My personal journey with motherhood after loss.
This year the mother and babies charity Tommy’s has produced a very moving film for Mother’s Day called We See a Mum. The video and campaign highlights that Mother’s Day is for all mums. As they explain on their website:
“Mother's Day can be emotional. At Tommy’s, we understand that every experience of motherhood is unique, and what it means to be a mum is completely different for everybody. Many people will feel like parents from the moment they start their IVF journey, or when they see a positive pregnancy test – even if, heartbreakingly, this much-wanted pregnancy ended in loss.
We see every mum. And we’re with you. Mother’s Day, and every other day you need us.”
This beautifully made campaign was particularly poignant for me and inspired me to share my own bumpy journey to motherhood and what it means to be a mother to a baby that was stillborn. I am sharing my story to help raise awareness and hopefully inspire empathy for those mothers who might have a different experience on Mother’s Day. I also hope it will highlight how important it is that all women to be listened to, to be heard, to be taken seriously.
We’re all used to seeing images like this on social media. The dream of hanging out adorable little babygrows and muslins in the sunshine is finally realised for me, but my path to this point has not been easy. Any little moment of happiness with our beautiful daughter shared on social media makes me acutely aware that for some women images like this may be majorly triggering, given 1 in 4 pregnancies end in baby loss. I understand this intimately. Our first baby Henry was stillborn, and my subsequent pregnancy with our rainbow baby Margot was complicated and ended up with a fairly traumatic emergency caesarean. This is my complicated Mother’s Day story.
My Journey to Motherhood
Having waited until our late 30s to start our family, my husband and I felt very fortunate to be expecting our first baby after trying to conceive for a few months. We had finally settled down after years moving around with work (alongside taking time for adventures) and for us the time felt right. As a GP I had a strong interest in women’s health and lifestyle medicine. Alongside a busy time at work, I put in the time for self care during this pregnancy. I was eating well, doing plenty of exercise, ensuring I was relaxing and resting, doing yoga, mindfulness and taking all the right vitamins and supplements. Essentially, I was doing everything I knew would help me have a healthy pregnancy.
I have always been quite a relaxed person but during this pregnancy I became worried. I thought there was something wrong and during the second trimester I had right upper abdominal pain so asked my GP to do blood tests and an ultrasound scan for my liver. I was fortunate that as a GP, I knew what to ask for and what I needed. However, these test results were normal. A short time later my blood pressure started to increase, but because I had some stress going on with my family it was put down to stress/ anxiety. And although my blood pressure was high for me because my baseline was so low it was still in the normal range.
But something was still bothering me and I did not feel satisfied with this explanation. I wanted to get to the bottom of these issues so I started using a home blood pressure monitor to track my blood pressure on an ongoing basis. During this time I also mentioned concerns that my bump was small compared to other women I had met at my antenatal yoga group. However, each scheduled visit I was reassured that all was fine.
As the pregnancy continued I became busy preparing for our long awaited baby. We moved house, went on holiday for our “baby moon” staying in a hotel & visiting friends in London and then went on a weekend antenatal course. Life was full of decisions such as what cooker and fridge to buy, what colour tiles to have in the new kitchen. It was an exciting time and the momentum towards the new baby carried me along despite my concerns.
I was eight months pregnant and it was a Saturday evening at the end of a week's holiday. We were relaxing in our new house when I felt some low abdominal pain. This intensified and I felt a gush of blood that poured through my clothes onto the floor. My husband called the emergency midwife line and we then went straight into the hospital. Despite the roads being quiet and our arrival in about 10 minutes, it was too late to save our baby. Even with my background as a doctor and having worked in obstetrics previously nothing could have prepared me for this. Even though I was bleeding and in pain I did not expect them to tell me that our baby had died. The look on the doctor's face as she scanned me, the look on my husband's face, the silence in the room broken by the words “I am sorry but your baby has died”. I was told that I had had a placental abruption and due to ongoing bleeding I was taken to the labour ward and the following morning gave birth to Henry. He was a beautiful little baby but severely growth restricted as the placenta had not been working properly potentially for some time. I was also unwell with atypical preeclampsia that was linked to the placental disease.
One brilliantly written book on baby loss “Ask me his name” by Elle Wright @featheringtheemptynest sums it up as “when the best thing in the world becomes the worst thing in the world”. I went on maternity leave and instead of it being filled with the highs and lows of motherhood it was quiet and empty. Instead of decorating the nursery we were choosing details for Henry’s funeral such as what coffin he would have, having to register his birth and death. There are no words to describe the feeling of being a mother when your baby is gone. I am extremely grateful to a local charity Ella’s Memory as well as national charities Sands and Tommy’s who were and continue to be a great support for us.
Mother’s Day is a big trigger for me. It reminds me of my baby Henry who never got to take his first breaths, for whom I only got to mother during my pregnancy. It reminds me of my own feelings of how I failed him as although I knew something was wrong I did not feel able to demand the tests and scans that might have saved his life.
Moving Forward and helping others
The lack of empowerment I felt when going through my pregnancy and then loss was horrible. And I was in a better position than most women, with my medical background and experience working in the healthcare world. But despite my experience, I wasn't listened to and my concerns were dismissed as an anxious first time Mum. Belief in one's instinct as a woman seems to be at the core of the problems within women’s health access. This is now my motivation and my passion, to help as many women as possible to learn to listen to their minds and their bodies. If something does not feel right then listen. Do not be fobbed off by yourself, by your lack of time, by your doctor, by your midwife, by their lack of time, by the system, or by the gender health gap. You deserve to be put first and in nearly all cases in health the sooner you seek help the better the outcomes.
However, it is important to also recognise that even with the best knowledge, care, and health sometimes things don’t go to plan. You can do all of the “right things” and your pregnancy can still have complications or end in loss. But that doesn’t make you any less of a mother. Although it is sometimes painful, I go out of my way to try to talk openly about Henry and on Mother’s Day it is important for me to feel that I’m a mother to two little ones.
Mother’s Day also reminds me how far I have come on my motherhood journey. From the silent heartbreak of being a childless mother to the wonderful joy of having our rainbow baby. Through this I have developed strength, empowerment, compassion and hope. I am inspired with the potential to help others and by sharing and being open about my experience with baby loss. To all the mums out there - we see you.
For more information and support on this please go to Donate to charity - Make a donation | Tommy's (tommys.org) and Sands | Stillbirth and neonatal death charity
to whom I am forever thankful for their brilliant work. And if you can, please donate to their causes to help support families going through pregnancy complications and loss.