THOUGHTS ABOUT THINGS
It’s six weeks after your due date and you reach the front of the long coffee queue at work.
“Oh my goodness! You’re back! What did you have?”
What I had was a baby girl stillborn at 38 weeks. In the last few weeks I’d given birth to a baby I knew was already dead (in a hospital surrounding by the screams of newborn babies) and organised and attended her funeral.
But people don’t talk about stillbirth, so the girl who has made your coffee for the last five years doesn’t know.
What do you do at the front of that line, when a thoroughly good human being has asked you a question to which there is no answer that will not make her feel like the worst person on earth?
I felt physically sick. I could feel my eyes burning.
“I can’t talk about this just now. I’ll talk to you later,” I said, and walked away from a whole queue of people left wondering what on earth had happened to me.
Three years on, I still don’t really talk about stillbirth very much. It’s painful not just for me, but everyone around me.
Another scenario: you are at a baby shower for a friend who is about to have her first baby. All the other women tell their childbirth stories, good and bad. I say nothing. No pregnant woman wants to contemplate what happened to my daughter happening to their child. What happened to me happening to them. So the silence continues. I edit my life story so as not to frighten others.
Deep down though, I know this silence about stillbirth – all these silences about stillbirth – are part of the reason that every day in the UK, 15 babies are stillborn and 15 families DO go through what I’ve been through. So as part of this awareness month, I am talking about stillbirth. The good and the bad.
The good? How can there be good in a stillbirth?
Firstly there’s the kindness of others – and especially others with a silent grief. There are countless men and women out there who carry with them a burden of early pregnancy loss or the death of a child that people don’t know about – or the inability to have a child in the first place. Their quiet whispering of ‘I know a bit of what you are going through’ was gentle and human and warm.
But the process of losing my daughter has also given me something like a superpower. There’s something very liberating about knowing that you have survived this horrible event. I don’t worry about losing my job – I’ve lost my child. I never worry about the day ahead, because I remember waking up on the day when I had to drag my heavily pregnant body into hospital and give birth in extreme emotional and therefore physical pain. To hold my dead baby, while in the room next door a family was celebrating their live one. So throw any kind of every day stress at me and it bounces off.
Deep down of course there is pain. Grace had Down’s Syndrome. We knew that from around 14 weeks and faced a lot of pressure to terminate but that is not really how my heart is set up. So I actually knew more about how her life would have been than most expectant parents and I’d given up almost every bit of work I had in preparation to care for her. These were not easy choices, and I won’t pretend they were, but I’d adjusted to them in my head and my heart and I was ready to be someone different. Someone, frankly, better.
The loss of Grace took that different life from me. There I was, back at work, in the coffee queue – no longer having to worry about how my special needs child would be treated by the world, whether we’d be stared at on holiday.
And do you know what? I’m now the woman who stares at the kids with Down’s Syndrome in the soft play or at the beach, but obviously for very different reasons. I was at a spa last month and a girl with Down’s Syndrome I didn’t know at all came running across and hugged me. Her mother was so apologetic as I just stood there with big smile on my face and tears in my eyes. “She’s fine,” I said. “In fact she’s just what I needed!”
That mum will never know what happened to me, or why that hug meant so much. And again, that’s the silence of stillbirth. You carry with you being ‘different’, behaving ‘differently’ – but many of the people you work with or become friends with through your other children, will never know why.
No-one knows why Grace died. The post-mortem couldn’t find anything concrete. She had Down’s Syndrome but her heart was perfect with none of the defects associated with the condition. I’d been having weekly scans so she was definitely not neglected by the NHS. Between the scan at the 37 weeks and the scan at 38 weeks, she died without ever seeing the world, or me her mother. I’ll never know why it happened in medical terms, and the question ‘why me?’ goes through my head every day.
We’ve got to create a world where women – and wider families – aren’t expected to be silent about such a catastrophic event happening to them, because it is contributing to the problem not going away. When women know that this is a reality, they can feel more empowered to yes, turn up to that maternity hospital if they even have the slightest inkling that something is wrong. To not care about the glances from medical staff that say “she’s just neurotic”. When the outcome I am living with is the other option, please – be as neurotic as you like. Print this out and take it with you. Ask them how they’d feel at the baby shower or at the front of that coffee queue.
I’ve just survived another pregnancy - barely – and given birth to a beautiful healthy baby boy. He’ll never replace Grace, but he’s the sort of happy ending that should come at the end of every pregnancy and with more research and greater awareness we can make sure that is case.
I love the NHS, it has been *very* good to me over the years.
So this is not intended as NHS-bashing at all. It's purely 'here's my experience of the NHS over the last 48 hours'.
Sunday night: I get really quite sick. Despite having no tonsils (got them out privately due to 18 month waiting list and about 20 bouts of illness around 2007. My job depended on being able to speak) I seemed to have tonsillitis. But it's Sunday, so you tough it out. You definitely don't go to A&E because tehre are all kinds of awful stats about what that is doing to the NHS
Monday morning: 8am - the traditional 'try and get an appointment at the GP' phonecall rush.
