On Memory Keeping

Ten years ago, a project at work threw me headlong into the world of “memory keeping” (aka scrapbooking).  Through my new-found obsession, I met a TON of amazing and wonderful women inducing the ever-inspirational Rozanne and the incredible Agnes.

Under the guidance of Rozanne, and in the company of Agnes, I started my first organized scrapbook in February of 2007; it was to be an album with a layout for each month.  I couldn’t wait to get started.  It was going to be the best year ever.  I was turning 30, we had just moved into our first house, the Husband and I were going to start a family.  I dutifully created my layouts each month; gluing and taping in photos of me and the Husband, smiling, happy.  But beneath those smiles the panic was creeping in.  Months of not getting pregnant; a benign but totally treatable pituitary tumour diagnosis (that caused the infertility); months of daily monitoring at the fertility clinic; and eventually, a diagnosis that I would never achieve a natural pregnancy.  A year that had started with such joy, hope and excitement quickly turned to one of tears, frustration and upset.  12 months later, I finished the album.  But in reviewing it, I felt something was missing; a story that hadn’t been told.  And so, I added these pages at the end.

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Little did I know, that I would end up pregnant, without any medical intervention, by the end of that month!

After my son was born, I embarked on a different kind of memory keeping project; I was going to follow Ali Edwards‘ lead and document a week in the life of the new baby.  But, in Nancy-style, I wasn’t going to document just one week. Oh no.  I was going to document one week during each quarter of the baby’s first year.  And I did just that.  And it is a lovely album filled with wonderful little memories about daily life with an infant.

My daughter was born when my son was 27 months old.  Perfect, I thought.  I’m going to repeat this project for her!  And I’m finally going to get to venture into the pink section of the scrapbooking store!  No blue in her album; oh no.  Pink, pink and more pink!!!  And so, during her 3rd month of life, I spent a week taking pictures and getting ready to document our lives.

But behind the scenes, that old feeling of panic was starting to set in again.  A strange numbness in my head and face that started during the last few months of my pregnancy wasn’t going away; it was getting worse.  All the doctors told me I was fine.  Just a pinched nerve; or a migraine; I should eat breakfast, rest more.  But I wasn’t fine.  When my little girl was just 4 months old, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  Benign they thought (and it did turn out to be!), but it was big and growing rapidly, so surgery (a craniotomy) was my only option.

And with that diagnosis, my designs on recording this precious first year of my daughter’s life were tossed out the window.  How could I record the minutiae of our everyday lives when my sole focus was making every moment I had with my kids until they wheeled me into that operating room as magical as I could; I wanted to do everything I could to make sure that, in the event I didn’t come out of that operating room the same way I went in (minus the tumour), they had only happy memories of our time together.

Thanks to my unbelievably amazing surgeon, I came out of the surgery having lost the tumour and most of the nerve that governs the right side of my face; but having gained my life back and a titanium plate complete with several screws to boot!

But life post-surgery wasn’t one I wanted to document either; “don’t move, honey, let me take a photo of you – I want to always remember you and the look of fear in your eyes as you tell me that while I was in the hospital, our nanny accidentally fed the baby the last frozen bottle of your breast milk – I know how much you wanted to do that”; “hey kids, don’t cry, I want to take a picture of you playing before mommy goes back up to bed to rest and ice her face”.

But I felt guilty.  Guilty because I felt my tumour had clouded my little girl’s first year.  Guilty because I wasn’t there for her the way I had been for my son – logistically and emotionally preparing for the surgery could overwhelm me at times.  So I was going to make it up to her.  When she turned 1, two and a bit months after my surgery, I decided I would try again.  And again, I failed miserably.  Yes, I did take lots of pictures every three months that year.  And yes, there is an album and lots of supplies to go with it.  But at some point during that year, the supplies got swept into a bag and until now, that bag has sat in my basement, untouched.

The raw emotional fallout of everything that I had been through was just too much for me to try and put a happy spin on our daily lives during that year.  Which is not to say we weren’t happy.  We had LOTS of happy moments, hours, days.  But deep down I felt that constant tug of guilt, sadness, and just not-being-good-enough-ness.  And I wanted as few memories of that time and those feelings as possible.


A chance email early this morning; a change in my plans for the day; and I somehow ended up here.  With my little one’s book out of storage and up on my table.  And the thought that maybe, just maybe, as Ali Edwards gears up to complete her Week in the Life, I could do it too this time around.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m ready to accept that life isn’t magical, that things don’t go according to plan, and that nothing in life is perfect.  And maybe, just maybe, I’m ready to document our lives, it in all their glory, for my amazing little girl.

A good friend of mine is fond of the saying “the universe gives us exactly what we need when we need it”.  I’m starting to think he might be right . . .

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