The best part of Sharron Ryan’s week falls on Wednesdays and Fridays at lunchtime as she feeds the ducks on a pond along her Saanich News paper route.
It’s a place where the 61-year-old, travelling on a scooter, can finally relax, be herself and forget something she has been unable to – a mystery of a tragedy that took place 40 years ago.
At 21, Ryan was separated from her husband when her first child Paula was born. The baby was premature and lived just two days before suffering from a massive lung collapse. Under the influence of Valium and sleeping pills prescribed by her now-deceased doctor, Ryan says she never had a chance to see the body, to grieve the death – or to ask questions around some of the bizarre happenings that took place at the time.
“Everybody tells me to live with it,” she says from her apartment, which she shares with her foster cat, Tippy. “Try to live with the knowledge that your daughter died and you didn’t even (have a chance to) hold her.”
She remembers few details: her father’s emotional outpouring over his first grandchild – and then the nurse who seemed to have Paula’s sex confused.
“The day after she was born, one of the nurses came in with my chart and said ‘Sharron, we were just wondering if you wanted your baby circumcised,’” she says. “I just sat there so stunned because I couldn’t believe they would say that. I turned around to her and said, ‘I had a baby girl.’”
Other curious details have had Ryan’s mind racing since she decided to come to terms with her past and visit the baby’s grave two years ago. Paula’s medical death certificate lists her date of death as Aug. 14, yet at Hatley Memorial Gardens, Ryan says their records indicate Paula was a stillborn and not buried until Dec. 15 in an unmarked grave with eight other babies.
Ryan has been in touch with the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s patient care quality office for answers, but given the years that have passed and the changeover in staffing, it’s virtually impossible for the office to provide her with the detailed timeline she seeks. She acknowledges the challenges of investigating a birth and death four decades in the past, yet still, she can’t help but search for answers.
“It’s a horrible thing to lose a child, but to lose a child and not know for sure that she’s gone,” Ryan says, eyes filled with tears, “that’s a horrible thing.”
She says she cherishes cats, such as little Tippy, because of their infantile nature. She knows she wants someone to listen to her story and care like she does for all of her favourite personalities along her route.
She knows that some of her theories of details surrounding the baby’s death are unlikely.
She holds out hope that protesting outside of the Royal Jubliee Hospital and holding a sign that reads “THEY LOST MY BABY” will result in someone else who was there coming forward.
I hope – if that person exists – that they can get in touch with Ryan and put her battle to rest.
“I feel like I’m going home when I get onto Donwood (Drive),” she says, later adding: “If someone’s in trouble, I’ll jump in right away.”
As I step from Ryan’s apartment out through a front door adorned with welcome signs and tributes to feline friends, I’m hit with the challenge of telling her story. I confirm what I can through VIHA and, like Ryan, I’m left with a dilemma.
So many interactions like these will never make it into the news for the obvious moral and time restrictions. Ryan is clear about her desire to tell the story in any way possible, so here it is.
Sometimes it’s best to stop and listen, even if you’re not sure what to do with what you hear.
Natalie North is a reporter
with the Saanich News.