A Healing Journey

A grieving mom finds solace through movement

When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Erica Van Vlack quit her job as a personal trainer at a gym in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was newly pregnant, and as someone who, in her words, “doesn’t pregnant well,” she decided to start her own business so she could have more flexibility.

Van Vlack is an avid athlete—she runs, bikes, swims, and lifts weights. She’s loved movement her whole life, from growing up in Ontario playing team sports to competing in triathlons as an adult. It helps her clear her head and feel good.

During her pregnancy, running and long hikes were too uncomfortable, so she did strength and mobility workouts in her home gym—a little cabin on the property she shares with her husband and two-year-old son Gunnar. She worked with her fitness clients virtually from there too.

“She was on every Zoom class, she was in every workout,” Van Vlack says of her in-utero little one. With every client, she had a joke or a goal based around the baby’s arrival. You’ll be able to do this exercise once she’s out! Your injury will be healed by the time she arrives!

Last December, Van Vlack went into labour. At the hospital, she quickly delivered her daughter, Trinity, and then immediately began hemorrhaging.

It was a whirlwind: The doctor told her Trinity hadn’t survived and that Van Vlack had to go to the operating room right away to save her own life.

Once Van Vlack emerged from surgery, she had to face the fact that Trinity was gone. There was no medical explanation for her death—the placenta was healthy, she says, and there was no abruption.

Before she left the hospital, she and her husband held their daughter. She was beautiful.

“Just because Trinity isn’t here doesn’t mean that she isn’t playing a part in my every move,” says Van Vlack. “It’s important to recognize the milestones in a stillbirth just as much as the milestones in a living child. Trinity has changed me, as all babies do. She was born still, but still born.”

Movement, and spending time outdoors, has remained important to Van Vlack as she’s mourned her daughter. At home, deep in their grief, she and her husband walked every day. Friends babysat Gunnar so the couple could get out into nature alone. “That’s what Alex and I did to heal,” she says.

“Those walks brought up some of the hardest and strongest conversations of connection between us.”

Erica Van Vlack

A month after Trinity’s death, they decided to go for a swim at the local pool. The water felt supportive, cradling. Focusing on her breath forced Van Vlack to tune out everything else. Every 100 metres, she cried, gasping for air.

She developed panic attacks in the months since and moving has helped her cope. Her hands tremble and her legs shake; she wants so badly in those moments to escape her body. Instead, she goes to her gym and lifts heavy weights.

“I think of Trinity in my movement,” Van Vlack says. “I’m rooting my feet down because she’s rooted down, and I’m lifting weight over my head because she’s held high.”

Often, partway through, she’ll break into deep sobs and silent screams—a release.

“Once I move through it,” she says, “it feels like I’m able to breathe again.”

Movement is now a way for her to honour Trinity. If her daughter was here, she says, she knows they’d be on the go, that Trinity would be a baby eager to move and crawl and play.

“I move because I know if I don’t, I’m not honouring her.”

Erica Van Vlack

Van Vlack says her daughter has given her a new perspective on life. She now knows the importance of appreciating the little things — buds on the trees, the feel of sun on our skin.

“If we’re not… walking with our eyes open instead of our heads down, we miss so much,” she says. “She’s changed me into this person of being present, enjoying moments, because you know what, life will change.”

For more about Erica Van Vlack go to www.ericavanvlack.com or visit her Instagram.

Photo by Cathie Archbould

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