As you may or may not know, I volunteer with an amazing organization here in Saskatoon called Empty Arms. Empty Arms is a nonprofit organization passionate about providing support to individuals and families that experience grief and bereavement due to perinatal loss. I was asked by my friend, and one of the founders of the organization, to volunteer as a photographer for them. I respectfully declined, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t feel like I could physically do it. I get the pleasure of photographing people at their happiest times, not the worst day of their lives, and quite honestly, I was scared. What if I cry? What if I say the wrong thing? So many, what if’s….
Fast forward 6ish months and I got a phone call from a past client of ours, Stacey. Stacey was 7 months pregnant and after a routine ultrasound, they were told the devastating news, there was no heart beat. Her precious baby had passed and she was being induced that evening. She asked if I was available to come to the hospital to photograph their precious baby, once he was born. How could I say no? I got the call saying their baby boy was born and I made my way to the hospital, feeling nervous, but honored to be asked to capture their precious baby boy. When I arrived, all of my fears melted away as I captured all of his tiny features, and the tremendous heartache that was felt in the room. I cried, and quickly realized that is OK to cry with this family who invited me capture such an intimate part of their lives. I’m only human. I left the hospital room, feeling very grateful for my experience and thought how amazing was this gift I was able to give this family. I immediately called Empty Arms and signed up to volunteer as a photographer with them.
I don’t have permission to share any images/stories from Empty Arms, so I reached out to Stacey to see if it was OK if I shared her story. I was delighted she said yes. I know this isn’t an easy thing to do, so thank you, Stacey & Mark, for allowing me to share this tender moment in your families lives.
I think when this happens the biggest thing is people don’t know what to say or do, so I asked Stacey to share her experience, and asked her, is there a right or wrong thing to say? Here is her story:
-Tell us a bit about your pregnancy with Connor (right up until delivery): I am a very organized, and calculated Type A individual so I had started my prenatal vitamins and done prenatal bloodwork months before we planned on trying to get pregnant. One doctor even joked with me about being so eager to do testing prior to even being pregnant. Our pregnancy with Connor was pretty much text book perfect, I had a bit of nausea and sickness int he first trimester, but nothing unbearable. We found out we were pregnant in April and our due date was December 21, 2015, the day before my Husband's 30th birthday. We took our weekly baby bump photos and went to all our check ups and appointments. We had a routine check up on October 26th, I was 33 weeks pregnant, and told Mark not to bother coming with me cause it would just be a quick appointment, but he insisted. In the doctor's office in town, she couldn't find a heart beat. She looked at us, very calmly and said, "I want you to drive straight to RUH, and go right up to Fetal Assessment. I will call ahead and they will be ready and waiting for you. Baby is probably just laying in a funny position but I just want to make sure". Mark and I drove to Saskatoon in mostly silence, with tears in our eyes, assuming the worst but hoping for the best. Unfortunately Fetal Assessment confirmed our worst fear, they couldn't find a heart beat with a doppler and the ultrasound confirmed no heart beat, sitting in that ultrasound room we were told "I'm so sorry, but your baby has passed away".
The rest of the day is kind of a blur, it seemed to take both forever and an instant all at once. We drove the hour home to pack our bags to come back to the hospital to be induced and deliver our baby. On our way home, we called all our immediate family and let them know what was happening. Once getting home, a moment that I will never forget is Mark and I both standing in the nursery, not sure what to do or say or think or pack... we just stood together, mostly in shock, staring at the empty crib and closet of hanging newborn onesies. Eventually, we got ourselves packed up and headed back into the hospital, where we were admitted to the antepartum wing and started the induction process around 10pm. We were moved into a delivery room the next afternoon and our angel, Connor Jeffrey, was born at 5:41pm on October 27th, 2015, at 2lbs 12oz and 15' long.
-Why did you choose to have photos taken of him? I first reached out to Mandy on the evening of the 26th, on our drive back into the city. Again, being the Type A, organized person that I am, I had been googling still births on our drives and taking photos was one of the things recommended to do. I remember saying that I wasn't even sure if we would want to look at the photos right away, but I knew we wanted to get them taken. We also had a few nurses and doctors suggest getting photos taken as well. Looking back, I am so grateful that we decided to get them done. We don't look at them often but I am so thankful we have them, they really are a priceless memory.
-How long ago was that and how are you doing now? It's been 3 years since we lost Connor, and while time definitely helps dull some of the pain, losing a baby is really a loss like no other. We had a happy, healthy baby girl in August 2016 and and recently welcomed our third child in November. So that has really helped distract us and keep us focused on our growing family.
-What advice would you give to others who have gone through something similar? Everyone grieves differently, there is no right or wrong way. There will be good days and bad days and that's ok. Mark and I grieved differently and while at times we may not have understood each other's process, the most important thing was that we were there for each other. It was so helpful to have that person beside you who just understood you, without having to say a word or explain yourself.
Also, we had the most amazing nurses at RUH, they deal with similar situations every day and are so very helpful, so trust them or ask them if you have any questions, they are just the most lovely people. Our doctors were also so very supportive and helpful, we never felt rushed and always felt listened too and understood. We are so lucky to have such amazing healthcare professionals in Saskatoon, they have lots of great recommendations too, so while you may not be ready, take notes or follow up when you are ready to do so, they have seen and helped many other couples through the same situations.
-What advice would you give to others who have loved ones who have gone through something similar? We are blessed to be surrounded by such supportive and loving friends and family. I don't know if there is ever a 'right' thing to do and there certainly isn't a step by step guide but, just letting them know that you are there for them with a simple text or note goes a long way. There are many ways to show that support as well. One of my girlfriends came to our house while we were in the hospital and made sure we came home to a clean house, Mark's brother hauled grain for us that week, so Mark could stay home with me, so many people brought food and freezer meals and sent cards and flowers. We did not expect so many beautiful gestures but everyone was so very appreciated. It gives you a lot of strength to know you have so many people who love and support you.
-I think people are often scared to bring up baby who was lost or aren't sure what to say. What advice would you give to someone who has a friend or family member loose a baby? This is a tough one, I often struggle with this one myself, my best advice is that there sometimes can be a wrong time and place to bring up sensitive subjects and emotions are a funny thing, you never know when they are going to catch someone off guard. Timing can be really important.
-How can a friend or family member help you to remember your child? We have received so many gifts and trinkets. This summer, almost 3 years after his passing. one of our amazing family friends gifted us a beautiful planter with a stone sleeping angel figurine, it was such a heartfelt gift and we were so touched. It is so amazing to see the ways he has touched not only our lives, but the lives of people around us as well. We also have received messages and stories about dreams people have had or angel readings where our baby has come up. All of these messages and gestures are so very special to us.
-Is there a right or wrong thing to say? Again, this depends on the person/couple and your relationship with them. I often found the people's comments hurtful, even when I knew they had good intentions. Sometimes the best this to say is a simple "I'm sorry for your loss".
-Do you prefer to talk about him or keep him to yourself? - I would like to talk about him more but even 3 years later, it is still hard for me to do so. I don't want to make a conversation awkward or sad when we're talking about pregnancy or new babies with another mom. Even though it is sometimes hard, we really do like when others talk about him and share thoughts and memories of him!
If you or someone you know, has experienced baby loss at any gestation, please contact Empty Arms. They have an amazing support staff, as well as private facebook groups to help you connect with others who have gone through something similar. HUGE thank you again to Stacey and Mark for sharing your story. Even if this helps one person reading it will be worth it. XO.