This didn't go well.
Yep - that is 109 times I phoned my GP between 8am and 9am trying to get an appointment. Each of those 109 times the line was engaged.
Now, this is because - shock horror- they're busy. But there has got to be a better alternative surely than this frenzy of phonecalls for the indisposed. I've since been advised by friends that you're better to alternate between a landline and a mobile (I know not why) and that this kind of wait is not unusual.
That's fine for the likes of me - I have strep throat and will almost certainly pull through. But if I had a sick child rather than myself with a high temperature, a rash and vomiting - I might very well have been 'that person' who turns up to A&E.
In the modern era could GPs surgeries not have an email triage service rather than relying on an outdated landline phone service? There's nothing scientific to suggest that people who are best at hitting redial are most in need of help. If 24/7 email text accounts were open, receptionists could come in at 7.45 on Monday mornings and contact those most in need with appointment times.
Anyway, I get back from the doctors, laden down with my free-at-the-point-of-delivery prescription, to find a letter from the breast cancer clinic, offering me an appointment at the Vale of Leven hospital at the end of March. That's a good 25 mile drive from where I live. I've seen the same consultant at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley before, 2 miles from where I live.
I think what it is important to say here is that I don't have breast cancer. I never have had breast cancer. However, my mum has had it twice so I am in an early screening programme - which I think is fabulous. Well done NHS.
However, I'm also on a zero-hours contract. If I don't work on March the 24th I don't get paid. As the owner of a car, and someone who can afford to lose a day's pay - I'll go. But my thoughts immediately turned to those who can't afford to do that, or who find the prospect of an appointment so far away so inconvenient they think 'och I'll not bother, it's only screening'. It is only screening, but there's a good reason that people like me are asked to go. We've got to make people go.
The NHS has never been more used by politicians. Everyone loves the NHS - and politicians criticise the obese, the people who go to A&E when they don't need to , the folk who miss appointments. That's all valid, but we should be able to suggest things that make life better for the patients too. The NHS has to exist in the modern world - a 24/7 world, with the internet, zero hours contracts, poverty and yes... illness. Let's not be so scared of criticising the NHS that we no longer offer constructive means of helping it help patients.
Dear pals: I was organising prizes for the Down's Syndrome Scotland raffle earlier this month and that lovely boy Andy Murray sent me a signed shirt...but it arrived too late (He's been BUSY). That leaves me with quite possibly the greatest Christmas present of all time hanging in my front bedroom. So here's the deal: go to justgiving.com/GraceLudlow and donate £5 for your name to go in the hat to win it. Draw will be made on Friday December 12th. Thank you! Annie
You'll have noticed I've been on something of a hiatus recently. And Candy Crush - the top grossing app on itunes - isn't the only reason - but my current 'habit' has got me thinking.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it is a highly addictive Tetris-type game, which you can download to your phone/tablet/computer for nothing. "So how come it is the highest grossing app out there?" I hear you ask.
Well. When you fail to complete a level you're given the option to pay a small fee for a few extra moves. It looks a little something like this...
So... as well as wasting my redundancy cash on games aimed at eight year olds, I like reading the latest news online - usually via twitter.
There's a big range of how much content you can access for free out there. The Wall Street Journal has a certain amount of articles each day which are free - for those not on the 'gratis' list you have to subscribe. The Guardian gives you it all for nothing. The Herald lets you read a certain amount of stories a month before you have to take up one of their subscription offers.
The Herald's online subscription offers are detailed below and as you'll see, to read on your iphone you're looking at £3.99 per month. It's not pictured here, but a Kindle subscription is £9.99 a month
Now what I've been pondering tonight is whether papers need to think more like Candy Crush and only charge people for what they actually want. I don't sign up for subscriptions because a) they feel quite pricey and b) I know I can probably find the content elsewhere for nothing. I also hate that 'gym membership' feeling of paying for something that I then don't use. That's always annoying when your bank statement comes in.
But, say The Herald started asking for 20p to read each extra article - rather than asking for a monthly subscription? They might (if they drew me in enough with quality writing) get more money out of me than £3.99 per month and they would certainly get more out of me than they do at the moment.
So this is a genuine question - why don't papers offer this option? They're all on twitter highlighting individual stories, but not letting me buy individual stories. Surely it makes sense to allow the impulse buy in journalism? The equivalent of the Twix by the checkout in the supermarket? It might get me off Candy Crush and doing something more interesting instead.....
So a couple of days ago I posted about the ridiculous price I'd just paid for a treatment for a teething baby. The good people at Alliance Pharmaceuticals (who make the wondrous but scarce 'Ashton and Parsons' powder) got back to me earlier today with this response.
