Friday, February 16, 2018


We've used the term "how far we've come" a number of times over these past four years, always with a positive undertone. From devastation back to normalcy - it's been a journey that I am proud to say we 'completed', in a way.

The strange thing about reaching normalcy is that it's not the end of the road. We keep walking down that path day after day, year after year, eventually taking us out of sight of the path of devastation, but with it, the place where we met our first born. And there's no option to circle back and revisit our connection to that past. 

Keeping her legacy alive through new thoughts and words gets progressively more difficult when no new thoughts come and all of the words feel like they've been written. I may be close to the point where there is nothing left to say, and that in itself is a sad milestone. 

There's a great big wonderful future ahead. It's a shame we can't bring the past along for the ride.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

You Are Four

My dear Anya,

Can you believe that you were born four years ago already?

I find it hard to believe that we have been that long without you. Yet I can hardly remember the time that came before you. 

You should know that I have thought of you each and every day since I learned of your existence. I will continue to do so for as long as I can. You should also know that you live on. 

You are the one who anchors me to the love of the present, with the knowledge that tomorrow is uncertain. You are the one who reminds me that looking forward is nowhere near as important as appreciating what is, right now. Tomorrow is full of promise. But one day, one of these tomorrows will mean losing something, or someone again, so I hold on to today for as long as I can. 

Yes, my beautiful Anya, you are still alive in me, in how I approach life, and in how I love your mom, your brother William and sister Juliette. 

Happy birthday, my eldest. I love you. I miss you. Thank you for all that you have given me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Waves of Grief

Life is pretty crazy these days... interrupted sleep, little time to ourselves, toddler tantrums. In the midst of this exhaustion, I'm struggling to appreciate life and the little things. And I'm certain 4 years ago I vowed never to take life's treasures for granted...

I'm struggling and I'm hurting as I realize there is no formula, no series of choices that can make life exactly as I want it to be. There is not enough will power or trying that can make life perfect.

It's naive to have thought that it ever could have been perfect, I know.

When William (our rainbow baby) was born my life shifted overnight. The time I gave myself to grieve, to hope, to reflect on life, to work through tough emotions almost vanished, and my life became focused on immediate needs, survival, and love of course. William brought us so much love, so much vitality.

Grief for the loss of Anya was still present, but it became background noise as I focused on the present, and I learned to love life again. I basked on the dry beach in the ebb of the waves of grief. This is a good thing. But I invested myself so wholeheartedly in loving life that I didn't even notice I had built a dam, and grief stopped flowing.

Then something shifted, I don't know exactly when. Maybe it was when Juliette was born. I dreamed again of life with a daughter, precious dreams that had once been for Anya. Maybe it was a few months later when the aforementioned exhaustion set in. Something shifted and grief returned, less acute, but still present like a long slow wave.

Now grief takes the shape of anger and hurt as I am forced to accept the realities of life. Everyone I love will one day die. Being a parent is hard and isolating. I will never find the perfect balance between family, work and my own needs. And no matter how many kids we have, our family won't be complete.

If there is any silver lining in all of this, I think it is having a place to share these feelings, to let grief flow and to soon find the ebb of this wave.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Highs and Lows

Aren't we lucky?

That's a question and sentiment we find ourselves asking and feeling quite a bit these days. That is - in between the occasional moments of frustration and exhaustion that naturally come with parenting a couple of kids under three.

Life is good. Great, even. The highs of having the wonderful family life we've always dreamed of are just fantastic. Over the past couple of years, we've also tried to minimize those frustrating, everyday lows  (e.g.: Two year old melting down: 'NO BED TIME! MORE MONSTER TRUCK VIDEOOOO! WAAAAhhh') by telling ourselves  'Ahh, this is nothing compared to the real lows we've lived through'.

It relates somewhat to a sentiment that came to me after losing Anya: "I should be so lucky as to be kept up all night by my kid. I can't see myself ever being frustrated as a parent, because with every cry and whine I'll just know that I'm lucky to hear them.". While I do still believe that I'm lucky to hear those things, the idea that I could be this sort of super-parent, with all of the patience of Spock never getting frustrated, is a tad ridiculous in hindsight.

