For many women, discovering they are pregnant is a cause for celebration. Photos of ultrasounds are sent to family and friends and thoughts turn to baby showers and other celebrations.
Vanisha Vasta had one thought running through her mind in 2012: “How long is this pregnancy going to last?” Vanisha and her husband Alnoor had just lost twins six weeks earlier in her second trimester. Before that, they lost their first baby at 18 weeks, after trying to conceive for seven years.
“Every time I became pregnant, I kept thinking ‘I’m going to lose it again'” says Vanisha. “Every single twinge and you’re sure it’s happening again. I can’t think of any other way to describe the experience of being pregnant after losing a baby as just being super-panicky all the time.”
Vanisha got through her third pregnancy and delivered a healthy baby boy at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto in 2013. Azaan, three years old, runs around giggling, stopping to build some colourful lego, and has just started nursery school. He also loves patting his baby brother, Alyan, on the back when he’s feeding. Alyan was born in April 2016 while Vanisha was a patient with the hospital’s Subsequent Pregnancy Clinic.
The Subsequent Pregnancy Program cares for families pregnant after experiencing a late pregnancy loss (after 15 weeks), or the loss of their baby soon after birth. Megan Fockler is the program’s advanced practice nurse, and says this model of care addresses a gap in the system.
Knowing that women who experience this type of loss experience higher rates of depression, isolation and anxiety, Fockler says the program individualizes care and puts different supports into motion.
“Your mindset after having a pregnancy loss, especially a late-term one, is to prepare yourself for the worst,” says Vanisha. “Having the support of the team at Sunnybrook was invaluable. I didn’t have to repeat my story many times to different people, I saw one or two familiar faces who understood the journey I had been through.”
Vanisha found simple things, like not being in the same waiting room as other expectant mothers, to be helpful. “The small steps and sensitivity meant so much,” explains Vanisha. “Megan and Dr. Jon Barrett didn’t blink if I was having a very emotional day. It is a very different pregnancy when you’ve had a previous loss; you are literally too scared to do anything or think of anything.”
Many pregnant women in the program meet with the same ultrasound technician, which avoids having to repeat their medical histories to many care providers. They can also meet with a breastfeeding consultant in advance.
Fockler says in Canada a family loses a baby late in pregnancy or within the first year of life approximately every two hours. This number doesn’t include early pregnancy loss, which impacts more women.
When asked what advice she can offer to other women who have had a pregnancy loss, Vanisha says, “When you lose a baby it’s like your world has ended. And you’ll never forget that loss, that baby. But things will get better. There is always hope and thankfully there are people to support you.”