New Brunswick

Saint John support group offers a haven for survivors of infant and pregnancy loss

Brandy Williams is creating a new support group for parents who, like her, have struggled with fertility and having a child of their own.

Brandy Williams advocates ‘real conversations’ about infertility and miscarriage in a group launching tonight

Brandy Williams, 37, who has had seven miscarriages, says she decided after the fourth or fifth to start speaking openly about her grief. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Brandy Williams has an Instagram account that's flush with photos of stylish rooms and delicious-looking meals, which is what you might expect from a registered dietitian with a passion for home decor. 

But her 12-year struggle to have a baby is also part of her social media story. 

She has been remarkably candid about having miscarriages and her decision to try in vitro fertilization. 

In November, she posted exuberantly about having an embryo transferred into her uterus. She said she and her husband were so excited, they had recorded a message for their future child. 

Some weeks later, she posted a heartbroken selfie. The embryo did not implant, she explained. "We are gutted," she wrote. 

Bringing people together

Tonight, Williams is taking another step to promote awareness and compassion around infant and pregnancy loss. 

As a volunteer with the registered charity NB COPES, which stands for Connecting Others, Providing Education & Support, she is helping to launch a new support group in Saint John. 

For six consecutive Tuesday evenings, bereaved families and individuals can gather for art therapy workshops at the Creative Connections studio on Prince William Street.

The program has no religious message or affiliation. The idea is simply to bring together people who may feel isolated by a kind of grief that's widely shared but rarely discussed. 

Finding support for pregnancy loss

1 year ago
Duration 3:19
Saint John-area woman Brandy Williams says it's time to be more open about the grief that comes with infertility and miscarriage.

"Pregnancy loss has been really almost like a taboo subject," said Diana Dupont, vice-president of NB COPES and a registered nurse on faculty at the University of New Brunswick. "No one talks about it and yet it's common."

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, nearly 16 per cent of couples have problems with fertility, 15 to 25 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and the fetal mortality rate is 8.1 per 1,000 total births.

Dupont also puts a face on those statistics, having lost a pregnancy in 2015. 

"I was actually 19 weeks and two days along when I lost Nora," she said. 

"I remember this because I often play over in my head that if I had waited five more days to 'deliver' her, she would have been 20 weeks and I would have an official birth certificate."

Dupont said people may not have words for what they're feeling, but they have a lot of emotion and that's where the art comes in.

"These emotions can come out through the art, and if people chose to talk about how they're feeling, that is definitely welcome."

For those who do want to talk, Williams will be there to provide peer support. 

"I think society expects us to go back to normal and just go about our day," said Williams, who struggles with feelings of shame and guilt. 

Williams has been candid about her multiple miscarriages and her decision to try in vitro fertilization. (Brandy Williams/Instagram)

"You're going to work, you're doing what needs to be done, and then you're coming home and you're laying on the couch and you're probably crying," she said. 

"And if you're dealing with recurrent loss, that's compounded. The grief can get heavier."

Williams said women may have feelings of inadequacy, self-blame and a sense that they cannot trust their own bodies. 

She can also attest to the way fertility treatments can contribute to emotional fragility. 

"When you're coming off hormone medications, your mood feels different," said Williams. 

"Hormones can affect anxiety and depression. Then on top of that, it's the grief and your nervous system is a mess.

Williams said people who haven't experienced these kinds of losses often don't know how to react with compassion.

"It's uncomfortable," she said. "We're  just raising a little more awareness that you don't need to say anything. You just need to be there for someone and validate that you know how they're feeling is normal instead of saying, 'Oh well, you can keep trying.' 

"When your grief is at its worst, you don't want to hear those things."