October 15 2017 is the internationally recognized Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Awareness Day. For many women, the excitement over a positive pregnancy test doesn’t lead to that picture perfect moment of mom and baby cuddling and, in fact, an estimated one in five (other estimates say one in four) women will experience miscarriage or pregnancy loss in her lifetime.
Tonight is the International Wave of Light to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. At 7:00 pm in time zones around the world, people will gather to light candles to create a wave of light in honour of the butterfly babies, those who were lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth. We ask the candle be lit for an hour, to make this light burn brightly for a 24-hour period around the globe in memory of all the babies who were lost.
I have experienced loss. My story begins when my husband Rob and I decided to start a family in 2013. We experienced a miscarriage at 10 weeks with our first pregnancy. This loss made me realize that becoming a mother happened the moment I found out I was pregnant. While I was treated for the physical effects of the miscarriage, we were not provided with any support service referrals. Which had a large impact on us at the time, especially since we did not know that programs such as the PAIL Network existed. The PAIL Network is dedicated to improving bereavement care and providing support to families or individuals who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or the death of their baby/babies.
December 2015, a private member’s bill was passed in Ontario proclaiming October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is second year it is commemorated. The bill sought to promise resources and support, as well as better research into perinatal loss and infant death. The Ontario-based Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network has done research on the needs of families experiencing pregnancy and infant loss and has found that although women are treated medically by healthcare professionals, they are not treated for the psycho-emotional aspects.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada estimates that approximately 7/1000 babies in Canada are still born. Yet such experiences are largely misunderstood – they are rarely discussed in public and during prenatal care. A 2015 US study found that the general population believes miscarriage occurs in just 5% of all pregnancies, and that most often the cause is due to choices and actions of the mother. This misunderstanding about the prevalence and causes of pregnancy and infant loss generate and create a strong taboo, leaving families and individuals to experience their grief largely in isolation. In the case of a fatal diagnosis during pregnancy, stillbirth and infant loss, referral by medical practitioners is more common but often in the context of a traumatic and overwhelming time-strained consultation. Parents are not always provided with the time to process their grief.
In 2016, we decided to add again to our family. We passed the 12 week mark and I breathed a sigh of relief. After a routine ultrasound at 19 weeks, we found out that our son Aaron had no kidneys and that there was no chance that he would survive after birth. We were told that termination was the best option and that it must be done quickly. We were devastated, but after hearing his strong heartbeat and seeing his profile that looked so much like Gabriel, our son from our second birth, we decided to continue the pregnancy.
We were only referred to the Perinatal hospice program at Roger Neilson House after making this decision. The Perinatal hospice program at Roger Neilson House is a nurturing and safe place for families and individuals who have received a heartbreaking fatal prenatal diagnosis that will result in the death of their baby prior to, or shortly after birth. These parents have access to specialized care and support at Roger Neilson House. Support includes counselling, and emotional support to help parents make medical decisions about the pregnancy, delivery and the baby’s care, assisting with memory making (such as photographs) and ongoing bereavement care. We spent 100 precious minutes with Aaron after birth in June 2016. It was sad and hard, but it was beautiful. You can read our full story here. Roger Neilson House also offers a Perinatal Loss Bereavement Support Group. This group is available for parents who have lost a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks gestation, or an infant aged up to 28 days.
Many families have found this journey and the support offered through the Perinatal Hospice program to be very meaningful and healing.
Aaron’s Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau was held yesterday in Ottawa to raise awareness for pregnancy and infant loss, and this wasn’t just any old kind of run. Aaron’s Butterfly Run is aiming to provide support and share resources in our community with those who experience pregnancy and infant loss. At Aaron’s Butterfly Run, we are doing everything we can to share our personal experiences and communicate with others about the pregnancy and infant loss resources that already exist in our community.
Through a grant from Just Change Ottawa, we are partnering with Mom Friends to create the Butterfly Box. This box will be a resource that is available at no cost for parents who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss in Ottawa/Gatineau.
If you are grieving because you have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, please know that I am thinking of you tonight as I light a candle in memory of my two butterfly babies. Please join us during the International Wave of Light today at 7:00 pm to light a candle in memory of all the butterfly babies. Leave the candle burning for at least an hour and create a ‘wave’ of light spanning the globe in honour of babies who were lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother of many, actually always wanting at least 7! However when we got babies six and seven together (twins!), my husband and I decided to have one more.
From day one, I knew I wanted to birth them all at home and I knew with out any doubt in my mind I wanted to breastfeed. I was determined growing up, I had many role models – my mom spoke of stories of my great grandmother birthing her babies at home on the reserve and stories about our great great grandmother who was a midwife on the reserve. I belong to the Ojibwe First Nation.1 My mom always answered my questions about breast feeding and spoke of the importance of breastmilk even if it’s in the first few feedings. I remember watching her nurse my youngest brother. My mother’s best friend who is like my Aunt was also a doula while I grew up and taught me so much about birth and breastfeeding before she became a midwife herself as I began my journey as a mother.
I didn’t start my family the typical way, I was young and only 15 when I got pregnant. Although because of the support I had, the traditions I learned growing up, I was already very knowledgeable on birth and breastfeeding. These family stories and these traditions were important. I knew from the moment I saw that positive pregnancy test I would birth my child at home and breastfeed. I am pretty strong-willed and I didn’t care what anyone told me about it.
So finally after 40 long weeks of waiting I got to meet my sweet first boy. I birthed him on my mother’s living room floor in front of the TV (I wasn’t actually watching the tv) after only 3 hours of labour. I was so determined to have him at home that after my ultrasound, I got checked because I thought labour had already started — and it had! I was already 6-7 cm dilated. I was given the option to get a birth room or go home. Stay? Not for me, thanks. I decided to go home and only an hour and a half after getting home I had a beautiful baby screaming and pink on my chest.
