Growing your family can be a beautiful and exciting time, but it’s not always an easy road. An average of one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, but this loss is often felt in silence as a couple’s grief goes unspoken. Sometimes, this is because friends and family weren’t aware of the pregnancy and other times, it’s because they aren’t sure how to offer comfort or broach such a sensitive topic.
#UnsilenceTheConversation, an initiative at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, aims to break the stigma around miscarriage and infant loss while helping individuals ask for and access the support they need. To learn about this important new initiative, we spoke with Michelle LaFontaine, Program Manager at the Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network.
ParentsCanada: Tell me about this project. When did the #UnsilenceTheConversation initiative begin, and what inspired the messaging?
Michelle LaFontaine: #UnsilenceTheConversation officially began on June 14, 2021. It came really out of a very generous donation from the ad agency No Fixed Address. They saw an opportunity to partner with us to reduce the isolation and stigma that’s often associated with pregnancy and infant loss. What we often hear from families is that they lack the language [to discuss miscarriage or infant loss], so they end up in silence. It’s not an area where they’re comfortable — many families haven’t even shared that they were pregnant. To share their pregnancy and pregnancy loss in one conversation is very difficult.
PC: How do expectant partners grieve after a miscarriage? How does this differ from the grief experienced by the partner who was pregnant?
ML: That’s an important part of the campaign itself. Often, what happens for partners is their grief is even farther overlooked. The grief needs of the [pregnant person] come first. People ask questions like, How is your wife coping? This must be so hard for her. This doesn’t take into consideration any of the attachment bonds that had already formed for the partner.
The thing we really understand with early miscarriage is that grief isn’t tied to weeks of gestation, it’s tied to attachment. For a partner, this pregnancy could have been much anticipated. [After a loss], they lose the hopes and dreams they had for this baby. People already think about their identity changes, and project themselves into the future to look at milestones. The baby will be here by my birthday. All of this happens for partners the very same way and it’s overlooked. Partners have this expectation to be the strong one, but that misses how partners need to grieve.
PC: Can you explain the baby ad opt-out tool that has been developed?
ML: The purpose of the baby ad opt out is to help families feel like they can continue using their social media after miscarriage or infant loss in a way that’s less triggering. Often when you are expecting a baby, your internet activity reflects that, and you start seeing targeted ads. By downloading the baby ad opt out, it effectively breaks that algorithm and stops those ads from appearing.
Social media can be a really supportive place after the loss of a baby, because it helps people connect with other families [who have suffered a loss]. The baby opt out helps them do that without seeing these ads.
PC: Let’s talk about the Unbirth Announcement video. How did that come to be?
The Unbirth Announcement was really about trying to gather experience from families who have had a miscarriage or infant loss and imagine what they would want to say to people to help them understand their experience and their grief. We wanted it to be a very accessible video so anybody in the relationship could share it with family and friends and invite them to have a conversation about their loss.
PC: As people share the video, what has the feedback been like?
What we see coming back is, “This happened to me, too” or “I wish I’d had this when…”. People are really connecting with this as a useful way to start conversations. We’ve certainly had people disclose that they’ve had a loss and finally feel ready to disclose that. This has been a very useful tool.
PC: What do you want to tell individuals or couples who have experienced pregnancy loss? How can PAIL help?
ML: PAIL Network can offer peer support to families who have experienced pregnancy loss at any gestation age and for any reason, including termination and abortion. Right now, our groups are online and are mixed loss groups that happen weekly. There are also loss-specific groups. When I had my loss, peer support was the biggest thing. It lets you know there are others out there who have had this experience, and you can speak freely in a nonjudgmental space with others who really get it.
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network (PAIL Network) is dedicated to improving bereavement care and providing support to families who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or infant. Their support services have been tailored to meet the specific needs of grieving families, and are available at no cost to all families in Ontario.