Windsor couple grieving stillbirth regret not having more time
'What really needs to happen is a shift in our culture, in our society,' says advocate
Caitlin Collins David had no indication her baby wasn't thriving. At her 20-week ultrasound, her daughter was measuring perfectly.
"Everything was going really well with my pregnancy," she said. "I didn't have the stereotypical sickness or anything like that. So it's pretty textbook I'd say. We heard a nice, strong heartbeat as well."
Then at 23 weeks and four days, her pregnancy took a turn.
"I had woken up in the morning and I was concerned that I hadn't felt her like I normally did the night before. And then I couldn't get [the baby] to move in the morning."
David went to hospital to try and ease her mind. Instead, doctors confirmed her biggest fear.
"They were struggling to find a heartbeat," David said. "Then the doctor came in and did an ultrasound and found that she was already gone."
David was scheduled for an induction the next morning, but had no idea she would be in labour for 17 hours.
"After delivery, it's very tough to gain that strength to realize those are the last hours you're ever going to have with [your child]," said Adam David, Caitlin's husband. "Those are your goodbyes."
At 3:30 a.m on May 1, Grace August David's was stillborn, weighing just a little more than a pound.
"[Windsor Regional Hospital] was great. They allow as much time as the family needs to grieve," said David.
But what the hospital couldn't help with, she said, was preserving Grace's quickly deteriorating body.
A medical device called the CuddleCot would have allowed David to spend hours and even days with her daughter, but there aren't any available at Windsor Regional Hospital.
The CuddleCot is a cooling pad intended to be placed in a basket in order to preserve a stillborn child's body. This allows the family to stay with their child before the body is moved to a morgue or funeral home.
"It can be used for babies who are born stillborn, late miscarriage, perinatal deaths, and even SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome], just so parents can make all necessary arrangements to have family come and say goodbye to their baby," said David.
David recently started a fundraising campaign called 'Grace's Footprints' to raise enough money for a CuddleCot to be made available to parents at Windsor Regional Hospital.
"I felt that we didn't get as much time as we wished with her because we were almost racing against the clock," she said.
In the seven hours David had with her daughter, she took footprints, photos, held a baptism and arranged a funeral. What she wanted was to spend more time with her daughter and for family members to meet Grace before they had to let her go.
"You don't realize the importance of time until you are in the moment and time is ticking," said David. "My dad was out of town and didn't get to meet her. Same with my brother. So it was hard, because those are things that you end up regretting after, because you know that little baby was a member of your family."
'Nothing was really available to us'
In the days that followed Grace's delivery, David struggled to find proper support in Windsor.
"There was nothing really available to us," she said. We got put on wait list after wait list for even just counselling services."
And according to some advocates, Windsor isn't alone when it comes to a lack of local supports for families grieving the loss of a pregnancy or infant.
In 2015, the Ontario government passed Bill 141, which mandated support for residents who have experienced pregnancy loss or infant death.
Unfortunately, there are gaps everywhere, but particularly in southwestern Ontario.- Amy Muhr, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network
That's when the Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network, which was already in operation as a non-profit in Whitby, Ont., changed into a government-funded agency.
But it took until September 2019 for the organization to start a program in Windsor.
"When we look at the mandate that we have as an organization to meet the needs of families across the whole province, it was an opportunity for us to look at the geography of Ontario to see where there were gaps," said Amy Muhr, the volunteer resource and support coordinator with PAIL. "Unfortunately there are gaps everywhere, but particularly in southwestern Ontario. There is not a group west of London."
PAIL now runs a peer-led support group every third Thursday of the month, specifically for families who experience pregnancy loss or infant death.
Muhr said more supports need to be made available to families.
"What really needs to happen is a shift in our culture, in our society, to start talking ... recognise early loss and miscarriage as a loss."