Shortly after I got to the bed and attempted his first latch, I was determined and nervous! Even with a full tongue tie he had he latched like a Champ and gained very well! We did have some ups and downs too. Eventually his latch started to affect his feeding at around 7 months, it shallowed and that meant he wasn’t gaining as well as he should. So I made the choice to pump till he was about 14 months old where I got pregnant with my second.
Breastfeeding hasn’t been smooth as every baby I’ve have had has their own quirks. Seven of my eight children have had tongue ties, two of them were bad enough that I felt they needed it to be revised. Even with the tongue ties, all my kids nursed wonderfully and latched like pros!
I was lucky enough to give birth to my twins at home. I had to fight for my right as a mother to birth my babies the way I felt was safest. I was determined to birth them at home regardless of protocol and policies laid by hospitals and insurance companies! Unless it was medically necessary to go to a hospital I was staying home. I did a ton of research and knew the risks in twin pregnancies and births for the type of twins I was having. I searched long and hard for care providers who would support me. I had back up support in case my local midwife wasn’t able to pull a team together. It was only at the last minute, only about a week before I went into labour that I was told I’d have local support a team of at least four midwifes. Though seven midwives actually came to my home.
The twins were born at 37 weeks, after an amazing painless labour, I danced with my husband and and sang through the waves of contractions, and laboured by candle light with soft music playing same as I had birth with most of my little ones. My first water broke and I decided to wait a few more contractions before getting in the pool. I got in and midwife came up check on me things were still so calm , three of the seven midwives were still out at lunch. She went back down and I decided to check my self only seconds later. A strong intuition told me to check and sure enough baby A was right there head down no feeling of pressure or anything. I call down for the midwife and I looked at my husband and told him he had four minutes to empty a bit of water and get in if he wanted to catch our first twin. I start to feel the wave and told him to get in and not even seconds later baby A shot right out with out any pushing into mine and my husband’s hands. We lifted him up and snuggle him and showered him in love. I listened for baby B and and felt his position and had midwife confirm. Soon decided it was time to birth Baby B I handed baby A off to daddy and started to get into position. When baby B’s water broke and almost immediately after he shot out across the pool bottom first. Midwife jumping in quickly to catch him only 19 minutes later. The three midwives who were out at lunch came in about then. I snuggled baby B and loved on him also before realizing I wanted to snuggle both of them on my chest. So I moved to the bed and they latched amazingly.
They gained weight rapidly. This, however was a new experience in itself! Nursing two tiny little babies juggling them seemed so intimidating at first despite having nursed five babies prior and tandem nursed many, having twins was different. However once they started nursing it was like we were in complete sync. I had an abundance of milk and nursed on demand. I’d tandem nurse them while I tandem wore them. It was the way we got through daily.
To me, breastfeeding isn’t a linear journey there are many different paths. It’s been an amazing journey to have been able to nurse all my babies! I nursed eight babies in 11 years, each weaning anywhere from 14 months to four and a half years. I also know how blessed I am to be able to tandem nurse toddlers and the unique blessing of nursing twins. I believe it created a bond and a closeness for all of my children and I and I wouldn’t change a thing. There is something very special about growing a baby withing your body that you created and feeding them with milk for the you’ve created. And to continue to help them grow with this milk. It’s so special.
All pictures supplied by Amy McNally and Blessed Touch Photography.
Amy belongs to the Pic Mobert Band of the Ojibwe Nation. Visit the Pic Mobert website herehere.
A journey to Canadian
Sunmi studied sports medicine in her undergrad, and was already looking to study in the United States, but then she met a Canadian….
… And then she fell in love…
Tell me about your journey.
I was working at the time, for a company that hires English language instructors to send them to Samsung, LG, Humex, Coca Cola, we’re dealing with big companies. I got a job there to learn English before I could come to study in the US. So one of the coworkers that was working there, she was Korean Canadian. She saw me working every weekend because I wanted to make as much money as possible for my studies. Working there was good because I could study at the same time, so she saw me working and she said,
“You are a fine looking women, why are you working every weekend? You have no boyfriend?”
“No, I have no boyfriend.”
“I have a really cute friend. He’s from Toronto, he’s very good looking, he’s very sweet, he’s very cute. But he’s white.”
So I was like, “Uh, no.” So she was very persistent for a few months, telling me and showing me his picture. She organized a gathering in a big izakaya, she invited 15 friends of hers. This would be a good opportunity to practice my English, it wouldn’t be one on one. I met Tom and he said he was going back to Canada in a couple of months, and I said there is no way I am dating this guy. He messaged me, and I messaged him back three days later and I was so not interested. But at the time, I was lonely, and I wanted to practice my English. Also I was telling myself, Sunmi, you don’t have to meet a guy who you can only get married to.You can just meet guys just for fun, even just for the short period of time. Who cares? Who knows about the future? Just let it be, just let yourself go, just go hang out with him.
Yeah, you can just go out for fun. It’s scary though, still.
I started hanging out with him for about two months, then he left to Canada. But he was visiting his family for a month, but the whole month I was waiting for him. I missed him. I was counting the days, counting the time, and then when he came back, I said okay. This is okay, it’s okay to fall in love this way, even if he is going to leave, let it be. The period of time that I am going to meet him, if I feel love, if I make good memories with him, that’s all that matters. I had two boyfriends before when I was in university and it didn’t go well even though I thought I was going to be married to them. I didn’t get married to them. We broke up. Even married couples they divorce.
That’s the thing, you’re right, you cannot predict life.
Exactly. That’s the moment that I said, let go, just don’t get obsessed with it, just enjoy, you love him now, so let’s see where this takes you.
And now you’re Canadian. Look at what happened!
Yes, now I am Canadian living in Ottawa. And then he was very interested in this health field actually, so he brought up this school of naturopathic medicine.
