They’re the four hardest words an expectant parent can hear: “There is no heartbeat.”
Melanie Neale, whose first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, recalls clearly the pain and confusion she suffered during a routine ultrasound, when technicians and a radiologist discovered that her baby had died. She remembers the radiologist making a pronouncement and then simply leaving the room. The staff were in a hurry to get her out of the room so they could look after their next patient.
Her new baby Zachary, wears a big grin and chortles constantly, sitting in his grandmother Annette Glazer’s lap on Saturday as Neale talks about those four words.
“It sucked. It sucked. can think of a lot of bad things in life, but very few things tear your heart out more than those four words,” she said.
“When you find out you’re pregnant, you start having these dreams about what are they going to be, what are they going to be like, are they going to look like me? Everything is just shattered. Every hope you have for your child is gone. I will never know if they had a laugh like mine or a sense of humour like their dad.”
Neale said she felt a mix of elation and terror when she found out she and her husband, Adam were expecting a new baby.
“You still have to wait that 10 weeks before you go for your first ultrasound. So, every moment, like, is everything OK? We went to a place in Olds (for the ultrasound). I still can’t go back to Red Deer,” she said.
Born in April, Zachary is Melanie and Adam’s rainbow baby — the new child who comes along after the one that is lost.
The whole family got together on Saturday afternoon to help with Bowden’s second-annual Walk With Angels event, held by the Bowden Lions Club at the Bowden Sun Maze in support of HEARTS (Helping Empty Arms Recover Through Sharing).
“We’re hoping to raise awareness about how prevalent miscarriage and infant loss is. One in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage,” said Glazer.
Various information and activity centres were set up at the site, including a table with a potted mountain ash tree to be planted later at the Bowden cemetery. People attending the event were invited to write the name of a baby who had died on a piece of rice paper, and then hang it on the tree. The papers will be buried under the tree when it is planted to help fertilize it as it grows.
Another table offered materials to write stories and make memorial bracelets. Still another listed the phrases parents don’t want to hear, such as “It’s for the best,” or “You can have another baby.”
It’s so important that people allow grieving parents and grandparents to talk about the baby they lost, said Glazer. The grief is no less for them than if that baby had died later in life, she said.
Shortly before she became pregnant with Sky, Neale had been a member of the area’s volunteer fire brigade and had been called to the home of a family friend, where a baby boy had died suddenly at the age of two and a half months.
Neale said it may have been unprofessional, but the first thing she did was call her own mother to come and help out.
Glazer had been friends for years with Janice Brittain, whose daughter, Samantha, had been raising her new son without support from his father.
Samantha had put her baby, Colter, to bed and was alerted later by a monitor that he had stopped breathing. She was able to revive him and rushed him to the hospital. Doctors found nothing wrong and sent him home after a round of tests. Two nights later, he stopped breathing again and could not be revived.
Brittain said she attended Walk With Angels to talk with other parents and grandparents about the experience.
One of the most important messages the event brings forward is the importance of allowing parents to talk about the baby they have lost.
“(Samantha) now has another boy. (Griffin) is three years old, and he talks about his big brother all the time. There are pictures of him everywhere and his urn is there. He knows who Colter was. He’ll look at (Colter’s urn) and say, ‘I wish he could come and live with us.’”
More information about pregnancy and infant loss is available from the Red Deer Chapter of a the HEARTS support program. Please visit heartsbabyloss.ca to learn more.