Be Ceremonial

A TFMR Birth Story

Ali Hiebert explores the connections between life and loss within the context of ritual and ceremony, following the loss of her son Paris.

I was convinced it only happened to other people. 

Growing up in evangelical christian culture, in a conservative province, I had views on pregnancy termination and they always began with other centred language. It was something that happened to ‘other’ people. Until it didn’t. 

When I was 21 years old, pregnant with my first child, I was told that if I continued my pregnancy and attempted to carry to term, I would die. It wasn’t a question but a statement, and all of a sudden everything that until now had only existed for other people was happening to me.

I had never heard the word TFMR before. I didn’t know anyone else who had been through this experience before, and I had the sinking feeling that I was about to become everything I once stood against. 

I felt like medicine had failed me, and that I had failed my son.

At the time I didn’t have the framework surrounding ritual and ceremony, only the strong conviction of a first time mom and her need to honour her son. I needed his life to mean something, and to find a way for our relationship to continue even after he had passed.

I wouldn’t have called what I did back then was ceremony, but it was. The week that my husband and I spent in the hospital awaiting the day that would be both our son’s birth and death day, we lived ceremonially. Here are some of the things we did during that time.

These rituals have now be added to the Be Ceremonial TFMR Ceremony in the hopes that they inspire you with ideas and give you a place to start:

Holding Vigil

We held vigil, over each other and over him. We watched his life flicker on a screen, promising him and each other that we would not look away from this part. My husband and I vowed to allow every feeling to be held, and only allowed people into our birthing space, who would honour both the grief and the love. 

Naming Ritual

We named our son Paris, while I was on a hospital stretcher, as an inside joke, and yet it later became a tale of myth and great love. 

Ritual Walks

We took daily family walks together ~ down the hospital hallways, past the gift shop, making our way to the nearby green space where I would plunge my hands into dirt and we would all hold each other.

Love Letters

I wrote letters and poems to my child, telling him what I envisioned him to be and wished for his life. I told him of ways he could find me in another life, and I told him how much I loved him. I wished him well and offered sage pieces of advice for the journey he was about to take, the journey that I couldn’t accompany him on. I told him about how I thought the stars would hold him, the trees would whisper his name, and I promised him I’d live for the both of us.

To Hold

A grief counsellor and fellow loss mom at the hospital gave me a bear to hold, our blanket, and a book of poems. She sat on the corner of my hospital bed, took my hands in hers, and told me I was a really good mom. She whispered words of strength and hope and love over our tiny, fractured family and, even in this tragic way, welcomed us into parenthood.

I did exactly what a good mother does, even if at that moment I doubted both my goodness and my qualifications as a mother. 

We buried our son in the hospital cemetery, wrapped in a blue blanket, identical to the one we have sitting on his altar in our home. His things, his corner. He’s still here. Paris was and is our only child. My entrance into motherhood looks nothing like I expected it to. 

I’ve learned that grief and loss are just as much a part of motherhood as raising a living child, and that being a parent doesn’t stop when your child is no longer with you. And I work every day at keeping my promise, to live a life big enough for the both of us.

When I meet other parents who have experienced TFMR, I offer them two things: I tell them the greatest honour and blessing of my life is being Paris’ mom, and I offer them a blessing similar to the one given to me, telling them that their parenthood is valid and their child was loved. 

You can create your own TFMR Ceremony using rituals co-created by Ali, in honour of Paris.

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Ali Hiebert

Ali is a wife, TFMR mama, 2X liver transplant recipient, healthcare advocate and embodiment coach living with her husband and rescue pitbull in Alberta, Canada. She is a wild and poetic redhead, a lover of coffee and all things cozy and is a trained yoga instructor, herbalist and grief doula. You can find her on her website or on instagram.

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