“What is that?” I had no idea about this.
He said, “There’s a clinic there where you can practice after you finish, you know, the school teaches you how to become a doctor without using pharmaceutical medicine.”
“Oh that sounds amazing.”
We applied together, we got accepted together, we came together, but he didn’t start. But I did.
He had an opportunity to start the business, so I said let’s put the eggs in a different basket. The school is not going anywhere, if the business doesn’t go well you can start the school anytime. To do that he moved away to Montreal and I was left in Toronto. I was so lonely, I was crying every day, I was calling him, “I don’t want to do this,” you know because it was so stressful.
We learned everything the medical school students learn on top of that, we learn all the natural remedies, botanical medicine, acupuncture, homeopathic is one of them and a lot of intensive nutritional courses. My English wasn’t 100%. I think I only understood 70% of what everything was said in class.
So you had to try that much harder.
So I recorded every lecture and I subscribed after and I typed the notes again. I had to work twice the amount of time that everyone else. I would miss out so much, I would think, “What did she say?” So I recorded every single lecture. And reading takes way longer time than everyone else, these guys would read 20 to 30 pages in one hour, I would take 5-6 hours. One period of time, I was sleeping with this recording file on so my subconscious brain records what is said.
Somehow, I got through it. It was four years. I don’t know how many times I cried.
And his business it didn’t go well, it didn’t go as he expected so after a couple of years, he came down to Toronto. You start something, it doesn’t work well, there is a cost to it.
You paid because of the distance between the two cities, the effort to stay in contact. The cost of energy to work so much on a small business because you put in more time than at a regular job and then the actual money.
You spend your own money to survive. It costs money to maintain, for my practice, I have to pay for things that come out regularly out of your bank account.
And then he got a job at Costco and that’s why we moved to Ottawa. I finished my school and he was promoted, so he transferred to the headquarters. Timing was good, but we had to move from Toronto to Ottawa
Tom was like, “Um Sunmi, we have to move to a different city, are you okay with it?”
I told him, “I flew half the globe following you. Moving from this dot to this dot doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Even the marriage, a lot of disappointment comes from expectations about your husband or your wife. I formed that expectation in my own head without telling anyone. My husband is not a mind reader, he does not know what kind of expectations I am forming in my own head with my own laws and experiences, he is living in a different world. He is a man, he has different experiences, different expectations, different logic. When you form the story of your life with your own logic, but I expect him to know what I want without telling him “You should know what I want. Why don’t you do this that I really wanted you to do, that I never told you to do, so you should do this.” This is a conflict. I keep telling myself, “explain to him if this is what you want, explain to him. Don’t form unfair expectations in your own head and expect him to know.” Expectations forms a lot of conflicts in different types of relationships that’s why I was telling myself.
What you need to do when you come to a new situation when there is a misunderstanding is just accept that’s who they are.
What was it like to decide to babywear, was it even a question of doing otherwise?
I just feel like he wants to be carried, that’s how he sleeps the best, I feed him to sleep and I try to put him on the bed, time for me. But then he wakes up in ½ an hour, but if I carry him, he sleeps for 2 to 3 hours no problem. There must be a reason he feels more comfortable on me, that’s what I was thinking.
That is a Western thought. That you need to grow up. In order to be strong, you need to impart strength from a very early age.
That is way too early, they just came out of the womb.They trust the world better, it shapes their brain in a different way.
And what about other things, what was hard to get used to in Canada?
Metric system is a real struggle. In medicine, I use EMR an electronic medical recording system. And then would record weight in kilograms and height in inches. Stuff like that. And I don’t have sense in miles and inches and pounds.
And buying. Okay I am a big online shopper. When I was in Korea I was buying the stuff online and there you buy online, it gets to your door the next day. If it takes long, the longest time would be three days. People would get mad because Korea is such a small country. The whole size of Korea is 1/3 of Ontario, like a Giant Toronto. We have 55 million people living in a tiny country, it has good logistic systems like high speed internet because land is so small, population is so concentrated those infrastructures are so easy to layout. Subway system is like a spider web. Here I order something and “WOW it take a two weeks to get here, sometimes a month!”
What things did you find were weird about Canada and Canadians?
Not saying things that you see. I mean things that even you see obviously, like someone walking around with something on their face, you wouldn’t say anything because you were afraid of offending that person. That would be very rare in Korea, someone would definitely come up to you and tell you had something on your face and then they would just walk away. You would say, “Oh thank you!” That would be the end of it. We wouldn’t think twice, if I say this would that person be ashamed.
So the person receiving the comment, they would not get offended about that.
Some people complain about that culture too because we can be very blunt and very frank. First thing, if I gain weight, then you saw me and it’s been awhile, “Oh I see that you gained some weight!” Some people hate that. “What happened to your face, you have some acne going on. What happened.” Here they never say it, even if you have a zit right on your forehead, they don’t say a word. That’s the biggest difference I felt.
I like learning about my country through the eyes of others. Thank you very much for bringing me into your home, Sunmi, and telling me about your journey.
Sunmi and I originally met October 15, 2016, and we spoke for about four hours. This article is a condensed and edited version of our interview. Her story, like many, was so interesting it became a three part series. The first is called Growing up Korean. The second article is called Becoming Canadian, where she shares how she moved to Canada and then stayed.
Sunmi Cha is a full trained and license naturopathic doctor in Ottawa. Visit her website here.
A generation ago, the idea of bringing a baby to a museum would cause even the most daring of parents to break out in a cold sweat. All those priceless artifacts and tight rooms! But the world of curation has come along way and modern museums are now being designed around the needs and interests of young visitors, including tiny ones. And even heritage properties are being refurbished to make challenging spaces more user friendly for all visitors. The shift from “see and don’t speak” to “touch and talk” is perfect for babywearing parents, who can take advantage of their free hands to help children interact with exhibits, confidently explore outdoor exhibits with uneven terrain, and introduce babies to a new world of learning, stimulation, and entertainment.
