I’m not really a soap fan, but you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past few week to not have heard about Coronation Street’s baby loss storyline, which saw Michelle and Steve lose their baby boy at 23 weeks, following Michelle going into premature labour. It’s a story which has attracted lots of media attention, not least because the actors themselves have both experienced the death of a baby in their personal lives.
I realise I may have missed the boat a bit with this post, but it’s not been an easy write. In fact, I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts since I first heard that Coronation Street were planning on doing this story. Initially, I planned to avoid it like the plague – after all, I don’t watch Corrie anyway (I applaud anyone who can commit to five episodes of anything per week) so why tune in to watch something which would undoubtedly be painful. But I couldn’t avoid it. Every time I turned on daytime TV, or checked social media, or caught up with Huffington Post I saw interviews, blogs and articles applauding Kym Marsh for her performance or discussing the little-known facts surrounding the legislation which accompanies the death of a baby prior to 24 weeks gestation. This was a storyline which flew dangerously close to my own experience of losing Findlay – I felt compelled to see for myself how it had been portrayed.
So one Wednesday afternoon, with Leo snoozing in a milk-drunk stupor in my arms, I made a brew, grabbed some tissues, and turned to The ITV Hub to catch up on the week’s episodes.
And just like that, I was back to July 2015. Still as raw, still as painful as it was then, over 18 months ago.
And the thing about the world of baby loss, is it is a dark and empty place. It feels like the loneliest place in the world; without warning you find yourself with membership to a club which, until it happened to you, you didn’t really know existed. And unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s really hard to understand what it truly means. There are some things which are just too hard to explain. No matter how empathetic a person may be, no matter how deeply they feel for you, how do you begin to put into words how it feels to lose a baby?
The sense of failure. Why couldn’t I keep my baby alive? What did I do wrong?
The deadly cocktail of guilt, anger, despair, which burns in the pit of your stomach, clouding your head with a fog which will not lift.
The physical ache of your arms, as if they know they should be carrying a baby, not a box.
The black abyss which appears before you – the life you were expecting, the one you should have had with your baby, is suddenly gone., and what is there now? To paraphrase Alice, you can’t go back to the life you had before as you were a different person then; now you’re marred, stained by loss.
The death of a baby is a completely life-shattering experience. It feels as though, suddenly, the ground beneath you has lost all stability…it shifts and ebbs beneath you so you can’t get a footing. You feel disorientated, out of place in the world which you once thought you knew, thought you were a part of. Nothing makes sense. Nothing seems real. The hospital seems removed from the world around it, as if what you are seeing and hearing is all just a mirage, a hallucination, the macabre manifestation of your worst fears. What struck me most, I think, was the helplessness of it all: What do you mean there’s nothing you can do? You’re doctors. This is Great Ormond Street – the best children’s hospital in the country. I’ve seen the TV shows, you work miracles here. Where’s our miracle? Why can’t you save our baby?
It is all this which Kym Marsh captured so perfectly. Quite how she managed to perform these scenes, which mirrored so closely the death of her own son Archie, I do not know. Then again, perhaps it is precisely because of Archie that Kym felt empowered to do this storyline. Watching those scenes as a bereaved mother I truly believed Kym, because the depiction was so real.
In several interviews, Kym Marsh has talked about the need to raise awareness about baby loss, and what greater platform to achieve this than on TV’s longest running soap? The death of a baby, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, is still such a taboo subject; I mean who wants to think about babies dying? But tragically babies do die, parents do grieve for them, and they have to rebuild their lives in the wake of this monumental loss. Society needs to understand this and be there to help support them through it.
Kym, from one mother with a missing boy to another: I applaud you.