Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. And for many who experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss shortly after birth, moving on amidst the grief can feel next to impossible. Hannah Kirk-Aubut and Scott Aubut’s baby Senna died suddenly in utero at full term, and the shock and devastation they felt was not lessened when Hannah gave birth to a healthy baby less than a year later.

“No one wants to talk about dead babies but what parents who have lost children talk about even less is a subsequent pregnancy,” says Hannah. “You don’t want to go back. You have this life juxtaposed by what you don’t have and the idea that you wouldn’t have this life if your baby was fine.”

After arriving at the Jewish General Hospital in labour with Senna, Hannah and her husband were told that the birthing team could not detect a heartbeat.

“I don’t know…I died…I screamed,” she says. “When I went into the triage room, there were so many people outside of the curtain. When we came out after, there was no one. The room had cleared out from my screaming. I opened my eyes and knew I still had to give birth. I gave birth to Senna. She was warm and perfect.”

Hannah and Scott took turns holding their lifeless baby. But, those first – and final – moments with Senna were rushed. Families often have limited time to spend with their deceased baby, because of the natural decomposition process. Through the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation’s recent Cradles for Cuddles fundraising initiative, the MUHC’s birthing centre is now equipped with a special, refrigerated cradle that keeps a baby’s body cool, allowing families more time.

“My child was decaying; her body was changing really fast. I wish I had had access to a cuddle cot during those hours after her birth,” says Hannah. “There were so many things that I wish I could have done like bathe her or change her.”

The traumatic loss and subsequent birth of a baby less than a year later sent Hannah into a spiral of depression and suicidal thoughts. She was barely able to function, and her husband took a leave of absence from work to care for their infant child. Two months after Cyan’s birth, Hannah was diagnosed with postpartum depression by her family doctor. She was prescribed anti-depressants, and eventually found a support group specifically for parents who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. Funded by the MUHC Foundation’s Cradles for Cuddles program, the group is run by Montreal Psychotherapist Rosa Caporicci.

“I ran to my computer and entered Rosa’s name. I called her just in time to get into the second session,” Hannah explains. “Each meeting has a topic.  There were four other couples and three other women who came on their own. There were also a range of losses as well. At the support group, we told our story and Rosa encouraged us to include Cyan’s birth as a part of that story.”

Hannah credits the support group sessions with helping her enjoy being a mother to Cyan, and for strengthening her marriage during such a painful period.

“One of the reasons I seem so OK is because I found that group and I found Rosa,” she admits. “When you have one family in society that was as broken as we were had we not found the resources, that’s one family too many. It’s not just about my little family unit. Scott works. He’s in contact with other people. If he’s all pent up and angry and takes it out on his coworkers, that’s a cycle of problems. Rosa is a one woman show right now. The need is so huge.”

Rosa knows all too well how big the demand and how limited the resources, particularly for Quebec’s English speaking community. She lost a child herself 18 years ago. The pregnancy ended in a medical termination at 18 weeks, and she had to deliver her stillborn baby boy on the same wing of a Montreal birthing ward where mothers were joyously welcoming their healthy, living babies. That experience and the subsequent grief Rosa endured alone is driving her commitment to providing empathy, support and counsel to women and their families in their mother tongue. Today, her practice focuses exclusively on reproductive mental health.

“There are other offerings outside the MUHC in French. For me, it is vitally important that the service be offered in English, that’s where the gap is,” notes Rosa.

“I experienced firsthand the dearth of services available following the loss. I consulted a bereavement counselor but she had no expertise in perinatal loss. I’m not saying it’s worse, or easier or harder, but it’s different. So having that resource is important. Grief deserves attention.”

The Cradles for Cuddles fundraising campaign is two thirds of the way to its $30,000 goal. The program has successfully purchased a Cuddle Cot for the MUHC, and the remaining money will go towards funding support groups in both English and French for grieving parents. To help parents cope with the loss of a child in pregnancy or shortly after birth, support Cradles for Cuddles here.

Hannah’s story has been featured in the Gazette. Read it here.