Today, the House of Commons hosted the Baby Loss Debate, that was introduced by Antionette Sandbach and Will Quince, co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentry Group for Baby Loss. It has been welcomed and highly anticipated by the baby loss community. The first debate of this kind on this levels is aptly timed for Baby Loss Awareness Week and followed a reception and remembrance service held yesterday in Westminster, as well as a Twitter chat earlier on in the week.
I live tweeted the first half for Aching Arms as part of my volunteering for them. My initial though, once they have moved on from discussing the price of chick peas and actually got started, was where are all the MPs? Given that baby loss will impact a high volume of the population, it’s saddening to see such a small volume present – and this was echoed on Twitter straight away. The key baby loss charities have campaigned to get many of their supporters to write to their MPs, and anecdotally, many were left unanswered. That said, those that were there were incredibly passionate and committed to the the range of issues surrounding baby loss.
The debate was profound and I truly hope it continues to get the coverage that it has successfully captured today. The deeply moving and intense emotion shown by many members of parliament who bravely shared their experiences, and their vulnerability can no doubt touch anyone who takes the time to watch and listen. The range of experiences by just the relatively small handful of those who shared echoes the national picture – baby loss isn’t a single event, it is a range of events, scenarios and outcomes.
Whilst I was so moved, and so proud of those who felt brave enough to be so vulnerable and share their experiences, I couldn’t help but think that there was an element of preaching to the choir? The bias of those attending appears to very much be in favour of those with personal experiences. Whilst this helps us all know that we are not alone, and shows the non-discriminate nature of baby loss – we need to be talking to those who aren’t affected by baby loss personally, those that aren’t aware of the shocking statistics that the UK has, or the poor bereavement care some hospitals offer.
Holding such a debate in the Commons, and creating the news coverage that it has, will hopefully help resonate into the life’s of those who aren’t directly affected. It is through engaging with these people, that taboos can be broken down and support can be further generated. I got the sense, watching my Twitter feed moving a lightning pace, that this debate will awaken (even more so) an army of bereaved parents, dedicated and passionate to combatting baby loss and all of its issues. Knowing that people are listening, are recognising the issues that we know all too well about, and that commitments are being made, gives you hope that the fight can be won – in small steps, but won at least.
One thing that the debate highlighted, was the efforts of fantastic charities. SANDS, The Lullaby Trust, Teddys Wish, MAMA Academy, Aching Arms (whoop whoop) and Group B Strep Support amongst others. As Tim Loughton MP said, “thank goodness there are charities like this” – these charities fill the gaps in the NHS service, and work tirelessly. They are formed and run by people affected directly by baby loss. Their fundraisers and volunteers are also often those affected by baby loss. I find it hard to find some peace with the fact, that without babies dying, we wouldn’t have the level of support for people whose babies are dying. It is the baby loss community that supports and funds the baby loss community. I do believe that its when we truly engage support from outside the community – true, active, passionate support – that we will make real inroads in tackling the baby loss statistics, as well as the taboos and care needs.
Many shocking statistics were shared today. That the UK sits 33rd out of 35 high income countries for stillbirth rates. That 1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth. That midwives only receive one hour of bereavement training pre-qualification. One hour. That if no woman smoked in pregnancy we’d reduce stillbirth rather by 7%. That half of all stillbirths are considered preventable. Half. Half of the 3500 babies stillborn each year in the UK. The statistics have been well documented in various reports this year, and I hope that we are actually able to soon report successfully meeting govemenet objectives on time.
Unfortunately, I am not reassured by the Department of Health targets. They are aiming to reduce stillbirth and neonatal deaths by 50% by 2030. They quote four key measures to do this, and I want to see them become a reality. Yet, for me, as Sir Nicholas Soames MP and Patron of Group B Strep Support eloquently and passionately highlighted, he does “have what can only be described as issues with the Department of Health”. If a simple, affordable and effective test can be given for Group B Strep for all pregnant women, then the charity’s aims of eradicating the infection in newborns would be far more attainable. Or alternatively, just ensuring public health campaigns and antenatal clinics informing parents of the infection and advising on a private test. Tackling deaths by Group B Strep seems the obvious first step in achieving a reduction in preventable deaths. Yet, I question the Governments commitment to reducing stillbirth rates, if this simple measure still needs petitions and campaigns. If there is funding aimed at exactly the same thing that the test can provide, why isn’t it happening? As highlighted today, it is the job of the APPG Baby Loss to hold to Governemnt to account on their progress.
I welcomed calls for consistency. Consistency across the country in antenatal and bereavement care. The disparity is shocking and a reminder that where you are conceived influences your apparent right to life and good care. Is this really something that is acceptable? That unborn babies are vulnerable to the postcode lottery? If the cot death campaign can have prompt and highly significant positive effects, then we can achieve this for stilbirth and other forms of baby loss. But there needs to be robust, committed and determined approach by all stakeholders involved. We need people to stop accepting baby loss and acknowledge that it is not okay that the UK has such awful, shocking statistics. The fatalistic acceptance of baby loss needs to be eradicated in the medical profession and in wider society, and it needs to be challenged at all available moment.
The debate has created a fire I me, and I hope it has others too. It’s hard to have such intense coverage of baby loss, but baby loss week is every week in this household. It is always hard and that is why we need to improve things for those following us on this journey.
I’ll finish with two quotes :
“It doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must” – Patricia Gibson, MP
“We care, and we are going to keep talking about it, and we are not going to stop talking about it” – Will Quince, MP