‘The Only Way To Demystify Pregnancy Loss Is To Be Honest’

After writer Pippa Vosper’s son died, she poured her heartache into a new book she hopes will change the way we talk about grief

Pippa Vosper

by Pippa Vosper |
Updated on

In 2017, following three years of trying to conceive a second baby, my husband and I embarked on our first round of IVF. When the first cycle resulted in pregnancy, I was elated to be able to share this news and announced it with a picture of my bump on Instagram. But, five months into my pregnancy, my waters broke in the middle of the night. I delivered my baby in my bathroom and, while I held his hands and told him I loved him, I watched him slowly stop breathing. Paramedics took me to hospital, where I spent the morning holding my son and trying to get through not only the next hour, but the next minute of this new, unwelcome reality.

Kind messages enquiring about my pregnancy continued after his death and, wanting to let people know I was no longer pregnant, I posted a tribute to my son on Instagram with a picture of his footprints. This was the beginning of speaking openly about an experience that is still so very misunderstood. I began to write publicly about my grief, hoping my words would allow others to better understand the trauma of losing a baby in pregnancy.

Through the initial months after my loss, as I explained to people that my baby had died during the second trimester, I sensed what had happened was lost on many. There was a sympathetic comment, an awkward silence, but conversations soon returned to work, holidays, or any other subject that wasn’t the loss of a baby. I don’t blame those who didn’t know what to say, as I may have reacted in the same way had I not lived through the experience. Unless you have first-hand knowledge of how it feels, it’s difficult to grasp the enormity of it. Too often we play down the magnitude of our own pregnancy loss. But the only way to demystify this frequently silenced subject is to be honest about what actually happens.

When I wrote my book, Beyond Grief, I wanted to show the realities of pregnancy loss. Along with my own retelling of my baby’s death, I asked my contributors to be as honest as they felt comfortable with when sharing their stories. I saw this as an opportunity for others to gain a greater understanding of what parents live through when a pregnancy ends.

Before writing my book, I thought I knew so much about pregnancy loss, but I had merely scratched the surface. One mother told me how her conjoined twins were brought to her in a bucket while in hospital. Another woman’s blood loss was so severe as she drove herself to hospital she had to use nappies she was carrying for her toddler to try and soak up the blood that was pumping from her body. Another mother explained how having delivered her stillborn son at home, she and her husband were then interviewed separately by police the day after to determine whether they had intentionally caused the death of their baby.

As I spoke to parents who had lived through pregnancy loss, it became clear that, in almost every case, each experience was hugely traumatic in very different ways. The stories of pregnancy loss often focus on the mother’s grief, rather than on the reality of how it happened and where they were, or how they were treated afterwards. The reason why pregnancy loss is so often brushed aside is that we, as mothers who have experienced it, often feel unjustified in expressing our level of pain. I remember repeating the rehearsed line, ‘I’m fine, we’re hopeful for the future,’ whenever someone asked how I was.

I wish I had been more honest, but I didn’t feel justified in my grief. In masking my pain during the initial months, I concealed the true effects of my loss and in turn made others feel as though what had happened wasn’t as traumatic as it was. Only when my confidence grew and I could see that this cycle couldn’t continue did I begin to speak more openly and in more detail about how my baby died. Pregnancy loss is frequently referred to as taboo in the media. The dictionary defines the word taboo as ‘proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable’ – so why are people still approaching pregnancy loss in this way? I believe that the longer it’s referred to as taboo – even with the good intentions of those claiming to ‘break the taboo’ – people will continue to treat it as a subject that cannot be broached.

In contrast, the recent Women’s Health Strategy, published by the Government in July, has a statement referring to fertility and pregnancy loss that reads ‘these issues are no longer taboo subjects in any part of society’.

I agree with this entirely. Pregnancy loss is not taboo, it’s a traumatic experience that happens to an estimated quarter of a million women each year. To treat it as taboo simply reinforces the divide between those wishing to open up the conversation and those wary of learning the truth of the experience. I recently placed a beautiful photo of my son’s hand, taken the day he died, on Instagram. I was not surprised to receive messages from people saying they were embarrassed not to have realised my son was a fully formed, albeit small, baby. There’s no need for anyone to be embarrassed, but there is a need to further educate people on the true realities of baby loss.

Beyond Grief: Navigating The Journey Of Pregnancy And Baby Loss is out now

Photography: Lucas Suchorab

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