Welcome to the latest addition to the It Still Takes a Village – Working in Baby Loss Interview Series where we take a closer look at those who dedicate their day to day to preventing baby loss and supporting those affected. You can read more interviews, here.
It’s no secret that we are BIG supports of Tommy’s. They gave us hope in the darkest moments – they showed us that people cared about babies dying. Our journey with Tommy’s has included being cared for by the Rainbow Clinic up in Manchester, speaking at a conference at St Mary’s as a patient, being nominated for two Tommy’s Awards and taking part and supporting a number of their campaigns, as well as countless fundraising events! We a proud to be part of #TeamTommys, and something that they do so well, is get to know the families that support them. The Marketing team aren’t just about producing graphics and adverts – they are the people we have regular contact with, and are delighted to have supporting us. One of those people is Siobhan, and I’m so pleased to be able to share a little more about what it is like to work for Tommys. It is their ethos and fight that I love so much. So please, meet Siobhan…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role?
I’m the Head of Brand and Comms Manager here at Tommy’s! Tommy’s head office is located in central London, just off Bank (rented to us by a very generous patron). It’s great being able to work in the City, especially as St Thomas’, where we began and where our Prematurity Research Centre still is, is to this idea. It’s also an easy distance from the Queen Charlotte and Mary’s branch of our National Miscarriage Centre.
I’ve been here for 2.5 years now and I absolutely love working here. This probably sounds cliché, but I metaphorically pinch myself most days that I get to work for a cause that means so much to so many people.
An average day starts with a cup of tea (or three) and then it’s down to the inbox – the day can be very varied depending on what comes through. As a rule we’ll review our reach and engagement across all of our platforms, write and perfect our content calendars, answer questions that have come our way and refer to our Midwives, and make sure we’re reporting on any breaking news that we know will of be interest to our supporters. We are also constantly trying to think of ways of how we can make our research more accessible (and understandable, for the majority of us who don’t have science post-docs!) and we’ll go through the latest reports from the Centres, updates on current trials and speak to people who have been through our clinics.
We tend to have several big projects on the go at any one time. My role here is very centred on getting awareness and engagement, both for Tommy’s and for our cause. The biggest project I was working on until recently was the #TogetherForChange campaign. I also work a lot with our Fundraising team to shape up pitches and campaigns for the companies and partners who choose to work with us.
We work closely with a number of agencies on marketing strategy as well as campaign executions, so in the afternoon I may well have a meeting with one of them here or at their offices. Occasionally, a group of supporters or a celebrity might want to go on a Centre visit to find out more about we do and speak with our researchers – I love going along to these as the Tommy’s rep.
What are you currently working on? Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people.
It’s coming up to one of the biggest weeks of the year for our supporters – Baby Loss Awareness Week. We’ve been working with a number of other charities on activities for this week aimed at getting more awareness for baby loss and calling for change. We have also partnered with Emma and Nicola of Stillbirth Stories (stillbirthstories.org) on a hugely moving project.
What motivated you to do the job/role that you are doing now?
I’ve always been in producing and marketing, because I love crafting stories and shaping brands’ relevancy, innovation and advertising. But increasingly, I wanted to do more than just sell products. This coincided with being asked to interview at Tommy’s. I was pretty inspired by the team here – everyone is so ambitious, motivated and creative. On top of this, I have always been interested in gender studies and dynamics and studied this a lot at uni. It seemed amazing to me that there is still such a stigma surrounding baby loss and that we are so far behind in finding the answers vs other areas of science and medicine. When they offered me the job it was a no-brainer to accept!
“Although it’s always hard to hear what couples have been through when they come to us, I take great gladness and motivation in knowing that I am helping in whatever way to fuel the movement towards change.”
In what ways does your current job/role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
I work with the baby loss community and our researchers each and every day. People sometimes ask me ‘is your job not depressing or unbearably sad,’ and I can say hand on heart– no. Although it’s always hard to hear what couples have been through when they come to us, I take great gladness and motivation in knowing that I am helping in whatever way to fuel the movement towards change – the change in people being able to talk about their loss and therefore seek help, and the change towards how baby loss is perceived in society and finding the solutions.
What are the biggest frustrations or constraints that you face in supporting those affected by baby loss or preventing baby loss in the first place?
I feel like there is still a big assumption of ‘oh well, it happens, that’s sad but that’s life’ – and the more people accept that as true, then the less motivation there is for society to care and fund into finding the solutions to stop it, the less support there is for parents both right after the loss and into the future. We must challenge this whenever and wherever it comes up.
Do you think that Baby Loss is still a taboo, and if so, why? Do you encounter issues with it being a taboo in your day to day work?
Yes – but I do think in recent years, and especially with the rise of social media, that more and more people are finding ways to speak out about what they’ve been through.
“I feel like there is still a big assumption of ‘oh well, it happens, that’s sad but that’s life’ – and the more people accept that as true, then the less motivation there is for society to care… We must challenge this whenever and wherever it comes up.”
Who else do you work alongside in terms of baby loss support or prevention? Are there any charities that support you, or perhaps a colleague/volunteer that you couldn’t manage without?
My team here at Tommy’s are wonderful. That’s not even me being biased, they are all lovely people as well as being clever and passionate!
When the job/role is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
That somewhere, out there, someone has read a post we’ve written today or been touched by our campaign and has feels that like they aren’t alone.
When I see a baby from one of our centres born to a couple who’ve gone through horrific pregnancy losses.
Imagining that I’m sitting in an office somewhere writing reports on [insert supermarket product here] instead of part of a fantastic charity!
“Awkwardness and skirting the topic is the last thing bereaved families need – ask them to tell you about their experience, ask their babies’ names, ask them how they are feeling.”
We are in a shift change with the understanding and awareness of baby loss. What would you say to someone just starting out in a job/role associated to baby loss?
It can be very daunting to walk into a role if you haven’t experienced baby loss yourself. You can worry that what you say is coming across patronising/insensitive/trite/inadequate. This can make you feel like clamming up for fear of offending or upsetting someone. But awkwardness and skirting the topic is the last thing bereaved families need – ask them to tell you about their experience, ask their babies’ names, ask them how they are feeling. If you can’t think of what to say, own up and say that! Help them help you by telling you what they need to talk about and hear.
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
That you are not alone. What you have gone through will cause a myriad of emotions and whatever those emotions are – from numbness to grief to rage – that’s normal and ok. Please seek out support – whether that be through a trusted friend to someone impartial, if that’s what you need. Tommy’s midwives will always speak and listen to you no matter what your experience, and there are lots of support pages and suggestions on our website too.
“At the moment it takes an average of 17 years for new practise to be widespread adopted through the NHS. Our new, fifth centre opening in 2019 is opening specifically to improve this.”
We have some ambitious targets for baby loss currently in the UK. What are your specific hopes for the future in terms of maternity and baby loss?
Tommy’s ambition is to halve the numbers of babies who die during pregnancy or just after birth by 2030. A big part of our strategy in doing that is making sure all of our research findings translate from our centres and clinics into wider NHS practise. At the moment it takes an average of 17 years for new practise to be widespread adopted through the NHS. Our new, fifth centre opening in 2019 is opening specifically to improve this.
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview series. Lastly, before we finish – Is there anything else about you or your job/role that you’d like to let people know about?
We always love hearing from you and meeting you!
This blog post is part of an ongoing spotlight on those working in baby loss. To read more from It Still Takes a Village series, visit the hub page here.