032: Honouring a child lost – Rowena Mabbott


In this episode:

In this episode of The Fearless Females Podcast your host Tegan Mathews interviews Rowena Mabbott who shares:

  • How she got through the birth of her still born child
  • The journey she went on afterwards
  • The fears she faced when she fell pregnant again
  • How she honours the child she lost
  • How she now helps other women to do the same

Tegan’s Take Aways:

  1. There are lots of different ways you can honour someone special you have lost. A great place to start is by asking yourself, “What can I do in my life that would make them proud of me if they were here?” and go do that.
  2. An upset in your life might just be a set up for something new or a different direction you need to take.
  3. Don’t be afraid to talk about a topic that society deems as uncomfortable such as loss and death, because it can actually contribute to the healing process.
  4. When you are super passionate about something you want to do, because you care so deeply about it, expect that fear is going to show up.
  5. When that fear does show up, swamp it with love because fear can not survive in an environment of love.

About Rowena Mabbott

Rowena is a Life & Loss Coach, writer, speaker, and consultant. Through her coaching practice JoyHopeLove, she works with mother’s who have lost a baby and want to honour their child by confidently living their best life; one that is full of joy, hope and love and legacy.

Rowena is passionate about raising awareness of stillbirth around the world. As well as providing individual coaching, Rowena also uses her extensive HR experience to work with large and small businesses to improve the support provided by employers to bereaved parent employees.

Rowena is based in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her husband and two boys. She has a free e-book you can download from her website, where you can also learn more about her. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Contact Rowena Mabbott



A Gift for Listeners From Rowena Mabbott

Download Rowena Mabbott’s E-book – Six days to a life filled with more joy, hope and love. It’s a summary of what she did to make herself feel better once she realised she Iwas a tired of feeling sad. If you’re ready for a change then this e-book is about how you get more of what you want in your life. More joy, hope and love.

Yes please, I want Rowena’s ebook – 6 days to a life filled with more joy, hope and love

BONUS: Download Rowena’s eBook before 29th October 2016 and go into the draw to win one of two prizes. Prize number one is the opportunity for a 90 minute coaching session and two weeks follow up emails with Rowena and prize number two is a beautiful silver angel bracelet hand crafted by Michelle from Lily Taylor Designs plus 20% off any of Rowena’s coaching packages.

Show Notes: Episode 032: Honouring a child lost – Rowena Mabbott

Rowena Mabbott’s Fearless Story

The tragedy you are referring to was in 2008 my second son was still born. Being told my son had died was pretty terrible and was a majorly traumatic experience in what had been a fairly straight forward, run of the mill life until that point.

There was a lot of fear obviously but in the moment there was a lot of confusion, hurt and anger. A thousand and one emotions. A lot stemmed from the way that I was told. I had a scan because I felt the movement had slowed down, or had stopped and so I went into the hospital to have a scan and be checked.

The pathologist doctor walked into the room, glanced at the screen and said, “Yeah, well he’s dead love” which was a dagger to the heart way of doing it. There were so many better ways that could have been handled.

From there, my husband was with me and my little boy, my toddler who was 22 months old and we had only gone in there for a routine check thinking I’m sure everything is fine but let’s just check. So then we had to face what do we do?

I wanted my husband with me and we had to go through the whole thing that I was still going to have to give birth to this baby as I was 35 weeks pregnant. People were expecting I would be coming home with a baby any day now and I certainly looked like that.

So there was a bit of angst and fear and a lot of tears as we processed what we were supposed to do. There was a lot of disbelief as well. Not really grasping exactly what was happening or what this meant because our brains went into protective mode and just really didn’t comprehend the enormity of what had happened.

So, my husband had to take my toddler to collect some belongings. We didn’t have anything because we were just going for a check-up. He got me some stuff so that I could be over night in the hospital and dropped my little one with my aunt.

My mother was in London at the time and I was in Sydney and my mother in law was six hours away down the coast and we didn’t have any other immediate family in Sydney except for some Aunts and cousins. Fortunately, they were just amazing and they really helped.

My Aunt was on the phone to me when I was by myself because my husband was off driving my little one and she was consoling me as we both sobbed our eyes out and she looked after my little boy so that my husband could come back and be with me.