Here are some of Canada’s most remarkable, child friendly museums – perfect places for celebrating Canada Day or just for passing the time on a quiet afternoon.
Father’s day is a good time for us as Canadians to reflect on a couple of things. Like the importance of men in our children’s lives.
As women have expanded their careers and moved into the workforce, there has been a slow, but constant movement of dads increasing their roles at home. Dads, more than ever before, are involved in raising their kids and helping out around the house.
As Katherine Marshall indicates in a Statistics Canada report from 2011, “As women have increased their hours of paid work, men have steadily increased their share of household work.” Though huge gaps still remain between the amount of time spent on child care and household chores, the truth is that our men have been pitching in.1
Has our culture made space for men in childrearing, do we have policies that really support dads, to let them become nurturers and be involved in raising their children from the very first moment?
Only if you’re in Quebec.
Quebec opted out of the federal program and manages their own. They offer the best deal around when it comes to leave after a child is born. To start, they only require you earn $2,000 before you are eligible for leave. This means that 87.4% of new mothers in Quebec qualified for leave. How does that compare? If you were in the rest of Canada, only 71.9% qualified, leaving a significant gap.2 What else does Quebec do? They pay more overall, reaching 75% as opposed to our 55%. And Quebec has just announced it will be increasing their total amount before you hit the ceiling. Moreover, there are five weeks of paternity leave in Quebec. Yep, five weeks just for men. So what has this done for men? In Quebec, 78% of all men take leave in the first year to year and a half of their children’s lives. As opposed to 27% in the rest of Canada. Parents in Quebec also get to break up their leave as needed, and can opt into two plans: one at 52 weeks, or one at 70. (Taking the longer plan in Quebec means less money per week.) Other things the Quebec system does is accommodate self-employed individuals, and both parents can take leave at the same time.
Deliberate policy changes in Quebec to increase access to parental leave and to provide families with more support has worked.
What do Canadians in the rest of the country currently have?
So what did the federal government do for the rest of Canada?
Be still my beating heart. How does this help families?
It is a known fact that first time parents on the current leave system rely on money in savings or on help from family members to bring them through. And they rely heavily on the income of their spouse during this time. The research is quite clear, you want to support families? Supporting childcare to allow parents to return to work is much more effective.
In an interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, he said:
“My big concern is that from a financial perspective, they’ve done nothing. Stretching it to 18 months with the same amount of benefits because people are losing money in the long-run and it’s a step backwards. This hurts low income marginalized families.”4
According to Jennifer Robson, in her report called Parental Benefits in Canada: Which way forward?, she outlines several important factors, which include:
But when we look at the current government’s proposal, do we see any support for increasing the number of parents who receive leave, to building something to support more families, and providing more income? The answer is clearly no.
And what about dad only leave? What about letting dad’s role in early childhood be recognized as important?
According to Robson, our focus shouldn’t be creating token leave for dads. She believes that dad only leave could exacerbate inequalities, making it harder for single parent families, particularly as most lone parents are still women.
Looking at the last budget though, we had line item after line item of policies structured to support the role and development of women in our country. And let me be clear, women are very much still needing the support as we are still paid less for one hour of work as compared to men. In Canada alone, women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this is when they are working the same jobs. This is extremely problematic and cannot be ignored.6 But how are women supposed to advance if we do not allow men the space to enter in the places where we no longer want to be the only ones in charge? A mirroring has to occur.
Russell hates the word token:
“Token feels like that’s a nice thing to do, it doesn’t have substance. It might be a token thing at the beginning but behind that tokenism is something very real. And sustained by research. When dads spend time with their young kids, those kids do better. And dads do better. And families do better. What may look like tokenism at the beginning, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road it is not a token thing. We’re not even having this discussion, it’s just a part of who we are.”
Russell goes on to say: “We have a cultural hangover that men don’t take that leave. I don’t think we should give dads more than what we give the moms. If we identify something for fathers, that encourages more father to take it. We’re trying to give dads a different opportunity than what they had in the past with their kids.”
Robson herself even states at one point:
“Previous reviews on the behavioural response of both fathers and employers to policy change suggests that, when a new minimum threshold for leave is introduced, individuals and organizations are likely to respond by anchoring their behaviour to the new “normal” threshold (Robson 2010).”6
So why aren’t men talking about it?
Russell’s personal opinion is:
“From the men’s perspective, sometimes we are afraid to speak up because we are going to be seen as patriarchal and controlling. When men begin to ask for attention or to address their needs for relationship and care, the tendency is to think they are asserting their rights in demanding and patronizing ways. Attacking men like this is also very stereotypical. We treat them as emotionally immature, expecting them to “man up”, and therefore they are denied their right to their emotions.”
It could also be that men simply aren’t being asked. Brian Russell agreed to the interview because I was the first person to contact him to talk about these things.
It’s clear that the proposed changes to our parental leave system are simply good optics, nothing more:
These are all things from a gender equity perspective, a lower threshold to qualify, a higher salary replacement rate, more support for low income families would benefit everyone.
But if we’re truly looking to increase father involvement? We need to have a dad only leave. How will we change the culture around childrearing without it?
Why wouldn’t the federal government just take Quebec’s model and adopt in nationally? It’s proven to work better than the current system. I’d like the answer to that one myself.
I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Russell states:
“If it’s anybody’s rights [parental leave], it’s the kids’ rights. Kids have a right to have healthy parents. The kids are the end users in this discussion for me. The dads aren’t. I don’t support father involvement for the good of the men. All this stuff is about what can I do for my child to have the best environment possible. I support father involvement for the good of the men the kids need them to be.”
