In a different world, today, Saturday 27th October 2018 is a happy day. It starts with an excited 10-year-old boy waking up early and opening his presents with his family. A new book from his favourite author? Maybe a football shirt? (I suspect his team would have been Aston Villa like his Granddad). No doubt we would have planned some sort of party – maybe a day trip somewhere exciting.
When you’ve lost a child, thoughts of what might have been can pop up anytime, but important anniversaries or significant dates can make these thoughts particularly vivid and painful. Today Joshua should be celebrating his 10th Birthday.
On 27th October 2008, our world was different. Our daughter Emily was just 3½ years old. At exactly 7.38 am, Joshua was born at Furness General Hospital. I remember staring at him in his cot, thinking how perfect he was and how lucky I was – how lucky we all were. But just 24 hours later – that world ended.
An early morning phone call broke the news. I remember the words like they were yesterday…
‘Joshua is having problems breathing and your wife is very upset – can you come to the hospital’
Phoning my mum and hearing her voice break (mums have an instinct), getting to the hospital and seeing Joshua in the Special Care Baby Unit – initially breathing by himself but quickly put on a ventilator as I’m ushered out the room. Confusion, uncertainly, desperation, fear, hope and despair followed.
A transfer to Manchester and a car journey from hell to follow him there. Then 7 days by his side at a specialist centre in Newcastle. 7 hopeful days; Joshua sedated but able to open his eyes and squeeze a finger.
We thought we would get to take him home but that wasn’t to be. Those hopes were dashed when he died at just 9 days old, in circumstances that are too awful to go over again.
The loss of any child, in whatever circumstances is a life changing tragedy for everyone involved. Joshua’s death (and I know we are far from alone) was made incalculably worse by the cover up and denial that followed.
Reflecting on the last 10 years could easily become a justifiably angry essay, recounting the multiple layers of defensiveness and denial we have encountered and the very mixed picture of accountability and justice that’s been achieved. But that’s not what I want to focus on today, instead I want to talk briefly about the positive impact Joshua’s life has on us and the changes I know his short life has helped to influence.
How Joshua has changed things
Of course, Joshua’s death has had a profound impact on every aspect of not just our lives, but of the lives of our friends and our extended family – here and around the world. We won’t ever forget him and we will always feel sadness, grief and pain that we weren’t able to keep him here – with his sisters and his family. But Joshua has also given us strength and a perspective on life that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
His short life has influenced a huge amount of change. The maternity unit where he was born has been transformed. The system of midwifery supervision in place at the time has been replaced. Whilst efforts were made to cover up what happened, they categorically failed. All the organisations that should and could have acted differently have now changed, in many cases following major inquires that only exposed serious problems as a direct consequence of his case. There’s now an unprecedented focus of improving safety in maternity services and Joshua has played a part in influencing it. We now have a major national programme of investigating baby deaths likes Joshua’s, led by the world’s first independent investigations body for healthcare (HSIB). Joshua’s Story is shared as part of the training for the investigation teams.
As well as encountering behaviours from some people that have hurt beyond measure, Joshua has also led to us meeting many truly amazing and inspiring people. These include colleagues I’m lucky to now work alongside, high profile politicians who offered friendship and unstinting support, patient safety experts from around the world and other families who have faced similar battles yet still have the capacity for kindness and compassion.
Sometimes entirely random acts of kindness from complete strangers have meant so much – a private twitter message from someone that has read about Joshua – that’s landed at a moment when being reminded that people care has made all the difference in the world.
Today is Saturday 27 October 2018 and nothing we can ever do can change the fact that the world we live in isn’t the one where a happy 10-year-old boy woke us up this morning excited about the day ahead. But if Joshua could somehow speak to us now, I’m sure he’d be telling us not to be sad and that instead he’d be proud about what’s been achieved in his name.
For a little boy who never got to say his first word, Joshua has had a pretty loud voice.
We love you very much Joshua. We will never forget you xxx