Updated: Apr 3, 2022
Women still face enormous stigma and shame when they lose a baby and they are often not encouraged to talk about their experience and loss. This can lead to isolation and disconnection, even from their partners and close family, and means that women end up trapped in their grief.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the loss of a baby, every single mother deserves respectful and dignified support that acknowledges her loss. Society must encourage mothers to seek support for any psychological issues they may face, whilst empowering them to make future decisions.
Today we talk to Fia Sturgeon about her recent experiences with child loss, and how; despite significant challenges and mental health struggles, she has taken back control of her narrative.
Fia's story begins a few years back, after having been trying for a baby for two years, Fia and her partner were about to undergo IVF. When; just a few weeks before meeting with the consultant, Fia fell pregnant.
At this stage majority of women expect a straightforward pregnancy, however, what many don't know is that during the early stages of pregnancy women may encounter early complications like hypertension, diabetes and anaemia.
During the early stages for Fia, she felt unwell and struggled to do much at all. Abandoning the pre-pregnancy exercise routine that had seen her get in great shape whilst anticipating IVF treatment. From about the 6th week, Fia was taking three medications to manage symptoms, and just getting through each day was posing a challenge. Despite this, her Doctor didn't perceive anything as wrong.
"It wasn't until about 18 weeks that I started to feel better. Fitness had taken a back seat during this time, but leading up to the 20 week scan, I had noticed an improvement"
It was at her 20 week scan that Fia received the heartbreaking news.
"We were told by the doctor that they were unable to find both kidney's on the scan. We were also informed that there was something wrong with her heart."
Fia was referred to St Georges Hospital in Tooting and within 24 hours she was undergoing tests with both a cardiologist and a fetal specialist.
It was here that she would undergo a procedure called Amniocentesis. This procedure is used primarily in prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections as well as for sex determination. In this procedure, a small amount of amniotic fluid, which contains fetal tissues, is sampled from the amniotic sac surrounding a developing fetus. The fetal DNA is then examined for genetic abnormalities.
It was following this procedure that they uncovered Chromosome 1p deletion.
This extremely rare condition is a chromosome abnormality that occurs when there is a missing copy of the genetic material located on the short arm (p) of chromosome 1. The severity of the condition and the signs and symptoms depend on the size and location of the deletion and which genes are involved.
"We were told that our baby would go into heart failure the moment she was born."
During this time Fia recalls the many tough decisions that she had to make. She would go on to be given medication and give birth at 24 weeks.
"You can always have another one"
She was asked if she wanted to see the baby, if she wanted a funeral and if she wanted to keep the ashes. Decisions that she is pleased to say she proceeded with.
She named the baby Florence Patricia Sturgeon. The name Florence; meaning To blossom" beautifully represents Fia's feelings as a mother. It is a daily reminder that despite the loss, Fia should continue to bloom. Fia ensures she weaves Florence's memory into her day to day life, just like any parent would do with their child. She says good morning, acknowledges that she is there. It has become part of the grieving process for Fia.
"It never occured to me that I wouldn't have a healthy baby. After going through that, it completely changed my outlook and made me focus on how I feel. I no longer stand here and am worried about how I look, if I have stretch marks"
Each woman’s experience of the loss of a baby is unique, and there are so many different faces of conflict. Despite hearing regular comments like "Well, you are young. You can always try for another."
Fia quickly began to take control of her narrative. She rejoined her CrossFit community, and sought guidance around her mental health, expanding her support network as she moved forward. Sometimes she would go to her box angry and upset and she would be able to take it out on the workout. Other days she wouldn't want to be there, but with the community supporting her she would push to get the workout done, helping her fitness return quickly.
It was not long after suffering the initial loss that she discovered she was pregnant again. Despite the obvious joy, this brought additional anxiety. She believed if she made it past 24 weeks she would be fine, but it was during these early stages that the worry crept in.
Fia was being scanned every 4 weeks, a mixture of both private and NHS. Every reduced movement would become a trip to the hospital for a check. Her support network kept her active. Long walks with the friends she made at her CrossFit box would help her manage her anxiety. Then, with her 37-week scan; almost to the day one year on. Fia's world came to another complete standstill. Her baby had gone from the 70th percentile to the 2nd percentile. It was at this stage that her doctors set the date to induce her on Friday.
Zachary is born.
On a Saturday, Fia gave birth to her son Zachary. Zachary is a name of Hebrew origin which means "God remembers." an apt name for Fia's son.
Despite the clear joy at bringing Zachary into the world, she admits that the first 4 weeks she felt numb.
"I had spent so much of the pregnancy being conerenced I had a mixture of guilt and disbelief.
Over the weeks following she focused on getting back into her routine. She also started a blog post to open up on her experiences of child loss called The Lilac Butterfly effect. She also found support in the TFRM group on Facebook.
"One day you will feel happy again,"
We often ask how, on earth, at a time of such joy can a new mother feel so much pain. Society does not make room for grieving and joy together and we often feel as though we must choose between one or the other. However, when discussing with Fia it is clear that she is continuing to defy this "either/or" dilemma by focusing on her love for both Zachary and Florence. This for her is helping to break the stigma, and she hopes that by sharing her story, she can be a beacon of support for other Mums who have shared similar experiences.
If you have experienced a loss of this nature. There are lots of resources and support networks available to help you break the stigma and manage your narrative by visiting sites such as www.babyloss-awareness.org, terminationsremembered.com and sayinggoodbye.org.