Silence around baby loss in the Nigerian community

Anthonia, 43, lives in Kent with her husband Lawrence, 42, and their 2 sons, Nathan and Joshua. Anthonia had a miscarriage in 2011, and her daughter, Mayah, was stillborn in 2018. To help other grieving parents, Anthonia set up Balm in Gilead Outreach.
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The start of my fertility journey

My challenges with infertility began in my mid-twenties when I experienced Secondary Amenorrhea, which is an absence of periods for 3-6 months. With regular visits to the doctor and numerous scans, they discovered that I had cysts on one of my ovaries and I needed a laparoscopy to remove them. The surgery was successful, and my period returned a few months later. Sadly, it didn't last long, and I was diagnosed with menorrhagia (heavy or prolonged bleeding) soon after. I bled for 3 months and I couldn’t go to work.  

In 2008, I discovered that I was pregnant with Nathan, my firstborn. A year after his birth, I experienced Secondary Amenorrhea for the second time. After 2 years of trying for another baby, I was referred for fertility treatment at King’s College Hospital, London, but an ultrasound showed that I had cysts on my ovaries again. I was recommended a second laparoscopy and I stopped the fertility treatment.

A miscarriage followed by no support

In 2011, I found out I’d become pregnant without treatment, but when I had my 12-week scan, there was no heartbeat. I was devastated and asked for several ultrasounds to confirm. I chose to stay home until my body naturally released the foetus, which only occurred 2 weeks later.

 
I was heart-broken and plunged into depression; my saving grace was support from my family

What I discovered was that women who experienced miscarriages did not have adequate aftercare and must rely solely on family or another support group outside the health sector to support them. My mental wellbeing was not taken into consideration. 

After I left the hospital after my 12-week scan, I was not offered any support or allocated a mental health professional to ensure that I was coping.

I found out I was pregnant again in 2013. I was overwhelmed by anxiety and worry and became overprotective during pregnancy. Although I had a few health problems, I welcomed my second son, Joshua, in 2014, when he was born via c-section.

Another heart-breaking loss

We became pregnant again in 2018. It was a high-risk pregnancy, and I was tested positive for the Edwards’ syndrome. When I was 22 weeks pregnant, my daughter was not growing well. I was referred to a specialised clinic for weekly examinations. At 35 weeks, a week before I was due to go into hospital to have her, my daughter died and was delivered via c-section.

I called her Mayah, which means ‘close to God’. I was devastated, but she’ll forever be a part of me

I found this loss even harder than the first, and the pregnancy itself had been very challenging. I’d had so many health issues: high blood pressure, blood sugar of 22, gestational diabetes, blood clots. I was fighting for my life.

I set up a charity to help other grieving parents

My own experiences have made me aware of the issues related to pregnancy loss, which is why I set up Balm in Gilead Outreach

When women leave the hospital and go home after losing a baby, there is a serious lack of aftercare. It can also be difficult for them to talk openly about what they’ve been through, as there is still a stigma attached to the topic. 

Our charity provides a safe environment for parents who are trying to cope with the loss of their baby. With us, they can share their emotions, feel truly listened to and understood, as well as get the support they need to heal from the inside out. We recognise the personal nature of the grieving process, so we adapt our advice to each individual and encourage them to go at their own pace.

Breaking the silence within the Nigerian community

There is a culture of secrecy and silence, shame, and judgment in the Nigerian community when it comes to women discussing pregnancy loss. 

Women are often expected to deal with the mental and emotional trauma in secrecy, and this culture of silence affects many women at the mental and emotional levels. 

I want to create a space where this group can speak their truth without fear and judgement.

Tommy’s can make a real difference

Tommy’s is important to me because I believe their research projects are a game changer. By investigating the causes of miscarriage, stillbirths and premature birth, Tommy’s can improve maternity care services across the UK. The findings of their research will help us advocate for changes to policies affecting women who have experienced pregnancy loss, and ultimately save babies’ lives.

To find out more about Anthonia’s charity, Balm in Gilead Outreach, you can visit the website here: https://www.bigoutreach.org/