What is PILSC and what services do you offer?
PILSC stands for Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Centre and is a registered charity within Canada. We provide support to people that have experienced loss and grief on the path to parenthood. As grief is not linear and is unique to the person experiencing it, no two people grieve the same and grief can come in many forms.
It might look like the grief that comes from: trying to conceive, initial loss, pregnancy after loss and even parenting after loss. It can also look like loss of an IVF cycle, loss within surrogacy, a missed adoption as well as termination for medical reasons. Wherever you’re at in your journey to parenthood, we offer full spectrum loss support for what you’re going through.
PILSC is located in Calgary but our services are based online and available to people worldwide.
Who is PILSC for and is it free?
PILSC exists and is available to everyone. Creating an equitable space is a core value of ours and we strive to be inclusive of all people and their loss experiences. Not only do we support all loss types (infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, TFRM, neonatal loss, and SIDS), we are also inclusive of diversity within the community of people we serve: people of all faiths, socio-economic statuses, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identities.
There can be this misconception, based on the little glimpses of loss that are shared societally, that infertility and pregnancy and infant loss affects only one type of person, and that person is usually a straight cisgender white woman. And while they make up a portion of who is impacted, there is a larger group of people that includes people of colour, those in same sex marriages, non-binary and trans folks, those from different cultures and faiths who often get left out of the conversation.
Through the help of grants and our charitable donors, all of our services are available at no cost to individuals and families who are in need of support.
What kind of support is offered through PILSC?
We have three streams of support offerings: our professional one-to-one support, peer support, and our peer mentorship program. Many folks experience barriers when trying to access support, so accessibility has been a large consideration for us. As a result, all of our offerings are based online in order to serve as many people as we can. Additionally, we do offer in-person support for those residing in the Calgary area.
Our professional one-to-one support offers pregnancy and infant loss coaching and counseling with a certified professional. All sessions are at no cost and are offered in person for those local to the Calgary area or online for those residing elsewhere.
In our peer support program we offer access to community-lead support groups where individuals can find support in others going through a similar experience. Additionally, we offer a text and web chat based helpline that connects those in need of immediate support with a peer support volunteer. This is a really powerful program because you're not being connected to a professional, which can sometimes feel daunting and clinical in the immediacy of loss, you're being connected to another person who can really relate.
And then we have a peer mentorship program. This program is designed for those who are looking for peer support but are maybe not ready for a group setting. Based on your loss experience, you will be matched to peers who have a similar lived experience. For 6 months you will connect with your peer mentor (remotely or in person).
If you’ve experienced a loss, what is the first step?
The grief journey is so unique. Not everybody heals in the same way, and not everyone’s needs are the same on the path to healing. Our offerings are structured in a way that the person seeking support can select what serves them best. Which can mean starting with texting the helpline, or booking a one-to-one appointment with a professional right off the bat. Whatever feels most accessible!
Initial loss can be scary and come with overwhelming emotions. It can be comforting to have someone to text with that can relate and hold space in ways that maybe your friends and family might not be able to or have the capacity for.
Our helpline is often the first point of contact because you can access it from the comfort of your home. You don’t have to see or verbalize out loud to anyone, you can stay completely anonymous. You can come as you are.
What can people expect from the peer support programs?
Some of our group sessions are professionally led, but peer driven. And some are completely peer run support groups.
For the most part, meetings are held over Zoom by our facilitators who have been trained to create safe and brave spaces where people can show up and feel held and can participate at the level that's comfortable for them. Some days people might want to show up and only receive, and other days they might feel called to share and offer support. We trust that everybody knows what they need and what their comfort level is. There is never pressure to show up any certain way.
The most beautiful part of the group sessions is the resonance and the connections made. With infertility, pregnancy and infant loss, you can feel so alone. It can feel like you’re the only one that’s struggling. And it can be really liberating to hear others’ stories and the emotions they’re moving through–and not just sadness but also anxiety, anger and jealousy too–a spectrum of emotions.
Understanding that you're not alone in the journey and that you have a community available to you that you can relate to, that’s part of the healing.
What do you wish more people knew about the journey to parenthood?
I wish that people knew that the journey looks different for everybody. We are sold this singular vision of becoming a parent (dating, married, pregnant right away, multiple kids perfectly spaced two years apart) and loss is not something that’s talked about. That narrative really needs to change to showcase the many paths to parenthood and the losses experienced along the way.
There is no one way that loss shows up. There can be loss in the spiritual, emotional, and physical sense, with the often overlooked aspects around the loss of self and identity amongst the physiological changes that happen for a birthing person.
I also wish for more compassion and less stigma around the impact the parenting journey has. This chapter in people’s lives is massively impactful, and it’s a disservice to pretend that it’s not. And that’s true whether you have an easier time, and especially so when you’re faced with more challenges. It is a life changing experience and the impact that it can have on an individual shouldn’t be minimized.
Grief is a part of the journey no matter which way you slice it. And that's our mission, to change the narrative around the reproductive journeys that families experience and to decrease the stigma around loss.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I want those who are trying to conceive to know that if you are struggling there are supports out there for you that recognize the impact that this journey has on your mind, body and spirit. It's deeply impactful. And you don't have to put on a face if you're accessing support through PILSC. We'll see you and hold you exactly as you are. Your fertility journey, however it looks, is valid.