First-time mum recounts the heartbreaking decision to terminate her pregnancy at 23 weeks

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She was only a month away from celebrating her one year wedding anniversary in March 2019 when Meagan Donaldson discovered she was pregnant.

It would be the first baby on both sides of the family and was a very much wanted and not-so-subtly hoped for first grandchild that Meagan and her husband had spent seven months trying to bring to life.

‘The day I took the pregnancy test, I already had a strong feeling I was pregnant. When we saw those two lines we were completely overjoyed,’ the 32-year-old from Melbourne told FEMAIL.

‘We couldn’t believe we were finally going to be having a baby. We sat together in complete disbelief, hugging with tears in our eyes.’  

That baby, a girl, was to be named Violet Grace.

She was only a month away from celebrating her one year wedding anniversary in March 2019 when Meagan Donaldson discovered she was pregnant (pictured with her husband)

She was only a month away from celebrating her one year wedding anniversary in March 2019 when Meagan Donaldson discovered she was pregnant (pictured with her husband)

But at their 12 week scan Meagan received the news that no expecting parent wants to hear: ‘There are a couple of concerns with your baby.’

The next 10 weeks were a blur of meetings with fetal diagnostic specialists, geneticists and genetic counsellors, alongside every conceivable test they could take to check on Violet Grace’s progress.

‘Eventually an MRI confirmed the worst possible outcome. After meeting with multiple specialists, we were told her prognosis was poor. She may not survive to full term and, if she did, her quality of life would be non-existent with a short life span,’ Meagan said.

‘We then made the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our baby girl.’

One week later, Violet Grace was born at 23 weeks. Still, but perfect.  

One week later, Violet Grace was born at 23 weeks. Still, but perfect

One week later, Violet Grace was born at 23 weeks. Still, but perfect

In the early stages of Meagan’s pregnancy, growing Violet Grace was everything she had hoped and dreamed for.

‘Like most mums in the first twelve weeks, the hardest challenge of my first trimester was trying to hide the news and the morning sickness that occurred almost all day, every day,’ she said.

The pair didn’t follow the 12 week waiting rule – and are now thankful that they didn’t –  as those early days were the only time in their pregnancy journey that they got to experience the complete joy and happiness that comes with expecting.

It was at that scan that doctors told Meagan that something was wrong with Violet Grace’s progress and the beginning of the ‘decision’ that would weigh so heavily on them in the coming weeks. 

‘I use the word ‘decision’ not choice, because choice to me is deciding whether to get pizza or Thai food from UberEats,’ Meagan said.

The pair didn't follow the 12 week waiting rule - and are now thankful that they didn't - as those early days were the only time in their pregnancy journey that they got to experience the complete joy and happiness that comes with expecting

The pair didn’t follow the 12 week waiting rule – and are now thankful that they didn’t – as those early days were the only time in their pregnancy journey that they got to experience the complete joy and happiness that comes with expecting

‘Deciding, based on an awful diagnosis, whether to continue with a pregnancy and bring a baby into the world to suffer or to no longer continue with your pregnancy doesn’t feel like a choice. 

‘It feels like the worst decision you will ever have to make.’

Until her experience with Violet Grace, Meagan had never even heard of Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR). 

The terms miscarriage and stillbirth are common but she now felt like she existed the ‘taboo within the taboo’.  

‘Most people who have experienced it don’t talk about it openly, as it comes with an added layer of politics, personal opinions, religion and much more. But it is so much more common than I could have known,’ she said.

Meagan’s advice for other parents experiencing pregnancy loss and stillbirth: 

You are still a mum even without a living child – this has been one of the most important realisations for me. I am grateful that my husband is so supportive. 

On my first Mother’s Day after Violet’s birth, he gave me a candle and earrings ‘from’ Violet. I also get a gift from Violet every Christmas. On Mother’s Day, I appreciate every friend who texts me: Happy Mother’s Day (not just on bereaved Mother’s Day). These small gestures really matter.

