Fans of the Archers (a long-running radio drama/soap on BBC R4) may be following with interest the storyline of Vicky’s pregnancy. Vicky is a middle-aged woman married to Mike, grandfather of two. Her pregnancy was unplanned and came as quite a shock, though a happy shock as far as Vicky is concerned. Although we often associate unplanned pregnancy with teenagers, the reality is that women of all ages experience unintended pregnancy.*
In addition to the shock of the pregnancy, Vicky and her partner, Mike, have also had to deal with the news that initial screening tests have found her at higher than normal risk of carrying a fetus with Down's Syndrome . Vicky and Mike find themselves having to make sense of alot of medical information and facing decisions they are completely unprepared for.
They are offered an amniocentesis test to give them a definitive answer about whether or not they will have a baby with Down’s Syndrome, but they have to decide whether the risk of miscarriage associated with the test (up to 1%) is worth taking. After talking to the midwife they realise that if the test is positive for Down’s Syndrome they will have another decision to make – whether or not to continue with the pregnancy.
It’s great when TV and radio dramas take up interesting topics – an opportunity to inform the public and stimulate discussion about contemporary real life issues. It’s really good when broadcasters take responsibility for giving accurate information, and think carefully about the impact of the programme on people who’ve had experience of these issues or dilemmas. Too often storylines are simplistic, hysterical, insensitive or inaccurate and broadcasters try to compensate for this by putting up a ‘helpline’ number at the end for anyone ‘affected’ by the topic (often just a recorded message).
So far I think the BBC is doing a pretty good job with the Archers. They have integrated some accurate information into the story line and tried to represent the range of viewpoints and emotions associated with this situation. I’ll be listening with interest to see if they can keep it up as the story unfurls.
I wonder if the BBC got in touch with Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) to advise on the script. They are the UK experts in informing and supporting women, their partners and families when they face a diagnosis of fetal anomaly. For anyone who is in this situation now ARC is there to help you understand the information you have been given, explore your feelings around the pregnancy and support you in whatever decision you think is the right one for you.
For anyone who is moved by this story line, relieved they have never had to face this painful situation or glad that there is an organisation out there to help, why not consider a donation to ARC.
And finally, yes, it’s true...I do listen to the Archers *buries head in shame and realises she's turning into her mum*
*While huge investment has been made over recent years in reducing teenage pregnancy and addressing high levels of Chlamydia and other STIs amongst teenagers, the fpa recently tried to balance this out with a campaign to provide more information about contraception to older people in recognition that they have often missed out on essential sexual health messages and services and may not know that they are still at risk of pregnancy . Not only does pregnancy often come as a shock to older women, they often haven't recognised that they are pregnant until some weeks into pregnancy, mistaking their missing periods for the onset of the menopause. This may be one reason why older women are over-represented in the statistics for abortions that take place in the second trimester of pregnancy.