This adorable little boy is Hamish! I am honoured to be introducing him and his family to everyone as a part of the Extraordinary Love Project. Extraordinary Love Sessions are very special sessions that honour a family’s struggle with infertility, miscarriage, or infant loss.

Through the sharing of stories and experiences we can honour and celebrate a family’s loss and love but also create awareness and connection in our community to give hope and healing to others in similar circumstances. Thank you so much to Hamish’s mother Zoe for being a part of this project and sharing her two sons and their story with all of us.

When Zoe turned 40 and realized her path to a family may not take the typical path one expects, it occurred to her that she would need to pursue motherhood on her own if that was what she wanted.

She began her journey just after turning 41 at the Ottawa Fertility Centre. She started with insemination and was lucky to become pregnant within just a few months. Soon after finding out she was pregnant however it was discovered that the pregnancy was ectopic. An ectopic pregnancy can be a life threatening condition and occurs when the embryo implants outside of the uterus and cannot develop properly.

Treatment for Zoe’s ectopic pregnancy involved medication that required several months to leave her system before she could safely try to become pregnant again. While waiting for the months to pass Zoe was fortunate to become eligible for provincially funded in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. Zoe went through her first cycle in the Summer of 2016 and was lucky to become pregnant on the first attempt and to also have another 3 of her embryos frozen.

Zoe was thrilled to have become pregnant and to soon have a baby join her. But early on in her second trimester Zoe learned that her son had Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 occurs when there is an extra chromosome (three instead of two) and the resulting medical complications are often life-threatening

“Despite some pressure to terminate the pregnancy, I ultimately decided it wasn’t the right way forward for us. My son, who I named Finn upon getting the diagnosis, was a wanted child and I felt that it was my job as his mother to support him in having whatever life he was meant to have. So we went on a bit of a journey together- and beating a lot of odds, Finn stuck around until 39 weeks, when we were unable to find a heartbeat at my check-in. I like to think he decided he didn’t want to come out only to be poked and prodded and more besides. He lived pretty much his entire life within me.

When faced with such devastating news and so many uncertainties the decisions a parent must make are unfathomable.

I delivered Finn the next morning- he was 18 inches long, weighed just under five pounds and was absolutely beautiful. The hour or so I spent with him, my parents and two of my sisters will always be one of my most treasured memories.

I will always grieve the loss of Finn- but I think the journey we took together makes it a very pure kind of grief. I feel like we both gave it everything we had- and I’m kind of proud of both of us for that.”

In the Fall of 2017, about 4 months after losing Finn, Zoe transferred one of the 3 frozen embryos that she had. The embryo failed to implant so she transferred a second one. Thinking that it was only right that one of the embryos would take after everything that had happened it was especially hard on Zoe when neither of the two embryos successfully implanted.

After the two embryos did not take Zoe took a break from trying to become pregnant again for several months. When you’re struggling with fertility the process can overwhelm and consume your life and Zoe knew she needed time before trying again.

“I felt like my fertility journey had consumed me completely and that before I transferred my final embryo, I had to be ready for whatever the outcome was- that I had to have other things going on in my life if it failed. So I changed jobs and took on some new volunteer gigs and did some other stuff- and when I felt like I could handle whatever was in store for me, I moved forward with transferring the last embryo.”

Zoe’s last frozen embryo luckily implanted and at 45 years old Zoe found herself expecting Finn’s little brother at last. A successful implantation was of course the goal and Zoe was thrilled to be pregnant but a pregnancy after loss is never the same.

“…but pregnancy after loss is hard. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and don’t want to take anything for granted for fear of jinxing it.”

After years of fertility struggles and an emotional rollercoaster Zoe safely welcomed Finn’s little brother Hamish on June 1st, 2019. And he is absolutely perfect.

Zoe will always be the mother to both Finn and Hamish and I am thrilled to have been able to photograph her youngest in a way that celebrates and honours both his older brother and Zoe’s journey. Congratulations to Zoe on the birth of her very special rainbow baby and thank you to her for sharing her story and her beautiful boys with us.

When faced with a devastating prenatal diagnosis the uncertainties, the decisions, and the journey are all extremely difficult. Zoe would love to share with everyone what she found helpful throughout her journey and what she recommends to others walking a similar path.

Some of the things that Zoe found helpful and would suggest to others experiencing similar struggles and loss:

While losing Finn was undoubtedly the worst thing that has ever happened to me, we were so blessed to receive amazing love and support from a magnificent collection of family and friends throughout.

I think that I felt like to some extent my fertility quest had become almost all consuming- and I didn’t want to find myself with no embryos left and a life that had become super focused on having success with IVF. So it seemed to make sense to reinvest in other areas of my life to guard against this- to not count on things happening. I reengaged more in community work (which I had let slide)- I joined the board of a local non-profit housing corporation and also joined a group of friends in sponsoring a refugee family from Iraq to come to Canada. There were lots of wins to doing this- it felt good to be engaging and trying to make a positive contribution to my community, it reminded me of how blessed a life I have and how fortunate I am to have it, and it also took my mind off fertility stuff.

In terms of community resources I used, I totally lucked out in terms of my obstetrician and the care received from the Queensway-Carleton, and then after Finn’s birth I connected up with Roger Neilson House- a resource I could have also used during my pregnancy had I known about it (and needed to). Roger Neilson House has a perinatal loss support program for families who have lost/will lose babies between 20 weeks gestation and 28 days of life. I benefited from individual counselling and also took part in a perinatal bereavement support group with 7 other families who had recently lost their children. Had I connected during my pregnancy, they would have also helped me come up with a birth plan had I wanted to.  They also offer support groups for siblings, grandparents and future pregnancies – all free of charge. They’ve been really great at both providing a network/community and also in really recognizing and acknowledging our lost children and their impact.

In terms of books that were helpful, there were a few I found. My sister’s friend, who had previously experienced a stillbirth, sent me a book entitled “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart”. While I initially couldn’t even read the title without tearing up, I did find it useful- it’s been around for over 20 years (with new editions) and kind of takes you through the different stages of grief and more besides, using examples from parents who have previously experienced losing their children. I also appreciated Sheryl Sandberg’s and Adam Grant’s book, Option B, which came out around the same time as Finn’s birth.