The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When my son, Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time.  We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999.  It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast.  My husband, Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time.  Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.  While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!

Public GardensIf we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house.  It was a hell of a market.  A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.

Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week.  They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up.  The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove.  The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).   When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish.  We all wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs.  I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’.  I say the words allowed to Dad and Wendy, it was like, well, music to their ears.  Golden, simply golden.  We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wendy’s hand.  It was the music of their age. From their day.  They began to dance.  When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.

‘I’ll be back in a flash,’  I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away.  Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse.  Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wendy who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence.  They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet.  Imagine.

Peggy's cove village

The next day we hung out around the apartment and Public Gardens and the next day was full-on SUN so off we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach.  For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather.  The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth.  Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.

‘Back in a flash’.  I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food.  Dad and Leo enjoyed the cones the most.  We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea.  The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold.  Of course.

Bayswater Beach

For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal.  I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day,  while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’.  When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.

Then it was back to just the three of us, with a peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger.  Hearing the heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon.  His name would be Dane, after the great soccer player, Zidane.

Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend,  I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly.  It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.  ‘Ah oh’, I thought.  ‘Can’t be.”  The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me, immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — the kind of contractions that are indications that the womb is getting ready to deliver in the future.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.  The next day, I found blood on my underwear. “DEAN,’ I screamed. “WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL”.  The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends who we knew for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together, and had done a lot of our army field training in the same section of a Platoon.  Therefore, we knew each other very well.  I did not want Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up and it would not conclude that which it should be concluding.  The Radiologist did not then tell me that which he should have told me. (He later apologized to me for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together the better part of a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain, I was touched that they were here for this.  I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.  Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back.  It felt like heaven.  At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop.  They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed.  I pushed again.  One more time.

Then….

I …. looked ….. down.

Dear God there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.  “What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something came out.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was Dane.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of my hand perfectly.  Little eyes never to open. Tiny hands never to hold.  I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision and streamed down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking.  Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby.

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last few months, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.  It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.  I wonder about the lesson in this loss.  Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings?  I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this: I love that little soul that was in that little body that I held in my womb and then in my hand.  I wish for him to be forever at peace.

Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳

Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play
Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid….
~Smash Mouth.

At eight months pregnant, my friend Nancy asked me if wanted to go on a road trip with her to her hometown of Virginia Beach from Leesburg, some four and a half hours away. It was summertime, her two girls were out of school and she wanted to take them down to see their grandparents.  We piled into her SUV with snacks and a cooler of drinks, including my ever present bottle of prune juice.  You see, at that time, I had been told that one of the keys to a healthy pregnancy was to ensure a daily movement…of… well, the bowels.  Always a sucker for health tips, I grasped onto said tip and sure enough, I would have a glass of cool prune juice every morning of my 270 day pregnancy term (I haven’t touched it again, since).  Keeping that in mind, when I awoke on the second day of our trip and being out of routine, forgot to take my beloved prune juice, I was more than a little worried by mid-morning when nothing had, as of yet, moved.

Nancy was a nurse.  She understood my worry.  She asked her youngest daughter, Kerry, to bring me a glass of prune juice.  We were seated on the patio, just taking a break after a stroll around the neighbourhood.  Out comes eight-year old Kerry with quite a large glass of prune juice.  Where I would normally have about four ounces, this was more like ten.  Feeling rather touched to be served, I graciously accepted Kerry’s offering and, what the hell, drank it down, hearing Mom’s voice in my head: Waste not, want not, Morgan.

Not long thereafter, Nancy offered to take all of us for a walk on Virginia Beach, about 20 minutes away.  We again all got into her vehicle and off we went.  Nancy was pointing things out all the way with a look of nostalgia on her face: there was her old school; her old shopping area; her old hangout; her old favorite fast-food joint; her friend’s house.  I could feel the vibes of her memories and could almost see a youthful Nancy running along beside us as we slowly toured the neighourhood.

Onto the highway next and up the ramp and over the bridge.  Suddenly, my bowels started to feel odd.  I must be imaging it, I thought.  Everything is fine.  Everything is fine, I thought.  Next, out seeped a silent but deadly one with the automatic instantaneous human reactions: windows rolled down; four noses into the clean wind; worried eyes; hands over mouths.  Sorry, sorry.  I seem to be having a reaction to something. I told Nancy and the girls.

