Estevan woman creates hospital boxes for stillborn babies

An Estevan woman is hoping to raise awareness of infant loss and miscarriage, after losing three pregnancies of her own.

Stephanie Vatamaniuck lost three infants during pregnancy due to a rare genetic condition

After losing three pregnancies, Stephanie Vatamaniuck created two "more respectful" boxes for Royal University Hospital to use when delivering stillborn babies to their families. (Dave Vatamaniuck)

A Saskatchewan woman is turning a personal tragedy into something to help other parents ease the pain of stillbirth.

Stephanie Vatamaniuck and her husband live in Estevan, Sask. Over the past three years, they've lost three infants due to a rare genetic disorder. Their first pregnancy ended early, at 11 weeks gestation. During her second pregnancy, her son Liam, died at 16 weeks gestation.

It just makes my heart happy when it's broken in a lot of pieces from losing my boys.- Stephanie Vatamaniuck

She arrived at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital in February 2015 to deliver her third child, a son named Nate, who was stillborn 22 weeks into her pregnancy.

"We were treated really well," Vatamaniuck said. "The only thing was with Nate's delivery was the box he was brought to us in."

'This is not OK'

She described the box as "just an old kind of paper box that, you know, you buy paper in. It had just ugly writing on it and it really upset me," she said. "I immediately said to my husband when they brought him to us in that box, 'This is not OK.' "

Leanne Smith, director of Maternal Services at the Saskatoon Health Region, said the hospital's normal practice is to give the family experiencing a loss as much time as they want to hold and say goodbye to their baby.

"The baby is given to them wrapped in a blanket," Smith said in a written statement. "In the rare event that a family wants to take their baby home with them in order to make their own arrangements, a family might have been given a cardboard box specifically intended for this use."

Vatamaniuck creates infant boxes of her own

Within a month of Nate's death, Vatamaniuck and her husband bought boxes to decorate. She added pillow stuffing and blue fleece, and used a heat press to add lettering with her two lost sons' names on the top of the box.

On Sunday, she and her husband brought the boxes to staff at Royal University Hospital. 

It was very difficult walking back into that hospital.- Stephanie Vatamaniuck

"It was very difficult walking back into that hospital," she said. "The nurse that we saw was absolutely amazing."

Vatamaniuck told CBC the nurses she met agreed using old boxes was unacceptable, and said they welcomed her donation.

"I wish we could have gotten them there sooner, but we're from Estevan so we don't get to Saskatoon all that often," Vatamaniuck said. She noted the hospital also gives grieving parents "memory boxes" including photos and mementos for a stillborn child as they leave.

She said it's hard to keep walking out of hospitals with a box in her arms, instead of a baby.

Raising awareness about infant loss

Vatamaniuck said she wants other parents to know it's OK to talk about infant loss and miscarriage.

Shortly after she dropped two boxes off at the hospital, she shared her story on Facebook. Since then, it's been shared more than 450 times, garnering over 2,700 reactions on the social media site.

"I was hesitant about even posting it," Vatamaniuck said, adding the comments on her post have been overwhelmingly supportive. "If I can help even one person feel better or share their story, then I'm doing my job.

"It just makes my heart happy when it's broken in a lot of pieces from losing my boys."