Kerstin and Jens Locher’s time with two of their children was cut tragically short but their legacy is living on through a support network dedicated to helping other parents so they don’t grieve alone.
Part of that legacy will be illuminated in pink and blue on two buildings in Vancouver Tuesday night, to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day – an official day recognized in the province intended to open discussion about the taboo subject of child death.
“I can certainly say from a personal experience that I had not considered pregnancy loss as an option when my wife and I were getting pregnant,” Jens told Black Press Media.
Marlon Locher died in 2011 at two days old after complications during pregnancy. A year later, doctors delivered a stillborn son, Tobias Locher, 35 weeks into Kerstin’s pregnancy.
“We needed a lot of help at that time and it became clear that there is a lot more people affected by this than we had ever imagined and it’s just a topic that isn’t talked about because it’s not an easy conversation to talk about something as emotional and important like losing a child,” Jens said.
More than 1,800 infants die in their first year of life and close to 3,000 babies are stillborn every year in Canada. No statistical records exist for miscarriages, but it is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in loss.
Despite those numbers, Jens said many parents don’t know what supports exist to help them through their grief – and in rural regions those supports are minimal.
“When it gets more regional it gets more complicated, particularly in smaller hospitals where the occurrence [of infant deaths] is lower,” he said, adding those facilities may not have the funding or specialists to help deal with this particular kind of bereavement.
For the Lochers, their grief manifested in action by doing what they could to fill the gaps that exist in infant bereavement – starting first in 2013 with a private Facebook group called the BC Childloss Support Network. The group has two key rules: No one will judge you and you will not judge anyone else, and nobody needs fixing and we will not try to fix anyone.
The group has given a space to parents who can ask questions most won’t think about until their child dies, Jens said, such as how to fill out the various paperwork, how long an autopsy typically takes or the process of going back to work. Sometimes simply having people who can be empathetic instead of sympathetic is enough.
Jens said their effort is just one of many grassroots projects being started in B.C. cities by parents of loss.
“Many parents that have been affected are trying to make it better for other parents so there is this huge ground swell of small organizations that are doing this in memory of their children who have died,” he said. “They start memory box programs, vigils, they start activities or events that basically bring community together to support each other.”
The pair also started a website where they shared their grief journey publicly. Earlier this month, they walked with about 500 others in Vancouver’s first Butterfly Run – a fundraising walk to benefit the BC Women’s hospital and connect parents together who are dealing with similar kinds of loss.
Seven and eight years after the Locher’s darkest days, Jens said grief doesn’t have an end point. Seeing a family with two young boys on the street can trigger the wonder of what could have been.
“People use this concept of water or the ocean,” Jens explained, “and at the beginning you are in this raging storm and a lot of times it [the sadness] comes hot and heavy. It calms over the years but there’s still these events or moments – like this conversation right now – where it comes rushing back.”
Kerstin and Jens are enjoying parenthood with their healthy daughter who was born in 2014, which he described as “the joy of their loves and taken up a lot of time and has changed the entire grieving process quite a bit.”
He said that’s why it’s important to have as much community support as possible – because the Locher’s way of grieving will likely be different than that of another parent.
On Tuesday night, BC Place Stadium, and Telus Science World will illuminate in pink and blue. Vancouver City Hall and the sails at Canada Place will also be lit up. British Columbians are encouraged to show their support by lighting a candle at 7 p.m.