One Year

Dear Leah,

It is June 21, 2017. Today you would be one year old. It seems impossible that an entire year has passed since I experienced the best and worst 33 hours of my life. Contrary to my fear that the passage of time would dull my memories of your brief life, I can still vividly recall every beautiful and excruciating detail of the day you came into the world.

I remember breaking into sobs while poking and shaking my belly in the early midnight hours, trying desperately to get you to move before finally deciding to go to the hospital.

I remember hearing my midwife say that I still had a “happy baby,” but you wouldn’t be happy for long, so it was a good thing that I came in when I did. I remember thanking God for protecting you as the nurses prepped me for my emergency c-section. It pains me to recall these final moments in which I still believed that I would get to bring you home.

I remember seeing you for the first time in the NICU after the doctors told me they would have to send you to a special children’s hospital for further treatment. I asked them if I could touch you, and a nurse opened your bassinet so I could stroke your hair. It was heartbreaking to see you hooked up to so many machines, struggling to cling to life in that cold hospital.

I remember the visceral shock that enveloped my body when they told me your condition was far worse than any of us could have anticipated, and that you were unlikely to survive the intensive interventions that would be undertaken if they sent you away.

I remember the sense of awe I felt when they brought you to me for palliative care and placed you in my arms for the first time. To this day, I still have not seen anyone or anything so beautiful. I remember holding you against my skin and kissing your head over and over again, caught in the throes of absolute joy and utter devastation.

I remember crying in the evening as your initial dosage of medication began to wear off, and I started to see and feel the effects of the seizures that were continuously ravaging your body. Were you in pain? Were you afraid? Did you somehow know that you were with your mother, and that I would have gladly traded my own life for yours if given the choice?      

Instead of celebrating one year of cuddles, kisses, and laughter with you, today marks one year of tears, heartache, and longing. It is agonizing to imagine what you would look like, sound like, and be like if you were here, growing into the beautiful girl I know you would be. Instead of crying over still photographs and combing through your mementos, today I would be creating and capturing new memories to cherish. I would be dressing you up in some frilly monstrosity and watching you smash into your first birthday cake. Later on, I would hold you on my lap and read you a bedtime story before kissing you goodnight. 

I wish I could say that I have found some celebratory way to honour your memory today, but any attempt I make to shroud your unlived life in positivity ultimately feels hollow. As grateful and proud as I am to be your mother, you should have lived long enough to be more than my precious baby. Today I am haunted by the reminders of what will never be: You will never smile; you will never laugh; you will never experience any of the light and joy that this life has to offer. It is crushing to think that your legacy will ultimately live and die with me, and that you never got the chance to leave a broader mark on this world in your own right.        

People often say that you are still with me and that your spirit lives on. Even if this is true, it cannot quell the crushing pain of a mother’s empty arms. I want so badly to do the things that non-bereaved parents are able to do each day. I want to rock you back to sleep in the middle of the night, comfort you after you’ve taken a tumble, and feel you wrap your arms around my neck while I hold you. More than anything, I want to know for certain that you understand how deeply loved you are.

It has been one year of a lifetime in which I will continue to wonder who you would have been. No matter what the future holds, you will always be the irreplaceable daughter who first made me a mother.

I miss you, baby girl. 

All my love and a kiss,

Your Mama



Last week my husband and I moved to a new apartment. Needless to say, my transition to June has been a tiring blur of packing, cleaning, and unpacking, intermingled with the usual onslaught of busy workdays and prenatal appointments. With Leah’s birthday fast approaching and her brother’s due date following soon after, I’ve been spending much time thinking about what this move means for this particular moment in my ongoing grief journey.

As I sit in my new bedroom on this sweltering spring day, it is surreal to think how different my life looks in comparison to what it was one year ago. In many ways, it is almost unrecognizable. This time last year, Leah’s due date was less than one week away. I can still vividly recall every mundane detail of how I spent those final blissful days of my pregnancy: Walking to the neighbourhood grocery store with my husband on humid evenings to appease my unrelenting watermelon cravings. Going for purposeful strolls to the park every morning in the hopes of jump starting my labour, all the while imagining a sweet baby girl strapped to my chest in the ergonomic carrier I had purchased. Crafting a generous batch of homemade pierogies the weekend before Leah’s birthday, and eating the leftovers for dinner mere hours before going to the hospital and learning that the hopes and dreams I had for my daughter’s life would never come to pass.