My guts churned and roiled and tiny stink-bomb expulsions continued. A few miles later I was bent in two holding my very pregnant middle.  Which was difficult in itself. It was like bending over at basketball.

Oh my god Nancy, I have take a dump right now!!!

Nancy told me to hang in there and to let her know when it was a true emergency.  She clearly did not understand.  My pants would be soiled in a matter of minutes if I didn’t get out of the vehicle and onto a toilet.  All I could see out the windows though, was a guard rail and what looked to be a fairly seedy area of the city.

This is truly an emergency, Nancy.  I see an Arby’s.  Can we go in there?

By this time I wasn’t talking very clearly because I had every part of my anatomy CLENCHED.

Nancy said, Morgan, that’s a really bad part of town.  Are you sure?

Yes, Nancy.  Hurry!

Nancy pulled in and out I got, walking funny into the Arby’s due to my full-body CLENCH coupled with my huge baby belly.  I found the Lady’s room which was just inside the door.  In I went and closed and latched the door.  Maternity pants down and onto the cool toilet seat.  What happened next was not pretty.  A bomb went off into that toilet bowl.  At that point, the couple of other ladies who had been in the bathroom, made a hasty departure with an OH MY GOD, just outside the door.  I can hear you. I thought. Whatever, I had to get this out.

I was on the toilet for a few more minutes and was feeling a whole heck of a lot better. Washing well then waddling out of the Arby’s, there was Nancy with wild eyes, her driver’s window cracked open pushing coins out to a Rastafarian-looking guy who was obviously quite down on his luck.  Jenny unlocked my door and I hopped in and off we went to the beach as if nothing had ever happened.

Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 

A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.

I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling.  Aware, but unaware.  This was haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.

As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:  Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.

My pregnancy with Leo was text book:  I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol.  We were living in Virginia because Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up.  His office was in Reston.  We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence.  Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston.  Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg.  After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper.  It was a lovely nine months.

One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair.  While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen.  Could this be labour?  Yes.  By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours.  My mid-wife arrived and examined me.  I was at 4 cm.  In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm.  By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction.  We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading.  My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.

The back pain was horrible.  I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain.  Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.

To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub.  I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress.  Nothing.

Finally, I had had enough.  At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital.  I was screaming in pain.  I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour.  They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital.  I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death.  Talk of death spurned them into action.  Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees.  There was no way I could sit down.  Dean drove like a mad man.  As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked.  I could not tolerate anything touching my skin.  When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out.  Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it.  I was slipping into madness.  He left and came back after taking a shower.  He was a sweet, gentle soul.

Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me.  They were then able to give me an epidural.  Oh bliss.  The pain stopped.  A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me.  My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated.  I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural.  Contrarily, I was wide-awake.  A foreshadowing of what was to come.

A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters.  It was time to push.  By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived.  He was perfect and beautiful.  A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed.  I was so happy.

We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have.  It was my idea.  Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it.  At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born.  Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo.  We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.

I started to become very very happy.  Elated, even.  I was unable to sleep.  I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night.  I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time.  I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning.  I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard.  Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.

Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo.  I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night.  I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic.  Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.

Next, I began writing furiously in my journal.  Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else.  I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus.  My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant.  When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.

One of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night.  After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Morgan is psychotic.’  He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma.  He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital.

Dean’s face froze.  He knew Jamie was right.  My psychosis was worsening by the moment.  I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous.  Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone.  Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night.  Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C..  I was screaming and crying and carrying on.  They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly.  That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me.

Later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.  This was an old hospital and it was not pretty.  The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light.  There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed.  What had I done to deserve this?  All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo.  That wasn’t going to happen, I was told.  Due to all of the medication.  My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo.  Oh my.  That was a sad pill to swallow.

My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense.  I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors.  I would try to catch them out on their lines.  I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them.  One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had another baby that morning.  Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill.  Now she got it.

Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth to the hospital in D.C. every day.  She was wonderful and did very well with Leo.  I called my mom’s older sister too.  She also came down to help.  The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education.  One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit.  This was huge.  Two older women, from small towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn.  They did it and it made me very happy.   My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days.  We were loved and taken care of.  What a blessing.

Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself.  It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects.  I was also put on lithium.  Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head.  I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles.  She told me simply: ‘Morgan, just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.

I was discharged in twelve days.