Today is International Women's Day – a day to celebrate the women's rights movements, and the position that women hold today in society as a result, but also campaign for change and progress. This year's theme centres around women in the world of work with the moto of #BeBoldForChange. Whilst I've always been aware as a adult of IWD, its not something I've massively got behind. For no reason, other than I haven't. Yet, of course, I support it – who wouldn't? After all, as I've seen shared many times today this quote from Maya Angelou sums up getting behind movements that not only matter to you, but affect you and those around you: I'd be stupid not to be on my own side.
The past year or so seems to have had a heightened focus on feminism and what is or isn't appropriate acts of feminism and everything in-between. You only need to see the recent – or past few years – chip paper headlines regarding Emma Watson to understand that whilst some are fighting to empower, others are focused on chipping away at those who dare to have a voice. It has been incredibly humbling today, to see the posts shared amongst the baby loss community celebrating the power of women supporting women. That level of kindness, our understanding of shared and varied experiences, and the power in just being you is quite refreshing.
No doubt, there are conversations today across the world from disgruntled people about IWD : "Whens International Men's Day!" you often hear them cry (19th November, actually). For me, the fight for 'equal rights' doesn't normally focus on my gender, but my sexuality. As a gay woman, it is something I have actively got behind. I've marched (or attended marches) throughout the years, and always hear the disgruntled complaint of "When's straight pride!? Why do you still march anyway, you have all the rights now!" But the fight for rights or progress isn't about declaring you've passed a finish line (one often set by those who aren't doing the fighting) and calling it a day. There will always be something to fight for – and for me, the fight in 2017 and beyond, is the global fight, the variation across the world, the impact that the country you are born in has on the rest of your life – gay, straight, male or female.
The significance of change is never lost on me, and I often highlight how recent it really is that gay rights have progressed – and also, how it wouldn't actually take much to start chipping away at these much fought for rights. We need to protect the changes that occur politically, legally and socially – anything fought for in one generation, can be fought against in another. The recent years political climate stands as testament to that. To represent this you just need to look at the basics about my life: I am a woman, who is married to another woman. That woman is in the military, and as a result of our marriage, we live in a military provided house.
- Women being allowed in the military in the UK – a progressive inclusion over the years, with close combat roles only being permitted in 2016
- Decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK – 1967
- Gay personnel being allowed to be open in the military in the UK – 2000, just 7 years before The Wife joined
- Civil partnerships between same-sex couples in the UK – 2004, with the first ceremonies being able to take place in 2005, during my first year at University
- Marriage between same-sex couples in the UK – 2014, three years after our Civil Partnership
Without such fights and progression, The Wife would not be in the military (openly at least), we'd not be married or even civil partners, and we wouldn't have the benefit for living in a military provided house like our straight counterparts should she have joined up despite the ban. We also would have had a different route to become parents, as along with the legal improvements in partnerships and marriage, come various law changes in terms of parenting also.
What's this got to do with Baby Loss? It occurred to me today, after reading this article, that really Baby Loss is a cause that is rarely fought outside the group it affects. Yet, it is a women's issue. And a man's issue. It is everyones issue. But where is the fight? The fight is in the homes of the bereaved parents, in the fundraising, and in the tireless work of the incredible charities – more often than not, set up and funded by the bereaved families. As with any fight, you need people to recognise that the issue affects not just the people directly affected – you need others to stand with you, alongside you, to campaign, fundraise, fight. Just as with the call for men to be feminists, or straight people for be gay allies.
There are some incredible, inspirational women out there in the world of baby and child loss, fighting for change and sharing their voices. There are also incredible, inspirational men doing just the same. The 'dad voice', whilst is being championed to be heard more, is unfortunately quieter than the women's voice – yet when it is heard, it really is heard. One of the first people I came across was Richard, from Shoebox Full of Memories fighting to raise awareness and challenge people's perceptions in the names of his twin boys. There is Al from The Dad Network who emotively and honestly expresses what is like for both him and his wife to experience recurrent miscarriage. There is Chris, from Our Angels who champions not only his own charity, but the work of others to fight baby loss. Or David Monteith, an actor who regularly puts his voice and passion to sharing the story of his daughter Grace (I've yet to be able to finish watching this video). Or Harry Arter, speaking about baby loss in amongst the world of football and persistently expressing the emotions not just in loss, but in rainbows too. Or Will Quince, MP who co-chairs the APPG Baby Loss to bring about change at a more national level. Or Dr Alexander Heazell, heading up stillbirth research and revolutionary Rainbow Clinics for Tommy's – bringing hope to thousands of families. There are many more, I am sure. And without them, change would not happen. Change at the ground level of midwifes and doctors dealing with those experience baby loss yesterday, today and tomorrow. To the larger, policy changes in bereavement care as well as funding for research and progress in maternity care.