During this time, I had accepted that the months and years ahead would be challenging for my husband and I as we prepared to care for Leah in a minuscule apartment with our meager academic teaching incomes. The future that I anticipated would undoubtedly be filled with stress and uncertainty—yet I was not afraid. Soon I would finally get to meet, hold, and kiss the girl who had shared my body for the previous nine months, and I was excited for my family of three to venture ahead through the slew of sleepless nights and mountains of dirty diapers that awaited us.

Yet here I am, nearly one year later, leading a very different sort of life. In one respect, my family’s financial future is more secure, thanks to the private sector job I started last fall. In addition to qualifying for the paid parental leave that I would not have had with Leah, this change has allowed us to move to a new space that is nearly twice the size of our old apartment. It means the son I now carry will have his own room waiting for him should we be fortunate enough to bring him home from the hospital, even though I cannot bring myself to unpack or assemble the plethora of baby items that remain haphazardly strewn across the floor.

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Leah’s brother and I at 30 weeks gestation

As I sit back and reflect on my life as it is now, I know that I have much to be thankful for. I know that I am fortunate to have good physical health, a loving marriage, and supportive family and friends. I know how privileged I am to have a secure roof over my head, fresh food in my refrigerator, and a job that allows me to utilize my education and hone my professional skills. Similarly, I know that many women who struggle with infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss would give so much to be in the third trimester of what has thus far proven to be a healthy and complication-free pregnancy.

And yet…

I begrudge the fact that—rightly or wrongly—I feel compelled to continually remind people that I am both cognizant of and thankful for my good fortunes, despite the injustice of my daughter’s death. Perhaps this is because of our cultural discomfort with the messy emotions that accompany child loss, as if sadness, longing, and anger are pathological symptoms of grieving an unlived life. Or perhaps it is because, as time continues to pass and my pregnant belly continues to swell, the world hastens to remind me that it is time to “move on” and “move forward” in my grief, as if Leah was a momentary blip in my life narrative that I must ultimately leave behind, and as if my son being born healthy and alive can somehow give my daughter her life back.

It’s a curious place to be, standing at the junctures of hope, hopelessness, gratitude, and despair. After all, if I say that life is shit because my daughter is dead, it means I lack the introspection to recognize and appreciate all the good things I have in my life. If I say that I long to be back in my old apartment, chasing after a bright-eyed and bumbling one-year-old girl each day, it means I don’t love my son as much as I should, since he would not have been conceived at all if Leah was alive. If I say that I want to be among those people who are both privileged and naive enough to assume that a pregnancy will ultimately result in a healthy baby coming home, it means I am selfish enough to wish I was ignorant of the life-changing pain that accompanies child loss, even though so many parents are forced to carry this burden day after day.

These past few weeks, people have been quick to suggest that moving will be a “fresh start” and a “positive step forward” for me and my family. Admittedly, when we decided to start searching for a new place earlier this year, part of me hoped that moving would alleviate some of the grief triggers that lingered in the space where Leah would have spent the first years of her life. Yet as I finished packing the last of our belongings and surveyed the empty apartment that once held the promise of so much joy, I was overcome with a deep, visceral ache that has yet to abate. I have brought this pain with me to my new place, and have spent much time weeping violently for all the memories that did and didn’t happen in what I thought would be Leah’s first home.

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Kiwi and I doing a final sweep in our old apartment

While some people may believe it is a sign of weakness or stagnation, I am not ashamed to say that I do not miss Leah any less than I did nearly one year ago when I stroked her hair and kissed her cheek for the last time. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that there are some types of love and loss from which we aren’t meant to move on and move forward. I know that every ounce of pain I continue to carry in my heart is a direct reflection of the love I carry for my daughter. Simply put, it is a love that I have no intention of leaving behind, despite the tears it brings with each passing day.