Aaron Lazare's daughter Annabelle would have turned one year old this month.

To celebrate the first birthday of his daughter, who was born prematurely and died shortly after, Lazare organized a balloon memorial and asked parents like him to release balloons in their lost babies' name.

"The release was both literal and metaphorical," said Lazare, now a father of a 3-year-old girl.

Lazare will be facilitating a peer support group in Hamilton next month as part of the healing program of Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network, a Canadian charity that supports families that are coping with miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and other types of infant loss.

'You literally can't escape it – royal baby, royal baby' —Aaron Lazare, supports parents coping with infant loss 

The charity launched its first peer support session in Hamilton amid blanket coverage of the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton's first child. The past week has been difficult for bereaved parents, Lazare said.


Tiny footprints of Aaron Lazare's daughter Annabelle, who was born after 22 weeks of gestation and died shortly after. (Aaron Lazare)

"You literally can't escape it – royal baby, royal baby," he said.

But the royal baby frenzy can have more serious consequences for parents, according to Sara Alexander, a board member of PAIL, as it can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Sometimes even just seeing a pregnant woman or a baby can cause a panic attack or physical reactions," she told CBC Hamilton. "If that's all over the media, where do you get away from that?"

Alexander's daughter Hannah was born six years ago without a heartbeat. Her birth announcement in the local paper was starkly juxtaposed with her funeral arrangement.

The blanket coverage has left no room for discussions of infant loss prevention or space for grieve, Alexander said.

"We who have lost babies are sometimes told not to rain on anyone else's parade. But in the parade, realize that there are people mourning," she said.

Healing through social media

Social media also plays a conflicting role during families' healing process.

Pregnancy is becoming a public event thanks to social networks like Facebook. Lazare had to make the announcement of Annabelle's passing even more public so he wouldn't be inundated with questions about the newborn from coworkers and family members.

But for Alexander, who manages PAIL Network's twitter account, she has seen a rise in the hashtag #babyloss, which is used by people all over the world to share their experience. Many parents also start blogging as an emotional outlet and to exchange advice.

Back to Hamilton, Lazare said he is expecting only a handful for the city's first PAIL peer support session. It is not uncommon for parents who have signed up to back out last minute. When he and his wife first joined PAIL's session in Toronto, shortly after losing Annabelle, they sat in the parking lot for 45 minutes before mustering up the courage to go ahead.

"You don't know what to expect. You are about to share your deepest and darkest secret with a group of strangers," he said, adding that members are not obliged to speak during the sessions.

What has helped him coping with the loss so far is thinking about the legacy of his daughter, one of the main reasons he is volunteering with PAIL.

"All of the help and support I give is in my daughter Annabelle's name," he said. "She was born and died in 20 minutes. Although it was such a brief time, the impact of her life continues to be felt by us and by others."

"That is the legacy my daughter leaves behind."