"Mama's Heart" is for baby Malachi and his courageous mama. And for every women who finds herself grieving the loss of a little one. You are loved. (Watercolour: Amy Wetton/Wild Canary Studio)
One afternoon seven years ago, my best friend called me as I was walking home from a yoga class and told me that her baby had died.
I remember her voice, a calm and steady flow of disbelief, recounting how she had been waiting to feel that reassuring movement inside her belly. How she drank some juice and laid down on her side and waited again. And how, finally, when there was no sign to assuage her fear, they went to the hospital.
The ultrasound found no heartbeat.
She was nearly full-term with her second son, and we all were awaiting his arrival, thinking she would give birth any day. She delivered him two days later. The umbilical cord had become wrapped around his neck, but he was an otherwise perfect baby boy. She named him Malachi.
I was not yet a mother and, though I grieved with her, I couldn't begin grasp the oceanic depth of her loss. Even now as a mum of two, I don't know it. I have not experienced miscarriage or loss personally (thankfully). The story I'm sharing doesn't come from the same sacred space as women who bravely recount their experiences after losing an unborn child or infant. This story about women supporting women -- mothers caring for mothers -- and what we can do to help carry our sisters through their grief.
It is far too common an experience to remain the subject of whispers.
Being with my friend through her heartbreaking loss changed something in me. It made me realize that supporting women through childbirth and as new moms was calling me. It lead me to become a doula. And through my work I'm always advocating for maternal wellness, in all its manifestations. As many as one in five pregnancies ends in loss. That is a reality of human biology that the human heart must bear. It is far too common an experience to remain the subject of whispers.
In the days and weeks after Malachi died, I remember my friend saying that beyond coping with bereavement itself, the hardest part about trying to carry on with life after her loss was that so many people said nothing.
Can you imagine? I hear this same deeply unsettling story again and again from women who experience loss. Women who are left with a profound sense of loneliness and isolation.
So, let's talk. If you know someone who has experienced a miscarriage, later pregnancy or infant loss, here are three things you should do:
Let her know you are thinking of her. Make a phone call. Send a card. Skip the clichés ("Everything happens for a reason...") and reminders that she can try again or has other children. This life lost, however brief, matters. It's OK to stumble over your words or not know what to say. As human beings we protect ourselves from difficult emotions, like sadness and grief. It's natural to feel uncomfortable talking about the loss of a pregnancy; the death of an infant. (There's even a line a cards available now created specifically for miscarriage and loss, if you're having a hard time finding the right words.)
Encourage her to reach out to a local support organization where she can connect with other women coping with loss and counselors who can help guide bereaved parents through their grief. Do not rush her. Do bring over a prepared meal if you live nearby, or offer to take care of older children if she has them. Listen when she wants to talk about it. Sit together when she doesn't. Hold her hand. Let her cry. When she's ready, make a lunch date and get her out of the house.
Despite what many folks think, a woman usually does not want to forget about the baby she has lost. If the child has a name, say it. She will be happy to hear it, even if it makes her sad. Many families plant a tree or have a ceremony of some kind to remember their baby. Ask about those plans. As the years pass, remember the date and reach out to let her know you're thinking of her and that her baby is not forgotten.
Tip-toeing around this very common experience only makes it more difficult and isolating.
With the passing of Bill 141 -- the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act -- in Ontario last year, October 2016 marks the province's first official Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. (October 15th was the ceremonial date.)
Along with investments in research and support organizations, Bill 141 rests on a mandate to destigmatize miscarriage and infant loss. Over the past few weeks many women have shared their stories, helping to break the silence around miscarriage and later loss and create safe spaces where women can find support.
Often women don't share news of their pregnancy until after the first trimester, when miscarriage is most common. Sadly, this means that most women who experience loss find themselves in a place where it might seem easier, at first at least, to carry on and not tell. I hope that the efforts of Bill 141, along with more and more women opening up about their experiences, will encourage women not to carry the burden of their grief alone.
Tip-toeing around this very common experience only makes it more difficult and isolating. On October 15, I announced a special project that I hope will help to open the conversation and create a way for family and friends to lovingly acknowledge and support these mamas. Tenth Moon Mothercare's Mama's Heart care package is a special gift to help soothe the hearts of women who experience miscarriage and later loss. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the package will support The Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network .
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
Before Beyoncé had her daughter Blue Ivy, she experienced a miscarriage. The “Single Ladies” singer didn’t discuss her loss until two years after the fact, admitting it was “the saddest thing I've ever been through.” In her 2013 HBO documentary, the Grammy winner said: “About two years ago, I was pregnant for the first time and I heard the heartbeat, which was the most beautiful music I ever heard in my life. I picked out names, I envisioned what my child would look like... I was feeling very maternal. I flew back to New York to get my check up — and no heartbeat. Literally the week before I went to the doctor, everything was fine, but there was no heartbeat. I went into the studio and wrote the saddest song I've ever written in my life. It was the best form of therapy for me.” Beyoncé and Jay-Z now have a daughter named Blue, who is 3 years old.
Before Courteney Cox had her daughter Coco with ex-husband David Arquette, she had multiple miscarriages. The “Friends” star previously told People, “I get pregnant pretty easily, but I have a hard time keeping them.” Cox’s daughter Coco is now 11 years old.
In August 2015, Susan Sarandon’s daughter Eva Amurri Martino revealed she suffered a miscarriage while pregnant with her second child. She was nine weeks pregnant at the time. “I am sharing in the hopes that we can be a light for people going through similar circumstances, and to remind myself and others that there is no shame in voicing our heartbreaks and allowing others to comfort us,” she wrote on her blog. The 30-year-old actress and her husband Kyle Martino are parents to a 1-year-old daughter named Marlowe.
