Mummy’s Star – Supporting women with cancer through pregnancy and beyond

Jacque GerrardIt was at a student midwife conference in Salford back in 2013 that I first heard about the Mummy’s Star charity. I was not aware  of the charity but when I heard midwife Helen Howard speak about how the charity came about, I was emotionally moved…..for days and weeks!

I could not stop thinking about the courage and challenges Mair and Pete  experienced through pregnancy and birth and the post natal weeks. It seemed   to me that the midwives, nurses and doctors who cared for the family worked hard, but the NHS as a system of healthcare “free at the point of delivery” seemed to let them down at certain points.

This came across particularly  from Helen`s speech regarding   the challenges that women have where their  wish is  that their  newborn  only have  breast milk and therefore need donor milk. A reasonable request any new mum and midwife would expect to be met.

Due to the medications and drugs the women are being treated with to battle cancer through pregnancy, it is not advisable to give their newborn their own breast milk. The women then rely on donor milk and this is expensive to provide for the neonate. I cannot help feeling that the NHS as a healthcare system  under these kinds of circumstances, let woman and babies’ down as it is not their “automatic right” to have donor breast milk and often are refused and expected to give their baby  formula milk! I deliberately emphasise the word care in this context .Is it just about NHS funding? In my view it should be more about the” rights of the child” particularly under such challenging circumstances? There is a government policy   “Giving all children a healthy start in life“. In its opening, the policy  advocates “that babies that are breastfed have less chance of getting infections or of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes and other illnesses when they get older”.  But babies whose mothers are undergoing cancer treatments have no automatic right to donor breast milk. It just does not add up to me!

So back to Mummy`s Star and why in my wealth of  experience, travelling across the UK, networking and meeting an assortment of stakeholders of maternity services , had I not heard of such a fantastic charity?

I spoke to Helen at the interval and congratulated her on such a well presented speech and we discussed the aspirations and the challenges of the charity. I then made it my business to find out more and with the help of social media I became very much engaged with Mummy`s Star re-tweeting, sharing and liking  on FB ,things that the charity was doing. I then watched with admiration how the charity very quickly progressed and saw the momentum picking up and the interest of the public and professionals keen to support the charity.

Of course it was some time later that I understood that it was because it was such a new charity was the reason why it had not come across my radar. Fast forward one year and just look at the profile Mummy`s Star has now on social media, with the press and the most importantly via “word of mouth”. Many families, healthcare professionals and the wider public have now heard about the amazing work Mummy`s Star are doing to support women with cancer through pregnancy and beyond and are very engaged and involved.

But what about the NHS? What are they doing specifically to support this group of women and their families?

I have been speaking to midwives across England and like me there seems to be a degree of “non awareness” of women with cancer needing bespoke care through pregnancy labour, birth and beyond. It seems that this issue has not yet touched their professional lives. But it MUST!

For me it is therefore important as a midwifery leader and as a Patron and proud ambassador of Mummy’s Star, that I help raise awareness of the issue and support the charity to raise their profile for the sake of improving care and more importantly health outcomes for this group of women and their babies.

As I have been spreading the word amongst the profession about the charity, the interest is encouraging but this needs to reach a level such that policy makers and providers of maternity services start to take notice and develop a maternity pathway specifically for women with cancer through pregnancy. The NHS also needs to address the issues of donor milk and invest in having enough in milk in banks for this group of babies. My view as a mother and a midwife is that no new mother should find herself in a situation that she cannot provide her newborn with breast milk because of cancer or funding. The evidence is clear that  breast milk   gives  babies the best  start in life, is  promoted by the NHS aspiring to achieve UNICEF Baby Friendly Status across the UK, whilst  on occasions seems to deny donor milk  to this unique group of babies on grounds of cost!

The issue regarding where to care for very sick pregnant women is also a challenge for the NHS. I recently had a discussion with a very caring head of midwifery (HOM) regarding a women that had cancer in pregnancy who gave birth on her labour ward. I was saddened to hear that post delivery no service within that particular NHS knew where to care for this woman and her family post birth as the woman needed specific care to meet her health needs and also support her role as a new mum too. The HOM and her team therefore opted to keep this mum and her family on the labour ward and provide full midwifery and nursing care for a number of weeks. There was neither a pathway in place nor expertise in the organisation for this mother.  However the wonderful midwifery team developed a bespoke pathway with and for the woman and her family. A great example of the NHS 6 C`s,  “compassion, commitment, courage, communication, care and competence”.

I would argue that the HOM should never have been put in that position and a pathway for this group of women should already be in place across the NHS. After all that’s what we mean when we talk about the 6 C`s .It`s for everyone and if the pathway does not meet the needs of the patients and families  accessing NHS care then lets invest and develop a pathway that does, including one  for women pregnant with cancer!

To end this blog on a positive note I was encouraged by the final session at last years Royal College of Midwives student midwife conference. Student midwives from across the country had the opportunity to pitch their innovative suggestions for improvements in maternity services which would benefit women, their families and midwives too. Student midwife delegates then voted for their favourite suggestion and they were all winners in my book. However the top idea voted by the student delegates was “for a trained Cancer midwife for every maternity service across the UK”.  WoW!  Who was that winner? Mummy’s Stars very own Nicolette Peel.  With future midwives like Nicolette having vision and aspirations such as this then perhaps in time the NHS will  get the maternity pathway right for women pregnant through cancer.

It is an absolute delight to be involved with Mummy’s Star a unique and wonderful charity. I very much look forward to supporting the team over the next months and years and doing what I can to contribute to the huge charitable agenda the team have. Thank you to Mummy`s Star CEO and Trustees for having me as a Patron. I will do what I can to support this charity for women and their families who may just need a  little extra help in their pregnancy cancer journey.

Thank you Mummy’s Star for the great work you do.

Dr Jacque Gerrard

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