In Loving Memory Part 2: Paying Tribute

The days between Leah’s death and her memorial service are now a blur in my mind’s eye. Getting through each day was difficult but manageable since there was always a task to get done, a visitor to entertain, or a phone call to return. This busyness prolonged the initial numbness that often jump starts the grieving process, and I was grateful for it. As long as I didn’t have too much time to spend alone with my thoughts, I was able to put my emotions aside and function like something akin to normal.

I spent the days leading up to the memorial service putting together a picture slideshow and writing a eulogy to share. Finally, the day before the service, Leah’s urn was ready to pick up. Its hand painted floral design was almost as beautiful as she was, and it was strangely comforting to bring it home.

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Leah’s urn with the framed photos we displayed at the memorial service

At last the day arrived. My husband and I were deeply touched that so many family and friends traveled from near and far to join us for the service and take part in honouring Leah’s life. People kept commenting on how strong we were and how impressive it was that we were able to maintain our composure for the service. For me, however, this was not a challenge. As tragic as my loss was, I was proud to share my daughter’s story with everyone and was determined to do her memory justice. I did not waver or hesitate when I read the eulogy, which was addressed as a letter to Leah from my husband and I:

Dear Leah,

It’s difficult to explain how a single day can be both the best and worst of our lives. Because of you, we will always remember Tuesday, June 21, 2016 this way. This is the day that you entered the world and we were able to meet you and hold you in our arms. However, on this day we also learned that our time with you would be much, much shorter than we ever could have imagined.

I vividly recall the day that you initially came into our lives. I can still see the shocked expression on your dad’s face when I showed him my positive pregnancy test. You were a surprise, to say the least, but one that was much wanted and instantly loved. I remember walking home from the doctor’s office the next day in the beautiful October sun and feeling overcome with joy that you were going to be a part of my life from here on.

I’m grateful that you took it easy on me for the next nine months. Only one bout of morning sickness and some sporadic cravings. At fifteen weeks I started feeling your little flutters and by nineteen weeks you were kicking every day. I savored every interaction that we had during this time. Unfortunately you seemed a bit shy of your dad, since you would hide away each time I told him to come feel one of your kicks! It made me so happy to feel you growing big and strong, and I prayed every single day that God would keep you healthy and safe.

Needless to say it was quite scary for me when, the day before your birthday, I didn’t feel you kicking quite as much as usual. Dad and I had already been expecting your arrival for a few days, so we decided to head to the hospital rather than take any chances. Things progressed very quickly from there. Within an hour I was being prepared for an emergency caesarean section. Still, despite our fear, we were excited that we would be meeting you very soon. It broke our hearts that they had to take you away immediately and hook you up to so many machines to try to preserve your delicate little life.

Several hours passed before we heard any updates about how you were doing. The news we received was far worse than we could have anticipated—not only were you very sick, but it was also unlikely that you would live through the day. When your dad and I heard this, we knew we wanted to spend as many precious hours with you as possible, so we asked them to bring you to our hospital room so we could spend the day together as a family.

I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hold you against my skin and kiss your head for the first time. I took in every inch of you—your smell, the creases in your legs and arms, the same full crown of dark hair that I had as a newborn, and your dad’s beautiful deep green eyes. We marveled at how strong you were as you grabbed your blanket and raised your head off my chest. I was even able to feed you, and it meant so much to be able to give you every bit of love and care that I could during our short time together. Dad and I stayed up with you all night, rocking you back and forth when you cried and telling you how much we love you.

By Wednesday morning we could sense that our time together was growing short. We could tell that it was becoming more difficult for you to breathe and the seizures you experienced in the first hours of your life were returning. Still, you spent the morning and afternoon in our arms, and I was even able to feed you again. I am so grateful that I was able to hold you and comfort you when you breathed your last breath several hours later.

And so, my darling daughter, your dad and I want to say thank you for coming into our lives. The love we have for you has fundamentally changed us, and it will never fade away. Thank you for being so brave and strong; you fought so hard to stay with us, and the two beautiful days that we spent together far surpassed what any of the doctors had expected. You touched so many lives during your short time on this earth, and you will always be a part of our family. You are God’s gift to us and we love you more than you will ever know.

Hugs and kisses,

Mom and Dad

It meant so much to receive such palpable love and support from our family and friends that day. Strangely enough, I did not want the day to end. For a moment in time, it felt as if the world had stopped to take notice of a precious baby girl whose life came and went in the twinkling of an eye. On that day my grief for Leah was truly shared by the most important people in my life.

