KYM MARSH: Britain’s premature baby problem – and the boy I lost at 21 weeks
Professor Lucilla Poston, director of maternal and foetal research at University College London, believes that the simple saliva test she is developing could help cut the number of premature births, and the dangers associated with them.
It identifies which mothers are likely to be vulnerable by detecting levels of progesterone, the hormone that helps stop the womb contracting before the full term of 40 weeks. Low levels of progesterone put women at risk of delivering more than six weeks early. Although tests have so far been successful, she needs funding to extend the study – funding that is not yet available.
November 7, 2009
by Kym Marsh
This year, like every other, thousands of parents will go through an experience the whole impact of which is almost beyond description. Months of pregnancy, and long hours of nurturing and hope, will end with a still birth, or an agonising vigil amid the dim lights and monitors of a ward for premature babies.
For some, like me, there will be a particularly upsetting twist. They will find there is no birth or death certificate, and no funeral. There will be little recognition of any kind, only a note in the medical records to say that the hours of nurturing and hope have ended in the cold facts of a late miscarriage.
To lose a baby is a terrible sadness, as I have found from personal experience. To find your child disregarded, barely a statistic even, is particularly distressing.
My third child died this way, a cause of pain that I would not wish on anyone. My son was born prematurely at 21 weeks and died. It was all the more traumatic to find that neither the professionals nor the British legal system consider a baby to be a ‘viable’ human being until 24 weeks.
He was so tiny, the nurses did not even bother to weigh him, but as far as I am concerned I gave birth to a baby boy and his name was Archie. The hormones kicked in just the same and I was left with the baby blues, but without the child that should go with them.
The nurses did their best, but I was offered little professional help to cope with the death beyond a few leaflets about charities that dealt with child bereavement.
Although I had the support of my partner Jamie Lomas, and my two older children, I felt incredibly alone. If I wanted counselling or someone other than family to talk to, I had to seek it out myself, at a time when what I actually needed was someone to come to me and offer me support.
Thousands of people wrote offering their sympathy, including the Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown who, having gone through a similar situation herself, has been hugely supportive. Our loss will never go away nor, similar to so many other parents who have suffered in this way, are we any closer to knowing why things ended as they did.
This was one reason I agreed to take part in an investigation for ITV’s Tonight programme about the growing number of premature births and why prematurity is now the greatest cause of infant death in Britain.