Losing a child may be the worst thing a parent can experience, but one mother who has gone through it is hoping to make it easier for others.
Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Charlene Chambers went through the agony of a stillbirth. Her greatest regret is that she didn’t hold her daughter right after the birth.
“It was such a traumatic experience, I just … I couldn’t hold her,” she said.
By the time she was ready, her daughter’s small body had been chilled.
“That’s something that will be a lifelong regret of mine. Because my memory will always be of holding her when she was cold.”
Chambers, who has a healthy two-year-old son named Asher and is pregnant again, is hoping to give other mothers a better opportunity to say goodbye to their babies at their own pace. She is raising funds to buy a “CuddleCot” for Victoria General Hospital, through the pregnancy-loss support group she founded called Empty Arms, Healing Hearts.
A CuddleCot is a cooling unit, with a pad that can be placed in any bassinet, crib or pram. A hose delivers cold water to the pad, keeping it at a constant temperature. It extends the time the baby can remain in the room with the mother, before the baby must be taken away.
“Had there been a CuddleCot in the room, they could have just placed [my daughter] in it and I could have held her when I was prepared.”
Last year, an Edmonton hospital became the first in Canada to offer a CuddleCot, which is made by U.K. company Flexmort and retails for about $3,500.
Linda Lange, who ran the bereavement parent program through the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island before it was cancelled last summer, said spending time with the baby is an important part of the grieving process.
“It’s the only chance [parents] get. It’s not like when your grandma dies and you’ve known her your whole life,” Lange said.
Unlike when one loses a parent or grandparent, which the public is more comfortable dealing with, parents often feel like they need permission to grieve, she said. Spending time with the baby can help that process.
“It’s huge. It makes so much of a difference. Anything you can do to acknowledge that this really happened to us, we did have a baby and the baby died, is important.”
About seven in every 1,000 babies in Canada are stillborn, according to Statistics Canada.
Chambers’s story struck a chord with Langford photographer Mary Jane Howland, who has had two miscarriages.
Howland, who specializes in photographing newborns, offered to raise funds for the unit through children’s photography sessions. She planned to hold 10 sessions at $40 per child (plus $30 per additional child), donating all proceeds. But the response was overwhelming: She received 50 emails, many of which included stories from other mothers with similar experiences.
“The stories I got when I posted this [event] on Facebook … I sat at my computer crying that night,” Howland said.
She has committed to 21 sessions and expects to raise $1,000.
Howland has photographed newborns for about nine years and began trying to become a parent herself several years ago. Two and a half years ago, through in-vitro fertilization, she conceived a daughter, whom she describes as “full of beans” and the absolute light of her life.
But it was still heartbreaking when she had her second miscarriage this fall.
“What made it even harder was the same day, I saw the heartbeat. I saw it flickering on the screen,” she said. “But later that night, our world crumbled. I’m still not fully over what happened.”
When she heard about Chambers’s fundraiser, she immediately wanted to help.
“Pregnancy loss isn’t something anyone should have to go through and yet so many of us do. And sadly, so many of us do it alone, quietly, too ashamed to talk about it because we feel it’s our fault,” Howland said.
But there’s power and comfort in sharing stories, she said.
“As soon as you start talking about it, you don’t feel alone anymore.”