However I also knew that, after this moment passed, the world would have to start turning again. I knew that in the coming weeks the visits, messages, and phone calls would dwindle as everyone around me continued on with their lives. As much as people could sympathize and offer their love, only my husband and I would have to return home to a bassinet that still stood silent and empty next to our bed. In many ways, it wasn’t until this shared day of mourning ended that my own grief journey truly began.



In Loving Memory Part 1: Making Plans

Touching Leah’s body for the last time before leaving her behind at the hospital was undoubtedly the most difficult moment of my life. Never again would I caress the soft folds of her skin, which had now turned pale and cold. Never again would I hold her warm belly against my chest, our hearts beating together as one. I returned countless times to her bassinet in the corner of my hospital room to stroke her cheeks and hold her tiny hands, all the while she lay still in her white dressing gown. Even in death she was beautiful, like a delicate porcelain doll. As we packed up and prepared to leave, I finally bent down to give her one last kiss.

Goodbye my sweet girl,” I whispered into her ear. “Mommy loves you more than you’ll ever know.”

The grossly unnatural act of returning home without my daughter was initially eased by my lingering shock and exhaustion. I had not slept in 48 hours and so much had happened during that time, it was beyond my mental capacity to process everything just yet. I don’t believe I cried too much that first night. Instead, my husband and I lay next to each other in bed, holding hands and discussing our disbelief that any of the previous days’ events had happened at all. It felt like a bad dream that we would wake up from after a good night’s rest.

Of course it wasn’t a dream. When I woke up the next morning the empty bassinet standing next to my bed was all too real, and the crushing weight of this new reality hit me afresh. “She’s supposed to be here,” I thought to myself as I let the tears wash over me. Still, there were plans to make for Leah’s arrangements, and they mercifully gave me a sense of purpose and a place to focus my energy during that first week of mourning.


The contents of Leah’s memory box: My positive pregnancy test, her pacifier, the blankets she used in the hospital, her hand and foot prints, her knitted hat and “angel wings”

I knew immediately that I wanted to have Leah cremated and keep her ashes so that she would always be present in our home. It was decided that we would hold a memorial service for her in my hometown so that we could share her little life with all our family and friends. In the meantime my husband and I printed out all the photos we had taken during our hospital stay and put an album together. I savored every moment of this process. In a strange way, making these preparations allowed me to feel as if I was taking care of her. I was still her mother, after all, even though I was perusing urn and funeral card designs for her instead of changing her diapers and fussing over which outfit to dress her in each day.

Part of this process also included writing something for her funeral card. At first I resisted the idea, feeling too numb to channel any emotional or creative energy. But one evening my inherent writer’s instinct kicked in, and the poem that I would title “Leah” came together in my mind in a matter of minutes:



The poem I wrote for Leah as it appears in the funeral card

Read the second part of In Loving Memory here.





Leah’s Story Part 2: Saying Goodbye

Roughly three hours after delivering Leah by emergency cesarean section, the doctors gave her medication to suppress her seizures and brought her to my hospital room for palliative care. My husband and I waited with bated breath, since nobody knew how long she would live once her life supports were removed. Since the drugs from my surgery were now wearing off, I was finally able to really see her when they placed her in my arms. She was bigger than we had anticipated, weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces and measuring 20 inches long, and she was more beautiful than I could have imagined. She had my lips and, as my family and I had long speculated, she had the same full head of dark chestnut hair that I had been born with 29 years ago.

I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hold her skin-to-skin for the first time. “There you are, my darling girl,” I whispered into her hair. “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.” I traced each fold of her deliciously chubby body with my fingers and stroked her head for hours. If given the choice, I would have continued to do so for an eternity. Exhausted and sedated from the drugs she had been given, my baby girl nestled into my chest and slept. I would like to think that she instinctively knew she was finally in her mother’s arms, safe and warm where she belonged.


While I relished my time with Leah, my husband assumed the difficult duty of calling our family and friends to share our tragic news. My parents and sisters were already en route to the hospital from my hometown three hours away. Soon our room would be filled to the brim with love from our family, but it is those first quiet hours that I shared alone with my daughter that remain most vivid in my mind’s eye.

As the hours hurried on and evening approached, Leah finally opened her eyes. They were a beautiful deep green, just like her dad’s. At the same time, the seriousness of her condition was becoming more tangible as her initial dosage of medication wore off. It was evident that her body was being continuously ravaged by seizures, resulting in sudden, robotic movements that made my heart break. After my family left for the evening, my midwife helped me express colostrum to feed her, which proved difficult since she had not developed a sucking reflex. Even so, it was important that I give her the nourishing liquid that my body had produced for her, and I desperately wanted to care for her in every way that I could during our short time together.

