heart at absolutely every moment. It is super exhausting but at times it can also be empowering. No matter how you slice it, though, it is more than anyone should have to deal with.

There is an artist in Montreal named Sarah Mangle and she has this incredible Affirmations Colouring Book that I’ve found very comforting. Sarah posted a picture on her Instagram account of one of her drawings with words that resonate with me like no other sentiment has: “There are many ways I think of you.” It’s a simple idea, for sure, and I’ve read so many inspirational and sad infant loss quotes that it would make your head spin. But this is a phrase that I think sums it all up. I’m so grateful for her artwork and, specifically, for writing this one simple line that is my whole heart.

My plan next Thursday is to share on social media (Instagram anyway) our Special Odin Day. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to accomplish any of it so don’t hold me to this. But if he were here with us you can bet I’d be spamming you so hard with cute cake-eating pics, funny faces and outfits. The alternative is not at all what I want, but it’s what I’ve got. And the love is the same. There are many ways I think of him.

Posted with permission. Artwork by Sarah Mangle.

The Old Normal

As Odin’s first birthday approaches, I have been trying really hard not to look at last year’s calendar. I’ve been having flashbacks and they are intense and vivid enough without having specific dates to reference. But I caved. I looked. And now I know each of the important dates from last year; the things that happened in our Last Normal Days. I was feeling strong, and wanted to remember the mundane details of Before. (The alpaca festival I went to the day after our anatomy scan before we knew anything was wrong, dinner with a (now) former friend, a dentist appointment, getting Odin’s diagnosis on my mother’s birthday.) I think I’m okay with knowing the specifics because having the days of this month pass without recognizing their weight or remembering something unexpectedly might be worse. Might.

Last year at this time winter was finally melting away like it does every year. I remember wearing some of the more spring-weather-appropriate maternity clothes that had been passed down to me and finally ditching my winter coat. We kept saying that we wanted to go to High Park to see if the cherry blossoms were blooming yet. (They weren’t. Twenty-sixteen was a bad year for them and they didn’t fully blossom that spring like they usually do. The symbolism of this is not lost on me.) We had really great tickets to the Blue Jays Home Opener at the Skydome. And on that same day we had our 20-week anatomy scan and we were going to find out if our little boo boo was a boy or a girl. We were happy.

I think that the start of spring might always be difficult for me now. Considering how nature’s symbol of new life and promise is the mark of the darkest, saddest, time in our lives. I imagine that at the start of spring I will always be reminded, just a little more intensely, of what should have been.

To make matters heavier, there is a woman who sits near me at work who is living the life I had last year. She’s just a regular woman in her second-trimester of pregnancy, making plans and battling fatigue. Her anatomy scan appointment is three days later than mine was last year. I know this because I can hear everything she says. I hear her talking about finding out if her baby is a boy or a girl. I hear her talking about maternity pants. And I die a little bit with each detail.

I know I always sound sad. And that’s because on some level I always am sad and I’m settling in to that reality. For better or worse I’ve been treating this space as a place where I can be honest about how I’m feeling — even if no one reads it. It doesn’t mean I can’t/don’t/won’t also experience joy and happiness, it just means that unless Odin can be alive again I will always be heartbroken and I will always miss him. I am glad it’s spring, though. I’ve missed feeling connected to nature during the long, grey, lifeless cold of winter. I’m trying to look forward to those unexpected moments where a cool breeze or a family of geese reminds me of my little guy. I am ready for those moments with an open heart.

Eleven Months & Harry Potter

These have been eleven of the shortest longest months of my life. Some minutes like hours, some days like moments. All mixed up in this mess of grief. Each day taking me further away from the too brief time I had with my baby boy. These anniversaries won’t pass unnoticed, either, which seems like One of Those Infant Loss Things. My mind may forget the date, but my heart will not. It always aches a little more on the 20th.

I’m dreading One Year. No matter what reassurances people try to offer, “Odin will never be forgotten”, One Year feels too much like an ending or closure I’m not ready for. I’m fighting at the passing of time with everything in me right now because although it’s been nearly a year, the pain of his absence is still there. It’s always there, just beneath the surface. And the weight of that pain and its permanence is so lonely. So I don’t want all of the Firsts to be done because they are still recognized as Hard. After that I’m not sure what happens. People move on. I want time to quit being so cruel.

They say Time Heals All Wounds and I’ve called BS on that one before. My wound will not heal and I wouldn’t want it to. Instead it is my job to tend to it; keep the bleeding at bay; be sure that infection doesn’t spread. I keep it well-bandaged so people don’t notice and stare. Most people don’t even know I’m injured and most who do seem comfortable that I manage the wound privately. I guess they’re not good with blood or are worried they’ll make the pain worse (not possible).

I know that there will be times when I can think of Odin with more love than sadness and I have definitely had some of those moments of strength and peace. They are few and far between, though, and there is always a steep come-down from those days. Maybe that will change as time goes on. That’s what They say anyway.

I’m currently reading the Harry Potter series (for the first time! In my thirties!) and there have been a few times (and I’ve just finished book three, The Prisoner of Azkaban) that I have been moved to tears. (If you haven’t read the books, there are spoilers ahead.) This is the most recent moment in a scene where Dumbledore is speaking to Harry about his father:

“You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.”


There is a tiny little strange part of me that likes to think of Odin as Harry. Harry’s parents, Lily and James, died to save Harry’s life and that’s what we would have done, too, to save Odin. It’s sort of like we’re living the story in reverse. Harry is living without his parents and misses them, dearly, and his grief runs throughout the plot of the books. (This isn’t a new idea, it’s been written about a lot.) I’m inspired by the parts of the book where Harry is able to think of his parents with love and not sadness and I appreciate that struggle. I could probably write a whole blog post about Harry Potter but it would be derivative. Mostly I wanted to share that Dumbledore quote because I loved it and am trying to believe in those words for Harry and for Odin.