EastEnders: Please Don’t Reach for the TV Remote When the Stillbirth Storyline is Aired

EastEnders recently announced that characters’ Shabnam and Kush’s baby will be born sleeping – a fate that sadly happens to 17 babies every single day.

We see most things on TV these days – violence, sexual assault, bad language – even on soap operas broadcast during family viewing time. For all this, a storyline about baby loss still has the power to shock.

The BBC show says it has worked closely with the stillbirth and neonatal loss charity SANDS to make sure their portrayal of the tragedy is as sensitive and truthful as a fictional TV show can ever be.

Advance notice about the upcoming storyline has been seen over social media – I picked it up via the SANDS Facebook page. I haven’t watched EastEnders for years, so otherwise would probably have remained blissfully unaware. The warning is useful for parents like me who have suffered a similar tragedy so they can avoid watching something that may cause a trigger. The devastating impact of the death of a baby cannot be underestimated and while parents never ever forget, triggers like TV show storylines can be like reliving the trauma all over again.

I have been disappointed, but not surprised, to see responses by some to the effect of ‘the storyline shouldn’t be shown because it’s too upsetting.’

Yes, it is upsetting. Very upsetting, devastating for parents who lose a baby.

But unlike most TV, it is fact.

Like it or not, pregnancies do not always proceed until 40 weeks, with proud parents able to take their new baby home. Like it or not, some babies are born too early and have to fight for life. Like it or not, some babies, like my Hugo, sadly die.

TV educates viewers. The education may happen consciously through something intended to be educational such as a documentary, or subconsciously through entertainment programmes such as a soaps. Soaps can be a very helpful means of raising awareness of an issue, and generating discussion.

When sensitively done, a ‘challenging issue’ storyline can shine a light on something we hope many people will never have to experience personally. With realistic dialogue (or as realistic as a TV show can ever be) we can gain an insight into how the protagonist may be feeling. We can learn in the example of the stillbirth storyline what support the bereaved parents receive from family and friends. Hopefully, the dialogue will include sensitive, helpful, empathetic phrases, not platitudes.

Popular Channel 4 ‘warts and all’ birth programme One Born Every Minute also showed the sad death of a baby recently. Baby Ollie James was born prematurely, and lived for just a few days.

Many OBEM viewers like to hold a running commentary on Twitter during the programmes, and the episode that featured Ollie James was no exception.

Many tweeters respected the way Ollie-James’ parents dealt with the loss of their son, and admired their courage in allowing their story to be shown on national TV.

Some, however, (again not surprisingly) tweeted things along the lines of they wished it hadn’t been shown, because they prefer their OBEM episodes to have happy endings.

Unfortunately, life does not always have a happy ending.

For the parents of 17 babies a day, the ending is anything but happy.

And that is why we need to talk about it.

Our culture’s way of dealing with death tends to be not talking about it so we can pretend it doesn’t happen.

We need to break the taboo – and the only way to break a taboo is by talking about any ‘challenging issue’ openly. We need bereaved parents to feel able to talk openly about their babies if they so wish.

We need people to learn how best to talk to bereaved parents about their babies, too. We need to learn the difference between sympathy (“Oh, that’s really sad…but at least you had 35 days with Hugo”) and empathy (“I’m so sorry, what was your baby’s name?”).

So, if you are someone who has never suffered the loss of a baby when you hear about an upcoming storyline about baby loss on your favourite TV programme, please don’t reach for the remote. Stay tuned in – yes it is uncomfortable, sad, devastating – but please remember your sorrow will be fleeting. Please watch try to learn more about the lives of bereaved parents – how to support us, and celebrate our precious babies’ lives.

Me and Hugo

Me and Hugo

19 Comments on EastEnders: Please Don’t Reach for the TV Remote When the Stillbirth Storyline is Aired

  1. babykitted
    March 17, 2016 at 11:55 pm (1 year ago)

    Thanks for sharing it, you are really brave. It’s always hard to share an story like this one but thanks so much for it. We all need to learn that we loose something sometimes (unfortunately).

