Saskatchewan

Sask. woman turns loss into weighted teddy bears for other parents

Kathy Simard lost her daughter Izzy at 31 weeks. Now, she runs the Izzy Bear Project, which provides grieving parents with weighted teddy bears.

Kathy Simard lost her daughter Izzy at 31 weeks, now she runs the Izzy Bear Project

The bears are the beginning of the conversation, Simard said. Twenty or 30 years ago, women didn’t talk about losing a child. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

One year ago, Kathy Simard and her husband were grieving after losing their baby girl Izzy on August 4, 2018. 

It's been a battle of 12 months. Now, Simard has launched the Izzy Bear Project to remember and honour her daughter while providing weighted bears to other parents who have lost a child.

The original bear was a different brand of teddy bear and it too had it's heart broken and stitched up to match Kathy Simard's, she said. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Simard and her husband first heard something may be wrong at Izzy's six-week ultrasound. Their daughter's heart rate was at about 60 beats per minute when it should have been around 160.

"All along we were having hope that there was something that could be done," she said. "We thought, 'Things will turn around, it'll get better,' and it never did."

At 30 weeks, they knew their daughter wouldn't make it. Izzy was born at 31 weeks and six days at the Regina General Hospital. She was their first child. 

The grief was isolating, Simard said, but her family was supportive and so was a support group in Regina.

"Last year, at this time, we were grieving and off work and I wasn't even able to function," Simard said. "Brushing my hair, brushing my teeth, was too much."

The Izzy Bear Project started with one bear made in remembrance of Simard's daughter. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"Those women helped me pull out of my grief," Simard said. "Seeing how far along they were in their grief made me realize that I could work through it."

While working through the pain, Simard had the idea for the Izzy Bear Project. 

"Within the first month I was walking around the house picking up things going, 'Is this what she weighed? Is this what she weighed?' And finally I was like, 'You know what? I'm just gonna make this bear.'"

Simard used a scale to measure Izzy's weight in sand and put the bag of sand into a teddy bear. 

Kathy Simard has bears in several sizes for each parent's need. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"I had a little bit of PTSD where every time I closed my eyes I would relive the four days leading up to her birth," Simard said. "That first night I lay down with my bear, put it on my chest, and I passed out."

It was the first full night's sleep Simard had in months. It's calming, comforting and more than just a weight, she said. 

"Knowing a little bit of her is with it, I can't explain it," she said. "It just was magical."

The Izzy Bear Project was officially launched on August 4, 2019. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Simard has slept with her bear every night since. After making her own, Simard told the women at the support group about it. The reaction was amazing, she said. And many women wanted one of their own.

So Simard got to work. She has made about 10 bears so far.

Each bear takes about an hour to make and parents are charged for the cost of the bear. For parents who cannot afford to cover the base costs, Simard has a donation system set up where the bear could be covered by others. The weighted inserts are also sewn by volunteers, including Simard's mother. 

"It's so cathartic," she said. "Every time I finish a bear, it's like the weirdest thing, I have to take it and I have to hold it. And I'm like, 'Is this comforting?' And then I have a hard time giving the bears away."

The bears are weighed with sand inserts on a scale so each one is precise. (Heidi Atter/CBC)
 

Currently, only parents can apply for a bear because she wants to make sure that only people who want one get one, as everyone grieves differently. 

"Receiving a bear can be really traumatizing for some moms," Simard said. "It's almost like they're reliving their loss so we don't want those bears going to people that are gonna be traumatized by it."

"I breathed a sigh of relief, like it was so magical."​​​​​- Kathy Simard

The bears are currently limited to people in Regina, but that will change soon, Simard said. In the future, Simard would like to expand to all the prairie provinces, and potentially across Canada once she has shipping sorted out. 

The sand bag inserts for the bears are sewn by volunteers, including Kathy Simard's mother. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The online response has been overwhelmingly positive, she said. Helping others helps with her own healing, she added.

Looking back 12 months, Simard couldn't have imagined starting this project and doing something so large. 

"I wouldn't have been able to talk about it. I wouldn't have been able to see past my own nose at that point. So I've come a long way in a year and I can see that," she said. 

For other parents who are grieving, Simard said it's important to reach out. 

"Surround yourself with people who can help you and support you," she said. "Your grief never goes away but it gets easier."

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