When Karen Pickford left the Chilliwack Hospital after her first pregnancy almost 10 years ago, she walked out empty-handed.
A couple days earlier, she had delivered twin baby boys just one week short of what doctors call 24-week viability.
"My babies were born alive," she said, "but they were too little to cry. They were too little to breathe."
She and her husband briefly held the tiny infants-one just over one pound and the other just under-before facing a myriad of unthinkable questions, like whether to name them and what to do with their little bodies.
Pickford left the hospital a few days later still in shock.
"I refused to go out in a wheelchair because I thought, 'That's for moms carrying babies, not for empty-handed moms.'"
She had been handed a black-and-white pamphlet about a support group out in New Westminster during her stay, but Pickford had never felt more totally alone.
Today, 10 years later, she wants to stop that from happening to other women, so she and Chilliwack Hospice program director Lucy Fraser have developed a new Pregnancy and Infant Loss Group they plan to launch this month.
Modelled after a similar program at the Abbotsford Hospice, the group will meet once a month, starting in January.
"People can talk about their story," said Pickford, who now has two daughters, aged five and seven years old. "We hope to have guest speakers. We hope to have resources there, like books people can take out."
She said the anguish that accompanies losing a baby the way she did comes with unique challenges that tend to isolate women.
"It's a very personal journey. Nobody knew your baby. You felt them and then you lost them. They weren't anything, really, to anybody else except for you. Nobody else held them or cuddled them."
While people around them may move on more quickly, moms who lose a very young or unborn infant often still report feeling pain and sadness years later-like Pickford, who tears up when she talks about the guilt she feels about not having held her twins longer 10 years ago.
But people who haven't experienced that kind of loss aren't keen to talk about it, said Fraser. And those who do talk about it sometimes do more harm that good, offering up comments like "It's probably for the best, better to lose the baby now than have to live with problems later." or "You're young; you can have another."
When Pickford, who is now a practical nurse, lost her twins, she wanted to talk to somebody who understood what her loss had been like, somebody who had gone through it and "made it."
"What I wanted to talk about was that there would be happiness again in my life," she said.
For women grieving the loss of a young of unborn child, that's just the kind of talk Pickford and Fraser intend to provide at the Hospice's new grief group.
? For more information about times, dates and locations for meetings, contact Fraser by phone at 604-795-4660 or via email at email@example.com.