Rambling Thoughts from a Wandering Mind


Category: Parenting

One year later…

A magpie fledgling on my front stoop.

Today is my eldest son’s birthday. I need to specify, because I have another child on the way, who is assumed to be a boy. My son Henry was stillborn one year ago. I miss him deeply. I feel his absence every day.

Putting the feelings around his birth and our loss into words is difficult. It’s a nearly impossible task. I can say it’s sad. I can say it was, and continues to be, deeply traumatic. But none of those words do it justice. Writing about it is very hard. Normally, writing comes much easier than speech for me. When talking about Henry, neither comes easily.

I feel a deep, physical aching in my arms when I write about it. The emotions are embodied. They cannot be properly put into words.

So why write about it? And why share it publicly?

Writing is therapeutic for me, among other things. Despite what I’ve just written, I can usually express myself and my feelings far better in writing than in speech. But with Henry, there is something more to it than that. Writing about him, writing his name and his story, is the only way he gets to go out into the world. And so, every so often, I must write about him and name him and share it with the world. He needs to be known. In this small way, he gets to have life.

What does all of this have to do with a picture of a magpie fledgling? About a year ago, sometime after learning Henry would not be born alive – possibly even after he had been born – I was opening the front door to let in my mother and daughter. They were still getting out of the van and when I opened the door a fledgling was on the front steps.

One of our cats started out the door, hungry for magpie. I scooped up the cat and threw it back in the house. When I turned back, the magpie was gone. It had jumped off the stairs and either hopped or flew to safety. Saving the bird’s life after losing my own child seemed very important to me and it has stuck with me.

Yesterday, which was a year to the day that we went to the hospital to induce labour (it was also Father’s Day, last year), my wife and daughter were sitting on the front step. I was standing in the doorway. We saw a magpie fledgling in the front garden. After a moment, the bird hopped up our walkway and up each stair until it was on the deck with us.

It walked around for a bit, before jumping off and going about its day (all the while, its parents were screaming down from the trees).

At the time, it just seemed like a neat experience with nature. Later that afternoon, I remembered the bird from last year and the two experiences came together and felt significant.

I know a magpie is just a magpie, but there is something a bit mysterious and mythological about them. They’re a powerful symbol and it felt a little like Henry had stopped by to say hello.

Happy birthday, Henry. I miss you.

Working from home during a pandemic

It’s day one of my employer’s work-from-home protocol. Everyone who can do their work from home, outside of certain “essential staff” is to do so.

My spouse started working from home on Monday and our daughter has been home since then, as well, as all the schools and daycares in the province are closed for the foreseeable future (schools will be operating remotely starting sometime after spring break, so the official word is that classes are cancelled for now; the daycares are simply closed, though).

Trying to work from home in an uncertain time, and also keep our child busy with an ad hoc “home school” is certainly an interesting challenge. My wife has been doing it for two days already. Our dining room walls are quickly becoming covered in D’s paintings. We’ll soon run out of space for new art!

Tricks or tips for working remotely while also caring for a child would be much appreciated!

I lost a child…

My son’s urn and box of keepsakes. The teddy bear was donated by another family who lost a child. We will do the same at some point.

Today was the day my son was supposed to be born. Instead, he was stillborn on June 17 – the day after Father’s Day. We found out a little over four days earlier that he’d died. We have ideas about exactly when his heart stopped, but don’t know precisely. Whatever the exact moment he died, his mother1 – my wife – was admitted to the labour and delivery ward at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019. Our son, Henry John Kelly-Snider was born, still, in the very early hours of June 17.

Today is the day he was supposed to be born, alive, and the fact that it’s Thanksgiving is something we only realized a few weeks ago. What a thing that would have been to be thankful for – a beautiful, health baby boy. Instead, I’m writing this the day before you’ll read it, with tears in my eyes.

I have never shared this so publicly before. Most of the people in my life know, although there is an outer circle of colleagues and acquaintances who may never know that “how many kids do you have?” is a very complicated question.

We thought about going away this weekend, to try and distract ourselves from the sorrow we’re going to be feeling. We ended up staying home on Sunday, but allowed our family to think we were out of town (uh, sorry about that, everyone). It seemed easier to just keep things low-key at home, rather than making a big thing out of Thanksgiving this year. Subsequent years will probably be hard, too, but Thanksgiving won’t always fall on the 14th, so maybe we’ll be able to separate the date from the holiday. I’m hoping I can do that for Father’s Day next year, if only for my daughter’s sake.

