'Born still, but still born': Family shares story of pregnancy loss during awareness month

·4 min read
Samantha Devillez, her husband, and Oakley in a photo taken on June 15, 2021. (Submitted by Samantha Devillez - image credit)
Samantha Devillez, her husband, and Oakley in a photo taken on June 15, 2021. (Submitted by Samantha Devillez - image credit)

When Oakley Raymond Courtemanche entered the world, it was silent. He wasn't crying.

"Born still, but still born," is how Samantha Devillez describes her son's story.

Since losing Oakley in June, Samantha Devillez has been sharing her experience to support other families who've experienced a similar loss. She wants them to know they're not alone and she understands their pain.

"You hold your baby, you see your baby, you deliver your baby, you have a baby," she said. "Breathing or not, you have a child."

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month; a time for people to honour the babies that have been lost, support their families and raise awareness of the issue so people don't feel isolated in their experience.

WATCH | Samantha Devillez honours Oakley and his story:

About one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage, according to Sharon Szmuilowicz, a physician and psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital, while other babies are stillborn or pass away shortly after birth.

In January, Devillez found out she was pregnant with her second child. She was having a "perfectly healthy and normal pregnancy," and says her wish was coming true: she was going to have two boys close in age.

Twenty-six weeks into her pregnancy, she stopped feeling Oakley move, so she went to the hospital. It was then the obstetrician said something no parent should hear.

'I can't describe that feeling'

"I saw the OB on call, he checked with an ultrasound, and he wasn't able to detect a heartbeat," Devillez said.

"I can't describe that feeling," she explained. "You don't think these things happen to you."

The umbilical cord had a knot, which cut off all life supply. It was something her doctor said had a less than one per cent chance of occurring.

The next day, Devillez was induced and experienced 20 hours of labour. She held Oakley for the first and last time on June 15, 2021.

"You get all of those feelings you get if your baby was alive," Devillez said. "You just fall instantly in love with your child, I couldn't stop holding him, I couldn't stop loving him and kissing him and he just looked so perfect."

Devillez shares Oakley's story to honour him and raise awareness so that other women who experience pregnancy loss know they are not alone.

"The more we normalize it, the more women will feel that they're not alone and they'll feel more empowered to share their versions of their stories," she said. "The grieving process doesn't end, ever."

Jessica Sennett, a prenatal and postpartum fitness instructor who also works with women after pregnancy loss, lost a baby in her first trimester three years ago.

"It really never goes away," she said.

While grieving her loss, Sennett didn't discuss her experience at the beginning, but after hearing stories from other women she became more comfortable to share hers.

"Ultimately, talking about it is actually what helped me heal the most," she said. "It still impacts me to this day."

'People don't get over the loss'

Szmuilowicz, who leads Mount Sinai's Perinatal Mental Health Program, says the best way to support a woman who has lost a baby is to acknowledge the loss.

"Say, 'I'm really sorry for your loss.' You may even say, 'I don't even know what to say.' I think asking the person what they might need [is helpful], people grieve really differently."

She said not only does it leave people to mourn the loss of their baby but also to mourn the loss of a future possibility of what the family may have been like or what the child's life could've been.

"People don't get over the loss."

Future pregnancies can become "fraught with anxiety and worry," she added.

"People need some support around the feelings that come up with grief and just permission to feel what they're feeling," Szmuilowicz said.

"But people don't forget their baby."

Submitted by Samantha Devillez
Submitted by Samantha Devillez

Devillez visits Oakley every week and teaches her son Wyatt to always honour and remember his brother.

"It is important for everyone in my family to acknowledge and understand that we did have a little boy and he is part of our family," she said.

"We're still telling Oakley's story," Devillez said. "We'll continue to tell his story for the rest of our lives."

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