“How do you love again after you lose? How do you open yourself up to that?”
It’s something Emma Hansen has been grappling with since April 2015, when she lost her first child, Reid. He was born still, caused by an undetected true knot in his umbilical cord, just one day before his due date.
Grief isn’t linear, nor is it cyclical. It’s confusing, and messy, and really, really hard. For Hansen, processing her loss and the feelings that came with it was done through writing—at first just for herself, but soon after for her blog.
“I started writing and shaping my own grief experience through what I was learning, what I felt, what I knew to be true, and what I did not see anywhere else,” she says over a warm beverage at Pallet Coffee Roasters in downtown Vancouver. “I say he was born still but still born. It’s a birth story and for me personally, that was my experience, so I felt like just because he died didn’t mean I couldn’t share it.”
It was cathartic to write down what she was feeling, and it was cathartic to put it out there in the world; she found herself sharing things that she couldn’t say out loud, which in turn helped her friends and family understand what she was going through. And even beyond her immediate support circle, a community of strangers began to build around her.
“I think that’s one of the most incredible ways the internet and social media can be used, is to make the world smaller,” she says. “You can connect a lot easier on those shared experiences.” Stories from women or couples who had gone through something similar started to flow in, adding another layer to her healing. She and her husband had felt so alone when Reid died, but now there was this whole network of other people who could relate to and help the navigate their pain.
In the years since Reid’s death, Hansen has continued to share personal stories (along with lifestyle tips and interviews) on her blog, and has even written a memoir about her experience, which comes out in 2020 with Greystone Books. It outlines her journey with Reid as well as with her second child, Everett, who was born in 2016. Pregnant again at the time of this interview, she is now the proud mother of a third son, named Atticus.
Motherhood has changed her “in every way. In the best ways, really,” says Hansen, who lives in a Greater Vancouver suburb with her growing family. “I think it was in motherhood when everything that was self-care related became so much more important: doing all these things weren’t just for me, they were for the baby I was growing or the baby I was caring for after they were born. Self-care can be personal or selfish and that’s absolutely necessary, but it’s different when you do it for somebody else. And I think that really helped me make that switch, that when I’m caring for myself it’s also helping the people that I love in my life.”
Hansen, whose father is prominent athlete and disability activist Rick Hansen, first started exploring self-care out of necessity when she was working as a professional model. Living in cosmopolitan cities like New York, Paris, and Sydney, she learned to take care of herself because her body was her livelihood. But over time, self-care blossomed into an important part of her daily vernacular, both in terms of physical and mental wellness. “The biggest thing is being able to listen to what you need on that full-spectrum level—so body, mind, spirit,” she explains. Some days that might mean a high-intensity interval training session, and others it might mean yin yoga in the living room.
She also prioritizes her quiet morning routine, whether that be taking a few moments to sip coffee alone or jotting down something she’s grateful for in her journal. Because despite all of the heartbreak she’s experienced thus far in her life, she knows she’s got a lot to appreciate.
“It’s been an unexpected journey. I’ve learned a lot through it,” Hansen says. “I think when I look back on it, I would still have my first son even knowing the outcome. Being able to admit that doesn’t make it easy; it’s being grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the people in my life that are here and that are no longer here.”