February 9, 2021

Supporting families through the unimaginable

This story involves perinatal loss and the content may be sensitive to some.

It was the perfect day for Jenna Carlton and her husband — just as they were celebrating their wedding anniversary, they were ecstatic to find out they were expecting their third child.

Their two daughters were beyond excited to be big sisters in October. The excitement of the future, along with hopes and dreams of becoming a family of five fluttered through Jenna’s thoughts.

Sadly, it all came to a halt when things didn’t go as expected during the 20-week ultrasound. Jenna’s heart sank when the scan took longer than it did with her previous two pregnancies.

A few days later, the family from Unity, Sask., got the news. They were expecting a sweet little boy, but unfortunately, heartbreak soon followed.

Photo credit: Memories by Mandy

“Our doctor called to inform us that our baby had many health concerns and further tests would be done,” Jenna explained.

“From that point on everything seems like a blur. Shortly after our days were filled with doctors’ appointments, specialized tests and options put on and off the table. It felt like a nightmare that we couldn’t wake up from, as things changed more quickly than we could ever process or begin to understand. We held onto hope until there was nothing left to hold onto.”

On June 25, 2020, Jenna gave birth to her son, Maverix at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.

She still clearly remembers the moment he was first laid on her chest.

“In all the chaos and sadness, my heart felt in one piece just holding my baby, our hearts so close together, so tightly bonded. Nothing else mattered. His cheeks were so soft and smooth, as babies’ skin is. Knowing my husband and I had fallen completely in love with our baby, there was no way to protect our hearts. We knew the inevitable was coming, along with the hello we also had to say a dreaded goodbye,” Jenna said.

The family was able to spend the night with their son before having to say their final goodbye. Jenna said the care and compassion from Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital staff made it all a bit more bearable.

“Even holding him, my arms felt empty, because I knew he wasn’t mine to keep. I think knowing our time was so limited hurt the most. Knowing we wouldn’t be able to bring Maverix home to meet his sisters and all those who were so excited to love him. That our crib would stay empty. That there would be many sleepless nights, but from heartache instead,” said Jenna.

To help through the heartache, Empty Arms Perinatal Loss Support Services was at the hospital that night to help Jenna and her family through their grief and make the most of their limited time together.

Photo credit: Memories by Mandy

“Our hearts were so broken, it was hard to do anything but hold our lifeless baby and feel the pain and sadness. I think Empty Arms had the ability to remind us of the love our baby had brought us and gave us ways to carry that love always,” Jenna explained.

In the spring of 2020, Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation partnered with Empty Arms to provide support to 54 Saskatchewan families experiencing perinatal or infant loss. Empty Arms supports families at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital as they say hello and goodbye to their little one who have died in utero or after birth.

Families are provided with specialized companion support, professional photography, mementos and assistance with final arrangements. The companion offers specialized emotional and informational support and helps guide the family through memory-making with their little one, while a professional photographer captures all of these moments for the family.

“Our hearts go out to every Saskatchewan family who faces perinatal or infant loss. A family is never prepared for that kind of heartbreak, but we are grateful to Empty Arms for the incredible support they offer our moms and families at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. Our partnership together highlights the importance of a family-centred care approach, which is truly invaluable when families are faced with the unimaginable,” said Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Photo credit: Memories by Mandy

Jenna said Empty Arms helped her and her family create cherished memories with Maverix in the few short hours they were able to spend with him.

They were able to make the most of the time together with memory-making activities such as taking photos together, bathing him and creating prints of Maverix’s hands and feet.

“I think without those memories this journey of love and loss would have been even more challenging. These memories help us feel and see the love and keep his memory alive,” Jenna said.

Since the loss seven months ago, Jenna continues to feel a special bond with the staff at Empty Arms. She said they have been a constant support through whatever stage of grief her family may be going through.

“Waves of emotions come and go more quickly than we can ever anticipate or process. Throughout this journey, one of the things that have stayed constant is the support we’ve received and continue to receive from Empty Arms,” Jenna said.

If you would like to help support important programming like this at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, please donate today.

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