'Why the law refuses to recognise my miscarried son'

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Jo Tocher lost her son at 23 and a half weeks. [Photo: Life After Miscarriage]

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John inherited his mother’s facial features, and his maternal grandfather’s first name. He had two younger sisters, Lilia, 19, and Hana, 16, and two loving parents, Jo Tocher, 58, and her partner Mo, 57. If he were still alive today, he would be 21.

Except, according to the law, John Tocher never existed.

The result of a miscarriage at 23 and a half weeks, John was never issued a birth or a death certificate: only babies born after 24 weeks legally require one. But that doesn’t mean he will ever be forgotten.

Rewind 22 years, and Jo was working a corporate job in London, unaware of how much her life would soon change. “I fell pregnant unexpectedly, and once we’d got over the shock my boyfriend and I were really happy,” she tells Yahoo UK. “At 34, I was considered an older mother, but everything seemed to be going right, and an amniocentesis had ruled out any genetic complications.”

“That’s why, when I went along for a routine scan at 23 weeks, I told my boyfriend not to worry about coming – I would see him when I got home.”

But, as Jo lay down on the hospital bed, she watched as the sonographer turn the monitor away. “An awful sense of dread came over me,” she says.

Jo pictured with her partner and two daughters. [Photo: Jo Tocher]

She was told her unborn son was not developing property; there was fluid inside his stomach, and not enough in the amniotic sac. “The doctor told me: ‘If your baby survives he will be severely damaged physically and mentally.’”

Jo and her husband decided not to end the pregnancy, however they tragically lost their baby two days later when Jo miscarried.

Throughout the termination process – which, jarringly, took place in the maternity ward, among dozens of expectant and new mothers – Jo describes herself as “numb”.

John was buried a fortnight later at a cemetery near the hospital. To this day, Jo tears up as she describes seeing the tiny coffin which held her son: “It was heartbreaking.”

Over two decades have passed since Jo lost her son, on 31 January 1996, and yet she will never see him as simply ‘the baby who died’.

“Often, when we’re having dinner, we’ll stop and think: ‘John would be at university now’. I’ve always told my daughters about their older brother, ever since they were babies – his energy will always be part of our family.”

It’s not just her family life that has changed. Finding it hard to return to her corporate after her tragic loss, Jo went on to retrain as a holistic therapist. She also runs a six month online coaching programme dedicated to helping those who have miscarried.

Having lived through pregnancy loss, she admits there is no easy route to grieving. “Feel it, live it, speak about it.” Nor will loved ones know what to say, even if they want to. “There’s an awkwardness around it, a silence, and it’s better for you to broach the subject first and say ‘I need you to be this for me’. Also, join a support group – you need to speak to someone who knows.”

Do you ever get over miscarriage? “Never,” says Jo, “The pain gets less intense over the years, but I will always think of him.”

Jo explains more about her miscarriage experience and her therapy services on her blog Life After Miscarriage. Her first book, of the same title, is due for release in November.

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