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Luen’s blog: The power of storytelling

Over my years in this sector, I have worked with charities who have helped TV soaps strengthen storylines about key issues. This is not only a fantastic way of demonstrating the great work that charities do, but it’s also a fantastic way to recruit celebrities to the cause and most importantly of letting people know where they can access services if they recognise themselves in the story.

Last year Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice worked closely with Emmerdale on a story which saw lead characters Chas and Paddy go through complete heartbreak. During Chas’ pregnancy, their daughter Grace was diagnosed with a condition which meant she wouldn’t live for more than a few minutes or hours after birth.

We know that the episode when Chas and Paddy had to say a very sad goodbye to Grace was incredibly upsetting to watch, but we also know that the storyline was put together extremely sensitively. Our midwife Sara was on set throughout and talked to the writers and actors about what might happen in this scenario, based on her experience of working with families who face the same tragic situation.

This helped to make the story real for viewers and prompted a huge amount of engagement for our hospice on social media and for many parents-to-be, who recognised themselves in the story.

We were approached by Emmerdale because of our pioneering perinatal service. This service, which started as one member of staff funded by BBC Children in Need and was the first of its kind in Europe, now supports around 100 families across West Yorkshire. BBC Children in Need has also granted additional funding to help us develop the service in North Manchester.

From the 20 week scan onwards, we support families confronted with the devastating news that their baby may not be ‘compatible with life’. We support them at appointments, advocating for them with professionals, provide emotional support around the choices they may be asked to make, and help them feel a little more in control. We’re there for them at the birth, if they want us to be, and care for the family once the baby is born, whether the child is stillborn or born alive. We’ll help them to make lifelong memories and support the whole family with their loss when this happens, as it did in the Emmerdale storyline. And we continue to support the family for as long as they need us.

Many of the families we support go on to have subsequent pregnancies. Once again, this is reflected in the Emmerdale storyline, and once again, we’ve been advising on appropriate content. For some, this can be a very anxious time and we stay by their side and celebrate their baby with them when they arrive. Our little rainbow baby group is a thriving community of mums and dads who have experienced the absolute tragedy of the death of a baby and the utter joy of a healthy new-born.

What we do is a privilege. We’re glad to be able to share it through a soap storyline because we know the story will reach millions of people. It means that for all the families we have worked with who have lost a baby, there are now local services that can really help and really make a difference. And those services have been created from the unique experience of our families. It has been an honour to channel that family experience into the warm, compassionate, caring services we provide that make a difference to families in West Yorkshire and North Manchester every day.