Miscarriage and Motherhood: Heart-to-heart with cookbook author Ash Butler

Today is Mother’s Day, a day designated for celebrating and honouring the special mummas in our lives. But for some women, this is also a day of reflection or heartache. For cookbook author Ash Butler, it’s both. Plus now, joy. From one mother to another, thank you for opening your heart, Ash, and answering some raw questions. Keep an eye out for The Small Kitchen Cook by Ash Butler, on sale on this website from August 2022.

Miscarriage and Motherhood: Heart-to-Heart with Ash Butler

Happy Mother’s Day, Ash! Tell us about your twin girls. 

Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there. Also to the people that are longing to be mothers and to those that have lost their children. To LGBTQI parents and to those that don’t use the binary title of this day.

Our darlings, Etta Rain and Arc Illuka will be two next week. The first words that come to mind for our sweet Arc, aka Arci, would be determined, fearless, strong and brave. She was born first, three minutes before her sister, Etta. Etta is independent, caring, funny and clever. They are fantastic dancers, cuddlers, climbers, and singers. My favourite thing to do at the moment is to watch them dance in the kitchen with their dad. The look of pure joy on their faces just about makes my heart triple in size.

You’ve recently become an author (congratulations!) How important is it to keep your passions alive while you’re raising children?

Thank you. This definitely hasn’t sunk in yet. This book has been on my mind for a few years now and I am so proud that I will be able to show it to the greater community really soon. 

Working on this project while raising Etta and Arc has been really an empowering experience. I have brought this topic up with a few friends of mine and have told them that I am really thankful of the timing of finishing this book and working with a publishing team. At first I thought, ‘I can’t find the time to do this; entering into motherhood with twins, in the middle of a pandemic, without family around’. But it turns out…  it was exactly what I could do and what I needed to do. Following my passions and keeping my personal goals alive is really important for my mental health. Etta and Arc benefit from me fulfilling these dreams and aspirations, as it brings me feelings of contentment, happiness and satisfaction and this reflects the ways in which I parent my daughters. Etta and Arc are my world and they became intertwined in my book in the most beautiful way. They love food. They inspired me to make family friendly recipes. This book is better because of them.

Ash, Etta, Arc and Jared. Image by T. Thimios.

Tell us about your journey to motherhood.

I can’t remember the defining point of when I wanted to become a mother. I think it has always been in my heart and bones. My partner, Jared and I have been together for almost 15 years and a lot of day dreaming happened in those early years of our relationship (and now). I always imagined us with kids in tow; adventuring, nesting and having a solid family unit. We have that now and it’s fantastic.

My journey to get to motherhood has been a very, very long one. It also is a very painful and traumatic one. I have suffered six pregnancy losses over the past six years. Each loss was utterly heartbreaking; physically and mentally painful. It took a lot of time to be able to move forward again. After three pregnancy losses, a geneticist diagnosed me with Robertsonian balanced translocation, a chromosomal abnormality. This is an imbalance that I carry in some of my eggs. Some of my eggs are balanced/healthy and the ones that aren’t my body naturally lets go of, causing a miscarriage. Our geneticist told us that is was possible to have a healthy pregnancy without the assistance of IVF. A few years after this diagnosis, one of my healthy eggs decided to split into two and our identical twins were born on the 14th of May, 2020, the exact day of our first pregnancy loss, five years prior.

I can imagine it would have been very scary with each pregnancy after your first loss, wondering if it would be ok this time. At what point in your pregnancy with Etta and Arc were you able to relax? 

The waiting was excruciating and torturous. It never became easier. I would become more and more sensitive to every little niggle and feeling in my body. Each time we saw a double line on the pregnancy test, both myself and Jared were petrified for the road ahead. Once we saw two healthy heartbeats at our early pregnancy scan, we were over the moon, to say the least. We were also completely and utterly petrified.

