Book Review: Rare Bird

“Why are you reading that?” Dan asked me, as I sat beside him on our bus trip home after work one day. There we were, in the middle of lots of people, all taking the same public transportation together, and tears were running down my face.

“I’m reading this because I want to.” I answered. “I owe it to Anna. I owe it to this story. It isn’t fair that I have both my kids and Anna doesn’t anymore. The least I can do is read her story.”

Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

It is funny thing we do, isn’t it? We put ourselves in the middle of something that we know will wreck us from the inside out. Or maybe you’re like me and you do the absolutely opposite. You avoid anything that hurts as much as humanly possible. Because the reality has set in that anything can happen. Anything at all. And that’s so scary. So we avoid it. We avoid painful stories and tears and anything that reminds us that bad things do happen. We think that this somehow that protects us.

“My new story was a tragedy so frightening that, as parents, we feel we risk something even by thinking about it, because it whispers into our hearts a truth we don’t want to hear. That we can’t keep our children safe. That we don’t know what the future holds. We want to cover our ears, close our eyes, and turn away from the horror of that truth.” -pages 1-2

Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s son Jack died in a freak flash flood while playing with friends in their neighbourhood. It is simply something that is so inconceivable to consider. How could that happen? How could God let it happen?

“I feel like I’ve been forced onto a scary, dangerous amusement-park ride, constructed by a psychopath, not a loving God.” -page 68

Anna writes about her story – what happened and how she has lived through it in her book Rare Bird. I want to tell you that this book is a must read, because it is. I want to tell you that you will love this book, because you will. But I know I need to do more than that, because it isn’t easy to let ourselves share in someone else’s grief.

Rare Bird isn’t just a memoir. It is a beautifully written handbook for anyone who is grieving, who will grieve, or who will walk beside someone who is grieving. Unfortunately, we will all fit into these categories in our lifetime. Grief will touch us, and it is important to know that we are not alone and that we can reach out to one another during extraordinarily hard times. Rare Bird gives us a glimpse into the complexity of grief, and the contradictions that surround it. Anna shares her raw pain with her reader in a way that somehow leads to hope. She shows life continuing through the awfulness. As she questions God through her pain, she sees Him clearer.

“Are we all so overwrought with grief at the thought of a little boy gone too soon that we’re seeing things? Wishing? Grasping? Trying to see connections and significance when there is none? Or could it be that at times like this, when the unimportant falls away like chaff to the ground, we are finally able to recognize what God is doing in the world around us every single day?” -page 137

This book will make you cry, but you won’t be able to put it down. You will be pulled into Anna’s family and feel like you know them intimately. You will grieve with Anna over the loss of Jack and you will find yourself incredibly hopeful that Anna and Tim and Margaret will pull together and thrive, even in the pain. And as a reader, you so very desperately want to let Jack’s story be told. It doesn’t feel right to stop turning these pages.

Anna writes about how the people who came through for her the most during these hard times were the people who weren’t afraid to acknowledge what happened. When a mother loses a son, she doesn’t want to hide away making everyone else feel comfortable. She wants to acknowledge the child that still feels so very near to her. She wants to have people to share her story with. I learned so much from this book. I know I’m the person who wants desperately to help a friend in need, but I never know how. I avoid hard topics, hoping instead to help friends take their focus off their grief. I avoid what’s wrong, and in doing so I avoid my friend. As I read Rare Bird, I realized that Anna wasn’t just teaching me how to be a friend to someone who is grieving, she was giving me the opportunity to practice it by diving into each word she writes about Jack. In reading Rare Bird, I help give meaning to Jack’s life.

“I get a sense I’m learning from the women who show up for me. Who offer themselves up in a way that I’ve never had the guts to do. They are braver than they think.” -page 89

You need to be brave to pick up Rare Bird but you will absolutely not regret it. Hope and beauty seem to pour out of these pages that you initially assume will be filled with darkness. They aren’t. Anna has used her incredible voice to attack grief head on while she shares her son with the world.

“In sharing our loss, we somehow gain. That is the mystery of a community of grievers.” -page 186

Rare Bird is a five-star book.

5 Star Book

Rare Bird Blog Tour

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We C U

Cameron, my 4 year old, has been asking for a new baby sibling for a while now. He has been through the whole getting-a-new-baby process and has watched aunts and friends’ parents grow babies inside of them so he understands that babies start in mommies’ bellies. When we finally broke the news to him, he wasn’t at all shocked that there was a baby in my belly, even though I wasn’t showing yet.

