2016 has been a particularly poignant year in terms of loss. So many treasures of the celebrity world have passed away including David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood and now the legendary Prince - and it's only April!
Watching the nation grieve for famous faces "gone too soon" took me back to my early stages of grief when my first child was stillborn. It made me realise all the milestones I was missing in his life - 1st steps, 1st day of school, getting married etc. Aidan would never experience exciting opportunities in life and yet I'm proud of him every day.
Shockingly, so far this year, around 1130 babies have been stillborn and gone too soon - 10 every single DAY. The UK has one of the worst stillbirth rates in the developed world. Investigations show that the majority of these deaths are preventable. lack of awareness, a national midwife shortage, an incorrect stigma that nothing can be done as well as deaths not being investigated properly, all contribute to our lack of progress in reducing our baby loss numbers.
My passion to prevent stillbirth occurring to other families grew when I attended my local Sands group. Every month, more and more parents were joining this heart wrenching club of having said goodbye to their precious child too soon - and these were just the families in my local area. All the mothers were saying similar things: "I wish I'd known....", "If only my midwife had been given further training".
After experiencing the devastation and pain of giving birth but not bringing my son home from hospital, I eventually decided to tackle baby loss so my son's very short life would not be in vain.
I set up the pregnancy charity, MAMA Academy, to raise awareness of baby loss, to show that it's not that rare, can happen to any parent and that there are in fact many things parents and healthcare professionals can do to reduce the risks. For me personally, I wish I had known how common baby loss still is and the importance of knowing my baby's movement pattern. At my 36 week check up, my midwife couldn't find Aidan's heartbeat and asked "When did you last feel him kick?". I couldn't remember whether it had been that morning or the day before. Had I taken note of his usual pattern, I may have noticed a reduction and called my midwife. If I had been assessed at that point, he may have been able to have been saved by early delivery.
My son was born weighing just over 5lb and looked perfect in every way. It is thought that my placenta had stopped working, leaving Aidan growth restricted. His lack of growth was never picked up despite my bump being measured at each antenatal appointment. Our charity is now working with The Perinatal Institute to encourage hospitals to run their GAP programme which uses customised charts to better detect growth restricted babies. It is estimated that if all trusts implement GAP, 1000 babies lives could be saved every year. Since we launched our Made To Measure Campaign, 85% of NHS trusts are now signed up.
We also produce Wellbeing Wallets which are given to mothers by their midwife to keep their antenatal notes safe. They are printed front and back with the key health messages to help them have a safer pregnancy. 25 trusts now issue the wallets and babies lives have already been saved as a result.
Since MAMA Academy started 4 years ago, I have now had to give up my day job to cope with the amount of work it creates. I'm working with the Department of Health and NHS England as part of the national strategy to reduce stillbirth by half by 2030.
There is so much more I'd like to achieve to significantly reduce stillbirth but as with all charities, we need money and volunteers!
My plea from one parent to another - can you help us save babies lives?
Can you help us raise money? Can you spare a few hours a week to help us with admin/ marketing/ baby shows? Make it your mission this year to prevent others "going too soon". Please email me for many ways to get involved.
Thank you so much for your support.