    Reply
    • Leigh
      September 4, 2015 at 8:22 am (2 years ago)

      Me too, hoping it helps break the taboo, thanks Vicki xxx

      Reply
  2. Emma
    August 26, 2015 at 4:53 pm (2 years ago)

    Such a difficult story to share, but how brave you are to do so. I rarely watch Eastenders, but will watch this episode as I believe we do need to learn that life isn’t always rosy and that real people suffer horrendous loses. We all need to learn how to better support those who do have to go through such pain. Bless you for sharing xx

    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 27, 2015 at 4:52 pm (2 years ago)

      So true, Emma – life isn’t rosy. I’m heartened you’re going to watch the episode even though you’re not a regular viewer – education is key to helping support others. Thank you for your kind comment xxx

      Reply
  3. Anna-Marina Dearsley
    August 26, 2015 at 5:51 am (2 years ago)

    I am a co-founder of Remember My Baby a registered remembrance charity in the UK. We have over 130 volunteer professional photographers that offer their skills free of charge to provide remembrance photography to parents who are suffering an early infant loss before during and after birth. We currently work in over 35 hospitals in the UK and our aim is to be able to offer this service in all birthing centres and NHS hospitals around the UK. Our gift of remembrance photography to parents

    Reply
  4. ali abel
    August 26, 2015 at 5:35 am (2 years ago)

    its good to here programs that are watched by millions are getting the message out that things like this do happen in real life . you are an amazing ladie . me myself personally wont be able to watch as it is only 3 years ago my little man josh was born asleep at 40 weeks 2 days before his due date and it would mean too much heartache for me xx

    Reply
  5. Jodie
    August 25, 2015 at 9:48 pm (2 years ago)

    How so sorry I am to ready your story Leigh. I lost my beautiful son Harvey jake when he was 10 days old. While he wasn’t prem he was very ill with his heart and I knew we had a very bad outlook on his life. I will never get over this even tho I have 2 amazing children now who give me the strenth I need in my darker days. Thoughts are with all you ladies and men who suffer the loss of our children. Rip little angels. It’s some comfort to know that at least they not alone and have other babies up there too. Xxx

    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry for your loss of your son Harvey Jake. Our babies live in our hearts forever xxx

      Reply
  6. Kat | Beau Twins
    August 22, 2015 at 9:34 am (2 years ago)

    Leigh gorgeous lady, I can’t seem to read your posts without shedding a tear. Selfish I know. You deliver your words with such integrity and emotion. No mother should have to go through this. But you are right, it happens and we need to talk about it. Raise awareness so that the support currently out there can continue. You are an inspiration beautiful lady and I have nothing but utter respect and love for you. xxxx
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 25, 2015 at 8:36 pm (2 years ago)

      Bless you Kat, that’s very kind, thank you xxx

      Reply
  7. Mummy Tries
    August 11, 2015 at 7:09 pm (2 years ago)

    Fantastic post Leigh, and good on the BBC for this storyline. You’re an amazing lady for bringing this devastating topic to our lives in a way that breeds empathy and understanding xx

    PS. Absolutely loving the new look blog!!
    Mummy Tries recently posted…My Dream HomeMy Profile

    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 12, 2015 at 10:45 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks lovely Renee. Hope the EastEnders storyline helps raise awareness. xxx

      Reply
  8. Gemma
    August 11, 2015 at 6:41 am (2 years ago)

    I think what you have written is spot on, me and my partner lost our baby boy Seth in May this year at 27 weeks, and I think it’s great that they are airing this to raise awareness x

    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 12, 2015 at 10:46 am (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your baby boy Seth. Lots of love to you Gemma xx

      Reply
  9. Angela at Daysinbed
    August 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm (2 years ago)

    This is a beautiful post! Yes we can hide and avoid subjects which trigger pain and remind us of heartaches but then how can we raise awareness for these causes which are so precious and meaningful if we fight against it? It is a difficult subject. I have never suffered the loss of a baby at birth and can never understand your pain but I appreciate what you write and your words in this post! Angela x
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      August 12, 2015 at 10:46 am (2 years ago)

      You’re so right, Angela – we need to talk about these issues because ignoring them does not make them go away! Thank you for your kind comment xxx

      Reply
    • Leigh
      August 10, 2015 at 7:08 pm (2 years ago)

      It’s so sad, Kim – and it’s very good they are raising awareness. Hope it helps break the taboo xx

      Reply

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