Montreal mother raising awareness about perinatal and infant loss after a stillbirth

"I just urge all women to speak about your baby because they existed,” says Montreal mother Antonella Mendicino, raising awareness about perinatal loss after having a still birth in 2020. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

A butterfly room at Montreal’s Royal Victoria hospital is a safe haven for Antonella Mendicino who spent time there in September 2020 holding her stillborn son Nick Antonio.

“People know when they walk through that door, there’s a butterfly on it, that mother and father are grieving,” she said.

On Sept. 25, 2020, the doctor was prepping Mendicino for her scheduled C-section.

“She checked and said, ‘I’m really sorry,’ and it just became a blur, I describe it like a movie scene when you get into a car crash and there’s ringing in your ears,” she said.

(Submitted: Antonella Mendicino)

Stillbirths weren’t something that Mendicino was familiar with before that day. In 2022, there were just over 3,000 stillbirths in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

It was the hospital staff, like nurse Erin Overbury, that helped her through it.

“When you’re sitting in the hospital room and they’re telling you it’s time, and you know it’s time, you give your baby back and watching him getting wheeled away and never coming back and then driving away from the hospital, I think it’s looking at Erin‘s eyes was what grounded me,” Mendicino said.

Nurse clinician Erin Overbury and mother Antonella Mendicino. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

For Overbury, this was a new experience.

“I think that’s why we connected so much with it because it was my first baby that I had experience that far along in pregnancy that ended up in a loss,” she said.

Every year, nearly 100,000 Canadian families experience perinatal loss, from an early-pregnancy miscarriage, to the death of an infant up to six weeks after birth, according to the Quebec-based Centre for Studies and Research on Family Health Intervention.

At the Royal Victoria Hospital, the birthing centre sees on average one to two perinatal losses a week in pregnancies at 18 weeks and over.

Quebec MNA Désirée McGraw is someone that experienced a stillbirth and recently spearheaded and got a bill passed recognizing Oct. 15 as Perinatal Bereavement Awareness Day in the province.

“That day just took a huge comforter and threw it around all of us, because we actually have a day and people are gonna know that we went through was real,” Mendicino said. 

Nurses at the hospital are given training on how to support parents through loss. When it occurs, butterfly decals are put on the outside of the door, so staff are aware not to ask about the baby. Some nurses even knit blankets for the families. 

Parents are also equipped with a special box dedicated to their baby with keepsakes like teddy bears.

(Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

Butterflies now surround Antonella, as a symbol of rebirth and of infant loss, also covering the box she was given from the hospital.

Over the last three and a half years, she’s been raising awareness about perinatal and infant loss, speaking up for the women that went through exactly what she went through.

“Some people don’t recover., some people become drowned in their mental health, at that point in time, you don’t know if you’re gonna be okay and I knew that I had Vincenzo at home, my son and I had to be okay for him,” she said.

After her stillbirth, Mendicino had two miscarriages. “I could see all sides of perinatal loss,” she said.

(Submitted: Antonella Mendicino)

But then she got pregnant with a baby girl. “She was a joy and I knew that she was going to come,” she said.

Mendicino had one request: to make sure Overbury was in the operating room helping deliver her daughter.

“We got lucky and I was able to be there for the birth of Vienna and it was this really beautiful full circle that I don’t think any of us could’ve really imagined,” said Overbury.

Mendicino now calls herself earth mother to two and angel mom to one.

(Submitted: Antonella Mendicino)
(Submitted: Antonella Mendicino)

“We promised our children that every year on Christmas, they have a little tree and they get a gift from their brother Saint Nick,” she said. “They’re never going to understand what I went through but they’re going to know that they have a brother, and I will never keep that from them, and I just urge all women to speak about your baby because they existed.”

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