Nurse providing healthcare to a patient in a hospital bed

What is one of life’s most joyous experiences can take a devastating turn with the unexpected death of a baby. This unfortunate event is referred to as a perinatal loss, and Mount Sinai Hospital has a dedicated team in place to support families while they grieve and during future pregnancies.

This Sunday, October 15, is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day across the globe. It is a day to heighten public awareness of the prevalence of perinatal loss and its associated grief. On October 26, Mount Sinai will hold its annual Perinatal Memorial Service for families who have lost infants, and all families and Women’s and Infants Program staff are encouraged to attend.

Mount Sinai’s Women’s and Infants Program cares for approximately 7,000 women each year, and is home to top clinical leaders in perinatal medicine. Some of the most complicated pregnancies in Canada are cared for at Mount Sinai Hospital. Miscarriage, intrauterine death, pre-term birth, and neonatal death can occur in any pregnancy. When this happens, a team of nurses, physicians, social workers, chaplains supports and comforts the family throughout delivery and the grieving process.

“Following a loss, we meet with the patient to understand what happened and what could have been contributing factors with a goal of empowering her and her family,” says Dr. Wendy Whittle, Head of Labor and Delivery and co- lead of the Prevention of Pre-Term Birth Clinic. “Every pregnancy and person is different so we take tailored approaches and put individualized strategies in place to improve the experience in future pregnancies.”

Patients grieving a baby often need access to more than just medical care so the program also supports families by offering services such as mementos, grief counselling and community resources. Babies are dressed in tiny outfits knitted by thoughtful volunteers and parents and families are encouraged to spend time with their babies, taking photos and creating special memories. Nursing staff assist families to create a ‘memory package’ containing photos, hand and foot prints and other keepsakes to celebrate the baby’s life.

“Pregnancy and infant loss is something that can be painful to talk about but as a social worker,  my goal is to make sure parents know they have emotional support during the healing process, and have access to appropriate bereavement services,” says Marjorie Bothwell, a Social Worker in the Women’s and Infants’ Centre of Excellence. “We also build an ongoing relationship with patients so during future pregnancies the team not only takes care of patients’ medical needs but also their psychosocial well-being.”

In recognition of Perinatal and Infant Loss Awareness Day, everyone around the world is invited to light a candle at 7 p.m. in all time zones on October 15. According to the organizers of this awareness day, “if everyone lights a candle at this time and keeps it lit for one hour, there will be a wave of light across the world.” This Sunday, watch for the CN Tower to turn purple in honour of this event.

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