Marlow Means Driftwood

My first son, Marlow.

He was born at 7:51 a.m. on August 23, 2013. He was born after 17 hours of excruciatingly beautiful labour weighing just 1lb 11oz, and he lived for just under an hour.

His certificate of death says that he lived for 24 minutes, but they never did check his vitals. Not once. Not that I'm complaining; it meant that no one took him from me or otherwise interrupted my precious little time with him. And, oh, was it precious! And regardless of what the records say, I'm sure I saw his little heart beating in his chest - softly, barely visible, but unmistakeable - for at least an hour. Because his lungs hadn't fully developed, he didn't breathe so much as gasp, every so often. And I savoured each gasp; each one of his tiny, high-pitched inhalations was like a tiny beacon of hope, even when I knew there was none.

And I did. I knew he couldn't live, but my heart screamed at him, "breathe, baby! Breathe!" So I did all I could. I held him and kissed him and told him about his big sister. I counted his fingers and all ten toes, and promised to love him for all of his life, and the rest of mine.

Two days before he was born, we learned that the baby I was carrying had failed to develop kidneys, or that they had developed and then failed to function. After we left the ultrasound that day, we prepared to meet and welcome our second child, just as we did our first, except that this time we would be saying goodbye. We spent that evening trying to prepare ourselves for the only time we would ever have with him, and suddenly all of the names we had picked out just didn't seem right. You see, we had pictured giving them to a baby who we would spend a lifetime getting to know, not one we would have to leave behind when we left the hospital. So we scoured baby books and websites looking for a name, a special name, for our special baby. 

When a baby has no kidneys in utero, one of the side effects is that the amniotic fluid cannot replace itself, and gradually dries up. So we looked for names that represented this lack of fluid, this drying up. And as soon as I saw his name, I knew...

Our wonderful photographer at the time, Lisa Landrie, came down and captured these images during the brief time we spent with him, while we showered him with our love and tears. I don't know where I'd be today without these images. Beyond their obvious value to me, they are the reason I began my photography journey.

Marlow means driftwood.

I am 1 in 4

Image of baby Phoenix's sweet foot taken by myself for Empty Arms; shared with permission from his family.

Breaking the Silence

Although my mission is to empower strong, confident birthing families who trust that birth is natural and safe, the truth is that by the end of their pregnancy, 1 in 4 families will not have a baby to take home. Whether their baby dies of an early miscarriage or is stillborn, whether they experience a missed miscarriage, complications during delivery, a complicated or fatal diagnosis... These families deserve to have their stories documented and told.

And beyond that, and as absolutely devastating as baby loss is, I firmly believe that we as a society need to talk about it more. Life and death go hand in hand. We cannot escape it; not talking about pregnancy loss will not prevent it from happening. In my personal experience, glossing over the realities of miscarriage and stillbirth does nothing except to alienate those who experience it. When we act like pregnancy and childbirth are risk free, if only we do everything "right," families are blindsided by the enormity of it all. What's more, we force people to blame themselves. Clearly if they had just followed "doctor's orders" their baby wouldn't be dead...

This is why even though I don't share often about this issue, I refuse to act like pregnancy and infant loss doesn't exist. It happens on a far larger scale than most people realize, and these families are the strongest people I know. This is also why I volunteer with Empty Arms. To help these families document their time together and to show the world that their babies - and their stories - matter.

If you or someone you know is struggling because of pregnancy, infant loss, or the death of a child, please know that you are not alone. There are millions of us in your corner, from all around the globe, in all walks of life. Here in Saskatoon, Empty Arms offers peer support, among their incredible array of services, all of which are 100% free of charge for grieving families.