The lowest lows can help put the wonderfulness of the day-to-day into perspective, and for that I really am lucky. It helps me recognize all that I have. But the lowest lows can also make the other lows - the everyday stuff - feel like they should be swept off as trivial. And the more I reflect on that, the more I've come to think that there's a danger in invalidating them in that way.

Being a parent is still a heck of a tough job; one that is as rewarding as it is frustrating at times, and those 'trivial' frustrations can certainly add up over time. It's not necessarily tough to forego a bit of sleep in short bursts, but lack of sleep for month after month is something else. It's also not necessarily difficult to 'take one for the team' and skip the activities you enjoy doing by yourself for a time, but continuous self-sacrifice can bring you to wonder whether you're still the same person you used to be.

The stupidity in invalidating those types of problems is that it hinders our ability to find solutions - sometimes really simple ones (like making sure one of us gets to sleep in on weekend days, or by giving each other time to do what's important to us as individuals). So that's the mindset that we're moving forward with - tackle the small stuff before it becomes bigger. If either of us is frustrated, it is absolutely not something to brush off as trivial. It's something to work together on, and to find solutions for. Aren't we lucky?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Motherhood and Grief

I've been hiding from my grief. It is hard to make time for it, but it shows its face now and then...

I look at Juliette, and I wonder... What kind of mother would I have been to Anya? What kind of mother would I have been if I hadn't lost Anya?

Would I love as fiercely? Yes.

Would I worry as much? Yes... But I imagine my feelings of worry would be naive and abstract as they once were. Now when I worry, it is a gnawing pain, a knowing ache of loss... Fear flashes before me as a deer in the headlights, and it is terrifying, if only for a moment.

Would William and Juliette be here today? Probably not. It makes me sad to think I could only ever have had Anya or William and Juliette. It makes me grateful I wasn't the one to choose... because William and Juliette are everything to me... Today, William and Juliette mean more to me than Anya does. I feel sad and guilty about that.

I also find that I am angry with myself, disappointed to face the same shortcomings as all parents... I feel like I should know better. Life gets busy and I forget the lessons Anya taught me about life and love.

I get impatient at silly things. I get lost in thoughts about dinner or work, when I should be paying attention. I don't play enough. But Anya taught me that this moment is precious... it could all be taken away in a moment. One day these precious moments will be gone...

I keep trying to simplify and be present. Though I know I will forget sometimes, I will try again and again to truly appreciate each day. Because that's all we can do isn't it?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Music and Memories

Music has a way of helping me relive certain moments in life. There's something therapeutic about it. Over the years, I've created particular associations between Anya's short existence and a handful of songs. They have helped me to relive certain moments, reflect on them, and progressively come to terms with them.

I feel like they deserve to be part of this overall record. They are worth remembering. So here they are, along with what they represent.

1- Across The Universe (Fiona Apple cover) . This song played during the early stages of labour, while Kayleigh was trying to stay calm. It reminds me of the calmness and the faith in life that we once believed in so strongly.

2- Babys (Bon Iver). This song reminds me of the anxiety-ridden drive between the birth centre and the hospital. Anya had been born, and she had been taken way by ambulance. Something was wrong - but I was trying to stay hopeful, until hope was taken away in a crushing instant.

3- To Build a Home (The Cinematic Orchestra). Saying goodbye to her. Returning home from the hospital without a baby. Seeing the note we had pasted on the door to let Kayleigh's mom know that we had made our way to the birthing centre. Ripping it off in anger. Being greeted by the mess we made as we were excitedly leaving the house. Remembering the thought that "when I come back to clean this, i'll be a dad". Feeling the worst feeling of defeat I've ever felt.

4- About Today (The National). Lying in bed on the evening of December 19th. Feeling exhausted, incredulous, powerless. Dreading sharing the news. Wishing for a time machine to go back just 24 hours and fix things.