When we told Gavin, our 2 year old, about the pregnancy, he told us that we were nuts. His response to us telling him that our family would have a new baby and that the baby was currently living in my belly was a resolute “No”. It wasn’t the kind of “No” that comes when you suggest that a two year old eat his vegetables, but more like the “No” that follows a ridiculously silly question. We might as well have told him that we were now a family of cows.

I suppose I don’t really blame Gavin. This is all so very new to him and the idea of a person is living inside of another person is frankly freaky if you’ve never considered the concept before. So while Cameron gently rests his hand on my belly to hopefully feel the baby kick (something he finally felt on Sunday!), Gavin backs away in horror when I even suggest he try feeling. For now, this growing belly is just a major hindrance to comfortable cuddling, in Gavin’s humble opinion.

I really wanted to help the boys experience this pregnancy a little more than they can by simply watching my belly grow, feeling kicks, and giving the baby-belly hugs and kisses. Cameron is already so very ready to care for this new baby and Gavin is beginning to understand that our family dynamic is changing. My husband and I are lucky enough to begin to get to know this beautiful new member of our family through our greater understanding of the pregnancy process and shared medical appointments to hear the heartbeat and see the ultrasound, but our kids don’t get to experience this pregnancy in the same way.

At our local hospital, children are not allowed to come for the 20 week ultrasound appointment, which is pretty much the only ultrasound for low risk mothers during a pregnancy. I did make sure to schedule a obstetrician appointment during the kids’ vacation so that they could come in and hear the baby’s heartbeat. But there is just something so very special about seeing bits and pieces of the baby growing inside.

It is for this reason that I knew I wanted to have a 3D ultrasound during this pregnancy. Booking an elective, 3-D ultrasound used to be very popular here in Halifax because up until a couple of years ago, it was the only way to find out the sex of your baby before the baby was born. Our hospital refused to share that information until just recently. But finding out the sex has never been a priority in any of our pregnancies. (And we still aren’t finding out this time, even though our hospital, and UC Baby were willing to tell us).

So, why go to a 3D ultrasound if you’re not finding out the sex of your baby (or, if you don’t even want to know?)

The experience of going to UC Baby is really so very different than the experience of going to a hospital for an ultrasound. First of all, I wasn’t ridiculously uncomfortable with a full bladder while I was kept waiting for an hour beyond my appointment time. No, UC Baby does not require a full bladder, and because they don’t have to deal with medical emergencies, appointments happen on time. But more importantly, UC Baby is family friendly. It is a place to go to enjoy your newest family member just for the sole purpose of seeing them. There is no medical checklist, no worries about what one measurement or marker means. And the enjoyment can be shared with whomever you want included; Like a four-year-old and a two-year-old big brothers.

I was surprised at how family-friendly UC Baby actually was. We went for a 3D ultrasound with my first baby, and I recall UC Baby being a very tranquil place, perhaps not suited for children. But the children’s things are just very carefully camouflaged. When we arrived, the boys were offered paper, crayons, and a drink (even juice was an option!). When it was time for our appointment, the boys found a box of toys to entertain themselves with when they got bored of the television screen. Somehow, the room still managed to be dark and peaceful, even with two little rascals running around.

UC Baby 3D Ultrasound with the family

(As an aside, UC Baby also does live streaming, so we decided last minute to share the ultrasound feed with the grandparents too. The receptionist was very kind and patient and helped some of our more non-technical savvy relatives figure out the live-feed over the phone. This is just more proof that they are able to accommodate all sorts of family dynamics).

There is a slight but obvious disconnect for children over how they can see the baby on a television screen when everyone knows the baby is in Mommy’s belly. But we had tried to prepare Cameron for this before our appointment, explaining that a machine would be able to see inside to the baby and then we would see what that machine can see on a computer screen. While a 3D ultrasound may look weird in still photos, it is so much more clear and obvious than a regular ultrasound. My four year old had no trouble making out the baby’s features, and our two-year-old could tell that we were looking at a baby. Because of my anterior placenta, we were only able to see the baby from one angle, so there was not much variation of images, but it was so very cool to see Cameron pick up the new baby’s eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet.

