Support services offered to families to help them overcome the pain of miscarriage
The death of an unborn or stillborn child is a devastating topic that most people feel uncomfortable talking about. According to babycenter.ca, an estimated one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage in Canada.
Lindsay McCray is one of many women who has suffered the unfortunate loss of a child through miscarriage. She knows the feeling of isolation that comes with it.
“Really, you’re left on your own to grieve. Apart from a support group we have here in Victoria, there’s really nothing else out there. You’re grieving the loss of this baby, but on top of that you feel so alone,” says McCray.
The experience led McCray to get involved in a special project with the Saanich Legacy Foundation in Victoria, where she lives.
Photo by Geoff Crane
The project is called Little Spirits Garden. Located in the Royal Oak Burial Park of Victoria, the garden has been designed to be a place where people can share similar experiences and have a unique way to acknowledge a loved one. The garden provides memorials for the families free of cost.
The Saanich Legacy Foundation has received over one-third of the funds needed to complete the project from the government, and more donations are coming in from all over North America, according to president Paul McKivett.
Projects in Calgary
On the home front, Michael Pierson of Pierson’s Funeral Service in Calgary is spearheading a similar project in partnership with Alberta Health Services called Silent Hopes Memorial Services.
Silent Hopes is a service that cares for the remains of any pregnancy loss, but especially those of miscarriages.
Pierson collects these remains of miscarried pregnancies from various medical sites around Calgary. The remains are cremated and then interred at the Silent Hopes Memorial Garden in the Rockyview Garden of Peace Cemetery.
Every spring and fall, a Silent Hopes non-denominational service is held at the garden for parents and families of the little ones whose remains are placed there. Additionally, parents can choose to have their infant’s name placed on a stone tablet donated to the garden, memorializing their child.
Pierson has had firsthand experience with the therapeutic powers this service provides, having attended a Silent Hopes service for their own infant lost by miscarriage.
Photo by Geoff Crane
“I can remember driving away from that service, and the burden we both felt was lifted from us by participating in that, and feeling like it was finally acknowledged appropriately.”
Pierson said the service is a way to help families deal with the confusion and isolation they can sometimes feel.
“It happens way more often than people really realize. It’s sometimes just not talked about much.”
While these special services have helped many families with their grief, overcoming the loss of a miscarried or stillborn infant is not a one-size- fits-all process.
Deb Bennett, an associate professor of social work at Mount Royal University and expert in grief, points out grief is a very individual process.
As a result, she says, “It makes it difficult, for me at least, to say this is the blanket solution.”
“There was a time when parents didn’t have the opportunity to have those pictures, the opportunity to have a funeral.”
As a grief counselor for Alberta Health Services Pregnancy and Infant Loss program, Azmina Lakhani hopes to see that action take place.
“My hope is that at some point, down the road, women and men, will be able to talk about the impact this has had on them, ” says Lakhani.
Preserving the memories
In 2011, through the efforts of a mother who had experienced a loss, and the support of the AHS program, Mayor Nenshi signed a letter officially recognizing Oct. 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. It’s a day recognized nationally across the United Sates, but only in a few cities and provinces throughout Canada.
“I think we still have a long ways to go. This is where events like the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day can make a real difference, ” says Lakhani.
In the meantime, Lakhani points to other services AHS provides to help parents grieving the loss of a child.
Memory packages and a personalized decorative box that contains mementos of the child, as well as some donated by volunteers, are just a few ways parents can have a tangible to reminder of the loved one they only spent a few precious moments with.
“Memory making is so important,” says Bennett, “When you lose a child through a miscarriage or stillbirth, those memories are so few, and that’s where the box comes in to help.”
And that is why efforts such as those of McCray, Pierson’s Funeral home and the AHS program are so important in shining the spotlight on such a largely unrecognized tragedy.