So, going through the birth, I had to be induced, and going through that for a good few hours until my husband came back was quite scary and was quite a fear inducing thing because you are there in a hospital and you already know the outcome. It’s not like there’s going to be the exciting prize at the end of it of a live baby.

But, moving past that immediacy of, “OMG how am I going to cope?” and “How am I going to get through the next few hours?” and “How am I going to give birth to this child without falling in a heap on the floor?” I had a fantastic social worker who came and sat with me during that time while my husband was away so I wasn’t completely alone.

She was brilliant and someone I am forever grateful to. I also had a wonderful mid-wife who kept coming in and checking on me and would just walk up to me and give me little cuddles as I lay on the bed weeping. Giving me that love and reassurance that a woman can give another woman even if they haven’t ever met each other before. Just that companionship and support.

I think that without those two women, the fear that I had to face and the anguish and heart ache would have been unbearable. They were a very big part of that period of time, that afternoon.

Anyway, so that was a pretty horrendous moment and I would like to say that it got better and it did eventually but there was about a month when it wasn’t. Once we had the baby and had done all the hospital stuff and I came home the next day, the fears didn’t really go away.

So I had given birth to my baby but he wasn’t here, he was dead and so the worst of what could happen, had happened but I was still wracked with fear. I don’t know why but I just know I was full of fear for about a month. I think it was partly because so much energy is taken up when you are grieving. It’s absolutely exhausting.

You really can’t do anything else except just survive. In terms of feeding yourself and getting yourself kind of dressed is pretty much all you can manage. And we had a 22 month old as well who was a big part of my fears, not that I was going to lose him but that I was somehow going to damage him.

He was seeing his mummy and daddy crying and upset and he was quite an observant little boy. I didn’t want him to have memories of his parents being distraught and so sad. He was quite confused as to where his little brother had gone.

He came with us to the crematorium but he was just toddling around and my husband’s uncle just followed him to make sure he was always ok and kept him out of the ‘action’ as it were.

I think that I was grief stricken but also my confidence was shattered. A big part of having your body fail you as a woman and not know that there was something wrong. So a big part of it was around guilt. And around not being able to forgive my own self for my body failing me. So my confidence was just gone, shattered.

I was feeling unable to cope by myself and I was reluctant to be left alone. It was that I just wanted another adult with me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t look after myself or look after my living son. I just felt nervous and afraid and wanted another adult with me so that I didn’t have to be the only grown up.

Over time and with certain actions and with time itself it heals a lot of wounds, that fear subsided and I was able to get on with my life. Interestingly that all-consuming fear returned the day we got pregnant again. It was a different fear, but still a mind-bending fear.

We were both delighted to be pregnant again but there was that anxiety and fear that stayed throughout that pregnancy until the baby was safely born. He got whisked off to special care though because he came 36 weeks and 6 days which was one day shy of 37 weeks. He was classed as early and therefore had to go to special care.

He was perfectly fine and full size and everything else. People were saying, “You aren’t worried about him being in special care?” and I was like, “No, I am so calm because someone else now has the responsibility of looking after him and I’ve had nine months of high stress worrying if something went wrong it was my fault”.

This was partly because the cause of my second son’s death was not something that could be scanned for or prevented. So there was nothing I could have done to prevent it re-occurring which was a comfort but also completely ‘drive you crazy cause’ of fear because it could happen again and there’s nothing I could do.

So how did you deal with that fear?

I did still go to the hospital twice a week for monitoring and scanning which really helped me be not so freaked out. But it was just a case of, until that little boy was safely out and I could see him and hold him and know that he was ok that’s what I needed to do to keep my fear at bay.

It was a very practical approach and the other thing I did was I did a fair bit of distraction so that my mind would be busy focusing on other things. For example, we decided to do an extreme makeover on our house like an extreme nesting approach. This kept me some what distracted from the state of my belly.

I also did lots of craft and creative things that would keep a different part of my brain busy. When you are in flow and doing a creative activity it is very hard to be thinking of anything else and I found it was quite therapeutic for me. It also meant I didn’t worry so much. You know how you can get in your own head too much.

