Memory boxes help Calgary area families heal after pregnancy loss

Handcrafted boxes include donated items from different Calgary community groups for families coping with miscarriage or stillbirth

A selection of finished painted memory boxes that Julie Morstad will give to the Hospital.

At 26 weeks pregnant, Alexis Knapp had an induced miscarriage to try and save her and her unborn baby’s life. After too short an amount of time, Knapp and her boyfriend – now fiance – were forced to say goodbye to their daughter, Kenna.

“Unfortunately, they’re no longer in your life, you’re never going to watch them grow up but you can still feel that connection.” said Alexis Knapp.

To help remember their daughter, Knapp and her boyfriend were given a memory box: Something Calgary hospitals give to women or families who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Alexis Knapp had an induced miscarriage at 26 weeks, pictured here are the contents of her memory box, which is currently in her son Luke’s room. Knapp plans to raise her son to know his big sister, Kenna.

According to the Calgary Health Trust website, there are approximately 4,000 miscarriages in the Calgary Zone each year. With 1 in 4 women suffering pregnancy or infant loss.

Azmina Lakhani is the family counsellor at the Foothills Hospital’s Woman’s Health Centre. The boxes, she said, are filled with items to help families remember their loss.

Some memento’s are more personal, like a lock of their baby’s hair, footprints, or the blanket they were wrapped in, other items might be teddy bears, certificates of life, or diapers. Parents are given options to fill up their box, and are encouraged to continue adding to it after they leave the hospital.

“This [program] really is about remaining connected to that baby.” Lakhani said.

There is no charge for families to receive a box, and boxes not taken home are kept for up to a year. Lakhani said the program has been very fortunate to receive funding from fundraisers as well as contributions from community members.

Julie Morstad, a Calgary artist who paints memory boxes for the hospital, said she tries to remain empathetic rather than sympathetic so that her emotions don’t interfere with her work. Sometimes, she said, that’s not quite possible.

“I have friends, where their daughters – they call me and say ‘Julie do you have a box?’ That is what’s most difficult, because I actually know them,” she said.

“I can’t imagine the grief that they’re going through.”

This program is run by the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Program in the Calgary Area. It’s based out of the Foothills Medical Centre, but provides services to all of the hospitals in the Calgary Zone. Lakhani said she wishes more people knew the program existed and was there to help.

Knapp said she encourages all families to take home a memory box, even if they don’t want them right away. Her fiance, she said, originally thought the box would bring up too many negative and hurtful emotions but he’s now thankful they have it.

“It’s pretty cool having all those things in there and being able to look back and remember her for even the short amount of time that I got to know her,” said Knapp.

“Whether that was in my belly or in my arms, it’s kind of just nice.”

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