Refusing to miss a moment with her, I stayed up and held Leah all night. Despite the pain from my c-section, I managed to gingerly walk around my room and bounce her gently when she cried. Early in the morning, my husband curled up next to me in bed where we stayed side-by-side, holding her together.


Leah in my husband’s arms in the early hours of June 22, 2016

It soon became apparent that our time together was growing short. Leah’s breathing became increasingly laboured and her seizures were becoming more frequent and pronounced. She held on for the morning and my family was able to spend more time with her. The nurses kept coming in to check on us and they attempted to give her more medicine to suppress the seizures. Her lack of sucking reflex made this difficult, however, and the sound of her choking coughs brought tears to my eyes.

Shortly before 1pm, Leah’s lips suddenly turned blue and the colour drained from her face. Her eyes rolled back before snapping shut, and her body began convulsing in my arms. My husband asked everyone to leave before sitting next to me in bed once again; we knew that it was time. I sobbed and silently begged her not to open her eyes. I simply could not stand to look into them during those final moments. A nurse placed her stethoscope on Leah’s chest and confirmed what we already knew.

She’s gone.”

And just as suddenly as she had crashed into my world nine months ago, Leah left us after exhaling one final breath in my arms.

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One of the last photos taken of Leah on June 22, 2016

Leah’s Story Part 1: Saying Hello

Even though Leah had rattled my world with her sudden and unexpected presence, she did take it easy on me during the nine months that I carried her. My first trimester nausea only triggered one bout of full-blown morning sickness, and my other physical symptoms throughout the second and third trimesters were bothersome but manageable. Each ultrasound throughout my pregnancy showed that she was growing healthy and strong, and by the time her June 17 due date came and went, my midwife and I were confidently awaiting the arrival of my healthy baby girl.

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Leah’s 20 week anatomy scan

I was 40 weeks, 3 days along when it all changed. Like many expectant mothers before me, I had been trying to induce my labour naturally for the previous week by drinking copious amounts of raspberry leaf tea, eating entire pineapples in a single sitting, and going for purposeful walks each morning. However, despite my best efforts, the signs of labour continued to elude me. Luckily Leah had begun kicking fiercely and regularly by 19 weeks gestation, so keeping track of her movements in the meantime was easy and reassuring.

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Me barefoot and pregnant with Leah at 36 weeks

Until it wasn’t. My belly rocked with her movements after breakfast on June 20 as per usual, and after dinner I waited for it to happen again. It didn’t. I tried to console myself with the conventional wisdom offered by medical professionals and my mama peers: “It’s getting cramped in there! You won’t feel her kick as much this late in the game.” Ultimately this didn’t work; I poked and prodded, and even blasted music through headphones to try and get her to move. Soon enough I was drinking a glass of cold orange juice and lying on my side to do my first and last self-induced kick count. Still nothing.

I did my best to suppress the encroaching panic. Since we live close to the hospital, I even told my husband to drop me off at the emergency room and head home afterwards so we wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Just a quick confirmation that her heartbeat was fine and I would be back home; back to waiting for labour to begin; back to normalcy. But that didn’t happen. Since I was so far along they sent me straight to Labour and Delivery and hooked me up for an ultrasound and nonstress test. She was alive, but she wouldn’t be for long. Before I knew it, I was calling my husband to bring my hospital bag while being prepped for an emergency cesarean section.

The hours that followed were a blur. I remember my husband holding my hand and speaking words of comfort to me through a hospital mask while a team of doctors removed my daughter from my body. She was born at 4:03am on June 21, 2016. They took her away immediately, and in my drug-induced state I was only vaguely confused as to why I couldn’t see her or hear her cry. I would later learn that she had technically been born “dead” and it took them 14 minutes to revive her. I don’t know how much time passed before they wheeled me into a different room and a doctor began speaking about fetomaternal hemorrhage, tonic seizures, severe anemia, asphyxia, and brain damage. While I didn’t understand half of these terms, I knew in my core what they meant: Despite all my precautions, praying, and planning, the worst had happened.

