For REALTOR® Beth Lewis, no one could prepare her for the heartache and tragedy of losing her babies. It’s a unique type of pain and loneliness only felt by those unlucky enough to experience it.
Beth tragically lost her sons Jacob and Nolan at birth.
Following her losses, she experienced significant loneliness where she felt no one could truly relate to her pain. Years after Nolan’s passing, Beth was introduced to the Sunnybrook PAIL Network (Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network) – a support network for those dealing with losses just as Beth had.
Beth became a volunteer with PAIL, using her tragedy to walk with others through their grief. She has now devoted her life to making sure other families have the support they need to begin the healing process.
This is Beth Lewis’ Real Heart story.
A: Following the birth of my first daughter, my son Jacob, at 19 weeks into my pregnancy, was diagnosed with a chromosomal abnormality.
I will never forget the feeling when the doctor told my partner and I that Jacob would most likely not survive birth. We were in complete shock – it felt like my heart had been ripped from me. Shortly after hearing the news, I had to make the toughest decision of my life: prematurely delivering Jacob or leaving him to die in utero. In neither option would he survive, but for me it became a matter of whether he was suffering as his body failed inside me. I didn’t even have a chance to process this news and here I was with my son’s life in my hands.
After all the tests were in, we found out he had a fatal heart defect and he would not survive birth. We made the decision to have a medical termination, and at 23 weeks, Jacob was stillborn. This is an experience I would not wish on anyone. The loneliness and pain I felt was unbearable. In an instant, all our dreams for this child, and our family were gone. I went to therapy and received support through the Toronto Health Network. However, having to be the one to decide when your child will die is not something which many can relate to, and was a decision that I did not share with many people. It was a very lonely and life-altering experience.
After a subsequent miscarriage, my second daughter was born with no complications. It felt like a miracle. Jacob’s passing was an isolated tragedy, a rare 1-in-50,000 chromosomal defect; one we’d never have to deal with again. This sense of comfort was shattered when our fourth child, Nolan, passed away shortly after birth, also at 23 weeks, as a healthy baby – just born too early. This time my baby was healthy, and my body was the one that failed.
The weight of loneliness and grief overcame me as it had with Jacob’s passing. I couldn’t bear to go through the same grief process again. I needed support from others who knew what I was dealing with. I needed a group of people who could relate to my grief and provide me with the help I needed to get over my children’s passing.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I came across PAIL Network. PAIL is a support network under the umbrella of Sunnybrook Health. They offer peer support and other services for bereaved families after an infant or pregnancy related death.
There’s a strong stigma and silence around pregnancy and infant loss. It’s a hard subject to discuss so families often feel alone and with limited support. Traditional grief counselling is effective, but the lack of understanding from others about what truly happens during pregnancy and infant loss is felt.
A: I joined PAIL as a volunteer hoping to give families the support I needed during my losses. I jumped in and offered one-on-one phone support, partnering with a family who experienced similar losses. I also facilitate loss-specific groups for medical terminations, as well as second trimester losses.
I am there to listen – to allow families to grieve and feel less alone in the pain they are dealing with. It has been incredible to feel my support impacting these families. I can relate to their pain – I can feel their anguish as they talk about losing their child. But, more importantly, I bear witness to their healing journey and believe my contribution is providing a positive difference in their lives.
Working with PAIL has its own positive effects for me. I grew up in a family that instilled the values of giving back and supporting those around you. My mother was heavily involved in our community as a REALTOR® and a dedicated Rotarian. She understood the commitment REALTORS® have in a community, whether it’s through volunteering, donations or any other forms of help.
Supporting these families is also a two-way street. The support I offer in helping those dealing with our shared tragedies also allows me to heal.
It’s not always positive. At times, it can feel heavy. It’s not always easy to tell my story and hear stories from families that have just lost their child. Yet, I know how important it is for these families to know there is always someone there to help them and to make sure they get the support they need. The PAIL Network is also amazing at ensuring their volunteers receive support while we provide it to others.
The importance of PAIL goes beyond its peer support resources. They also provide training to health professionals to educate them on how to provide compassionate care to patients going through pregnancy and infant loss. Those of us who’ve been through these losses realize many health professionals haven’t received the training to support somebody who has lost or is going to lose their child.
I feel privileged to work with PAIL and offer my support.
Through my losses and my volunteering with PAIL, I realized supporting those in need is a passion of mine. My life experiences around loss and working with bereaved families has been a big impetus for my going back to school to obtain my Masters in Counselling Psychology.
My long-term goal is to work primarily with families who have lost pregnancies and infants.
Working as REALTORS®, we often act as counsellors for our clients as they go through some of the biggest decisions in their lives. My ability to listen and remain empathetic with our clients has deepened and grown with this work.
My hope is to combine my personal and professional experiences to continue providing support for those who’ve experienced the pain I felt when I lost Jacob and Nolan.
GETTING CONNECTED WITH PAIL
If you’ve experienced or know someone who has experienced infant or pregnancy loss, the PAIL website is a great resource to learn what resources are there for you.
The website offers several booklets and pamphlets, specific to every type of loss, in a variety of languages. It is also where a family can request connection to a support group that is specific to their loss. A medical professional recommendation is not required, as anyone can request support and access information about the PAIL network and all it offers.