5- The Wolves, Act I and II (Bon Iver). New Year's Eve. The day after her funeral. The lyrics "With the wild wolves around you; In the morning I'll call you" remind me of a certain feeling of loneliness and anxiety I felt at that point - as much as I was surrounded by loved ones, I was alone in coming to terms with what was happening in my mind. That feeling of failing as a parent at the single minimum requirement for parents - keeping your kid alive.

6- World Spins Madly On (The Weepies). Trying to find some sort of return to normally. Being upset at how life just seems to keep going for everyone else.

7- One Sunday Morning (Wilco). This song reminds me of those first few weeks, getting up on what would usually be a workday, and instead of going to work, just... having to find something to do. Painting a wall. Fixing something. Contemplating what the hell we do from here.

8 - Father Daughter Dance (Craig Cardiff). Reflecting on what could have been.

9 - Nobody Dies Anymore (Jeff Tweedy). Trying to find faith in life again, and in the idea that things can turn out alright.

10 - Sky Blue Sky (Wilco). Starting to believe that the worst may be behind, and that sunnier days are ahead.

11 - Hanging from the Earth (The Pines). Coming to terms with acceptance, and with the guilt of feeling happy.

Here's a Google Play Music playlist.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


As a grizzled veteran of three births, I thought I might offer some observations which compare and contrast the various birth options we've experienced in the Gatineau/Ottawa region. Who knows - it might offer some food for thought for prospective parents. Keep in mind this is from a father's perspective. Also, fair warning: this is long, and probably only mildly interesting.

The three different facilities we went through (in chronological order) are:
  1. The Gatineau Birth Centre (Maison de naissances)
  2. The Montfort Hospital in Ottawa
  3. The Gatineau Hospital 
Before the Birth

Prenatal visits are nerve-wracking, especially as a first-time parent. There are many questions, and many doubts associated with this new experience. They range from 'when am I going to feel those first kicks' to 'what the hell is this bloody show' (don't Google that until you have to).

It's hard to know what's normal and what's not, and it sure helps to have someone that can take the time to explain it to you.

To this day, I am still of the opinion that the best prenatal follow-ups we received in this regard were at the birth centre. For those who might not be familiar with this option, in birth centres, midwives run the show instead of doctors. They offer a more relaxed environment than the hospital, where nervous soon-to-be parents can take the time to express questions and concerns (if I recall correctly, the appointments are about an hour long) They also take the time to get to know their patient's views and expectations on a personal level. As soon as high-risk factors manifest themselves, they refer patients to the Gatineau hospital.

In the hospital setting, the approach is much more... methodical.

At Montfort, once you arrive, you check in (a very quick process), and there are series of standard follow-ups and questions administered by nurses (Blood pressure time! Weigh-in time! Any cramping? Bleeding? Etc. ). After this, you wait in a room, and your doctor shows up. We'd spend generally between 10-20 minutes speaking with the doctor about how things were going in general, getting the regular doctor-administered checkups (you don't need details) and discussing our history / autopsy results / possible ways to minimize risks.

At the Gatineau hospital, it sometimes felt like there was someone who's job it was to try and waste as much of your time as possible. At the beginning of the Juliette pregnancy, when we had a scheduled follow-up, we'd walk up to the counter which administered the external clinics to check in. You would get called within generally 15-20 minutes of your scheduled time. But then some genius decided that, no, that's too easy. First, you need to go to the general check in (in the same general room). But not right away when you get there. You need to grab a number first. And if you're there at a busy period, it's an easy half hour or more before your number is called. When you're finally seen at the general check in, all they do is.. give you your file. Then you bring that file to the same exact counter you used to just check-in at.

And then you wait the usual 15-20 minutes to be seen. And at the end of it all, you need to take another number at that general check-in to book your next appointment.

WHY? Why would this be necessary? What are you possibly accomplishing, my fellow bureaucrat, by adding this extra step? This is why people hate us.

Anyway. Comparing our two hospital settings, it was interesting to note that while at Montfort, the dad is welcome to be present during the nurse-administered portion of the check up, there is an explicit sign in Gatineau which notes that companions must wait in the general waiting area. I imagine there's a good reason for this (patients waiting for their gynecologist in their hospital robes may not be too comfortable to be sitting next to an excited dad), but it still feels like there's a design flaw. I still had to walk through that same area for the actual doctor's follow-up.

