Chances are you know at least one person who is navigating the tumultuous emotional landscape of infertility or pregnancy loss.
Challenges with conception, miscarriages, stillbirths, and other kinds of pregnancy losses happen perhaps more often than most people may realize; in 2017 in B.C. there were 524 stillbirths alone, according to Statistics Canada, and about one out of six women who know they are pregnant miscarry, while others will miscarry without even knowing they were pregnant.
But what is far less common are open conversations about these losses. A new event taking place October 5, 2019, called the Butterfly Run Vancouver, aims to break that silence, while honouring those who have faced and are facing the heartbreak of loss.
"The loss community is so much bigger than we realize, I think most people don’t know how common infertility, pregnancy loss, and infant loss are. And I think the majority of people struggle with how to act, talk, and support loved ones through these issues," says Butterfly Run organizer and Chair Kimberly Lockhart.
Lockhart's son Wilder was stillborn at full term in 2017. The mother of five wanted to do something to not only honour Wilder's memory, but also create a space for a dialogue about perinatal loss, so Lockhart joined up with other parents who had also experienced pregnancy or infant loss to launch the Butterfly Run event.
The Butterfly Run is the first charity event of its kind in the Vancouver area. Lockhart tells Vancouver is Awesome that the initial plan was to have the 5km/2km run/walk open to 250, but organizers were overwhelmed by the response and wound up doubling the capacity to 500 attending and 55 volunteers.
The participants, volunteers, and supporters will gather in Olympic Village, with the run/walk course being the SeaWall, with 5- and 2-km turn-around points. Proceeds from the run are being donated to BC Women’s Hospital.
Of course, the Butterfly Run has profound additional purposes.
"This run is very personal to all the members of our committee and to everyone attending. Everyone has their own unique story to tell, and our event is a place that honours each of these stories," explains Lockhart. "We hope that the Butterfly Run helps to reduce stigma surrounding these hard topics, and brings support and comfort to those facing infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and perinatal loss."
The stigma is so often what keeps women who suffer losses to speak up about their experiences, which can cause friction in relationships and leave a grieving mother feeling isolated and unsupported.
While we are fortunate in Vancouver to have programs and resources in place - like the early pregnancy assessment clinic, reproductive mental health program, recurrent loss clinic and more at BC Women's Hospital - to help families enduring infertility and loss, not everywhere in B.C. is so well-equipped.
However, programs and clinics are not enough, says Lockhart. It comes down to the personal level.
"As individuals, we could all benefit from learning more compassion and empathy as well as finding ways to support our friends and families with grief. Death and loss is complex, and we often shy away from talking about it. We need to talk about it, and we need to keep talking about it," says Lockhart.
Dialogue is key to ending the isolation: "For someone newly facing infertility, pregnancy loss, or infant loss we hope you know you are not alone," offers Lockhart. "There is a community of people just like you, who understand this journey you are on, who want to support you and to help to carry you and this heavy weight you are carrying."
For those on the other side, knowing how to best help a friend, colleague, or loved one, helping someone cope with infertility or pregnancy or infancy loss can begin with something as small as reaching out.
"Please keep checking in," advises Lockhart. "Acknowledge the loss, their grief and be supportive of the fact that it never really goes away. Set reminders for yourself to check in, even if just to say to your loved ones 'I know today is hard and I recognize your pain, and it’s okay to not be okay.'"
More information about the inaugural Butterfly Run, its organizers, the programs it supports, and how you can help can be found online here.