Friday, October 14, 2011

Cover story!!...

Coping after the loss of a baby
Two Yellowknife women reach out to others who have miscarried

Galit Rodan
Northern News Services
Published Friday, October 14, 2011
Jennifer Young, 34, and Jaime MacKay, 35, were brought together by a mutual friend in early 2010. Both women have suffered a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy and have turned to each other for support and understanding. They are currently in the process of setting up Yellowknife's first support group for mothers who have gone through the same ordeal.
- Galit Rodan/NNSL photo

Claire MacKay was born on Oct. 1, 2009. Ten tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes - her father Andy's toes, the nurse had remarked. Inexplicably, her heart had stopped beating days earlier. She was delivered after just 17 weeks of gestation.

Jaime MacKay cradled her daughter in her arms. All around her, in the obstetrics wing of Stanton Territorial Hospital, excited couples were just getting to know their babies. They would have a lifetime to do so. Jaime and husband Andrew left the hospital empty-handed and devastated.

Jaime needed someone who understood, another mother who had gone through the same ordeal.

Statistics vary but the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health estimates that approximately 25 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Yellowknife obstetrician Dr. Andrew Kotaska said they are "very common." But Jaime knew of no one else she could turn to for support. She tried counselling but didn't feel a connection and did not return after her first visit. She turned to the Internet and soon started her own website.

A little more than a year later, Jennifer Young, just 16 weeks into her second pregnancy, delivered daughter Jade at Stanton. It was Oct. 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

Jennifer and husband Andrew had taken off to their cabin the previous weekend for Thanksgiving. When they arrived home on Monday, they used the Doppler fetal monitor Andrew had rented "to check in on the little babe," said Jennifer, and couldn't find a heartbeat. Had it been the boat ride at the cabin? What had they done wrong? Doctors confirmed the death on Wednesday and Jennifer delivered Jade on Friday. Swathed in a white blanket, all red skin and big lips like her father's, she met her loving parents, though she would never know it. They held her for an hour, the three a picture of frailty.

There was no cushioning the loss but Jennifer, at least, had someone who understood. She had Jaime. "They were supportive at the hospital, for sure," said Jennifer, "but I wouldn't have gotten the level of information from the hospital that I got from Jaime."

Less than 10 months earlier, Jennifer and Jaime were introduced by a mutual friend after Jennifer lost her first baby to an ectopic pregnancy on Jan. 18, 2010. Ectopic pregnancies, in which the pregnancy begins outside the womb, can be life-threatening for the mother and are, with exceedingly rare exceptions, fatal for the baby. Both Jennifer and Jaime's first pregnancies began in their fallopian tubes. Both lost their first babies and both at six weeks of gestation.

Though Jaime and Jennifer have only met in person three times, they sit across from each other in Jennifer's cozy living room and easily share tears and finish each other's sentences.

"You know our losses, both of our losses weren't, to most people, very far along," said Jaime. "But the minute you get pregnant ... Are you going to have a boy or a girl? You start planning, you start picking out names and all of a sudden, devastation. Everything is just ripped away and your future has just been, you know, a big piece of your future has just been..."

"Taken away," they say in unison.

Apart from the grief and guilt, both women felt incredibly lonely after the loss of their babies. "One thing that I find is that the earlier the loss the less people understand. They think, well - it was just a fetus," said Jaime.

Jennifer sometimes wondered whether she was losing her mind. "You really feel like ...Why can't I get over this? Why can't I just move on? Why am I stuck in my grief?" she said.

And though both women have loving and supportive husbands, family and friends, they feel that only other women who have experienced a miscarriage can truly understand the storm of accompanying emotions.

Knowing how much they've depended on each other and on the few other women they've met who have lost a baby has led them to reach out. It is something Jaime has wanted to do for a long time but has only recently, with a push from Jennifer, found the courage to do. There is no existing support group in Yellowknife but Jennifer and Jaime are working on formalizing one of their own.

The two women fret about exposing their losses so publicly but are firm in their desire to break down the wall of silence surrounding miscarriages. "If we can help one person through all of this then it will be totally worthwhile," said Jennifer. And as much as they would like to help others, they recognize that the support will always be mutual. "As great as it is to help somebody ... you still need the support and I don't know if that ever goes away."

Claire may be gone but she is certainly not forgotten. Jaime and her family think of her every time they happen upon the shape of a heart - in a sink full of dish soap bubbles, for example, or a chip out of a goldfish cracker. She calls these randomly occurring hearts 'winks' and thinks of them as signs from her daughter.

Jaime also keeps an online album of photos of Claire's name, written in the sand on an Australian beach at sunset, on a stone by a rushing waterfall, or photoshopped onto a photo of a beautiful lily. "I adore seeing her name written ... a little piece of her lives on," writes Jaime on her website. They are tiny mementos that take on a much larger significance. They are the only photo albums Jaime and Andy will ever have of Claire.

Jennifer and Andrew had Jade cremated. Flipping through a catalogue, the second urn they came across was called 'jade.' It was heartbreakingly perfect. The second urn for their second lost child and Jennifer's second pregnancy. The jade urn sits by their bedside, though they spread some of the ashes over a birch tree they planted at the cabin, the place they think her tiny heart beat for the last time. They like to think of their daughter growing as the tree grows.

"Every single day we live knowing that we've lost children," said Jaime. No doubt millions of women around the world share that sorrow. But Jennifer and Jaime have each other and they have learned to cope. They want to help others do the same. Though they have not yet formalized their support group they encourage anyone out there in need of support to contact them.

October is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month throughout the United States and in some Canadian provinces, with Oct. 15 set aside as a day of remembrance.

The Northwest Territories has not officially recognized the month or day. On Oct. 15, at 7 p.m., people around the world will light a candle and leave it lit for at least one hour in honour of babies and children who are gone, said Jaime. It is called the International Wave of Light celebration and Jennifer and Jaime invite Yellowknifers to participate. Jaime has had friends take photos of their candles burning in Africa, Sri Lanka and Arviat, among other places. She has added them to her photo album.

Jennifer can be reached at Jaime can be reached through her website at

Talking about miscarriages

"I think the biggest thing is acknowledge the loss. And the easiest way to say it is, 'I'm sorry.' Don't avoid."

"Don't tell somebody that they're young and they can try again, because their babies aren't replaceable."

"Don't say, 'It happened for a reason.'"

"If you know the baby has been named, use the baby's name. Ask that person how they are doing and try to remember the dates."

"Know that they might not want to go to baby showers for quite a while and don't take it personally."

"Holidays, especially the first ones, are really, really difficult."

"If somebody starts talking about their baby, give them the time to talk about their baby. Don't try to change the subject because that hurts."

"Don't ask, 'So are you going to try again soon?' I've had a baby since, very fortunately enough, but she doesn't replace Claire. It's hard. I mean it's been two years and some days it feels like yesterday and some days it feels like a million years ago."
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