The Blog

The Reality Behind 'Hollyoaks' Stillbirth Storyline

I'm too sensitive, it's true - losing my son left me raw to the world. Pick the scab and I still bleed. Watching my reality played out by actors does pick that scab. Even if I know it's in the name of raising awareness.

My eyes naturally gravitate to stories about Stillbirth. I can't help it, I realise that is a little macabre, but it's my unfortunate reality. I'm drawn to read new information and seek out differing perspectives.

So it was with an interested curiosity that I read how, following Eastenders recent Stillbirth storyline, Hollyoaks are using a similar plot that will soon see Mercedes McQueen, played by Jennifer Metcalfe, tragically lose her unborn son.

Both programmes were similarly supported by national charities, SANDS and Count the Kicks to ensure the storylines were sympathetic, accurate and informative.

Amidst all the drama though, is it really possible for Soaps to handle a subject as emotive as babyloss accurately? Can they avoid sensationalism and maintain empathy?

I'm too sensitive, it's true - losing my son left me raw to the world. Pick the scab and I still bleed. Watching my reality played out by actors does pick that scab. Even if I know it's in the name of raising awareness.

Because of my own experience, the Count the Kicks campaign has a special place in my heart and I support any endeavour to open dialogue and raise public awareness of Stillbirth.

It was thirteen years ago when I was given the worst advice imaginable. In the weeks before his arrival I was told, by my Midwife, that because my unborn son was already very large, I might notice reduced movements as I approached my due date. The rational being he was running out of room.

I was young and inexperienced, I took the advice on face value. I didn't overly panic as I went overdue and his movements decreased - I ignored any lingering doubts. One day he simply stopped moving completely. My son, Louis, was stillborn at 41 weeks.

I cannot adequately explain the guilt and loss I have carried with me in the years that followed.

We've come a long way in terms of educating the public regarding Stillbirth. When I lost Louis in 2002, I couldn't comprehend the number of people who, on finding out, asked me if I had drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy, as these were the only risk factors they understood. Almost as if Stillbirth was something I had done to myself.

Raising awareness is so important yet the use of Soaps to do so leaves me feeling a little uneasy. They are, by their very definition, sensationalist and melodramatic - the irony is that Stillbirth is actually frighteningly common; SANDS reports that one hundred babies die every week.

My concern is that these programmes, despite their best intentions, cannot help but trivialise the subjects they deal with. Their stories are transient by nature, a plot that rumbles on too long becomes less interesting to their viewers so they move onto the next dramatisation quickly.

How long will it be until Mercedes's loss becomes a mere footnote in her character's history, along with all her other on-screen dramas?

The physical act of losing my son, in reality, took less than 24hours. The real story of his loss has been in the decade or more following his death. There simply isn't room in a soap for that kind of reality. It's not commercial or interesting. The real grief of a mother would send viewers running, it's ugly, uncomfortable to watch and tedious.

I recognise that the frequency of weekly episodes mean soaps need to strike the right balance of churning out interesting storylines whilst maintaining audience numbers.

Combined, our national favourites have covered each and every tragedy imaginable; from domestic violence, accidents, abuse and even plane crashes. Before this particular storyline resonated with me, I never really considered how the real life victims of these circumstance may feel, watching their lives played out in the familiar, early evening, half hour slots our soaps inhabit.

For me, one of the most resounding shocks after my son's death was that the world actually kept turning, it seemed that everyone around me moved on all too quickly.

Perhaps my uncertainty over this plot line lies in how readily they will, no doubt, move onto the next gripping story. Time will tell if they can strike an authentic balance in telling Mercedes's story as her grief stretches forward.

Any unease on my part is obviously an incredibly small price to pay for raising the awareness of Stillbirth to such a huge audience. The UK has one of the worst rates in the modern world, which make campaigns led by Count the Kicks and SANDS all the more vital. I do hope though, that as people watch, they understand that there are real stories behind these plots, real babies, and a very real heartache which lasts a lifetime. However tragically it is portrayed on screen, the reality is far worse.