It is okay to talk about your baby as much as you want to. I love to say Violet’s name and I love it when other people reference her too. People think it will upset me to mention her, but it’s not like I ever forget her. Every parent loves talking about their child, and showing people beautiful photos, and that’s exactly the same for me.

There is a whole community of amazing women out there who have also experienced their own losses and they will support you in ways you couldn’t previously imagine. Instagram has so many amazing resources and women supporting others in the loss community, all you have to do is search pregnancy loss hashtags.

Everyone’s experience of loss and the way they grieve is unique and personal. Often people won’t know how to respond to you and you might need to explicitly tell them what you want and need. I know that, after Violet was born, people were very scared about inviting me to baby showers or 1st birthday parties, but I was always happy to be asked. Good friends will also be okay if you’re honest and say: I can’t be there, but I send my love.

Grief and joy can co-exist. It is okay to be happy and celebrate life again. Being happy doesn’t mean you love or miss your baby any less. There is a life after loss. Eventually with time the pain does lessen.

I’ve also learnt that you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone. I do know that everyone has very different opinions about termination on any grounds. We made our decision with the support of our medical team. This experience has taught me not to judge anyone, if you haven’t been in their shoes.

‘My husband and I chose to be open about our decision, because we wanted to acknowledge our daughter’s life and her whole journey. 

‘We sent a message to our friends and family the week Violet was born. I started a fundraiser to raise money for the hospital where we gave birth to Violet and, since then, I’ve written a book about our life together called Still A Mum.

‘I’ve had so many private messages from parents who have been in the same situation as us, including people in my life who I never knew had been through this.’ 

'My husband and I chose to be open about our decision, because we wanted to acknowledge our daughter's life and her whole journey,' she said

‘My husband and I chose to be open about our decision, because we wanted to acknowledge our daughter’s life and her whole journey,’ she said

Meagan has encountered a lot of well-meaning phrases like ‘they are in a better place’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’, ‘maybe it wasn’t meant to be’ and sentences that starts with ‘at least…’ since losing Violet Grace, none of which offer any sense of comfort.

‘Acknowledge that they are a mother by using the names of all of their children, by including the baby they lost as one of their kids, by messaging them on special anniversaries or celebrations,’ she said.

‘Let them know you remember they are a mum even though their child is no longer alive.’

How to explain that you’re pregnant to a mother who has lost a child:

One day a family member asked me to pop around to her house after work, I hadn’t spoken to her much recently so thought it would be a good chance to catch up. When I walked into her house, she was really awkward and instantly I could tell she had to get something off her chest.

‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ she said. ‘We’re having a baby and I didn’t want you to find out when we announced it on Facebook. It wasn’t planned at all, but we are really excited.’

I knew she thought she was doing a good thing in giving me advance warning, but in that moment I was upset and angry with her: How did she expect me to react? Didn’t she know how much pressure it put on me, calling me on a ‘date’ and telling me to my face. If I’d learnt through a text message, or even through the internet, I’d have time to process my mixed emotions – and hide them from her.

I am forever grateful for friends who ‘warn’ me about their pregnancies before going public; but I do ask that they text or message me instead of telling me in person. It gives me the opportunity to react in my own way before I pull myself together and congratulate them.

The honest truth is, when someone has recently lost a baby or is struggling to conceive a child of their own, the announcement of someone else’s pregnancy is hard for so many reasons. But the reason is never because they are unhappy for you. It is because it is another reminder of something that they are missing.

One of my beautiful friends wrote in her text message: ‘I am telling you this way so you can be mad or sad or do whatever it is you need to do and then you can respond when you are ready.’ 

For me, this is perfect.

Her advice is to check in on those who have experienced pregnancy loss but not to expect too much in the early weeks and months.  

‘Let them know you would love to hear about their baby or see pictures if they are comfortable and happy to share,’ she said.

‘I have 108 photos of Violet and only one person has ever asked to see them. I know it’s confronting to some people, but this is my daughter. 

‘To me, she was beautiful on the day she was born – a perfect, tiny baby who we dressed in a home-made onesie and read storybooks to, despite the fact she was no longer alive.’

Meagan Donaldson’s book Still A Mum can be purchased from her website here.   

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