Danielle Lewis rocks her young son Xavier in the bedroom of their east Toronto home and reads him one of his favourite books.
“I thank God every day that I was able to have both of them,” said Lewis about her two sons, who are 16 months old and five years old.
The journey to motherhood has been a difficult one.
“It was about eight weeks in when we found out the baby had stopped growing,” she recalled.
Six years ago, the graphic designer and her husband, anxious to start a family, became pregnant with help from a fertility doctor. But sadly, she miscarried.
“I remember it being so surreal… It’s forever seared into my brain,” Lewis said.
“I guess there was just part of me that wanted to be hopeful and kept telling myself that it would get better and we would try again and everything would be OK.”
Roughly one in six couples in Canada experiences infertility, or around 16 per cent. That is the very name of a movement growing right now in the Greater Toronto Area.
The founders of “The 16 Percent” are three women who themselves have experienced loss.
“We had no idea that we all belonged to the infertility club until we started talking about it,” explained Ariel Ng Bourbonnais.
“We found there’s a lot of resources, a lot of forums, but not a place to tell a whole story so we wanted to create that space for people going through it.”
Ng Bourbonnais said she lost her first pregnancy at eight weeks.
“I carried a lot of shame for a long time,” she recalled after learning she has a low egg reserve.
“I did fertility treatments, IVF, IUI, I had a surgery to repair my uterus shape.”
She said a year later there was another pregnancy and the same thing happened.
“It was another miscarriage at eight weeks, and it happened when we launched ‘The 16 Percent’ actually.”
Ng Bourbonnais took some comfort knowing she was part of something that would grow and offer comfort to so many others.
“To make people realize that they are not alone, so even though it’s a very isolating, emotionally draining experience they’re truly not alone, even though it seems like it,” she said.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, but the feelings associated with it for women, like Ng Bourbonnais, are all year round.
“I was told everything happens for a reason or you’re still young try again and it’s really hard sometimes to hear unsolicited advice even though people might have the best intentions,” she said.
While her story does not have a happy baby ending, she pointed out that the biographies on the group’s website show that everyone does have a story of their own.
“We want to showcase as many stories as possible because even though the thread of infertility and pregnancy loss is common, each story is unique,” Ng Bourbonnais said.
With her co-founders Caroline Starr and Allison Mcdonald Ace, Ng Bourbonnais is preparing to launch a book, Through, Not around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss. It’s a collection of stories that came out of launching The 16 Percent. The goal is to offer reassurance to individuals and couples in the midst of their own struggles.
Back at the Lewis house, Xavier eats a late morning snack of biscuits and blueberries and leans in for a kiss from his mother. Lewis said she savours her time with her young son.
“For me, seeing them grow, each milestone and each thing in them has been big and I guess I remember the first one through them,” she said.
“I’m so blessed that we were able to have two after that loss.”