Jacob Leigh Calnek
Jacob Leigh Calnek
(please return for pregancy images and sketches to be added at a later date)

September 28, 1999 -
September 28, 1999
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Trisomy 13

Parent e-mail:

Jacob Leigh Calnek

On September 28, 1999, our firstborn child, Jacob Leigh Calnek was stillborn due to birth defects that were incompatible with life outside the womb.

Jacob was a blessing and a bright light in my life from the moment we found out I was pregnant with him. My husband, LeRoss, and I had planned the pregnancy and we were thrilled despite our normal fear of becoming parents. I thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant, even during the morning (all day) sickness months! Quite early on in my pregnancy we decided on the name "Jacob Leigh" if our baby was a boy, in honor of our fathers (Lawrence Jacob Willick and Leigh Ross Calnek). Like many soon-to-be parents, we spent time planning for and fantasizing about our baby's future. I took up crocheting during the final months of my pregnancy, making several baby outfits and blankets. My crocheting has become for me a gift, inspired by Jacob, which will always remind me of the many happy hours I spent crocheting and singing to Jacob as I felt him move. Since Jacob's death I have crocheted many afghans for my family and friends, and I like to think of these afghans as being a symbol of Jacob's life and a reminder of his impact on our lives.

Jacob's death was an unexpected shock to us. Although we knew he had a cleft lip, the ultrasounds did not warn us of the other life-threatening birth defects he had. Our geneticist initially suspected Jacob had a rare genetic disorder called OtoPalatoDigital Syndrome. We have since received the final word on Jacob's diagnosis. They now think that it was Trisomy 13, a much more common syndrome that happens by chance. The day after Jacob's birth we decided to donate his body for research, hoping that doctors and geneticists could learn something from Jacob that could help other parents and babies.

Finding the positive legacies in Jacob's too-short life and premature death has been difficult for me, because my time with him was so short, and the only positive memories have to do with my pregnancy. What was the purpose of Jacob's life? How can a baby who never lived outside the womb have a legacy? In my heart I have raged against such questions, insisting to myself and the world that Jacob's life and death did have meaning, that he was a person who should be grieved for like any other, and that I am a mother. And so, I have worked hard to remember my positive memories of Jacob, and to focus on the positive changes and transformations that have come about because of Jacob.

Very early on in my grief I gathered as many mementos and memories of Jacob as I could find. I found ways to mark the holidays and difficult anniversaries so that Jacob would not be forgotten. I gave our parents booklets with poems in memory of Jacob, and I gave our siblings a framed poem that resonated with my experience. Three months after Jacob's death I made the decision to study perinatal loss (i.e., the death of a baby through stillbirth or neonatal death) for my Clinical Psychology degree research requirement. I hoped that through my research I would gain a sense of having created something positive out of Jacob's death that would help other parents in their grief and healing process. My research journey has given me new insights into the unique hurdles faced by parents who lose a baby. Although not yet complete, I know that my research project will be beneficial to some parents and to professionals working with bereaved parents. I feel that if my work helps only one other parent who has lost a baby, it will prove worthy enough to be one of Jacob's legacies.

As the second anniversary of Jacob's birth/death approaches, I have worked hard to identify and take comfort in the positive changes and legacies that have come out of Jacob's life and my experience of losing him. One night after finally deciding that I would write my story for "AngelChild Legacies", I sat down and wrote this poem. It speaks to the comfort and inspiration I have received from reading other bereaved parents' stories and it gives a glimpse of what I feel are the legacies Jacob has left behind. Jacob will live on in my life, and in the lives of others, through his legacies.

Others Have Said…

Others have said
That they are better parents
And better people
Because of the baby they lost

Others have said
That their faith in God has been strengthened
Or reborn
Because of their baby that died

Others have said
That since the death of their baby
They have become more compassionate
Especially toward others
Who have lost a loved one

Others have said
That they have
Taken on a new cause
Or founded a support organization
Or reached out to other bereaved parents
Because of their baby

Others have said
That because of the death of their baby
They have developed a greater sense
Of what really matters
In life

Others have said
They would give anything
To have the chance to parent their child
Here on Earth
But since they can't
At least they can create something positive
Out of the heartache and agony
Of grief

And what do I say?
I agree with all that others have said
Even though some days
I have a difficult time seeing the positives
But I hang on to the ray of hope
That I glean from the things
That others have said

Myrna Willick
July 2001



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