Brian Russell spoke about Father Involvement at the Second Babywearing in Canada Conference. His session is available here.
1. Katherine Marshall. 2011. “Generational change in paid and unpaid work”. Canadian Social Trendsno. 92. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no.11-008-X. (accessed July 27, 2011) Visit website here. ↩
2. Taken from a Statistics Canada report called Families, living arrangments and unpaid work. ↩
3. Globe and Mail article called Seven things to know about Canada’s new parental leave benefits.↩
4. Interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, April 11, 2017. ↩
5. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017. Report can be accessed here. Things left unsolved by both systems: Uneven access to top-ups, and poor coordination with social services. There are families who earn less than the basic income on your tax statement and once you hit $17,000 annual income you are effectively unable to take any sort of leave.↩
6. Taken from Statistics Canada report called Women and paid work. ↩
7. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017, Parental Benefits in Canada: Which Way Forward?, p 21. Robson continues: In some cases, this could actually lead to a reduction in the frequency or duration of leave relative to what would have happened in the absence of a policy change. I am not able to determine, from the EICS data, trends in leave-taking by fathers outside the EI system or the duration of the leave taken. But to have a large impact, a benefit reserved for fathers would have to be large enough to induce them to increase their rate of leave-taking significantly, relative to what would otherwise have occurred. One of the places we can do this is in our maternity and parental leave provisions. But if you look at the proposed changes by the federal government, not one mention of adding a paternity leave has been included.↩
Pregnancy and Infant Loss – today, tomorrow, forever
As Mother’s Day approaches, it is important to remember the mothers who are not able to hold and care for their children. Although the majority of pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby, it is estimated that one in four pregnancies1 ends in miscarriage (loss up to 20 weeks of pregnancy), and approximately 7 in every 1,000 pregnancies end in stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks of pregnancy).2
With this level of frequency, it is very likely that either you or someone close to you have experienced this traumatic event in their lives. Other families and individuals experience the devastating loss of a newborn. Mothers come in all forms – the ones who are able to hold their children on earth and the ones who can only hold them in their hearts.
My husband Rob and I decided to start a family in 2013. We experienced a miscarriage at 10 weeks with our first pregnancy. This loss made me realize that becoming a mother happened the moment I found out I was pregnant. The plans, dreams and hopes for the future were dashed at our dating ultrasound when we were told that our baby had no heartbeat. We were fortunate to become pregnant again and I gave birth to a healthy, happy son named Gabriel in 2014. In 2016, we decided to add again to our family. We passed the 12 week mark and I breathed a sigh of relief. After a routine ultrasound at 19 weeks, we found out that our son Aaron had no kidneys and that there was no chance that he would survive after birth. We were devastated, but after hearing his strong heartbeat and seeing his profile that looked so much like Gabriel, we decided to continue the pregnancy.
Lorraine Rigby-Larocque spoke at the first Babywearing in Canada conference that took place May 2015. During her session “Losing a child: Coping today, tomorrow and forever,” Lorraine shared her personal experience with loss. Lorraine’s son Kevin was stillborn at 29 weeks gestation over 20 years ago, and she also experienced eight miscarriages and survived cervical cancer. Lorraine experienced contractions early into her pregnancy with Kevin, who was her third child, and was in and out of the hospital. At 29 weeks, Lorraine went to the hospital because she could not feel her baby moving. Sitting in the ultrasound room alone, Lorraine heard the dreaded words, “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” From the session, Lorraine said, “I needed to give this baby the same effort that I gave to my other babies.” So she decided to give birth to Kevin without medication as with her other babies.
Lorraine’s story of loss, though 20 years ago, is achingly familiar to anyone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss. The universality of loss really struck me as I listened to Lorraine’s story of loss from over 20 years ago.
When we decided to continue our pregnancy, we were referred to the Perinatal Hospice at Roger Neilson House.3 Like Lorraine, I wanted to give Aaron a similar experience that Gabriel had while I was pregnant and during his birth. Lorraine’s words in the session are the words of a mother who knows the intertwining joy and sorrow that occurs during the birth and loss of a much-loved child. It’s the loss of dreams for the future, when you find out that your baby has slipped away during pregnancy. It’s a moment of such joy when you meet your baby, but also a moment of such sorrow when you know that the moment is fleeting. It’s meeting your beautiful baby, counting their fingers and toes and trying to memorize every little detail. The moment you meet your child is something that you never forget.
Our son, Aaron Isaiah Robert Peters Samulack was born four weeks early on Father’s Day, June 19th 2016. We spent 100 precious minutes with Aaron. It was sad and it was hard, but it was beautiful. He was a beautiful little boy with strawberry blonde hair and lovely lips. One of the things that Lorraine said in her presentation about after the birth of Kevin that really stuck out to me was “My body felt empty, and my arms felt empty, I just felt empty.” Lorraine arranged a funeral service for Kevin, as we did for Aaron. She described having to go to a music store to pick out just the perfect music for the service only a few days after birth. Her breasts were leaking milk; her body was empty and longing for her baby.
I remember walking around the cemetery with my dad, only two days after I gave birth to Aaron, looking for a plot in the baby section. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the birds were singing in a tree that overlooks Aaron’s final resting place. My breasts were swollen with milk and I still looked very pregnant. On the inside, I felt so empty. I look back at photos from the funeral and internment and I still don’t know how I am making it through the dark days that have followed Aaron’s birth and death.
Lorraine said that one of the things that helped her most after the loss of Kevin were cards and messages from friends that acknowledged the loss of Kevin and her subsequent pregnancy losses. Sending a card on a special date like Mother’s Day to acknowledge that our babies existed is sometimes the best thing that you can do to help heal our hearts. There are no magic words that you can say that will make the pain go away. However, acknowledging our losses is not going to make us sadder. We have not forgotten about our losses and we hope that our friends haven’t either. One of our biggest fears as bereaved mothers is that our babies will be forgotten. Though their voices do not echo in our homes, our babies will live in our hearts forever.
