Ariel Ng Bourbonnais is one of the co-founders of The 16 Percent, a community dedicated to providing a platform for people to share their experiences with child loss and infertility. Now, together with co-founders Allison McDonald Ace and Caroline Starr, Ariel is in the process of compiling these stories into a book, due out early next year. Through, Not Around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss will feature personal essays that show “the way forward is by going through the grief, not around it.”
We chatted with Ariel about the book, The 16 Percent, and how her personal experience with miscarriage has shaped her life.
SDTC: You started The 16 Percent last year. What has been happening since then? Have you been surprised at how much it has grown?
ANB: So much has happened since we started The 16 Percent. Originally, we had somewhat modest goals of launching an online site to share stories of infertility to make people feel less alone. Well, our site has regularly shared stories with our growing community over the past year, and we now have a book of essays coming out in January 2019. It’s been very busy getting it all put together!
I’m always surprised by the amount of support we receive: by those going through infertility, or those who have experienced pregnancy loss, and by their support systems and networks and by our own networks, too. I always feel the love when I read the comments on our posts. I feel very lucky to have met so many strong, inspiring people through The 16 Percent community.
Once the book is published, we are hoping to grow The 16 Percent even further. I’m looking into starting a web series that explores infertility in communities outside of the GTA. How do people deal with infertility in communities that are not necessarily equipped for it? How do people manage their care with limited access to resources? It’s a topic that needs further exploration.
Through, Not Around is coming out early next year. In compiling these stories, is there one that has really resonated with you?
Carine Blin’s essay about her stillborn son, Jacob, really moved me. Her essay was hard to read because of the sensitive subject matter, but I’m glad I did, her writing is graceful, thoughtful and poignant. I’m thankful for her openness and honesty. She’s wise beyond her years and talks about grief in such a beautiful, relatable way.
When we last interviewed you, it was shortly after you’d gone through a second miscarriage. Looking back on that time, what sticks out in your mind? How has connecting with other women who have gone through similar experiences impacted your life?
After my second miscarriage, what sticks out to me was my large anger and disbelief. I was a hormonal mess and hated everything about myself. I wrote about my second miscarriage in my personal essay for Through, Not Around, and when I read it now, it’s like shaking hands with an old acquaintance. I vaguely remember the feelings of discomfort and shame that followed me around like my shadow for years, but I don’t carry around such anger now. I’ll always be a little sad about not being able to have my own genetic baby, but I feel at peace with my situation, which is a lovely feeling.
Knowing I’m not alone has played a big factor in my recovery. Connecting with other people who have been through similar experiences has been beyond helpful in how I view myself as a woman. I’m really not alone, and in fact, I’m very lucky in many ways. Some people have gone through much worse. I also credit therapy (which I only started after my second miscarriage), talking to my mom and close friends, writing, volunteering at a distress centre, working out regularly, and my husband’s continual reassurance that he truly is okay without a baby, as factors in my recovery.
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is coming up on October 15. How will you approach this day? What do you like to reflect on?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on how far I’ve come since last year when we started The 16 Percent. I like to reflect on the small wins and changes throughout the past year. When I was struggling, I sometimes found it hard to edit some of our interviews. They hit too close to home. It seemed like whenever I was having one of those hard moments, we would receive an email from someone who was thanking us for putting the stories out there. It reminded me of why we were doing this.
I’d like to reflect upon all the people I know who are struggling right now. I wish I could offer them a clear-cut solution but I can’t. I can promise them that they will find some sort of peace or acceptance in their situation, regardless of the outcome. And until then, we are hear to listen and share stories to make people feel less isolated and alone during a truly isolating (emotionally, mentally and physically), draining experience.
What has been your biggest discovery since the onset of The 16 Percent, personally or otherwise?
I’m always in awe of the resilience of our community. It’s made me a stronger person. I’m inspired by our stories and by the people who share them with us. When we started The 16 Percent, I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough unique stories to share and that our idea of our community would fizzle out. Each and every story is unique, regardless of the thread of infertility/pregnancy loss.
The biggest discovery for me personally is that self-acceptance is a beautiful thing, but it might take a lot of work to get there.
What are you looking forward to these days?
I’m really looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney, Australia, with my husband! I’m super excited for our book launch in January. And I really want to explore the web series idea and get the ball rolling in the new year. I’m looking forward to continuing to be an infertility/pregnancy loss advocate for The 16 Percent.