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Although Ottawa Senator’s captain Erik Karlsson and wife Melinda Karlsson never got to hear the cries or see the smiles of baby Axel, the couple says they feel forever bonded to the sweet child who was delivered stillborn this month, just weeks before his due date.

“We feel very lucky to be Axel’s parents,” the couple says in a statement after announcing Axel’s premature passing. “Even though he was stillborn, we know we will hold him again one day under different circumstances and the joy he gave us will be with us forever.”

A post shared by Erik Karlsson (@erikkarlsson65) on

The news of Axel’s passing came as a heartbreaking surprise to the couple’s fans, who eagerly followed along when the Karlssons married in August 2017 and then announced they were expecting their first child last November. Now, fans, teammates and competitors alike are rallying around the couple in their time of grief.

“It puts perspective on life and what’s going on here. It’s important they take time to grieve and be together,” Karlsson’s teammate Mark Borowiecki tells CBC News. “Erik is a huge part of this team and Erik and Melinda are a huge part of this community and this city. We really are a family in here and it hurts all of us deeply.”

In a formal statement from the Ottawa Senators, the team said the “collective thoughts and prayers” of the organization, team and hockey community are with the couple.

In their own statement, the Karlssons say that it’s going to take them a long time to work through the loss—understandably. They are, however, optimistic about their future and thankful for the time they did have with Axel during the pregnancy.

“At this extremely difficult time it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but we know one day we’ll get there,” the Karlssons say. “We would like to thank everyone for the love and support we have received and also for respecting our privacy and the process that we need to go through.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stillbirth is defined as the loss of a baby before or during delivery after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although the rate of mid- and late-term stillbirths has declined in recent years, the loss occurs in about 1% of all pregnancies. The causes may include genetic problems, problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, certain maternal conditions or, sometimes, reasons that remain unknown.

For the families experiencing this it’s normal to feel angry, heartbroken or any combination of the two. But, as the Karlssons are helping to show, there’s one thing that parents of stillborn babies shouldn’t feel: like they can’t open up.

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