by Amanda Lynn Stubley
Friends, I’ve been a little uncharacteristically silent for the past couple weeks. I’ve got something to tell you, and it may take a few paragraphs. I hope you’ll bear with me. For nearly a decade Martin & I have been in West Virginia, at the life-changing Augusta Heritage Center, at this time of year. This year Augusta didn’t work out and we chose to go to Killarney Provincial Park and camp with our kids. Killarney is a truly magical place in Northern Ontario, where the power of nature seems resonant. From before I met Martin, I spent as many weeks as I could each year in the backcountry.
The waters are clear blue, the mountains are white quartzite and pink granite, and 3 billion years old. Canada’s Group of Seven painters painted there. There is even a beautiful little lake named for painter A. Y. Jackson.
For many years, Killarney was a touchstone for everything good in my life.In 2004, some months after the death of Martin’s parents, I was seven weeks pregnant with our first child. We couldn’t be happier. We also couldn’t wait to paddle a canoe in Killarney; for both Martin & I, it would allow us some peace and comfort. We set out for a moderate interior trip, and had a lovely site on Killarney Lake. On the third evening, something seemed wrong and we decided we better get out of the backcountry. We packed up in a flash and Martin paddled like hell to get us out of the park before dark, while I fretted and tried not to paddle or exert myself in the bow of the boat.
In a blessing that has stayed with me, right as we arrived at the first portage, a canoe of three men, otherwise empty of gear, arrived. We asked if anyone was a doctor, and one wryly said no, an engineer. We explained we needed help and they gamely grabbed all our gear and ran it down the path, I walked gingerly and we loaded the boat at the other end. Onto the second lake (of three) we went. These kindly folks paddled near us for the next 3 hours, and even, I believe, carried our gear up to the car for us when we arrived at the parking lot at sunset.
We proceeded to get some medical advice, find out that if I were miscarrying, there was nothing that would stop it so early in my pregnancy. We checked into a cheap motel. We went to sleep and I felt better. A couple hours later I awoke in severe pain. Eventually an ambulance arrived. The closest hospital was two hours drive. That was too long for me. They called the air-ambulance. The ambulance attendants were volunteers, like in my hometown. I recall they had trouble operating their new gurney and I kept sliding backwards. Martin had to help them lock it, and squeeze me into the not-to-code elevator.
When the big orange helicopter arrived, I had chest-leads and was on oxygen; I was super-sad but feeling ok. I remember thinking I could almost certainly get to the hospital in Sudbury safely. I thought of my dear American friends who would be faced with a $10,000 deductible on their insurance for this helicopter ride. I looked up at the big, burly paramedics who knew exactly how to use their gurneys, and I said “I’m so glad I’m Canadian”.
We flew right over Killarney Lake as the sun rose. Poor Martin had to make the drive on his own to the hospital. He knew I might have an ectopic pregnancy and that it was life threatening. It still breaks my heart that he had to leave me in the helicopter and drive on his own, only a few months after losing his parents.
I arrived in Sudbury at the hospital. Martin showed up after not too long (helicopters actually take awhile!), and we had a lot of very nice people take care of us. I had two ultrasounds and they confirmed that I was not pregnant. I had miscarried overnight.
We cried and cried. We also laughed at bit, as one does in absurd and high stress moments. I was 33 and healthy. There was a lot of hope for a future pregnancy. We received a kindly visit from a hospital chaplain. We were given information on where the “products of the miscarriage” would be buried (in a special grave in Sudbury) as well as the date when they would be doing a group interment. We would be welcome.
By the time we left the hospital it was lunchtime and we were starving. We went to a family restaurant near the hospital and I ordered spaghetti and meat sauce. I took a bite, swallowed, cried – took a bite, swallowed, cried. When the bill arrived, the waitress told us they saw we were having a very sad time, and that the meal was complimentary.
All these details, and many more, are all seared in my mind like they happened last week.
Thankfully though, the pain and heartbreak is not – our life rolled forward, as life does. We recovered from that moment. Martin started his job at Western as a professor a few months later. I decided to start an undergraduate degree at the same university. We took a trip to Chicago. Two months later, as school started for us both, we found out I was pregnant with Jacob, now age 11. That pregnancy had challenges, and Jacob was born preemie. But if you follow my Facebook feed, you know that Jacob is a healthy and happy and glorious boy.
Once we had a child, life rocketed on. School and another pregnancy. The remarkable Oliver came into our lives (in two hours! in our living room!). Between 2004 and 2013 I had two children and earned two degrees, at two schools in two countries. I started doing community radio again. I stutter-stepped my way into a semi-professional musical existence.
BUT, we never went back to Killarney. My emotional touchstone. One of the places that I first knew the peace of God, way before I could consider any Christian practice. I didn’t avoid the park. I just didn’t get around to it. This summer was different. We had a chance to go, so we went. And it was a big deal in so many ways. From the drive into the park on Hwy. 637, right to the middle of Killarney Lake, swimming across from the site where I first started miscarrying, this was a really important visit. Without even realizing it, after I miscarried I lost that park. Returning , I reclaimed Killarney in my life. Swimming in a clear blue lake with my beautiful boys, 200 metres from where my dreams of having a child fell apart was profound. I’m still coming to terms with it, actually. I’m weepy. I feel a little lost. But I’m so glad we went back. I love that place.
Friends, this is a very personal post for me. I hope that it doesn’t seem too much so. After I miscarried, I learned the secret that so many know – that many, many women miscarry and never mention it. Somehow, it’s an unspoken loss. I share this to tell my own story, but also to break that silence. I have a lot more pictures from this trip to share. But I hope that the ones of the kids and I swimming touches a special place in your heart, like they do in mine.