Just like with our family, Lorraine has keepsakes that she treasures to this day: ultrasound photos, a clipping of hair, handprints and footprints tenderly captured by a compassionate nurse. These are the things that transcend time, things that bring us closer to our babies. These items we can hold and cherish remind us over and over again that our babies were here if only for a moment. In the Ottawa/Gatineau area, volunteer photographers from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) do an amazing job of capturing these moments for individuals/families facing the loss of their baby at birth. Veronique Lalonde, the NILMDTS coordinator for Ottawa/Gatineau was contacted by the palliative care team at Roger Neilson House take photos when Aaron was born. She was so kind and compassionate and captured photos that mean the world to me. I look at these photos often and they help me remember what Aaron looked like – his beautiful lips and his tiny feet that danced so often while I was pregnant.
It was important for Rob and to take our experience and use it to raise awareness of pregnancy and infant loss in our community when we learned out about The Butterfly Run. The Butterfly Run’s purpose is to remember our children, and for parents who experienced pregnancy and infant loss. It was created by three bereaved mothers in Quinte, Ontario, in 2016 to raise awareness and help other individuals/families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. The Butterfly Run is growing; it has already taken place in Belleville and Peterborough this year, and will take place in Ottawa in October.
On Saturday, October 14th 2017, we will be walking or running to raise awareness for all types of pregnancy and infant loss at Aaron’s Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau. There will be a 1 mile family walk/run and a 5 km walk/run. All proceeds from Aaron’s Butterfly Run will go to the Perinatal Loss programs at Roger Neilson House through the Ottawa Senators Foundation. This run is for anyone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss and for those who support them. Thank you to the women who have come before me like Lorraine who are bringing awareness to pregnancy and infant loss. Our babies will not be forgotten.
Rachel Samulack, Aaron’s Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau Organizer. All proceeds from Aaron’s Butterfly Run will go to Roger Neilson’s House.
Rachel would like to thank Débora Rodrigues and Babywearing in Canada for her support and her sponsorship of Aaron’s Butterfly Run.
1. Bill-141 was passed in the Ontario legislature to provide $1 million dollars to train health care workers in bereavement loss, and conduct research. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. For more information on Bill 141, read this article. ↩
2. This article by Maclean’s illustrates how important grieving is to the parents as attachment begins in utero. Seven out of 1,000 babies born in Canada are stillborn. Read more here. ↩
3. Roger Neilson House is an eight-bed pediatric residential hospice which offers compassionate care and bereavement services in collaboration with the Children of Eastern Ontario’s (CHEO) palliative care team. This amazing facility is located on the grounds at CHEO and provides a home-like environment to children who have a significant risk of dying before reaching adulthood. Perinatal hospice is also offered to families or individuals whose babies are likely to die before, during, or shortly after birth. Individuals and families who receive the heartbreaking news that their baby may not survive very long after birth may choose to continue their pregnancy and celebrate their baby’s short life. Specialized care and support at Roger Neilson House is offered that includes counselling and emotional support; assistance with making medical decisions about their pregnancy, delivery and their baby’s care; assisting with memory making (such as photographs) and ongoing bereavement care. Roger Neilson House also offers a Perinatal Loss Support group, which is for families and individuals who have lost a pregnancy over 20 weeks or a baby shortly after birth. Visit their website to learn more. ↩
We live in a multicultural country and one of the things that is guaranteed, for as long as there has been Canada Post, there have been relatives sending gifts internationally. Gifts that represent their love and their support for family members that they cannot see often due to the cost and the distance.
I myself was the recipient of these sorts of gifts when I was a kid, sweaters that would get here off season and wouldn’t fit by the time winter came, things you wouldn’t be caught dead in but that you had to put on and have a picture taken as “proof” that you loved it, and that the family appreciated the thought and effort behind it (and thank goodness there was no facebook, and that after that one pic, you could toss it into the donate pile without a second thought!). And later, cheap dollar store crap you could get at the shop down the street from where I lived, but was sent to you with love (and that was usually half-broken by the time it arrived).
That is why it is important to learn about baby carriers that are not sold in North America and to suspend your judgment when helping people out. My most recent introduction to a foreign carrier was when interviewing Sunmi Cha this past fall. Sumni is from Korea and her family had thoughtfully sent her a gift for her to use to show their love and for her to connect with her baby, an Ergo hip seat.
My first few thoughts on seeing it?
And that last one is what stuck with me, because it is exactly what I did.
What’s the first thing you do when you see a carrier like this? Pull from your experience. I’ve been around a long time, so the base was exactly like a Hippychick I still have cached in my basement.1 Then it’s like Ergo put on some romantic music, sent it on a blind date with a Playtex Hip Hammock and these two carriers made a baby! Or maybe they just took a style that was already popular in Asian and spun their own version of it out there (not as much fun, but likely the truth as Lillebaby has one too, Three in One and Pognae for example).2
What if you haven’t been around for as long as babywearing dinosaurs have roamed the earth? Read the label. Yeah, I know, your Korean is likely as good as mine, but thankfully this one was fully bilingual English / Korean. What if the label is unreadable and not in script you can handily copy into your computer browser? Reach out to your international babywearing peeps and start asking questions (I got some good resources with that one – thanks Heather and Theresa!)3
The important thing to focus on here from the label is the BABY FALLING OUT warning: Infants can fall out through a wide opening or out of the hip seat. Essentially, is the baby TOO small for the carrier and the carrier base?
This fall warning is very important, especially since if you know your babywearing history, you’ll know that Baby Bjorn had to issue a recall of their front pack carriers for this exact reason.4 It lead to them making a small, but critical change to their carriers. They added a small loop and button to narrow the leg opening to prevent smaller babies from falling out of them. Yep, some babies will fall out through the leg openings if they are too wide.
