Three times Megan Sheldon expected to leave the hospital with a newborn bundle of joy, and three times that didn’t happen.
Up to 20 per cent of women experience a miscarriage, according to HealthLink BC. And about 3,000 Canadian women experience stillbirth ever year, according to Statistics Canada data.
More than six years ago, when Sheldon and her husband were first trying to have kids, she was unaware how common it was for a woman to experience pregnancy loss at some point.
“I realized later on that lots of people around me had, but it wasn’t talked about,” says Sheldon. “When I went through it, it was very isolating. I told people, but they didn’t know how to reach out or what to say or what to do.”
After experiencing her own recurrent miscarriages, and without knowing how to grieve that type of loss, she set out to connect with others in her community about it.
“I sought out stories from people who had been through it too, asking them what they did – and continue to do – to honour their baby’s memory,” she says. “I got deeper and deeper into the darkness and I think a big part of it was I didn’t know how to grieve – in other words, there was no funeral, there was no process or structure to follow.”
Part of her journey led Sheldon to connect with Sarah Manvell and Felicia Chang.
In 2014, Manvell and her husband learned that their baby was “born sleeping,” a term used to describe stillborn infants. Since then, Manvell had worked with Lions Gate Hospital to ensure parents experiencing pregnancy loss were supported, including by assembling a series of memory boxes for future parents of stillbirths to have which included a number of keepsakes.
Meanwhile, Chang, a professional photographer, has continued to donate her time to photograph families who experience this loss.
With their continued support, Sheldon has carried on the mantle of Manvell and Chang’s initial project. She launched Seeking Ceremony last year to help people re-introduce the concept of ceremony into their lives for events – both joyous or traumatic, happy or sad – that don’t always get the benefit of having a proper ritual.
“Once I started sharing my stories they started sharing theirs. I wanted to document all these stories and also create these little ‘ceremony recipes’ to offer people,” she says.
Last month, more than 40 people – including Sheldon, Manvell, Chang, moms, dads, nurses, midwives and doulas – met at Treehaus Teahaus in North Vancouver to assemble ceremony boxes. The group assembled 20 ceremony boxes for familes that experience stillbirth, and another 100 ceremony bags for families that experience miscarriage.
Building off Manvell’s original initiative, the ceremony boxes, in part funded by Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, will feature everything from memory items, wildflower seeds, a candle for a daily ritual, smooth river stones, and gold and silver pens along with blank pieces of paper, so that families that have experienced pregnancy loss can have a token to help honour and remember their child.
The ceremony boxes have since been donated to Lions Gate Hospital, where staff will be able to deliver the care packages to families that experience stillbirth.
“If they feel that other people have been through this too and it sends a message to them, then hopefully they won’t feel quite so isolated,” says Sheldon.