Monday, February 3, 2014

Tragedy and Hope - Heartache, Death and Birth

At Victoria General Hospital right now there is a man who is waiting for a caesarean section, he waits because his wife, unlike every other mother-to-be is no longer able to wait as she is brain dead. She suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on December 28, 2013. Her husband left to get her some Tylenol for a headache she had, and came home to find her unresponsive. He called 9-1-1, and while they were able to sustain her on life support, the damage was too severe and there is no hope for her recovery. She was 22 weeks pregnant at the time. She has been kept on life support since, in the hopes that her unborn son might be born safely at 35 weeks (in about 7-8 weeks time), or emergently if her body begins to fail her before then. Given his current gestational age – the baby already has an excellent chance of surviving the birth (80 percent).

The arrival of Iver Cohen Benson is expected to be bittersweet – a miracle born out of a terrible tragedy. Shortly after his arrival, his mother will take her final breaths and his father (Dylan Benson) will have to say his final farewells to the body of his life partner. He will embark on a new life then – the life of a new father, the life of a single parent, the life of a widower.

I applaud Mr. Benson for having the courage to take it on – he appears to determined to give his son the best life that he can. He has taken leave from his work to be at the side of his unborn son. After his arrival he will need to be by his son’s side for any required stay in the NICU, and after that the hard work will begin. The job of being both mother and father to a very small child while attempting to grieve and heal from a tremendous loss in his life.

Mr. Benson is going to need an incredible amount of support. Not just from his family and friends but also from his community. He is going to need all of the support he can get – all the support that most new mothers need, he will need. All the support that single parents need – he will need. All the support that widows/widowers need, he will need.

It warms my heart to see the outpouring of support that has begun for Mr. Benson and little Iver, but it needs to be understood that the support that has been given so far is just that. A start. This is the beginning of a very long (and potentially very expensive) road ahead, a road that will be navigated alone.

To give some idea about the costs of being a widowed parent to a newborn infant/toddler/pre-schooler think about the following :

1. If Mrs. Benson had survived, she would have received maternity/parental benefits and as a result of her employment (provincial government) her wages would have been topped up while she was on leave (up to 85% during 17 weeks of maternity leave and 75% while on parental leave) – and Mr. Benson would have been able to continue to work. After a year of leave if Mrs. Benson returned to work – she would have earned her income as well as being enabled to contribute to the daycare expenses of the child. If she chose to become a stay at home parent, daycare expenses would be avoided. In Victoria the costs of a full-time infant space is about $1150 per month – nannies are more expensive with live-in nannies costing about $1500 per month and live-outs costing $15 per hour.

2. If Mrs. Benson had survived, her family would have benefited from extended health benefits that she receives as a result of her employment. Unless Mr. Benson also has extended health benefits through his employment, those expenses will be out-of-pocket ones in the years to come.

3. If Mrs. Benson had survived, she may have chosen to breastfeed her son. Given her death and her son’s likely prematurity, he will likely need donor breastmilk. If you are in a position of donating breastmilk, please consider doing so to a breastmilk bank where donor milk is appropriately screened and pasteurized) – in BC information on doing so can be found at - babies like baby Iver benefit immensely from these donations. Eventually, baby Iver will likely need formula – and this can be tremendously expensive, particularly if baby Iver has any sensitivities and is in need of a hypo-allergenic breastmilk. The costs of formula feeding can exceed $500 per month. An excellent resource for those who formula feed is the fearless formula feeder at .

4. Being a parent is a very hard job, and being one to a small child is a special challenge that frequently involves sleep deprivation. It’s hard enough when there are two parents able to take on the challenge – as one can often provide some respite for the other. As a result of Mrs. Benson’s death, that respite might be unavailable or might come at a cost – on average babysitters in Victoria charge between $10-$15 per hour.

5. Being a widow is no easy task either. Mr. Benson’s story reminds me of Matt Longelin’s in some ways ( – he too was thrust into new parenthood and widowerhood at the same time when his wife passed within 48 hours of the birth of their daughter, Madeline. Accessing psychological counselling can run about $160 per hour.

This is why I hope that Mr. Benson can far exceed his fundraising goals and succeed in being the dad he wants to be and giving little Iver the best life he can. I hope little Iver brings him joy. I hope Iver is able to meet his full potential and always knows how much he is loved by his father and his community. I hope the financial toll of losing Mrs. Benson is mitigated to the degree possible – because the loss of a mother is already tragic enough without it also imposing financial ruin on those left behind as they try to grapple with the void that is left.

I should add that I do not personally know the Bensons – but I wish them the best possible outcome under these horrible circumstances.

If you would like to consider donating to Dylan Benson and his son, Iver – they’ve established a donation page at entitled "Baby Iver Fund"

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