For Giving our Babies a Voice…
Finally, finally, finally the UK is talking about stillbirth. As mum to a baby who was born sleeping at 28 weeks gestation, as a mum who has campaigned for change over the past eight years, and as a mum who has watched in dismay as those around her have all too often swept her daughter’s existence under the carpet, I cannot express how magical this feels.
The change was a long time coming.
And now there’s no going back. #saytheirnames (last year’s Twitter campaign to honour our children) and Rahkee Thakrar’s intimate, heart-breaking and accurate portrayal of a bereaved mum in the popular British soap, EastEnders, have ignited a much needed Mexican wave of stories, hope and healing across the land; three aspects which were well overdue.
We’ve come a long way.
Eight years ago memory boxes (containing cameras, lovingly hand knitted blankets and hats, teddy bears, poetry…) were barely in existence in hospital labour wards. Eight years ago a mother in labour with her stillborn child was highly likely to find herself in a hospital room positioned slap bang between the healthy laughter and tears that come with the fairy tale birth of a newborn baby. Listening to the coos and cries of a new life tugging at her full to bursting heart as she continued to flow with her mournful contractions… and hours later walking out of the labour ward empty armed, head down so as to avoid the happiness and bobbing of the ‘Congratulations!’ balloons surrounding her. Eight years ago bereaved parents of all generations were bottling up their memories because nobody wanted to hear them. Eight years ago stillbirth support networks and charities were few and far between. Eight years ago there was barely a book, film, documentary or newspaper article ‘bold’ enough to venture into the tragic waters of stillbirth. Eight years ago… I could go on… and on… and on.
So how did it change?
Like warriors we, the parents, decided it was time to take society’s rules, scatter them like confetti and celebrate the love; the unbreakable bond we have with our tiny infants instead… no matter how unimportant their short lives seemed to the media, and our ‘well-meaning’ families and friends who told us to ‘move on… at least you have a healthy child… you can always try for another‘. Because our babies are real. As real as YOU are now as you read these words. They are one of us, an intricate part of our universe. They are our family. In the same way we mourn the death of a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a cat or a dog, we mourn not only the passing of our child, but we also mourn the loss of the hopes, the dreams, the milestones and the memories that we should have shared. We mourn for our guilt. We mourn for our anger. We mourn for our despair. And when all of our mourning has been done, when it feels as if the floodgates cannot unleash another tear, somehow love grips us with a power that words alone cannot define. We become warriors. Warriors of love. And take it from a bereaved parent; that’s the kind of power that moves mountains.
And mountains are what our collective energy has moved.
We started with seeds. We planted them. I remember my first seed well. As the first anniversary of my daughter’s death approached I squinted at the television screen in a mixture of rage and tears as Samantha Womack’s character in EastEnders snatched a baby in her grief-stricken status as a bereaved parent. It was torture to watch those scenes from afar without the power to erase the terribly misunderstood portrayal that was beaming its lies into my home. It was the work of a ‘creative team’ who needed their heads banged together. And then some more. And so I (among many thousands) let the BBC know about it. It’s very simple. When our baby dies, we really don’t want anybody else’s baby as a replacement. Not one of us. We aren’t about to stalk the nation’s nurseries like evil witches in the night. The plot was heartless, bitter and utterly cruel. I never ever watched EastEnders again… And I can say the same for a great many other parents who had been on my journey – although in the interest of witnessing the show’s wrong made a right, I have watched the scenes from the stillbirth story. All I can say is Rakhee Thakrar’s account of our collective journeys should have won the BAFTA she was more than deservedly nominated for, and I, like many, was stunned this was not to be.
The years passed and our seeds became shoots.
We have all done so much to raise awareness of stillbirth in this country. We have tirelessly let down our guards, put ourselves on the line and shouted it out from the rooftops. I am just me doing my little bit, but last year I went on the mother of all social media journeys and lived in the land of Twitter. And I do mean quite literally 24/7. From sunrise to sunset. The Hollywood stillbirth film ‘Return to Zero‘ was premiering on Sky’s Lifetime UK in May 2014 and virtually NOBODY knew about it. In my haste to help others like me, I contacted every media outlet imaginable – chat shows, day time TV programmes, the papers, the magazines, the journalists. It seemed that nobody gave a rip. At which point… like a last resort motel, I checked into Twitter where I shamelessly piggybacked Peter Andre and pals.
Because sometimes crazy is the only way forward…
And you know what? Now I know that my gut instinct, my passion, my dogged determination did something. Now I know that many of my re-tweets became ripples, which in turn became waves. Because just 1 year on from my social media shenanigans and EastEnders began to work with SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) on a major taboo breaker of a story line about stillbirth.
I am just one piece in a puzzle.
That’s my story. I know the love for my daughter went out into the stratosphere that week. I know in my heart it weaved magic where before there was only fear, ignorance and the biggest stiff upper lip. But I am but one Warrior of Love. We have all played our part. We are the authors who continuously tell our stories, undeterred by the incessant rejections from publishers HYPERLINK ALICE JOLLY BOOK REVIEW. We are the artists who capture these infants’ beauty.
We are the mums and the dads who set up healing projects and workshops to help others. We are the midwives who form local support groups.
We are the vicars who arrange the Christmas memorial services to honour these children. We are those who tenderly knit tiny blankets and hats.
We are the spirit of feature documentaries such as Still Loved.
We are those who brave the unpredictable UK weather to trek from John O’Groats to Lands’ End to raise money for the baby loss charities.
We are the bakers who host the charity coffee mornings.
We are the intrepid who jump out of light aircraft in parachutes.
We are the charities raising awareness of factors accounting for stillbirth such as Group Strep B Support.
We are the brilliant bloggers like ‘Scribbles and Crumbs’ who share our personal experiences.
We are Count The Kicks, Holly Willoughby and Alesha Dixon whose campaigns educate future parents.
We are prominent bereaved parents in the UK limelight such as Gary Barlow, Amanda Holden, Ben and Marina Fogle, and Lily Allen who know their capacity to invoke positive change in memory of their babies.
We are Sean and Kiley Hanish (click here to read about the remarkable way this duo have paved the way for change in memory of their son.)
We are actors like Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein. We are the BBC’s Panorama. We are Rakhee Thakrar.
We are… fill in the blanks, please do. I want to hear from all of you who have been a part of this Warrior of Love journey. I want to list you all. I wish I could list you all. Let’s share our stories and be proud of the seemingly impossible that we have finally achieved.
And now we are the BBC’s EastEnders too. Which just goes to show that even those of us who get it terribly, terribly wrong, we too have the power to change our minds, and in turn change the perception of a nation.
EastEnders we continue to salute you.