As some of you may have seen from my social media posts, last week I was made this year’s winner of the Tommy’s Mum’s Voice Award. (If you don’t already know about the work that Tommy’s does as a charity, you can read more about it here ).
It is a huge honour. Though it is a strange thing being given an award for something that came out of some of worst moments of your life. The award recognises someone ‘who has spoken out about their own pregnancy experience and given hope to others’. (I hope I have given you some hope, despite our story not having a happy ending yet?)
So it only felt right that I write a post about what this means to me and also to introduce a ‘Mum’s Voice’ project I have in mind, which I’m hoping you’ll help me with.
When I found out I’d won, my first reaction was fear: fear that I am unworthy of the title, because, well, I’m not actually a mum, am I? At least not in the way the world tends to recognise that label.
Unlike those who lose a baby at a later stage, my feelings of loss and grief have no obvious focus. There are no names to write on beaches, no birthdays to honour. Instead, we have a tangle of over-lapping could-have-been due dates. Some of our babies could theoretically have co-existed. Others would never have been possible had a previous pregnancy continued. And sometimes this makes me feel like a fraud.
Can you call yourself a mum if you don’t always remember their birthdays? If there were no witnesses: no one who knew you were pregnant in the first place? If you never held your children? Never even named them?
I also hesitate to use the word ‘mum’ to describe myself and how I feel in relation to my miscarriages because I fear how it could be misconstrued. The idea that an early miscarriage is ‘just a bunch of cells’ is so deeply ingrained for most people, that if I speak about the pregnancies I lost as my children – even as babies – I fear people will mistake me for the sort of person who pickets abortion clinics, braying about child murder, shoving tiny coffins in the faces of women who are just trying to get through the day (some of whom, let’s not forget, may well be there to end a much-wanted pregnancy).
I am as pro-choice as they come. And I have loved a six-week heartbeat all the same.
What I’ve always hoped this blog will help people to understand is that our reproductive lives, including motherhood and its pursuit, are not black and white; either/or. Sometimes, like me, you exist in an in-between state. I may not have living children, or even a scan photo, but I’ve stepped over the threshold of motherhood and now I can’t go back. I’ve felt that all-consuming love for something both of yourself and bigger than yourself; the love for a child I thought I would have by now. I can never un-feel that.
Ultimately, we’re all still missing someone who should have called us ‘mum’
And in wrestling with my impostor syndrome over this award, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: it’s unhelpful to linger on the ‘how far along were you?’ question when it comes to pregnancy loss. Because while the circumstances of our loss may differ, ultimately we’re all still missing someone who should have called us ‘mum’ (or dad).
Which brings me to something I’m hoping you will help me with – I would like to do a ‘Mum’s Voice’ series of guest posts, because no single story can speak for everyone. (Certainly, my story is no more important than anyone else’s.) If you would like to write something, please get in touch by email – firstname.lastname@example.org – to start with, just send a couple of sentences summarising your experience and what in particular you would like to tell people in your post, and then I’ll get the ball rolling.
And because not everyone is a writer (it’s my day job… I can confirm it is harder than it looks) I would also like to widen the pool of stories by offering up my services: if you would like to tell your story, but find it impossible to put pen to paper, I am happy to interview you and turn that conversation into a post, in your own words. Again, just drop me a line and we can arrange the details.
The idea is to start the series later in the year, probably in September, and I would love to have enough stories to share at least one every fortnight until Christmas. Posts can be anonymous or under your real name. They can be about your experience of any kind of baby loss or perhaps what the word ‘mum’ or motherhood means to you. Likewise, fatherhood – I’d love to share some stories from men. Tell me the things you think no one is talking about and that you wish people understood better.
As part of the series, I’m also planning to write a few posts with my journalist hat on, with pointers on sharing your story more widely, in the media, as I’ve seen how this works (and sometimes doesn’t work) from both sides of the Dictaphone now. I’ve been interviewed about my miscarriages for newspapers, magazines and websites, and I’ve interviewed other people about their experience of losing a baby.
Sometimes – and I do this to myself – it’s easy to fall into thinking that because someone else has told their story of miscarriage or stillbirth or infertility or termination that there’s no room for you to do the same. But every story told, every link shared, has a ripple effect.
And it takes a babble of voices to truly shatter a taboo.
(If you have any questions about submitting or being interviewed for a guest post, please email me, or ask it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to respond as quickly as I can – Jennie xx)