Unfortunately, Ergo has not made any changes or adjustments to this carrier to provide a similar feature. And let’s not point fingers exclusively at one company, none of the others seem to have something in place either. So, Ergo, baby – let’s talk!! I’d really like to see all the companies who sell this thing make a modification to prevent what is a known fall hazard, moreover, one that from my perspective is a modification to the design that is relatively easy to do. So uh, hop hop, let’s get moving, am I right?
The other important warning is the SUFFOCATION hazard. If the baby is too low in the carrier and their face is pressed against the parent’s body or clothing, they might die.
The other parts of this warning label are just ridiculous. Essentially, if you follow them to the letter, you are basically asking that only trees, street lamps on poles and other inflexible objects wear the baby. And given they ask all the zippers be closed, essentially they are inadvertently saying that the base never be used separately from the rest of the carrier. It’s all rather incoherent and this is where you need to step in to intepret and explain this to your client. Once again, the important thing is to use your judgment as a babywearing consultant and have the parent put the child in the carrier. Assess:
Is this a carrier I would choose for myself? No, probably not. But that’s not the point of being a babywearing consultant – it’s not about what I would chose. Your first goal should always be about supporting parents to babywear as safely as possible with what they have. The only real dangers are:
After an assessment, if the carrier is truly dangerous – at this point, you need to be compassionate, listen to their story, and tell them the truth.
“It’s really nice to have gotten a great gift from your parents so that you know your baby is cared both by them and by you. But you can’t use this (right now /ever) because your baby is (choose one of the above).”
Débora Rodrigues has been teaching babywearing since August 2008. The Hippychick is part of her rental collection which is available to those living her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario.
Sunmi and I originally met October 15, 2016, and we spoke for about four hours. The first article is called Growing up Korean which was followed by Babywearing Redux. The next article about Sunmi’s journey is called Becoming Canadian, where she shares how she moved to Canada and then stayed.
1. Hippychicks are still available for sale in the U.K. and can be seen on their website. I scored mine at a community garage sale here in town. ↩
2. Here is a Korean blog discussing the major hipseat brands available there. I always find it interesting to see how these things are sold in other countries, using marketing that just wouldn’t work for a Canadian or Western market. If you scroll down, you too can also have a giggle at their claims of how a hard seat with narrow leg openings supports the M-position. The MATH is just wrong people. ↩
3. Check out the KOREAN Lillebaby website, Pognae’s website and the Ergo Baby website. You will need to use a translation tool to understand it.↩
4. Baby Bjorn carriers were recalled in 1999. Recall is archived here on Health Canada’s website.↩
Sunmi Cha is a Canadian originally from Korea. I was privileged enough to be invited into her home and hear her story. She wore her siblings growing up, to read about it click here.
What is it like to start babywearing again?
I was actually surprised that there’s a school of people that invest themselves in all these wraps. I did not know much about it.
I have watched a Korean documentary called Secret of traditional parenting.1 It was talking about how good it is to wear their baby. So the baby can observe the environment, learn social interaction from you, from being on your back all the time and it gives you lots of mobility. And you know babywearing, we all know how many benefits it offers. So it talks all about it. And the documentary was talking about how popular the podaegi is in Europe right now. How a lot of moms are looking into podaegi. After watching the documentary, I thought it is the best carrier in the world that’s why other people are looking into it.
In Korea sometimes there is propaganda happening. They try. By telling you that this part of our culture is the best, we are smart people, what we have is blah-blah-blah.
I think the podaegi is genius. It’s very practical. You took a blanket and put a strap on it. It is practical because it offers torso support instead of relying on the strength of the shoulders.
This comes in different length. There is a shorter one, this is a medium length one. Because every woman is of different height. Because some women are pretty petite.
It’s the height of it, I didn’t know, oh what I am learning!
It hides your figure, mothers feel more comfortable they don’t have to worry about what they are wearing underneath. And traditionally, Asian women they don’t wear revealing clothes, they are very conservative. For that it really helps, you don’t have to worry about what’s showing, about what’s not showing.
So you found it insulated against the hot weather?
Yeah, so he loved it. He was falling asleep in it. I couldn’t use the other, the Boba wrap. It [the podaegi] was so easy, put it on and wrap tight, that’s it.
Now there are many different versions, you can attach the strap on an angle and wrap it around your shoulders.
The thing is that these are really cheap. I paid $35.
That’s really affordable. So you came to Ottawa, set up your practice and started your family. So he’s four months old?
Yes, he’s four and a half, he’s 20 weeks.
When I got pregnant, my sister wanted to give me a gift, what could it be? So I told her to send me a baby carrier. I saw my sister carrying the baby all the time, she used the Ergo hip seat. My sister was using it and she found it very useful for a toddler especially because the hip seat part is so convenient. So I searched Amazon and they didn’t sel lthis specific one here and I read that they only released this in Korea.
I didn’t know Ergo made them, it must be only for Asia. They have products that are not available here.
Only for Korea. I thought, “Is it because it is less safe?” Is this why they don’t release in Canada?2
It’s perception. It’s a different market.
But the podaegi isn’t expensive, so why so few use it?
It’s the fashionable perspective. I was wondering why don’t they use better looking fabric?
When I was looking to buy podaegi. I searched hard to find something neutral, no bears or dots, or super colourful. Like bright blue, or bright pink I didn’t like it. I still couldn’t get rid of the monkey, but this is acceptable. I didn’t like the ones that are made of so infantile looking fabric, I chose this one because of that.
I sometimes write on Korean online community. I asked there why people don’t use podaegi much. People said that it is partly because of the look and some said they found that structured carriers are easier to use. There were lots of new carriers were on the market that I wasn’t aware.
