Historical practices caused families ‘unimaginable’ distress and pain

Hundreds of families have been caused “unimaginable” pain the government has said due to an historic practice.

Before the 1980s, it is understood to have been common practice across the UK that when a woman had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, hospital staff would quickly take the baby away.

Families were sometimes told that if they quickly had another child and didn’t see the baby, they’d get over it.

In Wirral, awareness has been raised by a campaign by Gina Jacobs and other mothers who want an apology from the government for the practice which meant they were never allowed to see their children before they were taken away from them.

They have also successfully campaigned for a memorial for those who have never been able to find their children or relatives.

Mrs Jacobs and others are now campaigning for families to get an apology in recognition for the impact it has had on their families. The issue has been raised in Parliament by Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood who asked whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would “apologise for this former practice that left grieving parents with nowhere to visit their buried children?”

Gina Jacobs wasn’t able to find her son Robert for 53 years. Credit: Edward Barnes

Mr Sunak didn’t respond to the request for an apology, but said Mrs Jacobs “deserves nothing but our praise and admiration and I’m so pleased she’s brought comfort to so many other people too.”

Since the issue was raised in Parliament, families have been getting in touch with Mrs Jacobs seeking help in finding their own relatives. However, some are still unable to find them as searches are based on records that are decades old by staff who did not work there at the time.

Sue Bowers was unable to find her twin sister who is believed to have been buried in Landican Cemetery in Wirral 74 years ago. She said, “There should be an apology. It’s not going to make any difference because of the loss of my parents, because they are dead now but it would make a lot of difference to a lot of parents who felt like they were in the wrong. I think a lot of them felt that way.”

Maria Caulfield MP, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for mental health and women’s health strategy, in response to a letter from Ms Greenwood said, “I offer my sincerest sympathies to Mrs Jacobs and I acknowledge that she had to deal with the pain of not knowing what happened to her child’s remains for so many years.

“The distress caused to Mrs Jacobs and other bereaved parents by these historic practices is unimaginable and we have worked hard to ensure that, now, parents of stillborn babies do not have to experience this type of pain.”

She pointed to 2016 regulations to ensure parents’ wishes for cremation were respected as well as a pregnancy loss review in 2018 and the implementation of 20 recommendations as evidence of this.

While she didn’t address the calls for an apology directly, she said, “We have listened to individuals and families and recognise the distress these historic practices have caused. That is why we have put in place initiatives to significantly improve the care experience for all parents who experience pregnancy loss.”

Lead image: The grave where Gina Jacobs’ son is buried along with 62 other babies. Credit: Edward Barnes

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