So much of the fear and anxiety comes from, for me, when I’m in my head too much. The creative thing worked really well during the pregnancy and prior to that there had been different things I did to kick myself in the posterior. Kick-start the process of saying, “Ok, this feeling sorry for yourself and not knowing who you are is annoying”. I was annoying myself so I decided to do something about it.

In between times, after my still born baby and before I was pregnant with the next one I actually did some work around identity. I had so much around that sense of failure and the failure of my body as a vessel to carry a baby.

In my own head, I was labelled as, “You’re the mother of a still born child”. There was a little bit of that anyway, you know you go to mother’s groups of play group and you get a bit of, “Oh, she’s the one who’s baby died.” I didn’t want to be that person.

Instead, I actually did something that was completely out of character and it took me way out of my comfort zone and I became a Tupperware consultant. Which was possibly the best and worst thing I could do. The best in that I just went as me and no one knew anything about anything. They knew I had a living son and that’s all they knew.

And I just turned up as me…I was just Rowena. There were no tags or labels attached to me and I could be just who-ever I wanted. It was a bit like when I was a teenager and I loved the idea of flying overseas and turning up as who-ever I wanted to be without anybody else’s hang-ups on me.

This was like the version you do when you are a mum and have responsibilities and a mortgage to pay and all of that sort of stuff. But it was really key and it boosted my confidence to be able to face people again and meet different people.

So then after the next baby was safely delivered and I spent some time with him, I went back to work for a while with someone who I had worked with previously. They were one of the few people who had remained absolutely supportive, from a distance but would ring me every few months just to check in and see how I was and always said, “Whenever you are ready, I have a job for you.”

I used to say, “Sure, sure, sure”, and then one day I said, “In six months I’ll do it.” Five months later he called and said, “Right, you’re ready to come work with me in a months time?’ and it was a bit like, “Ohhh, OK”. I had to face a few fears then because my youngest was only 18 months old and I hadn’t quite thought about going back to work yet.

I had been out of the workforce for five years by then and had been enjoying being in the moment with parenting my children. I was grateful for that, being with them and being able to just play and be pushing them on the swing or whatever, was very healing for getting you out of any sense of fear or anything else.

Anyway, I went back to work and did some consultancy for a while and it was then that I realised there were some inklings of ideas of some things I wanted to do. I had been thinking about it for a while that I wanted to do something to remember the child I lost and to honour him but I hadn’t really put my finger on what it was.

How has this experience positively effected who you are today?

At the end of last year after a girls ‘catch-up’ evening there was a sort of throw away comment made. Sometimes comments become a bit of an ear worm that you can’t get rid of and it keeps coming up and niggling away at you at random times when you least expect it. It was around doing something for mums who had also had still born babies or who had lost babies.

I had been toying with becoming the head of a major mergers and acquisitions HR role which was very different. It’s quite detail focussed work, quite stressful and it wasn’t a fear-inducing thing but it wasn’t a joy-inducing thing. I did like the idea of better income, a bit of status and prestige but it didn’t make my heart sing.

The comment about helping other mums, I started to think that there was actually something in that. So after a few months of exploring it and talking to my social worker who I had remained in contact with, I wanted to do something to honour that baby and remember him and she gave me lots of different suggestions which I mulled over.

Anyway, to cut the story a little bit shorter, I decided I wanted to become a life coach and to work specifically with other mums who had lost babies and to help them. Not in the grief stage so much because everyone has their own grief journey and that’s where counselling really comes in but as a coach for when a little time has passed. For everyone that is different. But how do you go and honour that child by doing something awesome with your life.

My thing is to be this coach who helps other mums and that’s how I’m going to honour my little boy. Not everyone wants to start a charity or a foundation, there are lots of different ways and it could just be about un-sticking yourself. Don’t get stuck in the grief and the feeling of being ripped off because you don’t have your baby.

Instead, it’s about saying, “What can I do that would make that baby proud.” If that little person was here, what could you do to make them say, “Mum you rock!” That could just be about living your best life and feeling happy, you don’t have to feel guilty because you’re not expected to be sad forever.

