Labour of love

“Expecting Sunshine” documentary to be released in 2016 thanks to crowd-funding

“There might be something wrong with your baby’s heart. I’m sending you for an ultrasound,” my doctor’s words repeated in my ears like a skipping track of music… When the sonographer left the room after the exam and a doctor returned instead, wringing her hands, I knew my world was about to change forever.

That was five years ago. Medical professionals had discovered a large tumor around my unborn baby’s heart. My second child, my first son, was diagnosed with a random genetic abnormality and was predicted to die in utero. My husband, Aaron, and I named our baby Zachary and spent the next six weeks investigating every option to save him.

In the end, there was nothing we could do. I continued my pregnancy, hoping for a miracle, but as Zachary’s heart was squeezed and misshaped by the tumor, his body filled with excess fluid. His heart rate plummeted to fifty beats per minute. At the same time, my own body groaned beneath the complications of my pregnancy and I went into labour at thirty-weeks gestation.

Zachary was underdeveloped but weighed over seven pounds due to the swelling. His paper-thin skin was fragile and torn, not ready for birth. He moved a little in my arms beneath my kisses as I whispered over and over again, “I love you my child, I love you so much.” Zachary was so beautiful to me.

His heart did fail. He passed from this life to the next while being cradled, skin to skin, heart to heart in my arms. He never cried. He never opened his eyes. We had only moments together though Aaron and I had planned for a lifetime.

Zachary’s death became the single greatest turning point in my life. I became a different person. Lost. Heartbroken. Confused. I masked all this within a season I now refer to as my “Year of Distraction.” Yes, I capitalize those words and add quotations marks. It was official. In that time I did everything I could to distract myself from grief. You name it: kids activities, travel, work, cleaning the house, reading books, exercise.

It wasn’t until I got pregnant with my next child that I realized the shame, guilt and sorrow had not been cremated along with my son. My initial excitement for the two pink lines on the pregnancy test morphed into debilitating fear: What if something goes wrong again? What if I lose my next child as well? I can’t survive this again…

While I was visibly expectant with a growing baby-bump, I was anticipating everything but sunshine in the end. I couldn’t imagine having a baby that lived. The anxiety rose inside my chest and burned, ever-present. On the outside, however, my family and friends expected me to be happy. Some said, “Glad to see you’re moving on.” I’m sure most bereaved parents cringe at those words.

In the early days of prenatal nausea, I began realizing I could not be the wholehearted parent I wished for my children until I addressed my grief for Zach. I made it my mission to chase down my own brand of healing and peace. I read books, went to therapy, made art, and spent time with myself to figure out who I was – or, I should say, who I wanted to become.

Unintentionally at first, I began helping other bereaved families. Through publishing a blog called Wanted Chosen Planned about life after the loss of a child, I shared my experiences and invited others to do the same. Over tears and steaming drinks, I met empty-armed-mothers at coffee shops to swap stories. Invitations arrived to speak at remembrance events, which I accepted nervously, along with conference workshops where I presented my passion for using art to grieve and heal. During that third pregnancy I also wrote a memoir about surviving those stressful 40 weeks while still grieving for my son. I named my book Expecting Sunshine

Merging my love of visual and literary art, Expecting Sunshine has grown into much more than just a memoir. It is now a documentary – in the making – following my fourth pregnancy. The film features real-life medical appointments, artistic visuals, and thought-provoking interviews with experts and bereaved families. It is a comprehensive view of what having a baby after losing a baby looks like, from conception till delivery.

It has become my passion to help others through the isolating experience of pregnancy and infant loss, and offering the support needed when families continue try for more children afterwards. The film will be released in the spring of 2016. To learn more about Expecting Sunshine, both memoir and film, please visit www.ExpectingSunshine.com. If you would like to support the creation of the documentary, contributions are welcomed through Indiegogo (http://igg.me/at/expectingsun).

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