11 weeks was our next milestone to test Etta and Arc, via a blood sample from me, to make sure they were clear of the abnormality that I carry. And they were. Two healthy babies were growing happily inside of me and we could all breathe easier and enjoy some of the second trimester, stress free. 

At around 22 weeks, the relaxing was over as Etta was diagnosed with Fetal growth restriction (FGR), a very common occurrence with identical twins that share a placenta. The pregnancy became closely monitored from then on and we travelled one and a half hours to the city every week to make sure Etta’s blood flow stayed strong. It was a long third trimester, but Etta and Arc were born full term for identical twins (36 weeks) and we were all home together a week later. Happy, healthy and in the most glorious love bubble that I always dreamed of.

Etta and Arc. Image by Jared Campbell.

Some women don’t announce their pregnancy until they’re 12 weeks along, in case of miscarriage. But the flipside to that is that if they do have a miscarriage, they go through it alone. What are your thoughts on delaying the baby announcement?

I believe that it’s important to tell a few of your loved ones at the beginning of your pregnancy. It is a really overwhelming time, full of excitement (for some), fear, doubt and feelings that you never knew you could possibly feel. My theory was that I would tell the people that I held close to me, as I would tell them also if something wasn’t right with the pregnancy. This meant that I was held and supported for both positive and negative outcomes. This is personal choice. This is what worked for me. My community helped me through huge amounts of grief and I am so thankful for that.

How can a friend offer support after a pregnancy loss?

Simply being there for them when they need is the best thing you can do. Telling them that it wasn’t anything they had done wrong. Saying you are sorry for their loss and asking ‘what can I do to help, in any way’. Language such as, ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘good thing you weren’t too far along’ completely disregards the life they have just lost inside of them. If people can focus on love, nurture and how amazingly strong women are, this will be a great support.

To someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, would you recommend a ceremony and / or a grief counsellor?

This would completely depend on how you deal with grief on a personal level. Jared and I have held ceremonies for many of our losses and other times we have done our best to create closure and heal the loss in other personal ways. I have attended breath workshops in the past and they were a really powerful, healing experience for me. I have been to psychologists and councillors, which have both played a part in the healing process. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help and support, as there are so many women who are experiencing this grief. You are not alone.

As an author, you understand the power of using the right words to communicate a message. The term ‘miscarriage’ itself is a euphemism; it’s a way of taking the word ‘death’ out of the conversation. How important do you feel it is to use honest language around this topic and what is a better way of saying ‘miscarriage’? 

Firstly, not using the word ‘miscarried’, as this insinuates that the woman has done something wrong and can point blame. The language that I use when I talk about the babies we have lost depends on who I am having the conversation with and how vulnerable I am feeling. If I feel held and supported, I can talk about death and the fact that my babies have died. I also describe what has happened by saying that I have lost my babies or my little ones in utero. This removes the word ‘death’. I’m not sure why I do this; maybe as a way to protect myself. 

The term ‘miscarriage’ is the most familiar and commonly used term. I feel as though it diminishes what has happened. The more conversations we have on what physically happens when a person loses a baby will hopefully change, to better recognise and acknowledge the loss of life that has occurred.

Is there a resource that you can recommend to women who have experienced pregnancy loss?

I follow @pinkellephantsupport. They are a charitable organisation for pregnancy loss. They have wonderful support resources and live chats online. I really like the language they use. They are also a great resource for the people who are supporting the ones who have experienced pregnancy loss. I have become more and more comfortable and capable of sharing my story of pregnancy loss over the past few years and talking about it more and more, sometimes even with people that I have just met. This has definitely made me realise that I am not alone and it is not my fault.

One in four pregnancies result in pregnancy loss, for so many different reasons. The more we talk about it, the more we can normalise this conversation and better support each other.

Thanks so much, Ash, for speaking honestly and from the heart. We look forward to releasing your book ‘The Small Kitchen Cook’ this August. Happy Mother’s Day x

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