On Thursday 13th October I made the difficult decision to take part in a Commons debate on baby loss and give a speech about my own experiences. I wrote the below article for The Guardian (which appeared in the online edition on 18/10/16) to explain why I decided I had to speak. Hundreds of people from across the country have since been in touch with me to share their stories.
You can read the debate (including my contribution) in full here.
Why I Spoke About Losing My Newborn Daughter
Last week, the MPs Antoinette Sandbach and Will Quince brought a debate to parliament on baby loss. Antoinette lost her five-day-old little boy Sam, and Will’s son Robert was stillborn. It was their bravery and honesty that made me wonder, should I speak out too?
In contemplating this decision, I struggled with whether I was able to do this and what I could achieve by sharing my personal experience of how I lost my little girl, Veronica, at five days old. I knew that this was an opportunity for those also affected by similar losses to commemorate their babies, and to raise awareness of how many babies’ lives are lost. In 2014, there were 3,245 stillbirths and 2,689 infants’ deaths in England and Wales. For a country as well-developed as ours these numbers are shocking.
I battled with the idea of talking openly about Veronica all week. Most of my friends didn’t know about her and the thought of sharing something so personal and painful in public was daunting, I could barely even write it down. It was never about being embarrassed or ashamed, it was just too hard to talk about. It still is.
Emotion isn’t something you often see in the Commons but I’ve always tried to be the type of politician that people can relate to, even if I can barely stand up when I do, and shake like a pneumatic drill. Talking about things is how we tackle the taboo, it’s how we raise awareness.
The day before the debate, my close friend Gloria DePiero was worried about me and asked if I was ok. I couldn’t tell her what I was thinking, so I texted her later to let her know I was considering speaking in the debate as she was one of my few friends who knew about Veronica. She rang to say I should definitely do it, and would be by my side throughout.
It was late the night before that I made my mind up that I would speak about my daughter. The next stage was to phone my close family and friends who I had previously never told about Veronica. My mum, who obviously knew what I had gone through, was the only sceptic: she just didn’t want to see her daughter hurting again.
But the next day I stood up in the Commons and told my story. The story of how when I was 16 I fell pregnant and how it was unplanned and unexpected, but most definitely, none of those things took away how much I love Veronica.
I spoke about the traumatic labour that led to my healthy girl being taken away from me. How it felt so cruel at the time and how it still does to this day. No mother or father should have to go through this. It stays with you forever. It never goes away, even if it does get slightly easier over time.
After Veronica was taken from me, I used college as a way of escape. I re-sat my English GCSE as I needed to get a C to go to university. The night before my exam I dreamt about her. Then when I sat in front of my exam paper, my test question was ‘who is the most influential person in your life?’, there was only one answer: Veronica. I still dream about what she would be like, how we would get on, would she love me, or would I be a pain in her backside, always nagging for her to do more. I will never ever know the answers to any of these questions.
It was, and will probably always be the hardest speech I have ever had to write, but I know it was the right thing to do. I know because of the emails and phone calls I have had from parents reaching out, parents who are suffering the type of pain you only experience after losing a child. No one can take away the aching sadness that it causes, but we can at least put in place a better support system if it does.
The government’s commitment to a 20% reduction in stillbirth rates by 2020 is a start but the lack of support for parents currently suffering the loss of their child should be treated with urgency. Fewer than half of doctors and midwives have mandatory training in care after the death of a baby. Only half of maternity units have a room away from a labour ward for bereaved parents.
Teenage mothers have three times the rate of postnatal depression and a higher risk of poor mental health for three years after the birth. In my constituency Lewisham Deptford, bereavement counselling has a waiting list of up to four months. This isn’t good enough.
Veronica’s death left me frightened and I know I wouldn’t be able to go through losing another child, so I haven’t put myself in that position. Many people have told me of the fear they had through subsequent pregnancies and how some simple things, like not having to re explain their experience, helped. So simple things like having the same consultant, ensuring there are regular check-ups and scans to ease the worry are all important.
If my story has shone a light on the inadequate level of support available, then it will have been worth every second of pain I went through sharing it. And my mum, who was the first to congratulate me, admitted that her doubts has been wrong.