Right now, though, things are tough. We had a little mini version of Thanksgiving dinner with just the three of us – chicken (with compound herb butter made from stuff my wife and daughter grew in the garden this summer), duck fat baby potatoes and roasted vegetables. It was good, and we had pumpkin pie (because I love it but only eat it around Thanksgiving to make sure it remains a special food), but it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. There was no turkey or stuffing and no extended family. But maybe that’s OK just this once. It’s hard to know for sure anymore.

This is one of the last “firsts” since Henry’s death. There’s still Christmas, but most of the big milestones have come and gone, so maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe each day will be a little easier than the last. More likely, it’ll be like it’s been since the day we learned he died. Some days are better than others. Sometimes it feels like a million years ago and that everything is OK again, and then the next day it feels like there’s no way things could possibly get worse. Grief is a funny beast and it doesn’t follow a linear path.

That’s part of why I’m writing this and putting it out into the world. It helps with the grief. Putting the emotions into words is healthy and I’m far better at communicating through writing than speech. Some people talk things through; I work through things by writing them down and, often, by sharing them even if I’m not necessarily seeking feedback.

I’m also writing this down to help other grieving fathers. Stillbirth and pregnancy loss is already something that’s not talked about enough (though that seems to be changing; we’ve heard many stories from people in our lives since this happened to us – but they’d probably never have shared them if we hadn’t gone through something similar). When it is talked about, fathers are sometimes overlooked. But this experience touches us, too. The father loses a child too and, with that, a part of himself. I don’t have any words of wisdom, because I’m still in the midst of it, but I want other fathers who’ve lost a child to know they’re not alone.

Finally, these words are to honour the memory of my son. Mere words can hardly do him justice, especially not ones written in the depths of grief, but they’re all I have left to give him. Together with his mother, I gave him a name. And I can give him words and a place in my heart. I don’t get to give him anything else. So I’ll give him what I can and hope it’s enough.

1. The fact that my wife is mostly absent from this story is not an oversight. It’s not my place to tell her story, so I won’t be doing so. This will focus on my own thoughts and experiences, which are understandably quite different from those of the person who carried our son in her body for five months.

Kinship vs biological family

Earlier today, I was checking out the #solarpunkchat hashtag on Twitter and saw a call for papers about the topic of kinship and collectivization in literature (presumably, with a focus on solarpunk fiction). Specifically, it was focused on non-biological kinship. This got me thinking about the idea of kinship in my own context.

For a variety of personal and familial reasons that I don’t want to share here, it is looking more and more likely that D will be an only child. She is also very unlikely to have any cousins who live close to her. And, despite some admittedly half-hearted efforts, I don’t have close relationships with my own cousins (some of whom do have children of a similar age). This means that D is unlikely to have any biological relations who are close to her in age or circumstance.

How, then, do we give her the “sibling experience” without blood relations to fill the role? She will, undoubtedly, have friends. Everything I’ve read about only children suggests these friendships will mean more to her than they would for children with siblings. In my mind, however, this feels different than relationships one has with biological or adoptive relatives. Perhaps it shouldn’t feel different, but it does.

Because those eventual friendships seem somehow different from family, I’ve been thinking about how to create a kinship group that is not biological in origin. Mostly, I’ve been asking myself the question and not coming up with answers. How does one cultivate a non-biological kinship group within the context of a 21st century Canadian city? How does one create an intentional community without going to live on a commune?

I don’t have answers, so I’m asking you. What ideas do you have for me, dear readers?

If all your friends jumped off a bridge…

When I was a kid, my parents often asked, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

I’m sure many of you had similar experiences. It was, and maybe still is, the pat response to a child implying they should be allowed to do something for no reason other than that all their friends were doing it.

When I was a child, I came up with what I thought was a very clever response. “That depends,” I’d say. “If they all jumped off and didn’t get hurt, then I’d do it too, because it’s safe.”

“But if they all got hurt,” I’d continue, “then I wouldn’t jump off and they won’t think badly of me because I was smart enough not to follow their bad example.”

“And,” I’d conclude, “if they all died then they’d never know that I didn’t jump.”

I was sometimes a very literal child. I was also a smart ass.

Resolutions 2017

I resolve to be a better husband, a better father and a better person.

That’s it. Those are my New Year’s resolutions. I’ve got other goals/hopes/aspirations for the year, but those three are the main ones. They’re big and abstract, sure, but they’re the ones that matter.