You’ll always have a spot in your heart for that baby. You will always feel like there’s an empty spot at your table no matter how many more children you go on to have because that little person is part of you and you carried them and they are always in your heart. There’s not a day that will go past that you don’t think of them.

But that isn’t to say you can’t do something amazing with your life. Or just give yourself permission to be happy and live a life you love. In doing that alone, that can be enough to honour that child. The person you have lost doesn’t want you to be unhappy forever.

I’ve heard some ladies say that their baby never had the chance to wish that for them but if you believe in souls, and not everybody does, but if you do then no soul is going to wish another soul to be miserable for the rest of their life. If you like the idea that there is a little baby angel looking down upon you then why would you want them to see you being miserable either.

I use the term of turning an upset into a set up. I like the play on words with this and I admit it is slightly shallower when you are talking about losing a child but it is saying, “Take that but don’t dwell in it forever” and I am not saying to not acknowledge your grief, not by a long way.

Instead, it’s about saying, “What can I now do that turns that around?” Maybe this is like a spring board or the catalyst for me to actually look at my life and say, “You know, life is short and it’s precious and it can be gone in an instant, what do I want to do with my time here on this earth to make sure it’s really valuable?”

Often people already have that idea before they come to work with me and they have had that awakening or realisation and then they think, “Oh, well what do I do now?” and that’s when they are looking for someone like me, because they aren’t sure what to do next.

Having been through the experience myself, it was always the idea because I know I resonate with people who have been through the experience that they are then teaching others about and it makes more sense to us to do that and so that’s how I came to where I am today.

Most Memorable Moment

There have been so many! But if I have to choose just one it would be to do with my boys. I have two living boys, one is nine and one is six and then there’s Thomas who is the one who died and he would have been eight this week.

His anniversary is always a time we do something special as a family and we always do something that he would have enjoyed for the age he would have been, had he lived. For example, one year we went to the zoo because we all decided that would be something he would have liked to have done.

The older boy who was six at the time really wanted to tell his class we had been to the zoo to remember his brother and wanted to take a photo of his brother in to show the class. My heart was filled with so much pride and love but at the same time I was a bit nervous about that.

So he ended up taking some photos of us going to the zoo rather than of his actual brother which I felt was more appropriate. I didn’t feel that any of the other parents would have been thrilled when their six-year-old children came home and said, “We’ve seen photos of a dead baby today mum”.

But it was memorable because it really showed me just how much my older boy deeply loved his ‘not here’ brother. He accepted it with that amazing ability that children have that it was just what we do in our house and he was confident to share that with his class, even at such a young age.

In his mind there was nothing wrong with wanting to talk about his brother, and there isn’t but it’s not something as a society that we have been very good at. We aren’t good at it when parents talk about it and we aren’t good at it when children talk about it because it makes people feel uncomfortable.

So that was a memorable moment for me because I was just so proud of him. Also a little sad because there was nothing wrong with his intention but it was just societal judgement that I knew would come thick and fast, if I let him do that. It was a little bit of a bitter sweet moment from that perspective.

What is something in your future plan that scares you?

This is quite a big change for me and I have spent the last six to nine months embracing re-training after almost twenty years as a corporate human resources person. Re-training as a more heart centred life coach.

It’s quite daunting and a little fear-inducing to be stepping out from the umbrella of a corporate and consultancy based life to now starting my own business. What keeps me going and keeps my pants on rather than having them scared right off, is the fact that I’m really passionate about this.

I feel like finally, all the little ducks have lined up, and this is what I ought to be doing but it’s kind of scary when I think about the amount of change that is needed in some of the other things I want to do. One of the other things I am really passionate about is wanting to fix or help improve is the way that organisations work with parents who have lost children and return to work.

There’s a little bit of bereavement leave and a little bit of understanding for a week or two but these parents have been changed forever by this experience and that can often mean they have a very different focus in their work place as well.

I was talking to a father who said it took him two years before he was able to bring his full self to work after they lost their son. So for two years he was really just going through the motions. He was having output and everything else but he wasn’t really there.

So I think there’s a lot that an organisation can do there and because of my HR background it ties in nicely with my personal experience. It ties in with my coaching and it also means I’m not throwing away twenty years of HR experience as well.

