Every Mother’s Day comes with new challenges – as a doctor and bereaved mum, here’s my advice
Miscarriage: a word that I think is an injustice to women. It suggests that women are just the carriers or vessels for babies and that when their baby dies they have failed to fulfil this role. I prefer the terms first or second trimester baby loss.
The silence and untold grief of miscarriage is, like so many women’s health issues, still taboo. It’s one of the many reasons alongside fertility struggles, baby loss, child loss, parent loss or family estrangement that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time.
As a mother who has been through several Mother’s Days since the stillbirth of my son Henry in 2019 when I had a placental abruption, you might think that I would be getting used to this triggering and emotion-filled day.
But no, each year has brought its own new situation, from pregnancy after loss (and every time being treated as a first-time mother when they fail to look at my notes), to the many challenges of having a baby and then toddler - my second child who is thankfully alive and thriving.
Just when I thought I was building up my resilience, I was hit again by new challenge - a month ago I had another miscarriage identified at my 12-week scan.
Those words again: “I’m sorry your baby is no longer alive.”
At the horrendous 12-week scan appointment for my third I was reassured that their loss was not because of something I’d done, although as a mum that doesn’t stop the thoughts that it is all my fault. There’s an ingrained voice of mother’s guilt.
I was reminded of potential underlying causes, that I know only too well: I’m a GP and founder of a women’s health company, with experience working in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and a passion for improving women’s health inequalities.
The most likely underlying cause is chromosomal abnormalities which could have been a harder situation if the pregnancy had not been self-limiting at this early stage. My age - an unneeded reminder that I was a few weeks off my 40th birthday - was a risk factor for this.
At the scan they said the words I am only too aware are meant to be reassurance as to how common this is: “1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss”. As a doctor, it’s information I’ve always wanted to raise awareness of. But to hear it yet again about my own situation was not so helpful.
To me these words reduced the enormity of this wound on top of my already broken heart and I wanted to reply - no, this is not 1 in 4, this is 2 in 3 (for me). This is 2 losses and only 1 successful, although challenging, pregnancy.
And that pregnancy was only successful due to a combination of huge internal strength to get through the daily fear and then the amazing luck and skill of modern medicine and surgery. I had a second placental abruption but I was fortunately in hospital and my daughter was saved by the obstetrician and team who performed an emergency caesarean section.
Miscarriage has given me a new perspective
I thought that having a stillbirth meant that I’d understand how it felt to go through baby loss in its different forms. To some extent this is true, but going through miscarriage has given me a whole new perspective.
As a ‘people pleaser’ I always felt that you should share pregnancy news early to get as much support and awareness as possible. Now I understand why it is perhaps not a great idea to tell many people beyond those closest to you.
I'd told a couple of other pregnant mums in the hope that we would be spending our maternity leaves together. Those excited plans were replaced by sadness and pity. Then there’s having to make the choice between loss of closeness or friendship and the need to put on a brave face and potentially be repeatedly reminded of my loss.
Seek support from friends, family and Tommy’s
So many people close to me have been through their own unseen baby loss journeys and have grown through their experience in terms of the kindness and empathy they have been able to share with others.
There is also the very useful Tommy’s Miscarriage Support Tool which can calculate your chance of success in your next pregnancy. I found it reassuring as it gives a personalised idea of your chances based on your own pregnancy and health history and then provides you with tailored information and advice.
Mother’s Day can be tough when you’re grieving - it’s a reminder of your losses
I want to share my ideas to try and help others.
● Whether self-care for you means taking a warm bath, going for a walk or a run, playing music, or reading a book, take some time to be kind to yourself.
● Get yourself the Mother’s Day present you would want to receive. Flowers, a plant, a box of chocolates, a kind note, a spa day, treat yourself.
● Send a card to another mother who you know might be finding Mother’s Day hard. Tommy’s have some thoughtful and beautiful options in their shop. As well as putting money towards a great cause, through your purchase you will be improving awareness, support and research into baby loss.
● In Japan, women who have lost babies can go and visit Jizo statues, protectors of children and unborn babies, and dress them in hats as a gesture of love. It can be helpful to process grief with some sort of gesture to your loss.
I have a loving aunt who had several miscarriages along her motherhood journey and for each loss she planted a tree. So for my loss I am continuing this ritual and planting a magnolia tree this year.
I’ve also surrounded myself with the hope of early spring by spending time in the garden, feeding the birds and planting bulbs and plants that will serve as some comfort to me.
Dr Abbott is co-founder of women's health organisation Kensa Health | Instagram | Twitter