It is often said that there is no one fiercer than a mother protecting her child. I think this is evident from the fierceness shown by the bereaved mother. The power of our voices is incredible. So many women sharing their experiences. Boldly, openly, without shame or edit, but quite literally demonstrating #BeBoldForChange. It is seen in the fight that Leigh Kendall has demonstrated for the past three years since Hugo was born, in her ability to hold true to who she is, and be proud of her own achievements and fight, like really fight, like no other. Or in the absolute tireless nature that Melissa Mead has campaigned for improved Sepsis care, taking her to be part of UK Sepsis, in honour of William. Or in the life-changing nature that both Heidi Eldridge and Sophie Wyatt, who set up MAMA Academy and Kicks Count respectively in response to their own children dying, have had – their organisations are revolutionising the NHS maternity culture and its focus on preventing stillbirth. Its is felt in the emotion that Leanne Turner puts into the Aching Arms charity, founded by just wanting to support some other fellow bereaved parents, and now touching parents daily through partnerships with 70+ hospitals just seven years later. Again, there are so, so many more.
The power of our voices will change baby loss statistics. Through every doubt I have about being open and honest, through any knock back that I face socially, I know that it is true – it will change things. Whether its for one person, or the whole world. People have contacted us to say that because of sharing our story, they sought help when they needed to in their pregnancies, or were empowered in supporting a friend going through stillbirth, and felt able to meet their baby. I am thankful for those in the past who fought for change in baby loss, whoever that first person was to say "No, let them hold their baby, let them see him or her, and name them, dress them and spend time with them" – whoever that person was, thank you. The wave of change that created, shifting everyones thinking in how to approach stillbirth has been phenomenal. The more we speak out, the more things with improve. And with that, prevention can happen.
The power of our voices is seen from so many people who campaign, write and share. I see it in the fight that Laura, from Five Little Doves has had and her powerful demonstration of love for Joseph. In the honesty that Christine, from Chickydoodles expresses – there is no need to sugar coat the shit of baby loss, and its SO refreshing. The power that little Orla gives to Michelle and her ability to understand her experiences not just as a mother but as a kick ass psychologist. In the uniqueness of Elle, from Feathering the Empty Nest, and her beautiful showcase of the way she has helped herself to heal following the death of Teddy. In the utter honesty and passion from Sam, from Storms and Rainbows, and her desire to relay the true picture of recurrent loss through miscarriage, as well as the loss of Guy. It is in the joy that Anne Marie, from Looking for Stars, displays in sharing Max with the world and seeing his name. And in the beautiful way in which Elena, from Frivolous Mama not only expresses her love for Aneurin, but portrays the honest life of being a rainbow mama, to Lily. There are so many I could mention.
Stillbirth is an every person issue. When baby loss affects 1 in 4 pregnancies, it is an every person issue. There are so many layers to it, so many different debates, strategies, methods of change. But ultimately, people need to fight. They need to recognise this isn't about me not being able to get over it, despite it being a year already. It isn't about it not being meant to be or it wasn't really a baby. It is about there being an avenue for change and we need to fight to make sure it happens. Not just in the UK, but worldwide. There is so much variances, and sadly the UK is nowhere near the top of the table.
For anything to change, people need to be brave enough to engage with bereaved families. To accept their honesty, their bitterness, their anger. To understand it, to hold it, and to use it to power their fight. Don't let death, grief and baby loss make you awkward, or afraid. Don't let those words make you incapable of human compassion or kindness because you don't really know what to do or are afraid of upsetting us. Be ashamed for us. Be ashamed that this happens, and its allowed to happen too often. Be the fight when we can't anymore.
The only way stillbirth changes is for people to recognise that it can change. We need to stop being afraid to talk to pregnant women about miscarriage and stillbirth. We need to empower women to know how best to advocate for their unborn child. We need to fund research and have it centre stage of the budget decision making. The impact of stillbirth and miscarriage is not just felt by the parents on that one day. It is felt widely, deeply and persistently across time. People need to accept that it can happen, but commit to trying to stop it happen. Babies die inside women every single day. This is reality. They die whilst women perform the greatest act of nature and labour their children. They also die after birth. This isn't okay. Should you wait until it directly affects you, to fight it? Or do you try and prevent it happening to you in the first place?
- J x