The actual follow-ups were much quicker than at Montfort, and usually lasted all of five minutes (we weren't even asked the usual series of questions we'd become accustomed to, regarding any cramps or bleeding). Maybe this was due to an assumption that we would know to report anything that was off, but this was never clear.

It's interesting to note that the best and worst prenatal follow-ups were both in Gatineau. It feels like the two systems could probably learn from each other.

The Birth

The birthing centre offers a relaxed environment for those who aim to give birth naturally. They don't offer epidurals. For that reason, a fair amount (I don't remember the precise number) end up transferring to the hospital during the birth. If I recall, there are circumstances where your midwife can still be present during a hospital birth, but I think this is fairly limited since the province wishes to refrain from duplicating care.

Objectively, I continue to realize that outcomes at birth centres are no worse than ones at hospitals. And yet, speaking as the outlier that did not have a positive outcome, I cannot say that I would recommend it. If things take an unexpected nosedive, commuting elsewhere is the last thing you will want to do.

Both Montfort and the Gatineau Hospital were surprisingly equally impressive to the birthing centre as far as being able to offer a comfortable birthing environment. All three facilities offer baths, and various types of equipment that help get through labour.

When you are admitted in the hospital setting, you are assigned a nurse. When there is continuous monitoring, they are there at all times; when there isn't, they check in at regular intervals (more and more frequently as labour progresses). We had excellent nurses in both hospitals.

A couple of points where i'd give the edge to Montfort over Gatineau:

1. The initial method suggested to induce labour was simply the use of a hook. That's all that ended up being necessary. In Gatineau, while our doctor was quite open to the hook as a first method, this was not the initial approach suggested, and was met with surprise.

2.At Montfort, laughing-gas is offered as a pain-relief method, whereas it is not in Gatineau. Pain has a way to make you feel 'to hell with what I thought I wanted', so it's probably not a bad thing to have a method that can be administered very quickly during the dire few moments where there's doubt.  

One thing to keep in mind about Montfort is that it is a teaching hospital. That can mean the birthing room getting surprisingly crowded when the big moment comes. I can't even tell you how many people were there in our case. Too many to count at a time where my focus was elsewhere.

In Gatineau, as far as staff, there was only one doctor and one nurse during the birth. This made the experience feel much more relaxed (though it stands in contrast with the standard for non-teaching hospitals in Ontario, where I was told two nurses are called during the birth - one for the mom, one for the baby). Overall, both Montfort and Gatineau were quite good - I don't know that I'd recommend one over the other for the birth.

After the Birth

The first few minutes after a birth (that goes well) are exhilarating. It's hard to believe what's just happened; that there's a brand new, living being right there, crying a beautiful cry, that you're now responsible for.

The first couple of hours, you're on a bit of a high, running on adrenaline, slowly calming down, and settling into this new reality.

And at a certain point you think 'Okay. Great. What's next?'. You start to think 'When does the whole nursing thing start? When do we get to go home?'

At Montfort, we first got pretty good support with nursing. A nurse came in, and helped coach Kayleigh through how she should do it. It all seemed to be going pretty well. Until that nurse's shift ended, and the next nurse told her to do slightly differently. And same thing with the one after that. And the one after that. Advice that is not uniform from nurse-to-nurse is quite frustrating.

This was in the context of doctors telling us we needed to stay at the hospital longer than the initially-hoped-for 24 hours, because William had lost a bit too much weight for their liking, reasoning that staying would help us get additional support in figuring out nursing. Argh.

In Gatineau, the postnatal care was just excellent. Check-ins seemed better timed, and the advice was consistent. Though admittedly, they might have just figured we needed less advice than first-time parents.

Final thoughts

Perhaps not surprisingly, each facility is better than others at certain things. There seems to be a pretty good opportunity for increasing quality of care if they would just speak to each other about the things they do well. However, that would mean measuring client satisfaction, and identifying strengths and weaknesses in a systematic way, at the point of service delivery, by actually asking for feedback when people are discharged. If that isn't done, maybe we should take the time to ask why not.