I founded Baby Lifeline 36 years ago after tragically losing my first three babies Lisa, Emma, and Stuart consecutively, who were all born prematurely. It was an experience I have never forgotten but that became the inspiration for ground-breaking support for the maternity sector. After being told that I would not have a successful pregnancy, I now have three adult children thanks to the expert care I received during my pregnancies at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. I spent most of my pregnancy with my eldest, Richard, in hospital. It was a very difficult and stressful time, but I don’t regret a minute of it. In fact, my subsequent pregnancies with James and Sara also had to have a lot of medical intervention and monitoring, and they were born a little prematurely. My youngest, Sara, now works alongside me on maternity research and development.
I am proud to say, that by the end of next March my charity, Baby Lifeline, will have trained over 21,000 healthcare professionals, with 6,000 of those being trained over the next 12 months. We have also provided millions of pounds of maternity and neonatal technology and high-impact research. We have become a main provider of multi-professional training across the UK, through trusts being rewarded funding and selecting our training programmes.
The importance of having the right equipment and training is paramount to ensure that the clinicians are supported in delivering the best care possible, by giving them the tools to do so. No child or mum should suffer due to having the wrong or defective equipment, and no clinician should be expected to practice in something they are not competent in.
When I lost my first baby girl, Lisa, it came as a great shock to me as I was fit and healthy and there was absolutely no warning of any problem. Over 80% of stillbirths are happening to women who have no risk factors; therefore, more work needs to be done to give us more answers, and to be able to provide preventative measures. The government’s recent announcement relating to a focus on more rigorous investigation into cases of stillbirths, deaths of newborns, and suspected brain injuries will make a difference to this; however, this information will still need to reach the frontline staff caring for mums and babies. Investment in training is of paramount importance.
A central part of our training is to promote better communication, not only between healthcare teams, but also with families. A breakdown in communication can lead to a number of serious problems, tragedies, and distress. My first experience of losing a baby was made even more traumatic by the communication at the time – I was not allowed to see Lisa at all, who had just died during birth, and was told she was “normal but small”. She was then incinerated, and I was sent home to cope on my own. I felt very isolated, and still feel the effects today. I then went on to give birth to Emma just before 26 weeks into pregnancy and watched her die after a day with respiratory failure. Finally, Stuart was born after a placental abruption a day before 28 weeks and died prematurely with a brain haemorrhage, it was more than I could bear.
Communication and other “non-technical skills” have been repeatedly acknowledged as an important factor in both improving safety in maternity units, and ensuring that parents are aware of what is happening during the birth process. Many of the charity’s courses focus on communication between healthcare professionals, and also to parents during labour, pregnancy, and after the birth. Communication is also key in sharing best practice. We proudly stage multi-professional training with healthcare professionals from multiple hospitals, which facilitates a conversation around best practice and standardising care in pertinent areas.
The charity started with me buying an incubator for my local hospital as a way of thanking the staff and forming a distraction. Our newest appeal ‘Monitoring for Mums’ continues this work by raising funds, region-by-region, for much-needed technology and training, which will help to give mums and babies the best care possible. Proudly, the appeal is being supported by long-standing Patron Dame Judi Dench, who recently invited key people to become ambassadors; including, David Tennant, Anton du Beke, Kelly Bright, Bob Moran, to name but a few.
We receive no statutory funding and rely upon the generosity of others and it is through our campaign in the #ChristmasChallenge17 on theBigGive.org.uk that we get to double our donations and help twice as many people, as we have a long way to go.