Alliance Pharmaceuticals acquired the Ashton and Parsons brand from Reckitt Benckiser/SSL in 2011. We knew when we did so that demand was beginning to outstrip that company’s manufacturing capacity. Integral to the acquisition therefore, has been our upgrading and expansion of the product’s manufacturing capability not only to meet current demand but also to satisfy on-going and future customer needs. As I am sure you appreciate it is not in our interests to have unhappy customers who cannot find the product and please be assured we are working hard to ensure that our upgraded manufacturing process means that availability issues become a thing of the past.
Of course human nature dictates that if a shortage is perceived people stock pile and even in some cases try, to resell on sites such as e bay at hugely inflated prices. We don’t like this situation but regrettably it is outside our control.
Please be assured that we sell the product to everyone at the same wholesale price and recommend a selling price (RSP) of £5.35 per pack. As you have seen this may vary significantly. We have no ability to influence this. The majority of the retailers we supply have maintained the RSP of £5.35 we have suggested, but they have also seen excessive purchasing and have had to restrict some purchases to try to control the reselling you have seen.
We believe that increased manufacturing capability will mean that these issues will be resolved and should end the speculative trading and pricing should return to the RSP.
I will be in touch again when we have confirmed dates for increased supply.
If you have any further questions please do contact me again.
The story here seems to be that retailers (both conventional and via ebay) are fleecing the mothers of young babies...because they can. If you have paid more than the regulation £5.35 let me know in the comments below! Name and shame may be the way forward....
Right: I know the economy is in a mess, but there's something going on in the world of baby-rearing that makes the hyperinflation of Weimar Germany (when bank notes became so worthless they were used as wallpaper!) seem tame.
Babies are brilliant right- and then they get teeth and it all starts to go wrong - they scream, they bite, they drool, heck it even makes them poo funny! And there's a miracle solution - Ashton and Parsons powders. A tincture of Matricaria 0.002 ml in a lactose base ( who cares what it is, it works!). Thing is, for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain it is very hard to come by. I have heard everything from a fire at the factory to Boots having bought the license then failed to produce the product.
Imagine the excitement yesterday when my local chemist had a poster in his window : 'Ashton and Parsons now in stock!!!'. Brilliant I said, I'll take 5. "Aw by the way," he says, "they're £8.99 now...".
Okay so I first bought these 6 months ago and they were £3.20. So they're almost three times what I paid at the start of 2013. I decried my local chemist as a charlatan, but when I looked on eBay a box was going for £15 and even the good old Co-op are selling them at £5.35 with a restriction of one per customer! Should I contact George Osbourne and warn him of impending financial doom?!
Of course I still bought them. Just one packet though- there's a recession on! I would be very interested to build up a nationwide map of A&P prices and availability so if you've been ripped off post below!
Tomorrow is my last day as a BBC employee after nearly 11 years. Back when I started I was obsessed with 'top 5s' so I've decided to reprise that with my top 5 BBC times! You'll notice they mostly happen abroad.
5) Being on 'Test The Nation'
Remember that quiz that you were meant to play along with at home? Presented by Anne Robinson and Philip Schofield? It was weird eh? Well I was part of the victorious team in the 'spelling and grammar' one. Which will leave me open
to ridicule if there are mistakes in here. We beat a team of ballroom dancers which included Anton du Beke. Can you believe this is only number 5?!
4) July 2008 - T in the Park
Interviewed The Prodigy, R.E.M., Vampire Weekend and many others for BBC Radio Scotland - and went on to marry the producer, which was nice.
3) December 2002, Andy Gray interview
This was my first TV interview for BBC Scotland for the series 'Footballers Lives'. I made him cry, and then he invited his next door neighbour round, who happened to be Tony Iommi out of Black Sabbath.
2) November 2007 - Commonwealth Games announcement, Sri Lanka
In 11 years of covering sport, this was one of very few occasions on which I saw Scotland win! The tv people also missed the announcement so it was one of those days you were very happy to be on the radio.
1) July 2008, presenting 6-LOVE-6 with John McEnroe at Wimbledon
Tim Henman got stuck in traffic so I got to read out the texts and emails on
John McEnroe's tennis phone in. He said my name and stuff. Incredible.
I always thought our advertising tag line at the Scottish Football Museum was genius: The love of your life has a past you don't know about. The personification of Scottish football history as a bounder and a cad was maybe a bit far fetched right enough, but if you were to hire a private detective to look into it, you'd get my old colleague Richard McBrearty. We started the same week; me a 21-year-old graduate, Richard straight from his old job at the gas board and a former Hamilton Accies player at youth level. Fifteen years on he's still there, now a lone curator on a ceaseless quest for new stories about Scotland's contribution to world football. And he's started a blog: http://footballcurator.blogspot.co.uk/ which means you don't even have to cross the museum door to find out his latest discoveries. Goodness knows how curators in 2113 will look back on the current travails of Scottish football. I certainly don't envy them having to sit at computers to trawl through the countless twitter posts (and now what are almost 'wikileaks' coming out about the Rangers saga via accounts like @charlottefakes) - give me the dusty tomes of Mitchell Library over that any day!