So people use more of their structured carrier. Ergo is very popular.
Ergo is everywhere. What about wraps?
That was another thing versus a wrap. Wraps are so beautiful, they use different colours. A lot of moms collect the wraps because of its beauty.
I got the woven wrap, the purple one. I was surprised at the price! It was over $200 for a long strand of fabric. I sew, so I tried to make it on my own and went to a fabric store. I tried to search for fabric that was similar to what I saw. I read online that I am supposed to look for jacquard woven and diamond woven. I asked the people at the store but they had no idea. Every fabric is woven was what they said!
Every fabric is woven. Except for knit. Exactly.
It wasn’t very helpful, but they had lots of items in the sales stash, rayon, 100% cotton. It was summertime and I had a Boba wrap, it was too hot. I was looking for something that was lighter fabric for the wrap and also that it breathes. I was looking at rayon, though I realized that rayon is synthetic, even though it is made from natural pulp. Okay so no rayon.
I wanted to buy something with a one way stretch like Wrapsody hybrid. So I bought 5 meters of fabric with a one way stretch. I made half of it into a ring sling and then I tried to wrap him with the other half. This fabric was too slippery and wasn’t easy to pull, it was awkward to put it on. It wasn’t as soft as a woven wrap, it was bulky, so I made the rest of the fabric into a pillow cover.
Oh that looks beautiful!
I also got this carrier cover from my sister.
Oh whoa – look at that! It’s got ears on the hood! It’s so cute, I love it. It’s got little pockets for your hands.
This attracts good attention when I put this on him and go out. It’s a whole set with ergo hip seat. I use the cover all the time.
Sunmi and I originally met October 15, 2016, and we spoke for about four hours. This article is a condensed and edited version of our interview. Her story, like many, was so interesting it became a three part series. The first is called Growing up Korean. The next article is called A journey to Canadian, where she shares how she moved to Canada and then stayed.
Sunmi Cha is a full trained and license naturopathic doctor in Ottawa. Visit her website here.
1. The first installment of the documentary of The Secret of Traditional Parenting can be found here. Here is the link to the second and third installment.↩
2. The Ergo hip seat is available for sale on Gmarket in Korea.↩
One of the quirkiest things about being Canadian is that we are very knowledgeable about each of our family stories and our cultural heritage we can usually name ALL of them.
It was one of the things that confused the heck out of me as a child. I am of Portuguese extraction (hence the “s” at the end of my name) and was always 100% of something. Yet, there I was from kindergarten onwards, not even knowing what a fraction was, or even how to calculate it, and whenever the teacher would ask “Where’s your family from?” I would hear some version of the above recipe.
Which I found sooo confusing as a kid!!! Because how on earth do all of those parts fit into one body… and didn’t some of those cultures that you named not even get along? How on earth did they get along well enough to end up making you??
But that is what it is to be a Canadian. In Canada, we have a cultural mosaic. Most of us learn fractions before we are taught them in school simply by learning about our heritage. Some of us can even manage to recite our ancestry down to the most minute percentages (yes, I can do this with my kids down to fractions of 1/16th!!).
It makes us quirky, it makes us understanding, it makes us curious about where people come from and their cultural influences.
And like Mayor Naheed Nenshi said:
“Almost every Canadian has such an origin story and every one is worth telling. And with each telling, we share in the story of who we are.”1
Every time we welcome immigrants to our country, they are integrated with a fair amount of success. In Canada, we value difference, we are accepting of change, we are the community builders whose children may often be a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and 1/2 of the latest import. Just like mine.
And that is why babywearing has been such an amazing gift. To me, it is an extension of everything that it means to be Canadian – I started off with a ring sling, it only went so far. Then I moved to a backpack carrier, which didn’t provide the right support for my body. Then due to the exchange and learning of the babywearing community, I had access to my very first mei tai (an Ellaroo) and I fell in love. My back didn’t hurt! I could carry my baby and not be in pain. It was W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. (And then I fell down the babywearing rabbit hole and have been there happily since.) The experience of being Canadian in this cultural mosaic enabled me to explore and find the solutions to help me take care of my children.
To quote Naheed Nenshi again (because he is that awesome):
“So far, I have only told you origin stories. I have told you two Indian stories, and they show us what we love about Canada and what we hope Canada was and will continue to be. They tell us about when Canada works. And when Canada works, it works better than anywhere. […]
What we know is that we’ve figured out a simple truth—one which evades too many in this broken world. And that simple truth is just this: nous sommes ici ensemble. We’re in this together. Our neighbour’s strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. And, more important, the failure of any one of us is the failure of every one of us.
This means that our success is in that tolerance, that respect for pluralism, that generous sharing of opportunity with everyone, that innate sense that every single one of us, regardless of where we come from, regardless of what we look like, regardless of how we worship, regardless of whom we love, that every single one us deserves the chance right here, right now, to live a great Canadian life.”2
Canadians can be amazing. The culture we choose to keep, the things we choose to teach our children, are priceless, and the things they learn when they are attached to our bodies are fantastic. And when we choose to acknowledge and work towards this, to share, to connect, to learn, to build… it makes us all stronger. When you babywear, you are not just making life easier for yourself, you are bringing your child closer to your own personal family history and traditions by living life in the same space. Which is impossible to do if your child is constantly in a chair, a stroller, a car seat, or in a crib. You are providing a sense of identity to the next generation through the influences that are part of being a multicultural country when you wear your babe. And in Canada, all our traditions have value. They make us the cultural mosaic that we are.
What is your family history and what is your child learning while you wear them?
1. Naheed Nenshi is the Mayor of Calgary, this is from his speech called the Canada we hope for. Published here October 17, 2015. ↩
2. Mayor Nenshi continues: But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, the voices of divisiveness, the voices of small mindedness, and the voices of hatred. It’s the right thing to do. ↩