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I am absolutely certain that one of the hardest things that any family could experience is the loss of a child. Too many people suffer horrendously through stillbirth each day, too many parents lose their young child. My grandmother went through it, however I still could not attempt to put into words the pain that she and other parents suffer.
Last week I attended a Baby Loss Awareness Reception in Parliament to show my support for this important issue. Stillbirth is often a taboo subject that many people, understandably, find difficult to talk about; because of that, many people do not know how common stillbirth tragically is.
In the UK, around 15 babies every day are stillborn or die in the first weeks after birth. Today, perhaps 15 families who are expecting a joyous life event will instead experience one of the biggest tragedies of their lives, with another 15 tomorrow and another 15 the day after. If there were 15 fatal car crashes every day, there would be justifiable uproar and demands for an explanation, but stillbirths remain an uncomfortable subject for people to discuss and the issue is not given the prominence it deserves.
Work undertaken by Sands, a leading neonatal death charity, showed how important it is to listen to mothers, who know their own baby and their own body. Over 45% of parents who experienced a stillbirth felt that something was wrong long before the medical problem was diagnosed. Still today, far too many women are told that their concerns are unfounded and sent home, only for their baby to die soon afterwards. We should be listening to mothers and making antenatal care far more collaborative.
The Government must also commit the funding to help us to understand more about unexplained stillbirths to avoid unnecessary deaths. This is something I am strongly supporting in Parliament.
Another thing I would like to see is the introduction of bereavement rights for parents. There is strong protection in law if parents lose a child towards the end of a pregnancy or in the early stages of life; where parents are given the option to take their full entitlement of maternity or paternity leave and pay in order to begin to come to terms with their loss. Although I am sure that the pain never goes away, these early stages of distress are particularly important and there is very little protection for parents to take time off on bereavement grounds.
There are laws covering leave for ‘practical’ things like arranging or attending a funeral but the law does not provide a right to time off to cope with the devastating emotional impact – the duty to show compassion is entirely at the behest of an employer. Most employers are excellent whilst others fall very short of the mark. I am supporting a Bill to ensure that all employers come up to scratch and the rights of parents are protected in law with the option of two weeks bereavement leave to help them cope with such a distressing life event.
I hold surgeries every Friday as well as regular meetings throughout the constituency. To book an appointment please call 01249 704465.