This is the latest article in a Global News investigation into fertility in Canada, and the emotional and financial impact infertility has on Canadians struggling to conceive.
Vanisha Vasta and her husband Alnoor tried to conceive for seven years. By 2008, the couple learned they were finally pregnant. But at 18 weeks, Vasta lost her baby.
The Vastas stayed persistent, though: by 2012, she became pregnant with twins. They were elated but at twenty-one weeks later, her water broke again and she lost her two boys.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant for three months but at three months and one day, I was telling everybody. Everyone knew I was expecting at that point, so then they knew when I lost the babies as well,” she told Global News.
Vasta is now a mom to two sons, Azaan and Alyan, but her journey to motherhood wasn’t easy.
“At the time, you think nothing can be worse. There’s nothing harder than this. It literally feels like your world is ending,” she told Global News.
In her darkest moments, Vasta felt isolated and alone. She leaned on her husband and parents for support.
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Vasta, along with two experts specializing in infertility and miscarriage loss, share their advice on how loved ones – from family, friends and acquaintances – should talk to women grappling with these tragedies.
Here’s what they want Canadians to understand:
There’s still stigma around infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth loss
Canadians made major strides in mental health awareness over the past few years, but fertility issues are still a taboo subject, according to Jan Silverman. She’s a counsellor with 25 years of experience in clinics helping women with reproductive health problems by running support groups.
“It’s 2016 and women are still afraid or feel ashamed to admit they’re dealing with a fertility problem. I still find it shockingly prevalent, they don’t want to tell family or friends,” she told Global News.
“That’s why we wind up so often with people who don’t know how to respond to it. We don’t have practice,” she said.
WATCH: The highs and lows of IVF
It’s an invisible wound
Signs of infertility or pregnancy loss, especially in the early stages, aren’t obvious to the outside world.
“If she wasn’t showing and she hadn’t told anyone, she experiences a loss but it’s really an invisible loss, and that can be tough,” Dr. Simone Vigod, a Women’s College Hospital (WCH) psychiatrist and researcher, told Global News.
She runs the Reproductive Life Stages program out of WCH – it offers women grappling with mental health concerns assistance as they cope with loss or infertility.
“It can be hard for a woman because when it’s happening to you, it’s happening to you 100 per cent. Just because they couldn’t see the pregnancy, they can still experience that as a loss,” she said.
In other cases, women may be presented with an ultrasound, or they clear their first trimester, and breathe a sigh of relief only to miscarry later on.
“There’s a really shocking quality to that. And that becomes even more complicated,” Vigod said.
Women could be dealing with a change in hormones, bleeding and feeling sick while managing their mental health, too.
Reality star Jamie Otis shared a heartbreaking photo of her baby she miscarried. “I realize there is a great stigma associated with sharing photos of your baby who was born too early and has already gone to heaven so I want to say I’m sorry if this offends you,” she wrote.
Emotions include guilt and shame
Vigod said that for some women grappling with infertility or pregnancy loss, their femininity is questioned.
“It’s as if the only function of a woman is to bear children and because they can’t do it, there must be something fundamentally wrong with them. They feel they’re being punished, there’s so much self-blame that occurs,” Vigod said.
At the same time, these women and couples watch their families and friends have babies and grow their families. They wonder what’s wrong with them and how they failed their unborn child.
“People don’t understand how much of our lives are being affected – every aspect of who we are and what we are is challenged with a diagnosis of infertility,” Silverman said.
Some comments hurt
Vasta says the messages received while she was dealing with infertility and when she lost her babies were difficult to deal with.
Sometimes, people would encourage her by telling her she can try again and have another baby.
“It’s the worst thing someone can hear. The one I lost is so easily replaced? That baby is part of you forever, it’s not something you can replace with another one. That was the thing that was least helpful,” she told Global News.
“Everyone is meaning well but you don’t want to hear that in the moment,” she said.
Other comments, like “Don’t worry, it’ll happen,” or “you can always adopt,” weren’t easy to hear either. Silverman has heard women crying because their friends didn’t share news of their pregnancy with them in case it’d upset them.
Some parents told the Vastas, “Trust me, you don’t want to have kids, they’re a headache.”
Vasta, who was trying for years to conceive, found those comments insensitive and out of touch.
But here’s what to say
Talking about the babies she lost was hard in general, Vasta said. She felt some people didn’t want to hear about it too much because “it’s too horrible.”
But when her loved ones and even acquaintances showed genuine curiosity, it went a long way.
They’d ask questions or make comments like:
- How are you feeling?
- What happened? What went wrong?
- This is so terrible, I’m so sorry for your loss.
- What can I do to help? I’m here if you want to talk.
“The best thing I could do was talk about it. I lost the baby, this is what he was like, this is what the experience was like,” Vasta said.
She acknowledges that not all women will want to talk about it, but letting your loved one know that you’re there to talk and sending your condolences are your best bet, she said.
It’s OK to grieve your loss
Vigod encourages women to grieve instead of pushing their feelings aside. It’s OK to mark anniversaries by remembering or giving the child you lost, even in the early stages, a name.
With time, ideally your grief will lessen.
“It’s a process and the time to feeling better isn’t necessarily a straight line. You may have good days, you may have bad days, but it should be progressively better on a whole,” she said.
WATCH: A mother shares her advice to couples who are just about to start fertility treatments.
Vasta held on to ultrasounds and photos of her babies and even has their handprints. She named her twins Ali and Daniel.
She turned to the WCH’s Subsequent Pregnancy Program that helps families coping with a late pregnancy loss, or the loss of their baby soon after birth.
She promises women who are going through what she did that it will get better.
“I was crying every time I would think about it. You get up and carry on with life but it’s not the same,” she said.
“It feels like your life has ended and things can’t get any worse but they will get better … my whole journey has taken over 15 years for two kids. I persevered and thankfully it was worth it,” she told Global News.
Vanisha Vasta’s two sons, Azaan and Alyan Vasta