Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 7:56 pm, 9th October 2018

I thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for selecting the subject. I thank Antoinette Sandbach, who as always set the scene on a subject about which she is very passionate and knowledgeable, with her personal story. I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have made incredible contributions, every one of them straight from the heart. They have certainly set the scene for a very serious debate in which we acknowledge what has happened. Will Quince put forward ideas that he thought would be helpful. Everyone did that, to be fair, but he did so especially.

I will never begin to speak in a debate of this variety without first expressing my sincere sympathies to all those who have been affected by the loss of their baby, at whatever stage. My thoughts are with those people today, and I pray that the God of peace and comfort will be their strength. Baby loss is an extremely painful topic, but it is one that is being spoken of more and more. Such debates enable some of the pain and hurt to be talked about, and that can only be a good thing. We must thank charities such as Saying Goodbye for raising the topic and saying that it is okay to speak out, remember and reflect. Whatever way a person deals with their pain is okay, as long as they know that they are not alone. Such debates allow us to express the message, “You are not alone.” The Members present who speak in these debates reflect the opinions of our constituents outside the Chamber, about whom we talk.

As I have said in previous debates, my mother suffered several miscarriages, as did my sister and a member of my staff—in fact, the member of staff who helps me to prepare my speaking notes. For me and for all of us in the Chamber, this is a matter that is very close to our hearts. Jamie Stone spoke of the miscarriages that his mum had between his birth and that of his younger brother. That is probably very real to me, as well. As we spoke about my staff member’s workload for the coming week, we realised that it was Baby Loss Awareness Week. Might I suggest that if a debate ever came at the right time, this one did? We discussed how during the last two weeks of September, we had heard of six couples who live in my constituency who had suffered miscarriages. That is six children lost; six expectations never to be fulfilled; six homes filled with sadness; six women who felt empty; six partners who felt so helpless; and countless loved ones who simply had no words. Those six people were known to all of us very personally, and the fact that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage has never felt so real.

In the past eight months, I have known three ladies, who are also constituents of mine, who have carried their babies for the full nine months only to have them for two hours. I can well remember my wife, Sandra, informing me that she was pregnant with our first son, Jamie. Like every parent, I had never felt such joy. I planned for our future and imagined what he would look like. I did not check whether the baby was a boy or a girl as I have always liked the element of chance. I just hoped that whatever sex the child was, they would be accepted. To be truthful, I did ask for three boys and I got three boys—I am not sure how that worked. As I held my child, I realised that the expectation could never meet the reality of having a child in my arms. I also remember very well holding my first grandchild, Katie—I know that there are other Members here who are grandparents as well. Katie is now nine years old. I remember when Del Boy, the character on TV, took Damian in his arms and he looked at him in wonder, and there was me at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. I said, “Next year, Katie, we will be millionaires.” Of course, we were not millionaires, but we were in a way as we had our grandchild. Such was the joy that we felt. Therefore, when I think of those families who have lost that hope for their future, my heart simply aches. Through my constituents, I have stared into the face of pure sadness and emptiness, and I would have given anything to change the outcome. That was never going to be in my power, or in the power of anybody in this Chamber, but, having spoken to many women, one theme is clear: they cannot forget their loss and they do not want others to forget it either.

I know that my parliamentary aide will not mind me saying that she lost her first baby abroad while on a church mission trip. She returned a few years later with her family—she now has two wee girls—and planted a tree with a simple plaque in remembrance of the wee child who had died. This simple act of remembrance, while not addressing her grief, helped her to move forward, as she knew that that tree would grow and be a testament to the life that began but could not flourish and grow. This is a desire that is reflected in the events that are organised to celebrate the short lives of babies. Women no longer feel that they must and should grieve in silence. The taboo that existed in my mother’s generation that kept women silent in their grief has gone now. One look on social media will reveal messages that say no more than a date, or a number of dates, and that is proof that it is good for some women to acknowledge and commemorate their loss. Balloon releases and services of remembrance indicate that those who grieve want to see their loss acknowledged.

There are, of course, other women who wish to grieve in silence and that is their right, and I absolutely respect that. Some pain can never find a voice. We may never know the people around us who have gone through baby loss—I am sure that a trawl of families of staff members in this place would show us all to be connected in some way to a loss of child—but what we must know is that there is a way in which we can remember and pay tribute to those lives, those hopes and those dreams that have been lost.

I want to take a brief moment to think about the fathers. This is something that my aide mentioned to me and that others have referred to as well. Fathers suffer emotional loss—not the physical emotional loss—and have to watch their loved one going through the physical and emotional trauma of loss and they need to be remembered as well. It is their loss as well and they have a right to grieve, and that should be said in this place, too. Others have also referred to grandparents and other family connections. There must be support available for the whole family, and I feel that this is lacking. I have heard it said that the leaflet that is handed to a mother when she miscarries does not help. It is often not read or thought about. A follow-up phone call offering help and advice may go a long way to dealing with the pain and the fear, and I am grateful to the charities that fill that breach when perhaps, with great respect, the NHS does not.

What words do I have for those who have lost babies?