What should have been the happiest times in her life became one of the most dif-for Heather Peters.
Two decades ago, the Abbotsford mother and teacher miscarried with her first pregnancy at 12 weeks.
And while her husband and friends were sympathetic, she felt emotionally alone.
Well-meaning friends would tell her she could try again. But she mourned the child she had lost, the child she calls Maya.
"Although there was no physical changes - I wasn't showing yet - I still loved that baby," she recalls.
The next pregnancy loss was even more devastating. Peters was 29 weeks pregnant when she realized something was wrong. Tests confirmed her baby had died, and without delay labour was induced for her to deliver her stillborn child.
She and her husband were stunned.
"It was brutal" and emotionally traumatizing, she said, delivering a dead child in the maternity ward full of new life. One of nurses even held her and wept with the couple.
Compared to her miscarriage, the second pregnancy loss was more acknowledged by others, she said.
"It felt more legitimate because more people recognized I was pregnant and I had this loss," she said. Although both were hit hard, the Peters didn't have a formal ser-vice for Joshua, as they called him, something she now regrets.
"I'm sad that we didn't, but I was young. I felt I had let people down, that I couldn't do this thing every other woman could do," she said.
Both young parents were devastated. While people were sympathetic, they often didn't know what to say, or even if they should say anything.
"I just wanted people to say, 'I'm sorry,' and hug me. I was crying anyway, but I didn't want to cry alone," said Peters.
She found solace from a support newsletter, from older women who had lost children themselves, and through counselling.
After she lost her second baby, it was two years before she began to feel "normal" again.
"But it was a new normal. I was not clinically depressed, but so very sad. For at least 10 years, it was in my mind, daily," she said. She even felt guilty laughing.
"Even though laughing felt so good, I had mixed feelings - how could I laugh when this terrible thing had happened?"
The Peters did have more children - the couple has four daughters in their teens - but understandably they had to overcome anxiety with the subsequent pregnancies.
The experiences have marked the Abbotsford teacher.
"It changed who I was, it changed a part of my psyche. There's a sensitivity now I would not have had," she said.
This Thursday, Peters will share her empathy and her experiences at a special service of remembrance hosted by the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
It is open to women and families who have faced a pregnancy loss or neonatal death.
Perinatal death, which refers to a pregnancy loss, stillbirth or death of newborns up to 28 days old, happens surprisingly frequently.
In the past two years, there have been 400 such deaths in Abbotsford and Mission, said Jill Hooiveld, a perinatal social worker at ARH.
"In the first trimester, pregnancy loss is about 30 per cent. It happens to a lot of families," she said.
In her role, Hooiveld provides support and comfort to grieving parents, and refers them to resources in the community, such as therapists or the Abbotsford Hospice Society.
As a member of the hospital's perinatal loss bereavement committee, Hooiveld also strives to raise public awareness of pregnancy loss and neonatal death.
"A lot of times, pregnancy loss is not seen as a significant loss, that [parents] should get over it, because they haven't had a baby or seen the baby smile, but the emotional impacts can last a lifetime," said Hooiveld.
"We want people to know the healthcare system does recognize the impact."
The multi-faith service will feature first nations, Sikh and general spiritual care speakers. It is open to all parents who grieve a peri-natal loss, but they should contact Hooiveld to let her know they are coming. The service is Oct. 18 from 6 - 8 p.m. in the learning centre at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital, 32900 Marshall Rd., Abbotsford.
? Contact Hooiveld by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 604-851-4700, ext. 646283.