I am participating in a Compassionate Care Workshop put on by the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network out of Sunnybrook Hospital located in Toronto.
The aim of this workshop is to improve the standard of care to families experiencing loss in pregnancy and early infancy. I am grateful for the opportunity to share in the hope that our story might make the experience of others more bearable. We named our baby Everleigh and this is our story.
We lost our baby while on vacation on July 16, 2017. We were in BC and I began having contractions in a cemetery where we were visiting the burial place of my oldest brother. We went into hospital in Kelowna where doctors confirmed the miscarriage, did some tests and allowed us to leave. Two days later we flew home to Timmins where I was admitted to hospital.
At 49, I had no idea I was pregnant. I had gone to my doctor the month before because of a missed cycle and he assured me I was entering menopause. As a cancer survivor, he told me, there was no chance I could be pregnant as chemotherapy and radiation would have guaranteed that. No pregnancy test was needed. I believed him. To be fair, he was as shocked as anyone else when we called his office from BC to let him know. He even called me on our way home and advised me to go to hospital as soon as we got back.
The hospital took care of my physical needs. I was assessed, admitted and eventually seen by a surgeon. I had the necessary tests and nurses took care of me. However, we were left to deal with the emotional and mental effects on our own. We were in shock. Later we found out that social workers are available in the hospital but when we were there, no help was offered. We had been married for eleven months and spent our first anniversary at home on the couch, both of us too exhausted to celebrate. Six weeks after we lost our baby, I underwent a partial hysterectomy and again, I was physically cared for but there was little emotional care. We were trying to process the death of the only child we would ever have together but it seemed like a routine procedure to the professionals around us.
After I was discharged, I found myself in the hospital again for a routine test and decided to make an appointment with the hospital chaplaincy. I was able to speak freely and discuss my concerns with a Pastor there. She explained that a referral to the hospital social worker should have been offered and that miscarriages after twenty weeks are recognized but less than twenty weeks are not. In my case, doctors had never been able to tell us how far along the pregnancy was due to the presence of several large fibroid tumours.
I attended a clinic for wound care. There I found people who not only changed the dressings and advised me on how to take care of the incision but also asked me how I was doing, listened and allowed me to cry.
Six weeks after surgery, I attended my post surgical appointment where my surgeon read out the results of the pathology. I was shocked when she read that the placenta had been found and removed but that did not seem to alarm her. I then asked if there had been any chance of finding out if the baby had been a boy or a girl. At that point, she did finally stop reading to look up at me. She shook her head and with a look of disgust at my apparent ignorance, told me there was no way of telling. I asked if there was any grief support available. Her response broke my heart. She said she dealt with miscarriage every day and I was the first person to ever ask her. She advised me that if I should find something to let the office know.
Eventually, I did connect to several other families who were dealing with pregnancy and infant loss through a Hope Box that a friend brought me. That box was invaluable to our healing. We received books on grief, momentos to mark our child’s passing and a Bible with verses of hope highlighted. Inside we also found literature with websites and contact information to many organizations. We found out there was an international day of remembrance and attended our first one on October 15th of that year. That service and gathering with other families grieving the loss of a child began the healing our hearts needed.
We all know that we, as people, are not just physical beings. Some say we are not a body with a soul, but a soul inside a body. We are mental, emotional, spiritual and physical and all these needs should be addressed. There already exist professionals to address all these areas and yet some go without care in one or more of them.
I now help deliver Hope boxes both in the community and to the hospital. Every time I go, I have to explain to the nurses in that department what these boxes are for. Even though they are kept in the office of the social worker within that same department, I have to repeat the information every time. I have heard from professionals in the emergency department that it would be wonderful if they had access to something like this to give to patients dealing with a loss in pregnancy.
I attended a grief support group in this community last year. I heard about it through word of mouth and it was very helpful. However, it seems like this kind of help is something one must dig for. If you don’t know someone within that circle, it is likely you will never find out. I have heard this same sentiment many times. It seems the stigma surrounding loss in pregnancy and even early infancy is still alive and well. We have many families who experience the heartbreak of stillbirth who have had little to no emotional care. I urge everyone to actively seek out opportunities to care for these families’ emotional needs as well as their physical ones. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, they have all experienced a loss and need healthy ways to process their grief. It shouldn’t be this hard to find help.