The smell of roasting hot dogs and smokey BBQ drifts through my open window; a dusky twilight the flavour of summer. This is July. It’s a month marked by blue skies and slow drifting clouds, of flip flops and short shorts and fingers stained with fresh fruit juice. Lazy days are scented in coconut sunscreen, and punctuated with road trip tunes and tanning sessions by the lake.

But this month no longer looks the way I remember it as a child. It’s grown and shifted in its memories. It’s fuller. It’s more intricate in its complexities.

It’s more beautiful.

Now, when I think of July, I think of a tiny baby lying in a NICU incubator. I see little lungs heaving beneath fragile skin, and desperate prayers lifted high from a tear-stained hospital bed. I think of a child lying still in my arms, a tiny body swaddled in love. I think of blood, and hospital visits, and pregnancies that never made it past the first trimester. It’s a month of birthdays, and anniversaries, missed due dates, and death dates.

Alistair. Landon. Kära. Björn. My four July babies.

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Dear Pregnant Mama,

I saw you at church the other week. You sat with your belly blossoming in all its third-trimester glory and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at you. You may have wondered if there was something on your shirt, some snot residue left over from your toddler with the nose cold. But it wasn’t you I was staring at, it was me.

I miscarried a baby last December. Eleven weeks along, I was fully expecting to be in your shoes this time of year. I didn’t expect to be sitting here, aching hearted and empty-wombed. Looking at you, I see my hopes and dreams. I see everything that I cannot yet have but so desperately wish for. And as painful as it is for me to admit, it still hurts to look at you.

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Eight weeks into my fourth pregnancy, it ended. Spots appeared as if out of nowhere; these little specks of hopes and dreams lying against faded fabric. I saw the dark blood and broke a twenty-five-year streak. I dropped my first f-bomb.

The word echoed around the bathroom, feeling unfamiliar and rough against my lips. I glanced over at the toddler who was sitting on the couch, happily chewing on buttered toast and watching an episode of Paw Patrol. His two-year-old-self was completely oblivious to the emotional earthquake threatening to shake our small apartment, and for that, I was glad.

I sat in silence and struggled to breathe through lungs that were no longer working properly. What air was left in the room had grown heavy, weighing down upon my shoulders and pressing into my chest. Few words seemed strong enough to contest the range of emotions that had suddenly slammed into me. I cried black mascara tears and gently hugged the flabby belly that had been stretched and loved on by five babies. My heart aching, I whispered and prayed over the child I would never know. “Stay strong, wee one. Stay strong.”

And she did. Until she left us, five days later.

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It is with tears that we come to you today, discouraged and wearied by the loss of another little one, but confident in God’s deep grace and reassuring love.

Since so many of you have invested in the life of this tiny baby, we wanted to give you a brief update as to what has been happening these past few days.

As many of you know, this has not been an easy week for us. It’s been exhausting both physically and emotionally. I’d like to thank all of you who have spent time this past week interceding on behalf of our family in prayer.

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February 25. The day seems inconspicuous on the calendar: one small white square surrounded by twenty-seven identical friends. The glossy paper and bright photo hangs on the wall and subtly counts the number weeks since we said good-bye. A faint reminder of what could have been radiates from the blank page and I’m left wondering about things that will never be.

It’s a day that should have been round and ripe, bursting with anticipation and nerves, excitement and eager impatience. Longing and contentment wrapped into one as air fills tiny lungs for the first time and our lives finally collide in tangibility.

Life. Breath. You.

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My best friend arrived at the door armed with Christmas presents, sugar cookies, and lunch supplies. I sat on the couch, a hand pressed tightly against my abdomen, and watched as she navigated her way around my kitchen. She didn’t have to be here on her day off, bearing platefuls of crispy grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup, but when she’d heard I was miscarrying she’d offered to help.

My son and her swapped Christmas presents while we waited for lunch: a slightly wonky snowman ornament for her and a wrapped parcel for him. He didn’t need much encouragement to rip his way through the paper and uncover the new toy underneath. He could barely contain his two-year-old enthusiasm.

The toy was colourful, wooden, and in the shape of a semi-circle: a beautifully, handcrafted rainbow.

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The faint sound of sleigh bells and Andy Williams’ voice crooning, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” filled the small room. I lay on my back and stared up at the speckled ceiling tiles, my heart fighting off the crumbly ache that comes with bad news. I wished that they’d just turn the music off.

It felt far from the most wonderful time. In fact, it was quickly chalking up to be one of my least favourite days of this year.

The ultrasound technician had called me into the room a few minutes earlier. Shivering, I wrapped the blue cotton gown tight against my waist; my everyday clothes lay heaped in the changing room. I was here for a nine week ultrasound and the chance to finally see the newest babe growing inside of me.

“Is this your first pregnancy?” The technician asked as she directed me to lie down.

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Dear Grieving Mama,

It’s October. The trees have begun to shed their colourful leaves and the smell of pumpkin spice lattes float throughout the cool air. For everyone else, this is a month about Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving turkeys, and trips to the pumpkin patch. But for you, this month signifies something a little different.

This is your first October after the loss of your little one.

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I was seven months pregnant when I lost my first child. The doctors hurriedly pulled him from my stomach but they found no heartbeat, no breath. He was declared stillborn.

My second pregnancy ended quickly. I barely made it to the eight week mark when the doctors confirmed what my body had already told me – it was over. They told me I had “experienced a miscarriage.”

When you look at their definitions on paper, a miscarriage and a stillbirth are essentially the same thing. Both involve the loss of a beautiful baby in utero. A miscarriage occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy, a stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks.* Both types of loss involve the pain of losing a child; and both leave a mother with empty arms and crushed dreams.

And yet, there’s no denying that these are two very different experiences.

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When I was a pre-teen, one of my all-time favourite slumber party snacks was “Popcorn Cake.” Reminiscent of a “Rice Krispie Bar” this dessert is quick to make and fun to eat. What kid could want anything more than some popcorn, melted marshmallows, and gummy candies?

And given my love for all things popcorn, this cake was also the perfect way to surprise my husband with the news that I would soon be “popping” with our third child!** (Perhaps this accounted for my sudden “craving” for popcorn cake…)

Regardless of what occasion you make it for, this is one treat that is sure to become a family favourite for movie night!

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At the edge of a grassy graveyard, surrounded by little bronze markers and drying flowers, sits my son’s gravestone. His name is boldly inscribed across the top: “Landon A. Mannegren.” This grave is a physical reminder of his short life, a place that marks his brief stay in this world. This tombstone is a declaration that he was here.

But none of that exists for my recent miscarriage.

I never felt this little one’s first kicks. I never knew their gender or held them in my arms. There is no birth certificate, no ultrasound photos, and no baby nursery. All I could give this precious babe was eight weeks of love snuggled up in my womb and a name to call their own.

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Two years ago I sat on a hospital bed and learned about the excruciating heartbreak that can accompany motherhood. I said good-bye to a baby that I had carried for 31 weeks; a precious little one that I had never officially met and yet had whispered to and loved on for seven months.

Almost exactly two years later, I’m here again. I sit in a blue hospital gown, my arm still bruised from where they’ve drawn blood, and watch as the ultrasound technician carefully maneuvers her wand over my belly.

I booked this appointment weeks ago. I should be sitting in this room with my husband, watching a tiny heartbeat pulse on the screen. I should leave this appointment with a confirmed due date and a printout of my baby’s first ultrasound photos. Instead, I arrive at the clinic knowing that this appointment will be different; I arrive knowing that the sonogram will be empty.

We’ve miscarried.

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