At this point we were told that Leah would be sent to a children’s hospital in a nearby city for three days of “cooling.” Her extensive brain damage could not be reversed, but they were going to see if they could halt it from progressing. As soon as a bed was open for me, they would send me to the same hospital. I asked if I could see her before she was sent away, and they wheeled me to the NICU. The experience was surreal, to say the least. I could not quite wrap my head around the fact that the tiny girl who had been practicing her kick boxing near my ribs a mere day ago, warm and safe in my body, was now hooked up to endless tubes and machines and struggling for life in this cold hospital.


The first photo we took of Leah on June 21, 2016

Another hour or so passed before the doctors returned. Despite their best efforts, Leah was not getting any better, and they were not confident that she would survive three days on the cooling pad. Suddenly, mere hours after our daughter came into the world, my husband and I were faced with the unthinkable decision that is every parent’s worst nightmare: We could send her away for further treatment and risk losing her in the process, or we could take her off life support and keep her with us for palliative care. The possibility that my baby girl might die without ever knowing the touch of my skin or the sound of my voice outside the womb was too much to bear, so we made the most loving and heart-wrenching decision we possibly could.

Through a steady stream of shocked tears, we asked them to bring her to us.

Read the second part of Leah’s Story here.




New Beginnings

Since I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life in academia, first as an undergraduate student, and then a graduate student and course instructor, I conceptualize my years according to the school calendar. For me, each “new year” really begins in September and ends in August. And according to this academic time frame, this past year has been full of more drastic endings and new beginnings than any other of my life.

I considered this last week while my husband and I took a day trip to a nearby beach for our sixth wedding anniversary. We had done the same thing to celebrate our fifth anniversary exactly one year prior, and it was almost like stepping back in time. One year ago, I was beginning the final year of my PhD degree. The prospect of finally wrapping up my time as a graduate student left me anxious, but also excited about what the future might hold. One year ago that was all that really concerned me. The prospect of becoming a mother was not even on my radar. Now the prospect of spending my days thinking about anything but my daughter seems surreal and downright unfathomable.

I’ll never forget the day that Leah’s presence seemingly catapulted itself into my world. It was October 2015, the tail end of Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. For the previous three years I had been using the Fertility Awareness Method as natural birth control with great success. Recently, however, I noticed that my basal body temperature had not returned to its normal range following what I believed to be an unusually light period. I chalked the former up to my old thermometer needing a new battery and the latter to my new exercise regimen. However, as the holiday weekend came and went and I found myself with the opportunity to drink more than a few glasses of wine, I quietly began to wonder “What if?


My husband and I at a wedding the weekend that Leah was conceived

With the seed of doubt planted in my mind but still convinced I couldn’t actually be pregnant, I decided to buy a home test to put myself at ease. I can’t quite describe the feeling of shock that overcame me when I saw the second pink line appear, bold and clear as the bright October sky. This would be confirmed once again when I visited my doctor the next day, ushering in the beginning of my mothering journey.

I vividly recall walking home from the doctor’s office, the crisp autumn air filling my lungs and red and yellow leaves crunching beneath my feet. The initial shock had worn off, and I was overcome with feelings of excitement and love for the little life that was growing inside me. That day I placed my hand on my still-firm belly, thanking God for this gift and asking that my baby would be nourished and protected. I would repeat this prayer multiple times a day, every day until fate seemingly intervened with other plans on June 20, 2016, the day before Leah’s birthday.

Despite carving out space in my life for this unplanned but much-wanted pregnancy, as well as all my planning, research, and top-rate prenatal care over the next nine months, the “new beginning” I had envisioned for my life with my daughter did not come to pass. Just as she crashed into my world suddenly and unexpectedly, so too did she leave it in a whirlwind of unanticipated pain, tears, and grief. Yet here I sit, still poised to journey into another, albeit very different, type of new beginning. Rather than getting to know my daughter and taking care of her in the physical world as I had planned, this summer marks the beginning of my new life as a bereaved parent and my spiritual journey toward healing as a loss mama.

As I sat on the beach with my husband last week, I could not help but feel like I had stepped into a bizarre time warp. How was it possible that Leah’s little life had come and gone in less than a year’s time, yet I know it will change me forever? How could I be so indescribably consumed with love for a little person who did not even exist this time last year? And how could I be utterly crushed under the weight of grief that I feel for a tiny girl whom I only got to spend 33 hours with outside the womb?

These are only a few of the many questions I will explore as I navigate my grief journey on this blog. I hope to share this journey with you as I plunge ahead and learn to live again, one breath at a time.


Me holding Leah several hours after her birth on June 21, 2016

Continue reading about Leah’s Story here.