Baby Loss Awareness Week culminates in International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on 15th October which, in a cruel twist of fate, is also the day that my son, baby Kenneth, was stillborn in 2009.
As Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Baby Loss, I continue to work across party political lines to develop policy that supports families dealing with the grief and loss of a baby, and to raise awareness of what more can be done to help those affected.
Mary Ross-Davie, Scotland Director of the Royal College of Midwives, said that Scotland was ahead of the game in the UK in response to a Leicester University study showing Scotland had the lowest stillbirth rate in the UK.
It is important to acknowledge progress over the last few years as the Bereavement Care Pathway is rolled out across Scotland and England, ensuring that all bereaved parents who experience baby loss at any stage of pregnancy can expect the same high-quality, sensitive bereavement care that they need and deserve. This will be embedded across Scotland by March 2020.
In addition, I was proud to have worked cross-party in the Commons to secure the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, which means that, for the first time ever, bereaved parents who suffer a stillbirth or lose a child up to the age of 18 years old are entitled to statutory paid leave under the law.
Moreover, in both Scotland and England there are moves to facilitate the registration of babies lost before 24 weeks’ gestation. Certainly, parents who lose their baby before the 24-week threshold—when it is classified as a miscarriage, rather than a stillbirth—often feel that their loss is dismissed, officially at least, because there is no documentation to testify to the fact that their baby existed, In such cases, the opportunity to register their baby’s death may provide many parents with some comfort at an extraordinarily difficult time.
Moves towards the possibility of Fatal Accident Inquires in very specific circumstances of stillbirth is another mark of how far we have come and it is a huge step. This would not be about punishing anyone who may have made mistakes, but as a learning tool to greater inform medical practitioners as they carry out and seek to improve antenatal care. This idea has been mooted due to the fact that in the past many hospitals have been extremely reluctant to investigate stillbirths fully and transparently.
The tragedy of baby loss and stillbirth is terrifyingly common with around 6,500 babies dying before or shortly after birth – one baby every hour and a half. Those affected for far too long have felt unable to speak out about their loss.
Anything that we as MPs or MSPs can do to help with the grieving process is worth considering and I am pleased that in Scotland, we are getting closer to the high standard set by Nordic nations in minimising stillbirths and early infant deaths. Whilst there is much work to be done across the UK, a focus on prevention is essential.
In relaying my own personal experience on Baby Loss Awareness Week, I hope to encourage more people to speak out about the impact of baby loss so that we can break the silence around this issue.