UC Baby 3D Ultrasound with the family

I always feel like ultrasounds are a special connection to my child that I will likely never again have. While I’ll soon be able to hold my baby and kiss his* face, I will (hopefully) never again see his heart beating or the bones in his body. And now, this is something that at least Cameron will be able to carry with him as well. Our whole family is getting this new baby, and I very much want the whole family to be involved in these beginning stages as well.

We will be going back to UC Baby at 30 weeks for a second peek at a soon-to-be bigger baby, and we’ll be bringing the boys back with us. It will be interesting to see how their understanding will be different after already having seen an ultrasound of the baby, and to see what differences they notice in the baby.

Pregnancy is a really cool time in a family, and it isn’t something I want to go through alone. I love that I was able to share in this first look of the baby with my bigger children. They keep calling this “their baby”, and it totally is. This baby is all of ours. It is our family’s. And just like the rest of the family, this baby is really cute.

*or her. But I’ll probably stick with “he” because that’s what I’m used to saying. And also, at this point, I’m not convinced that my husband and I can make a female baby.


The Halifax location of UC Baby very kindly offered me this ultrasound session complementary so I could write about the experience.

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Life is Good but it Would Be Nice to Get a Few More Things In List

Sponsored Post on Mommy Miracles

bucket listDo you have a bucket list? I’ve never really made one. I think I have a hard time making concrete goals when I know they’re going to be hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Plus, as a 28 year old with young children, I don’t particularly want to think about death or the aspects of life that I’m missing. There is a lot that I had to give up having kids – but I gained as much, if not more back. Would I be disappointed if I died tomorrow? Yes, but not because of what I haven’t accomplished. I’d be heartbroken because of what I would miss in the lives of my children, and the turmoil that they would face going forward without me.

Still, there are those things – those small little what-if things sitting in the back of my mind, just slightly out of grasp from the realm of possibilities. Are those things my “bucket list”? Are they my faraway reality dreams? I have been reminded more than once that those things that seem far out of grasp can become a reality, and when they do, they feel even better knowing they were once a far-away goal.

Bucket List Item: Half-Marathon in Disney

So what is on that list for me? That Life is Good but it Would Be Nice to Get a Few More Things In List?

Well, I’d like to go away alone with my husband somewhere far away, sooner rather than later.

I’d like to take the kids to Disney World when they’re old enough to enjoy it, but not too old to miss the magic. (And maybe I’ll run another race while there).

I want to go to a blogging conference and I would love to hang out with every single member of my online tribe, whether at the conference or somewhere altogether different.

I have a few career aspirations, too.

Would I like to go skydiving someday? Absolutely! Go on a multi-day kayaking trip? Yes! Visit cultural landmarks around the world? Without a doubt! Hike the grand-canyon? Visit alll the provinces, territories, and states I haven’t yet been to? Run a marathon? All these things could be on some far-reaching “bucket list”, but those won’t determine whether this life I am living now is great or not.

The things that I really want are things that will bring me closer to my loved ones. They’re things that will create meaningful memories during the life I’m currently living. This wish list is built on top of my passions.

But still, so many of these list-items, even the simple ones, take time, energy, and money to accomplish. My husband and I were saving up for that trip we wanted to take together, but we used the money to buy a house. The problem with “Someday List” items are that they’re far enough away to not seem real, until the time slips away and you realize that you never did that thing you wanted to do all along because you never prepared for it.

I know there are tips and tricks to save a little bit of money here and there for those big list items. So many people these days are cutting cable in favour of online streaming. We’ve done it. Or maybe forgoing a morning coffee for a homemade brew could save a couple of bucks a day? Did you know that you can even shop around for insurance to see if you can shave a few dollars off your monthly bills? Consider putting away some of this saved money so that these “bucket list” (or whatever we’re calling it) items are within reach. How much money can you put aside each month?

I think it is completely reasonable to put a savings line item on each month’s budget. We’ve definitely done that in the past, and while it may not have ended up in a romantic getaway for my husband and I, it certainly did help up with other financial and personal goals. If you need help making a budget and finding places to cut and save, here’s a great budget spreadsheet to help get you started. Going through something like this can be painful, but once you realize that doing so will help make your dreams a reality, it gets a little more exciting.

What’s on your list? What do you want to cross off first? What are some of your best money-saving, goal-reaching tips?

At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well being. They help you get organized, make a plan, and stay on track so you can get and stay in control of your finances. When you are confident about your money, you can save for your goals and splurge knowingly on what matters most to you.


To get started visit

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.

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