Danyelle Kaluski spent years wading through a fog of insurmountable grief and anger after the loss of her baby in utero.
She called it a state of pain that few could really understand, so she pushed the heaviness of the sorrow, and everything else attached to it, deep down.
“Most people when we talk about infant loss don’t want to acknowledge it past that first year because we are supposed to be better. Well, we are not better and what happens is we start hiding our grief. So for seven years, I hid my grief like a champ to the detriment of my own mental health,” said the Calgary mother.
“The journey of grief starts when you’re told your child does not have a heartbeat and it continues on for the rest of your life,” she said.
Nine years ago her little girl Emelina died in utero at full term. Kaluski still had to go through labour and a delivery, but she left the hospital without her baby in her arms.
“It’s a birth and a death. I can tell you she had the darkest brown hair, but I will never know what colour her eyes are,” she shared.
“All I have is eight photos of my daughter to last me my entire life and maybe 12 hours of holding her to last me my entire life.”
The stigma of infant and pregnancy loss continues to be a barrier for bereaved parents navigating grief. Aditi Loveridge recognized this when she went through her own loss, nearly a decade ago, so she decided to become an advocate for others going through the same difficult journey she did, including those in minority groups.
“There wasn’t a lot of supports that were supporting our marginalized communities, Black, Indigenous people of colour and our LGBTQ+ members so I saw the gap and I wanted to something so they were represented and have support too,” said Loveridge.
It didn’t take long before Kaluski and Loveridge crossed paths. They eventually joined forces and launched the Calgary Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre in 2019. Because everyone deals with grief differently, it is multi-faceted, offering professional counselling, peer support groups, yoga and reiki and a help-line answered by volunteers.
“These are people who have lived through this experience. They can really relate to the journey so if you are feeling really overwhelmed you can connect with them and they will give you tools.”
Since the start of the pandemic, their client list has ballooned 300 per cent. Loveridge said the pivot to online has opened doors to those living in rural areas where there are fewer resources available and to so many now separated from their support networks.
Alberta Health Services also provides resources to help bereaved families. Registered phycologist Nicola Fortin spent over a decade working with clients dealing with perinatal loss, she now sees them in her private practice. Fortin said while she has seen a huge improvement in support to families, some still fall through the cracks and are impacted by the expectations stigma can bring.
“I have had clients who have wanted to have a type of funeral for the loss of their baby and other family members feeling very uncomfortable and not wanting to attend it,” said Fortin, who lives in Canmore.
She said front-line health staff need to ask the right questions, do followups and connect families with professional support if they want it. Fortin also said society can plan a role too.
“Rather than assume it’s a topic that the mother or partner doesn’t want to speak to, maybe ask first and see if they would like to talk about their loss,” said Fortin, adding, “Ask me about my baby’s name — ask me about this child who was apart of me.”
All things Kaluski encourages others to ask her. Both Kaluski and Loveridge said their work at the centre is not only to help others pull through but also a way to honour their babies they didn’t get a chance to see grow.