They said my baby was a miscarriage but I held him and loved him – at last, this is being recognised

Tulip Mazumdar
I think about Rivah and Rae all the time and talk about them often – it helps to make them real - BBC

It was only when the doctor handed me a pamphlet about birth that I realised what was about to happen. I had just been told that at 20 weeks, I had lost my baby – my third pregnancy loss in 18 months.

“Miscarriage” was the word they used. I thought I knew what that meant. I had already had two, and though they had been uncomfortable and terribly upsetting, the experience was roughly what I imagined it might be. The first was a chemical pregnancy – which I experienced as a late, long, heavy period. The second was what is called a “blighted ovum”, where a gestational sac is found but no embryo is developing inside it. This time, I realised, it was going to be an entirely different story.

I was terrified as it dawned on me that I was going to give birth to this baby. I would have to decide whether I wanted to see him afterwards, whether I wanted to spend time with him, to hold him. My husband, Karl, and I had to make a plan for what we wanted to do with his remains. And yet, nobody used the word stillbirth.

Medically, because my pregnancy was less than 24 weeks, this was a miscarriage. That word didn’t come close to summing up what I was about to go through. After Rivah was born – tiny and perfect and ours – it was hard to hold on to the idea that he’d been real, that what I’d been through with him was real.

A piece of paper with a name, a date, and a government insignia on it doesn’t sound like much, but to me – and the millions of women like me who lose a baby before 24 weeks – a grief certificate could have meant a great deal.

Baby loss of any kind is awful. I have lost four babies – two in early pregnancy, two in the second trimester. All four of them left their mark on me. But officially, it sometimes felt as if they never happened.

There is no government record of my babies. The early miscarriages were barely treated as real losses in the overstretched early pregnancy units where I was told “bad luck, off you go and try again”. The midwives who helped me through the birth of Rivah and later his brother Rae – who I gave birth to at 16 weeks, less than a year later – did an incredible job of making me feel like what I was going through was momentous and hard. I’ll never forget their kindness, never be able to thank them enough for the way they gently, lovingly dressed my babies as if they had once lived. It gave me the confidence to hold them when I was too scared to touch them. But once we walked away from the hospital, all we had were our deep feelings of loss and a little memory box. They had left no trace, other than in our hearts.

Tulip Mazumdar
‘There is nothing tangible to hold onto when you leave hospital without a baby,’ says Tulip Mazumdar - Danny Martindale/WireImage

It’s why I am taking so much comfort from the news that people who have lost a baby before 24 weeks will now be able to apply for a certificate from the Government recognising their death. I’ve seen an early sample of the certificate and was relieved by how it looked – nothing special or flowery, but clean and official. Like a government document, which is exactly what it will be. I’m told they will be printed on nice heavy paper too, which feels appropriate.

The idea that a piece of paper could mean this much might sound farfetched, but think about the framework that exists around any other kind of death. There is so much admin involved with death, from the paperwork to the funeral planning. It can be overwhelming, but it can also help people process what has happened. It gives you somewhere to channel your grief. What I didn’t realise until I lost Rivah and Rae was that it also helps make the loss seem real.

There is nothing tangible to hold onto when you leave hospital without a baby. I didn’t know whether I’d even want or be able to touch Rivah when he was born. But I found instinctively I needed to see and hold him. They brought him to me and he was just this tiny figure and looked absolutely like a baby. He was so delicate. They put him in a cold cot next to me and I spent the night beside him. Doing that didn’t feel right for my husband, and it won’t for many people. But for me it made Rivah real, which he was.

I’d brought some flowers to the hospital with me and leaves from our garden at home and I placed them around him in the tiny white box they put him in. The next morning, when it was time to go, I couldn’t leave. With every step I took away from that room, I wanted to run back.

At home, I had some of the clothes he’d worn. They still had the imprint of his head on them. There was a memory box with a little teddy in it too, and I dried some of the flowers I’d laid next to him. But that was it.

Rivah’s name drawn in the sand
Rivah’s name drawn in the sand - BBC

Going back to work a few weeks later, it was impossible to find the right way to talk about what had happened. When you say to someone: “I had a miscarriage”, they think of one thing, and you know in reality it was something very different. I found myself needing to say: “My baby died and I gave birth and held him.” People don’t want to hear that – it’s too devastating. But language is important.

All of that could have been softened or felt more justified by something like this certificate, which just does the very simple but important job of making real what can feel absolutely otherworldly.

When Rae was born, I was prepared. It’s a strange, devastating thing to have a previous experience of. I brought sprigs of the myrtle tree that I’d planted for Rivah to the hospital. I brought LED candles and made the room nice. I brought a book called Little Fish to read to him. I made something beautiful out of something terrible and gave myself memories that were filled with love. Because that is all you’re left with in the end – the love you have for that baby.

Karl and I have since made it through a nerve-wracking sixth pregnancy. Our daughter Liliana was born in 2022, a sister to Rion, our five-year-old son. I think about Rivah and Rae often and do not shy away from talking about them – it helps to make them real. I know I’m not alone in this. Women I have interviewed about baby loss tell me how the memory of the pregnancies they lost never leaves. I remember one woman saying she still thinks about a baby she lost 30 years ago. I hope for their sakes the Government eventually extends the certificate so that it’s available to women who gave birth before 2018. It could help those women so much.

I haven’t decided yet when to apply for my own certificates. I think I want to, but I need to be ready. When those letters drop onto the doormat I want to be prepared to open them and have a plan for what to do with them. Do I fold them and put them in the memory box? I’m not sure yet. But I know this kind of acknowledgement will be important to me. It’ll help to have the babies I carried, birthed and held memorialised forever. I know those certificates will never just be pieces of paper to me.

To see Tulip’s full BBC News report into the devastating impact of miscarriage, click here

As told to Eleanor Steafel

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