Belfast Telegraph

DUP MP Shannon tells of his family’s miscarriage grief during heartfelt Commons speech

An emotional Jim Shannon in the House of Commons
An emotional Jim Shannon in the House of Commons
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A DUP MP has called for greater support for women and families experiencing miscarriages.

Jim Shannon spoke to the Belfast Telegraph following an emotional speech in the House of Commons during a debate for Baby Loss Awareness week.

The Strangford MP revealed that his mother, sister and parliamentary private secretary had all experienced miscarriages.

He told the House that handing out an advice pamphlet in a waiting room was not enough and became tearful when reading the words of a bereaved constituent.

"It's a massive personal issue. In my own family it affected my mum and my sister who both had three miscarriages. The young girl that works in my office also suffered a miscarriage," he said.

"I've been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have contacted me since the speech."

He said previous generations had been expected to put on a brave face.

"My mum had three miscarriages in the early 1960s. We had a shop and she would have been back to work two days later," he said.

"That's the way life was just then, the old attitude of 'sorry to hear that, you better get back to work and you can always try again'.

"It's just how they thought you should handle it. Some people don't want to talk about it, other people do."

The annual debate has now been held four times, with Mr Shannon attending every time in the hope of increasing awareness on the care available.

"I know two people in my constituency in the last year who had a baby they knew wouldn't live for more than a matter of hours," he said.

"They carried the baby that whole length of time to enjoy those precious moments with their wee child, knowing they won't live.

"This is the raw emotion of miscarriage and baby loss."

Mr Shannon suggested that hospitals should have a private room and a chaplain available for those affected.

"When someone loses a child, it can often be that everyone around you on the maternity ward is rejoicing with their baby," he said.

Other issues included families having to wait 24 weeks for a death certificate and pressure on the NHS meaning couples would only receive extra attention after three miscarriages.

"I was contacted by a man today, his wife has had six miscarriages and they've been trying for years," he said.

"There may come a time when they look towards other ways.

"But I would say why wait to find out what's wrong? I think after a first miscarriage there should be more focus on a person, which could be greater access to their doctor.

"The other issue is their state of mind with the emotional stress there is, which is enormous.

"I think we need to update our process when it comes to dealing with baby loss. We also need to have a properly funded follow-on service for someone in that situation."

During the Commons debate, Mr Shannon was praised by fellow MPs when he struggled to read out the words of a bereaved mother.

"I carried you for every second of your life and I will love you for every second of mine. Let sweet Jesus hold you until mummy and daddy can hold you," he said.

"You have just reached heaven before I do."

The Shadow Health Minister Paula Sherriff said the debate had been "incredibly moving".

"As well as using today's debate to raise awareness, this is an opportunity to reassess the progress being made and highlight the fact that although excellent care is available in the country, it is not available to everyone everywhere."

She added: "It's hard to break the silence around miscarriage, and even harder to break it around mental health and miscarriage combined, but I think we should try, even if it just helps one person."

Nadine Dorries, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, promised that specialist perinatal mental health support would be made available to 24,000 women, including more support for fathers and partners.

She said this would come from a £2.3bn Government investment in mental health.

"I will say it again: £2.3bn. That is over half the annual prisons budget.

"Of course, some of that money has to be directed towards mothers in this situation."

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