Stop blaming women

I’m angry.

Tommy’s published some new research that shows that a diet high in fruit and vegetables could be linked to lower miscarriage risk.

When they published this research on their Instagram page, women began to post in the comments how it triggered them and felt that it placed blame on them for their miscarriages. Comments were along the lines of “if someone had told me at my most vulnerable time I could’ve prevented my loss by eating a few apples I would’ve been devastated.” 

Indeed I’m a vegetarian who eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, exercises several times a week, and took all the recommended supplements and progesterone, yet I had four miscarriages. I’m not sure what more I could’ve done to prevent my miscarriages and I suppose I’m somewhat in a better place that I know the cause of two of my losses whereas many women don’t get answers. On the flip side we know there are plenty of women who don’t live particularly healthy lifestyles yet go on to have healthy babies.

All credit to Tommy’s they deleted the post and issued an apologetic statement through their Instagram Stories. I don’t want to slam them because they are a wonderful charity who do amazing work and many people wouldn’t be parents without them. And to be fair, the research in itself is important – we can’t say tell us how to prevent miscarriage and then get angry when we don’t like the answer.

But research like this needs to be delivered with nuance and care. Eating a healthy diet is hugely important for maternal health (and the general health of the population) but it’s not good enough to just lecture women about their lifestyle choices. We need to empower and support women so that they can make the right decisions. For starters there’s a cost-of-living crisis and (despite what some right wing politicians say) fruit and vegetables are expensive. We can’t assume that every woman has a Vitamix and the time and money to cook delicious healthy meals. It would be better to use the research to campaign for subsidised fruit and vegetables for women on Universal Credit. 

Additionally how can women make the right decisions about their maternity care when they don’t know what caused their miscarriage? The numbers around miscarriage are vague and we don’t even know how many happen because there’s no official register of miscarriages in the UK. How are we supposed to make informed decisions when we’re often told with a shrug “it’s just one of those things”? 

In a vacuum of knowledge, many women already blame themselves for their loss and it’s something I’ve written about feeling myself. I guarantee you that a woman who suffers a miscarriage after eating ten apples a day will still blame herself because she didn’t eat eleven apples.

I’m frustrated because it just feels like another thing women are blamed for. Many women talk about feeling guilty because their birth didn’t go to plan or they struggle with breastfeeding.

Whether we end up having children or not, trying to have a baby isn’t a walk in the park and IVF and pregnancy puts our bodies (and minds) under huge strain, yet shockingly an NHS watchdog found that care is substandard at 39% of maternal units in England. It is inexcusable that in 2023 black and ethnic minority mothers are subject to higher risk of dying during childbirth and experiencing higher rates of stillbirth, miscarriage and neonatal death.

Rather than blaming women for their maternal outcomes we need seriously start thinking about how we better support them.

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