2017-09-06

Bridgewater woman aims to end taboos around infant loss with memorial gardens

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Paula Harmon&#8217;s daughter Grace passed away last December and that experience as well as Grace&#8217;s life has pushed her to help parents who have also lost children.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>This hybrid daylily has been named Wings of Grace for Harmon&#8217;s daughter and sales of the flower will go to fund advocacy around infant and pregnancy loss.</p>

Inspired by her daughter, one woman is trying to shine a light on something that is usually spoken about behind closed doors.

Paula Harmon has started an advocacy group to bring awareness to miscarriage and infant loss, and, among other things, hopes to create memorial gardens for grief-stricken parents.

Harmon, originally from Bridgewater but currently staying in Dartmouth for family issues, says the initiative started after the death of her three-year-old daughter Grace last December.

"We were never expecting to have children, so it was quite a surprise at 44, we discovered: 'Oh my, we're pregnant,'" said Harmon.

Grace was originally a twin and Harmon lost her sibling during pregnancy. That wasn't the end of the issues, however, as Harmon contracted Listeria, prompting an early delivery of Grace.

"Then she thrived after she got out of hospital," she said, adding that Grace did experience some complications, including having to have a portion of her bowel removed.

"She loved music, she loved fairies and she loved flowers."

Grace succumbed to an unexpected condition involving invisible scar tissue last December.

After a few months, Harmon's grief counsellor suggested a change of scenery for her, which sent her to Ireland and near to a castle once occupied by Grace O'Malley, an Irish lord from the Tudor period whom her daughter was named for.

"The church that was attached [to the castle] actually had a little garden that was dedicated to premature infant loss and early loss," said Harmon.

When she came home Harmon decided to do something similar, especially after looking into the Stillbirth And Neonatal Death (SANDS) charity in the UK.

"What they're doing to help parents and to change the views of the communities and the healthcare system are falling in line with the changes in mental health all around the world, that things need to be done to treat parents of loss," said Harmon adding that gardens were one aspect of the group's advocacy work.

She started advocating for Gardens of Grace - gardens in memory of child and pregnancy loss, named after her daughter.

The gardens are meant to provide a space for families to place a memorial to their child or for quiet contemplation. Harmon would like them to be colourful.

"Parents can get plaques or bricks or something that name their children because that's a really important part of the healing process," said Harmon.

Harmon has also started a non-profit group, which is pending with the registry of the Joint of Stocks, and she's also been speaking to municipalities across Nova Scotia to try get October 15 proclaimed Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

That's something MLA Tim Houston tried to get the province to do through Bill 179, which didn't make it past first reading. Harmon is hoping to reintroduce it.

As a part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, Harmon is encouraging municipalities to participate in a "wave of light" by lighting up public buildings in blue and pink between 7 and 8 p.m. as a part of an international movement to recognize the day.

The Municipality of the District of Chester recently voted in favour of the proclamation and are now looking for an appropriate building to light up for the day as well after Harmon made a presentation to them at a council meeting.

Harmon says the three churches in Mahone Bay will also be participating in the wave of light.

Harmon is hoping all of these efforts will eventually help make it easier to talk about infant and child loss.

"Lots of people don't know how to talk to approach parents who have lost children and so this would be part of ... taking away the taboo of talking about," she said. "They want to hear that other people recognize that their children existed; they want to hear other people say their names."

Daylilies

Nova Scotia Daylilies, a company in Dayspring, has donated and named a hybrid daylily in Grace's name - dubbing it Wings of Grace.

The flowers will be used as a fundraiser for Harmon's advocacy group.

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