I’ll write more about the smaller things — the ones that matter less — in the coming days. But for tonight, for New Year’s Eve 2016, I wanted to highlight the big ones. I’m working on them already. If I stick with them then, by the end of 2017, I’ll be able to say I did it. I improved. I got better.

Hopefully, I’m pretty OK at all of those roles already. But I can do better. I want to do better. So I will do better.

2015 Year in Review

2015 was a big year for me and my family. For starters, our family grew. On March 9, Sara gave birth to our first child: she whose name is not mentioned online.

Little troublemaker

Just a month earlier, almost to the day, I started my job with  Edmonton Public Schools. It’s been a great job so far—my best ever, if I’m being honest—and I have no desire or plans to leave anytime soon. I actually passed on what, in many ways, looked like a better job on paper to work for the school district and I haven’t regretted that decision for a minute. (In fact, looking at some of the stuff they’ve had to deal with at the other organization over the past 11 months, I’m quite happy to have not taken that job.)

We bought a new car. The old car continued to slowly fall apart (but it’s still running; she’s kind of a beast and I hate to think that we’ll one day get rid of her, but that day is fast approaching).

I’ve made new friends. I think I’ve lost a few, which is unfortunate, but people move on and their lives end up in different places. Sometimes, friendships aren’t meant to last a lifetime—and that’s OK.

I didn’t read as many books or watch as many movies as I used to this year, due largely to that whole first child thing, but the ones I managed to get to were great. Many of the books I read were about child-rearing, which is helpful. I saw a whooping four movies in theatres this year: Interstellar, Mad Mad: Fury Road, Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, and I’d go so far as to say that I think Fury Road is the best movie of 2015. That’s a bold claim, since I didn’t see many of the movies that were released this year, but I stand by it.

What’s up for 2016?

That’s a big question and I honestly don’t have the answers yet (I haven’t yet developed the ability to predict the future). Our family has some big plans for 2016. And a few smaller plans.

I can’t reveal any of them yet, but will certainly write about them when the time is right. For now, I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to the New Year. If all goes well, we’re in for some big and very exciting changes.

Brief thoughts on my first 6 months of fatherhood

Birthday Cake
Photo credit: Omar Wazir

My daughter is 6 months old today. It’s hard to believe how fast the time has gone. And yet, somehow, the day she was born seems like a lifetime ago. I can barely remember life without her.

I’ve been reflecting on what the past six months have been like. They’ve been hard and they’ve been tiring.

The first six weeks, in particular, were very difficult for more than the usual reasons. The sleep deprivation that went along with that especially difficult time means I can hardly remember it.

Hardly remembering things due to a lack of sleep seems to be the trend during the early months and, from what I’m told, the early years.

The difficulty of those early weeks—which I won’t get into here—is one of the reasons we’re thinking Dee may be our only child (though no final decision has been made, so please don’t bother trying to convince us otherwise). The other reason is one that’s occurred to me only recently.

I can’t imagine ever loving anyone else this intensely.

I don’t know how parents with more than one child do it. Not the hard work of raising them—though I wonder about that, too—but how do you love more than one child without diluting that love? People do it. I know they do. But I don’t know how. I can’t imagine it.

It’s funny, because when Dee was first born I felt overwhelmed and confused more than anything else. When I returned to work after a few days away for the birth, people said, “You must be so in love.”

I said I was. But the truth is, at the time, I was mostly just freaked out that my wife and I were suddenly responsible for this tiny person.

While I bonded with her almost immediately, to the extent that I knew I had to keep her alive, it took a little while to really feel connected. To feel that she was mine. To feel like she was more than just a biological imperative.

But once that bond was solidified, there was no going back. The love I feel for my daughter is completely different from any other love I’ve felt. It’s special.

Because it’s special, I want to give Dee my all. If we stop at one, I can do that. She can be my one and only. She can be my favourite and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. She can have my undiluted love.

And while I may well feel differently if we decide to have another child, I can’t even comprehend that right now.

Right now, I think that stopping at one will allow our small family to have an intense and undivided love. Right now, that sounds like the best thing I can imagine.

Babies are basically human puppies

Kid Roundup
Photo credit: crazyforheels

There’s a reason a lot of people practice their ability to keep another creature alive by adopting a dog before they decide to become parents. Dogs and babies are basically the same.

Think about it.

  • They both love chew toys.
  • Neither realizes that the other dog/baby in the mirror is actually their own reflection.
  • Both will eat anything you put in front of them (or at least attempt to stick it in their mouth).
  • They both depend on you for their food, water, toys and playtime.