Like all situations where people are affected by grief, finding the right kind of support isn’t necessarily easy.
That is especially the case when it comes to the loss of an infant or a pregnancy, but local resources are available to help families navigate that incredibly difficult journey.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in Canada, which offers support to women and families who have lost a baby due to ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth or death in infancy.
On Sunday, Oct. 15, some Salt Spring families who have lost babies, and supportive Salt Spring Hospice members, acknowledged Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day with an event commencing at Bullock Lake Farm. It opened with Barb Slater and Natasha Kong leading the group in singing poignant songs, before event organizer Joselyn Porciuncula — who lost her daughter Robin Aliya as a result of a still birth in April 2020 — shared remarks of support and gave thanks to everyone who contributed in some way.
The group then walked to the site of a memorial bench resulting from Porciuncula’s fundraising efforts with sponsorship by Salt Spring Hospice on the Churchill Trail between Churchill and Long Harbour roads. The bench plaque reads: “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial; Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart – A.A. Milne; donated by Salt Spring Hospice Society.”
Jessica Ells, whose baby Eli died at full term one day before she went into labour, was one of the people at Sunday’s event. Eli would have been three years old in November.
“We were all so looking forward to having him here with us, and the loss was devastating, obviously,” she said.
Ells’ and Liam Johnson’s daughter Emmi was four years old at the time. Seeing how her brother’s death affected Emmi made the family seek out appropriate books for children experiencing the loss of a sibling, but none of them were the right fit, so Ells was inspired to create one. The result is a beautiful book called Some Babies Can’t Stay, which consists of a poem to be read to children and lovely illustrations done by Stefanie St. Denis.
“It’s just a gentle poem, sort of reminding people that they’re going to grieve in different ways, and the family will grieve in different ways. And that the babies are your siblings no matter what, and that you’ll always love them.”
Ells has made the book relevant for families who’ve experienced the death of a young child, stillbirth and miscarriage, and even people struggling with infertility.
Ells will also be sharing the book in the future with their son Riley, who is almost two years old and sees the photo of Eli on the window sill in their home.
“It’s a way to open up the conversation and to show him ‘this is your brother. You never met him but he’s part of our family’ and, you know, just show kids that they’re not alone.”
Some Babies Can’t Stay is available only through online distributors such as Indigo. Partial proceeds will be donated to Baby’s Breath Canada, an organization supporting families that have experienced loss through Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or stillbirth.
Ells’ mother lost a baby to SIDS in the 1980s, at a time when people did not talk about infant loss. But after Eli’s death, Ells spoke openly about her grief, and found support in doing so.
“I really needed to connect with other people who had a similar experience. Because if you haven’t lost a child, I’m happy for you, but you can’t really relate. It’s such a different loss than any other loss.”
Ells has since become a support person for others who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, as has Porciuncula.
“My goal on Salt Spring is to raise awareness, educate and help and gather grieving families, so they don’t have to do it alone,” said Porciuncula.
Porciuncula is one of the resource people included in a document called A Practical Guide for Salt Spring Island Families of Infant Loss. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Laura Moldovan is another mother of perinatal loss available for support at email@example.com, and student counsellor (Rhodes Wellness College) Shauna Rinquist may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.