That genuinely scares the pants off me but the coaching I manage to keep them on because talking one on one with a mum is easier. It’s not a mothers group conversation or a friend chat, it is coaching but because we have a shared experience of loss and because we are coming from a place of wanting to work together there’s a lot of mutual trust and respect there from the outset.

In an organisation there is a lack of understanding and that is what I am trying to help with. Part of it is raising awareness that still birth is huge. There are five babies still born every day in Australia. So it’s a bit scary and it is exciting too because there is so much I can do.

The only reason there is a bit of fear attached to it is because I really want to fix it and when you really want to do something and you care so deeply about it, that’s when the fear shows up. That’s when you just swamp that fear with love and manage it. I will be like that little train saying, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Five Fast Fun Fearless Facts about Rowena Mabbott

  1. Who inspires you? There are a lot of women who inspire me but in the context of what we’ve been talking about I would have to say the social worker who was with me that day, she is very inspirational. She was with me when they put the drip in my arm to induce me and came back again that night and encouraged me to hold Thomas when I hadn’t done that yet. She pushed me but in the most gentle and kind way. She just gets on with it. She is always calm, considerate, kind and utterly compassionate. She just quietly goes about supporting families as they experience one of the most harrowing experiences ever and she does it every day.
  2. Favourite thing to do each day? Get outside and walk by the water. Its my time to reflect, move my body and really think and I notice I’m much happier and calmer when I’ve had my walk.
  3. What’s something that still scares you? It does scare me a bit that I may not be able to make the difference I want to make and improve people’s lot in life. But at the same time it doesn’t really scare me, it just fires me up. But something that really does scare me is birds. I know it sounds ridiculous but they terrify me. Never a Magpie, usually Seagulls and Pigeons. I love seeing them in the garden and hearing them but there’s got to be a piece of glass between us.
  4. Favourite technique or app or book? It’s a tie between two apps I’m finding really beneficial at the moment. One is the Smiling Minds app which is a free Australian mindfulness app and I love to use it with the boys. And I use one called Omvana which is also free but does have some paid portions of it but I don’t use them. It has a six stage guided meditation on it. I’ve tried meditation but I can’t do it without someone guiding me because my monkey mind just goes off to my to do list. So the six stage meditation program within the Omvana app is excellent. It takes about twenty minutes but it really promotes gratitude and forgiveness which I think is really key.
  5. If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing in the world right now, what would it be and why? If I had to choose just one thing I would probably choose to change the inequity in the world. I acknowledge that’s a really simplified approach but I think it would cover quite a lot of stuff that I care really deeply about. The poverty, the hunger, the treatment of women (in the first and third world countries given what’s going on in the American electorals at the moment). The treatment of children, access to healthcare, education. It’s a big ask of one little magic wand but I think a lot of the world’s problems may not be solved but would be reduced if there was a little more equity in the world.

Final Question for Rowena Mabbott:

If you could turn back time what’s the one piece of advice you wish you could give your fourteen-year-old self?

There’s serious and not so serious advice. For the serious advice I would say to learn to trust your instincts and telling myself, “You know what is best for you”. As someone who is only just turning forty and grappling with this now, it would have been good advice to have when I was fourteen. My silly advice would be, you’re about to get chickenpox, don’t scratch them!

Where can people reach out to you? 


Facebook – JoyHopeLove.RM

A Gift for Listeners From Rowena Mabbott

Download Rowena Mabbott’s E-book – Six days to a life filled with more joy, hope and love. It’s a summary of what she did to make herself feel better once she realised she Iwas a tired of feeling sad. If you’re ready for a change then this e-book is about how you get more of what you want in your life. More joy, hope and love.

Yes please, I want Rowena’s ebook – 6 days to a life filled with more joy, hope and love

BONUS: Download Rowena’s eBook before 29th October 2016 and go into the draw to win one of two prizes. Prize number one is the opportunity for a 90 minute coaching session and two weeks follow up emails with Rowena and prize number two is a beautiful silver angel bracelet hand crafted by Michelle from Lily Taylor Designs plus 20% off any of Rowena’s coaching packages.

1 Comment

  1. Ruth Newman on October 26, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Moving and inspiring and brave. Thank you, Rowena

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