In the past, the Canadian singer has been incredibly vocal about her struggles to conceive. Before she became pregnant with her twins Eddy and Nelson via IVF, Dion suffered a miscarriage. “I never gave up,” she said. “But I can tell you that it was physically and emotionally exhausting.” Dion’s twins are now 4 years old and her eldest son René-Charles is 14. The 47-year-old had her three kids with husband René Angélil.
In July, Mark Zuckerberg used his baby announcement to share an important message about miscarriage. In a Facebook post, the site founder revealed that his wife Priscilla Chan had suffered three miscarriages. “It's a lonely experience,” the 31-year-old wrote. “Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you – as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own. “In today's open and connected world, discussing these issues doesn't distance us; it brings us together. It creates understanding and tolerance, and it gives us hope.” Zuckerberg and his wife are currently expecting a baby girl. This will be their first child together.
In March 2014, Lindsay Lohan revealed she had a miscarriage while filming her OWN docuseries. “I cried so many times watching [the show],” the actress said. “If I know I’m not capable of being on, that’s why I would say I couldn’t film today. No one knows this... I had a miscarriage for those two weeks that I took off.” “I couldn’t move. I was sick,” she continued. “And mentally that messes with you.”
Lily Allen has suffered two miscarriages, but her second hit her the hardest. In November 2010, the singer was six months pregnant when she lost her baby with husband Sam Cooper. Describing the experience, she said: “It was horrendous and something I would not wish on my worst enemy.” Reflecting on what she learned from the experience, she said, “What I took home from that experience was… I was very fortunate in the sense that I have a loving partner to go home to and share that experience with.” Allen and Cooper now have two daughters: Ethel Mary, 4, and Marnie Rose, 2.
Brooke Shields had a miscarriage before she gave birth to her daughters Rowan and Grier. Speaking about her experience, she said, “We were crushed. Up till then, I thought simply because it was time and I wanted to have a baby, it would work.” The actress had both daughters with husband Chris Henchy. Rowan is now 12 and Grier is 9.
Hugh Jackman and his wife Deborra-Lee Furness had a long struggle with infertility. The couple underwent a number of IVF treatments only to have them end in miscarriage. “It is a difficult time,” the “X-Men” star said. “The miscarriage thing — apparently it happens to one in three pregnancies — but it’s very, very rarely talked about. It’s almost secretive. But it’s a good thing to talk about. It’s more common and it’s tough, there’s a grieving process you have to go through.” Today the couple has two kids, Oscar, 15, and Ava, 10, who they adopted. In 2012, the actor revealed that adoption was always part of their plan. “To be clear, Deb and I always wanted to adopt,” he said.
Mariah Carey suffered a miscarriage before she famously had Dem Babies, Monroe and Moroccan, with her then-husband Nick Cannon. Opening up about her experience, she said: “It kind of shook us both and took us into a place that was really dark and difficult. When that happened… I wasn’t able to even talk to anybody about it. That was not easy.” The news of the miscarriage came just before Christmas in 2008. Looking back, Cannon said, “It was emotional for both of us and that’s when I saw the strength. [Mariah] handled it so well and then to get on the plane and have to spend Christmas with friends and family, it definitely brought us closer together. It strengthened our relationship so much… she handled it so well.” Twins Monroe and Moroccan are now 4 years old.
In 2013, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she miscarried her third child, but did not indicate when this occurred. At the time, Paltrow and ex-husband Chris Martin were already parents to two kids: Apple and Moses. In an interview with Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, the actress said: “My children ask me to have a baby all the time. And you never know, I could squeeze one more in. I am missing my third. I’m thinking about it. “I had a really bad experience when I was pregnant with my third. It didn’t work out and I nearly died. So I am like, ‘Are we good here, or should we go back and try again?’”
Nicole Kidman had a miscarriage during her famous marriage to Tom Cruise in the 90s. Years later, the actress revealed, “From the minute Tom and I were married, I wanted to have babies. And we lost a baby early on, so that was really very traumatic. And that's when we would adopt Bella.” Kidman and Cruise went on to adopt two kids, Isabella and Connor, who are now young adults. The “Paddington” star also has two kids with husband Keith Urban: Sunday Rose, 7, and Faith, 4.
In November 2010, the Grammy winner revealed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that she had suffered a miscarriage before becoming pregnant with her daughter Willow. That’s why she held off on officially announcing her pregnancy. “I was just really nervous,” she said. “I have had a miscarriage before.” Pink had her daughter with husband Carey Hart in 2011. Willow is now 4 years old.
Emma Thompson suffered a miscarriage in 1997. Two years later, the actress welcomed her daughter Gaia with husband Greg Wise. Gaia was conceived through IVF. Although the couple wanted to have more children, subsequent IVF attempts failed. Regarding her experience, the “Saving Mr. Banks” star said: “There’s been an awful lot of grief to get through in not being able to get pregnant again, but there are thousands and thousands of women like me who can’t have children.” Besides 15-year-old Gaia, Thomspon and her husband also have a son, 28-year-old Tindyebwa Agaba, who they adopted in 2003.
Former “Cheers” star Kristie Alley only had one pregnancy and miscarried when she was 3 months along. In her 2005 book, the actress claimed her miscarriage was the reason behind her weight gain. “When the baby was gone, I just didn’t really get over it. Neither did my body,” she wrote. “I so thoroughly convinced my body that it was still pregnant after nine months that I had milk coming from my breasts. I was still fat, I was still grieving, and I had just been told it was very possible I would never be able to have children. Fat, childless, with little hope for any future children…that’s when I began to get fat.” Alley went on to adopt two kids with ex-husband Parker Stevenson. William is now 22 and Lillie is 20.